Cal Academy of Sciences display

Did a 1990s Cal Academy of Sciences display on Cambrian phyla showed the phyla connected without common ancestors?

A fossil exhibit on display at the California Academy of Sciences in the 1990s. It showed fossils arranged in the familiar branching-tree pattern the phyla lines are parallel, illustrating that each phylum remains distinct--separate from the other phyla--during the entire time it appears in the fossil record.
Explore Evolution, p. 34

Summary of problems with claim: If description of exhibit is accurate, this display does not undermine evolution. Even if a hypothetical exhibit were inaccurate, one mistaken exhibit is not evidence against evolution any more than a misspelling on a picture caption changes the spelling of the word.

Full discussion:

Attempts by NCSE to verify this with the California Academy of Sciences have proven fruitless; this was so long ago that the information is unverifiable.

But if we accept their premise and assume that the diagram is a faithful representation of the CAS exhibit, then several things are wrong with Explore Evolution's claims:

1. Explore Evolution Misunderstands the Definition of Phyla

Phyla are ways of classifying body plans of animals. We are part of Phylum Chordata, for example, meaning that we have a spinal cord. So are birds, fish, snakes, and so on. Phylum Cnidaria is the home of animals without a spinal cord and with stinging cells; jellies and corals and anemones are all cnidarians.

2. Phyla Remain Distinct

Phyla are not expected to change within the fossil record; they are expected to evolve in parallel, separate branches. While Phylum Chordata plays many variations on the theme of spinal cords, no one would expect a chordate to evolve into Phylum Cnidaria. A jelly might evolve into another type of jelly, but not into a bird. Nor will the chordate bird evolve into a cnidarian.

Explore Evolution assumes that such transformations should occur, yet this evolutionary route has never been claimed by scientists.

Table of Contents