Recently, Business Insider published a short video on its website called “How scientists discovered an ancient fish that went extinct 65 million years ago.” Now, this story is an old one—the fish was discovered in the 1930s. But it was the find of the century at the time and is still an amazing discovery today.
The fish is known as the coelacanth (SEE-la-canth). It has thick scales and lobed fins, and it appears throughout the fossil record in rock layers that are typically dated from around 340 million years until its last appearance in rock layers laid down supposedly 65 million years ago. Evolutionary scientists long assumed that, because there were no more fossils of the coelacanth, it must have gone extinct around the time the dinosaurs did. Imagine their surprise when in the 1930s, fishermen hauled one up onto their boat out of the deep waters off the coast of South Africa!
Well, this fish apparently forgot to evolve for 65 million years! You see, the living coelacanth is easily recognizable from the fossils. Despite having supposedly “primitive” features, many of these features not seen in any living vertebrates, this fish has survived basically unchanged for an alleged 70 million years.1 How is this possible?
Well, it’s a matter of interpretation. You see the fossil of the coelacanth is studied in the present—we observe it today. But what happened to make it a fossil is in the past—it’s historical science because we can’t directly test, observe, or repeat the past. So what you believe about the past is going to influence your interpretation of the evidence. In the case of the coelacanth, evolutionists have the presupposition that the fossil record shows Earth’s history over millions of years. So when they find this fossil that doesn’t have a living match today, they interpreted that fossil to have gone extinct millions of years ago. Now, the fossil itself didn’t tell them that. Their interpretation of that fossil through their evolutionary worldview drew that conclusion. And that conclusion turned out to be very wrong. Coelacanths were happily swimming deep in the ocean all along and were even being sold in fish markets, unbeknownst to scientists.
And because of the incredible amount of genetic variability in organisms, creationists would expect creatures to see some change over time—but only changes within a kind! Living creatures look much the same in the fossil record—although there are some (expected) minor changes.
Now, creationists weren’t shocked to find that coelacanths were still alive. After all, they were buried in the global Flood just over 4,300 years ago. Although many creatures, especially marine ones (it was a marine catastrophe after all, and marine creatures weren’t on the Ark!), have gone extinct since the Flood, when one turns up seemingly out of nowhere, it isn’t a shock to the creationist community. This is because we interpret the fossil record much differently. It isn’t the record of millions of years of Earth’s history, but a testimony to the global Flood of Noah’s day, which ripped up miles of sediment, redeposited them in layers and trapped and buried organisms, which turned into fossils. The fossil creatures that are now thought to be extinct died out sometime after (or in the case of marine creatures, maybe during) the Flood. Because we have a different starting point, we reach an entirely different conclusion looking at the exact same fossil!
You can learn more about “living fossils,” like the coelacanth, on our Living Fossils topic page.
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This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.