Only during the last few decades have scientists recognized the many mass extinction and mass speciation events throughout life’s history. Psalm 104:29–30, however, described these events thousands of years ago:
When you [God] hide your face, they [Earth’s creatures] are terrified. When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
Earth’s organisms have experienced several catastrophic upheavals. The Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event (TJEE) is the second greatest mass extinction event on record. It eliminated more than 95 percent of terrestrial megaflora species,1 plus all the animal species dependent upon these plants. For continental organisms it was at least as devastating as the Permian-Triassic event,2 which wiped out over 70 percent of land species.3
The TJEE is the only mass extinction event in deep time for which an accurate absolute date exists because the strata containing the fossils and footprints of creatures living just before and just after the TJEE shows both the cyclic variations in Earth’s orbit and several reversals in Earth’s magnetic field. Thus, geophysicists have established that the TJEE occurred 201.564±0.015 million years ago.4
Despite the destruction caused by the TJEE, the mass speciation that followed was surprisingly quick and robust. Within 10,000 years or less large theropod dinosaurs appeared,5 and in less than 100,000 years dinosaur species diversity attained a stable maximum.6 Especially astounding is not just the body size and complexity of the new species but the fact that they appeared amid hostile environmental conditions. The TJEE coincided with the first and greatest of the four volcanic eruptions that formed the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.7 These eruptions poured out 2–3 million cubic kilometers of lava—enough to pave Earth’s entire surface 4–6 meters (13–26 feet) deep. The first eruption had hardly subsided when the first large theropod dinosaurs appeared. And the dinosaur species diversity reached a stable maximum while climate changes were still extreme.8
Mass Speciation Reflects the Creator and Challenges Evolution
The rapidity and diversity with which large dinosaurs appeared fits what one would expect from the actions of a Creator intent on taking advantage of shallow seas, lakes, and swamps resulting from the breaking up of the Pangaea supercontinent. It is consistent, too, with the Creator’s desire to endow Earth with all the resources humans would need to fulfill His purposes.
However, the short time between the TJEE and the Jurassic speciation is far too brief to allow for a naturalistic explanation. Long-term evolution experiments performed in real time show that even under extreme laboratory pressure the most evolutionally flexible species experience nothing more than microevolution.9 Evolutionists responded with the suggestion that a few small-bodied reptiles survived the TJEE and, due to the hostile conditions and lack of competing species, rapidly evolved into a huge population of diverse, complex, large-bodied dinosaurs.10 Conservation biology research refutes this hypothesis.
Rapid and extreme climate change, which characterized the TJEE, stymies evolutionary development. An experiment performed on tiny crustaceans with a reputation for evolvability demonstrated that their rate of evolution (assisted by guided selective breeding) was unable to keep pace with even a modest change in average temperature.11
Numerous studies also confirm that when an animal species suffers a population collapse and faces environmental stress, it rapidly goes extinct without human intervention.12 Furthermore, the extinction risk and the speed with which extinction occurs rises dramatically with adult body mass.13
God’s Purposes for Extinction and Speciation
Why did God wipe out and replace life so frequently? For one thing, these mass creation events perfectly compensated for the Sun’s increasing luminosity by producing new life-forms that could draw more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Another reason is keeping Earth packed with the greatest possible biomass, biodiversity, and biocomplexity. This ensures that humans have all the biodeposits they need to launch and sustain global high-technology civilization—which allows Christ’s followers to fulfill the Great Commission in the shortest time possible.
- J. C. McElwain, D. J. Beerling, and F. I. Woodward, “Fossil Plants and Global Warming at the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary,” Science 285 (August 27, 1999): 1386–90.
- M. J. Benton, “Diversification and Extinction in the History of Life,” Science 268 (April 7, 1995): 52–58.
- Bernadette C. Proemse et al., “Ocean Anoxia Did Not Cause the Latest Permian Extinction,” EGU General Assembly 2014, held on April 27–May 2, 2014 in Vienna, Austria: id. 9089; Sarda Sahney and Michael J. Benton, “Recovery from the Most Profound Mass Extinction of all Time,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275 (April 7, 2008): 759–65.
- Terrence J. Blackburn et al., “Zircon U-Pb Geochronology Links the End-Triassic Extinction with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province,” Science 340 (May 24, 2013): 941–45.
- P. E. Olsen et al., “Ascent of Dinosaurs Linked to an Iridium Anomaly at the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary,” Science 296 (May 17, 2002): 1305–7.
- Blackburn et al., “Zircon U-Pb Geochronology Links,” 941–45.
- Morgan F. Schaller, James D. Wright, and Dennis V. Kent, “Atmospheric PCO2 Perturbations Associated with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province,” Science 331 (March 18, 2011): 1404–9.
- Zachary D. Blount, Christina Z. Borland, and Richard E. Lenski, “Historical Contingency and the Evolution of a Key Innovation in an Experimental Population of Escherichia coli,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105 (June 10, 2008): 7899–906; Zachary D. Blount et al., “Genomic Analysis of a Key Innovation in an Experimental Escherichia coli Population,” Nature 489 (September 27, 2012): 513–18; Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 167–71; Hsin-Hung Chou et al., “Diminishing Returns Epistasis Among Beneficial Mutations Decelerates Adaptation,” Science 332 (June 3, 2011): 1190–92; Aisha I. Khan et al., “Negative Epistasis between Beneficial Mutations in an Evolving Bacterial Population,” Science 332 (June 3, 2011): 1193–96; Maitreya J. Dunham et al., “Characteristic Genome Rearrangements in Experimental Evolution of Saccharomycescerevisiae,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 99 (December 10, 2002): 16144–49.
- Olsen et al., “Ascent of Dinosaurs Linked,” 1307.
- Morgan W. Kelly, Eric Sanford, and Richard K. Grosberg, “Limited Potential for Adaptation to Climate Change in a Broadly Distributed Marine Crustacean,” Proceedings of Royal Society B 279 (January 22, 2012): 349–56.
- John H. Lawton and Robert May, eds., Extinction Rates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Marjorie L. Reaka-Kudla, Don E. Wilson, and Edward O. Wilson, eds., Biodiversity II: Understanding and Protecting Our Biological Resources (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 1997); David H. Reed, David A. Briscoe, and Richard Frankham, “Inbreeding and Extinction: The Effect of Environmental Stress and Lineage,” Conservation Genetics 3 (September 2002): 301–7; Richard Frankham and Katherine Ralls, “Conservation Biology: Inbreeding Leads to Extinction,” Nature 392 (April 2, 1998): 441–42; Julie A. Jiménez et al., “An Experimental Study of Inbreeding Depression in a Natural Habitat,” Science 266 (October 14, 1994): 271–73.
- Kevin J. Gaston and Tim M. Blackburn, “Birds, Body Size and the Threat of Extinction,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 247 (January 30, 1995): 205–12; Marcel Cardillo et al., “Multiple Causes of High Extinction Risk in Large Mammal Species,” Science 309 (August 19, 2005): 1239–41; German Forero-Medina et al., “Body Size and Extinction Risk in Brazilian Carnivores,” Biota Neotropica 9 (February 2009): 45–50.