Is Fossil-Associated Cholesterol a Biomarker for a Young Earth?



Like many Americans, I receive a yearly physical. Even though I find these exams to be a bit of a nuisance, I recognize their importance. These annual checkups allow my doctor to get a read on my overall health.

An important part of any physical exam is blood work. Screening a patient’s blood for specific biomarkers gives physicians data that allows them to assess a patient’s risk for various diseases. For example, the blood levels of total cholesterol and the ratio of HDLs to LDLs serve as useful biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.


Figure 1: Cholesterol. Image credit: BorisTM. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons,

As it turns out, physicians aren’t the only ones who use cholesterol as a diagnostic biomarker. So, too, do paleontologists. In fact, recently a team of paleontologists used cholesterol biomarkers to determine the identity of an enigmatic fossil recovered in Precambrian rock formations that dated to 588 million years in age.1 This diagnosis was possible because they were able to extract low levels of cholesterol derivatives from the fossil. Based on the chemical profile of the extracts, researchers concluded that Dickinsonia specimens are the fossil remains of some of the oldest animals on Earth.

Without question, this finding has important implications for how we understand the origin and history of animal life on Earth. But young-earth creationists (YECs) think that this finding has important implications for another reason. They believe that the recovery of cholesterol derivatives from Dickinsonia provides compelling evidence that the earth is only a few thousand years old and the fossil record results from a worldwide flood event. They argue that there is no way organic materials such as cholesterol could survive for hundreds of millions of years in the geological column. Consequently, they argue that the methods used to date fossils such as Dickinsonia must not be reliable, calling into question the age of the earth determined by radiometric techniques.

Is this claim valid? Is the recovery of cholesterol derivatives from fossils that date to hundreds of millions of years evidence for a young earth? Or can the recovery of cholesterol derivatives from 588 million-year-old fossils be explained in an old-earth paradigm?

How Can Cholesterol Derivatives Survive for Millions of Years?

Despite the protests of YECs, for several converging reasons the isolation of cholesterol derivatives from the Dickinsonia specimen is easily explained—even if the specimen dates to 588 million years in age.

The research team did not recover high levels of cholesterol from the Dickinsonia specimen (which would be expected if the fossils were only 3,000 years old), but trace levels of cholestane (which would be expected if the fossils were hundreds of millions of years old). Cholestane is a chemical derivative of cholesterol that is produced when cholesterol undergoes diagenetic changes.


Figure 2: Cholestane. Image credit: Calvero. (Self-made with ChemDraw.) Public domain via Wikimedia Commons,

Cholestane is a chemically inert hydrocarbon that is expected to be stable for vast periods of time. In fact, geochemists have recovered steranes (other biomarkers) from rock formations that date to 2.8 billion years in age.

The Dickinsonia specimens that yielded cholestanes were exceptionally well-preserved. Specifically, they were unearthed from the White Sea Cliffs in northwest Russia. This rock formation has escaped deep burial and geological heating, making it all the more reasonable that compounds such as cholestanes could survive for nearly 600 million years.

In short, the recovery of cholesterol derivatives from Dickinsonia does not reflect poorly on the health of the old-earth paradigm. When the chemical properties of cholesterol and cholestane are considered, and given the preservation conditions of the Dickinsonia specimens, the interpretation that these materials were recovered from 588-million-year-old fossil specimens passes the physical exam.


Featured image: Dickinsonia Costata. Image credit:


  1. Ilya Bobrovskiy et al., “Ancient Steroids Establish the Ediacaran Fossil Dickinsonia as One of the Earliest Animals,” Science 361 (September 21, 2018): 1246–49, doi:10.1126/science.aat7228.
Reprinted with permission by the author
Original article at:

Explosive Origins of Modern Whales Points to a Creator


As a kid, I loved the Fourth of July. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia and each year the city of Spencer would hold a community-wide celebration featuring local bands, a community picnic at Washington Park, free watermelon, and free entry into the city’s swimming pool.

And of course, the perfect summer day would come to a close with a spectacular fireworks display.

explosive-origins-of-modern-whales-points-to-a-creatorRecently, a team of paleontologists studied the natural history of whales and discovered an explosive display in the scientific record at the time of modern whales’ first appearance.1 And for those who embrace the notion that a

Creator is responsible for life’s history, this new insight provides a reason to celebrate.

Whale Origins

Whales first appear in the fossil record around 50 million years ago. Evolutionary biologists think these aquatic mammals evolved from Pakicetus, a wolf-like carnivore linked to whales based, in part, on the structure of its inner ear bone. Indohyus, a recently discovered deer-like creature dating around 48 million years old, has also been linked to whales based on shared anatomical features. (For more details, listen to the December 20, 2007 episode of Science News Flash.)

Paleontologists have discovered a number of other fossils thought to have been transitional intermediates that led to the emergence of ancient whales. These fossils include (Ambulocetus and the protoceticids, etc.), dating around 45 to 50 million years in age.
The first true whales—Basilosaurus and Dorudon—appear in the fossil record around 40 million years ago. Modern whales and dolphins appear about 35 million years ago. Since that time, several hundred species have existed. Currently, scientists know of around 80 to 90 extant species.
Traditionally, evolutionary biologists argued that, as whales gradually evolved, more species would have emerged. But the most recent research calls this explanation into question.
A Whale of an Explosion
When modern whales appear in the fossil record, they show up explosively with the full range of diversity for body size and dietary strategy (from carnivorous activity to filter-feeding). It looks as if this explosion coincides with the extinction of the “primitive” whales (archaeoceti). Once modern whales and dolphins appear, they undergo very little evolutionary change as a rule.
The sudden appearance of modern whales at 35 million years ago is difficult to account for from an evolutionary framework. But from a creation standpoint, this pattern is expected. It is even reminiscent of biblical passages like Psalm 104:27–20.
Other Concerns about Whale Evolution
When asked for evidence of biological evolution, many people point to creatures like Pakicetus and Ambulocetus. They claim these extinct animals describe the evolution of a terrestrial mammalian carnivore into primitive whales. But the presumed evolutionary transformation of wolf- or deer-like creatures into primitive whales is exceedingly rapid (under 10 million years). This seems too fast. Transforming a terrestrial mammal into an aquatic one requires extensive anatomical and physiological changes.
Additionally, so-called transitional forms all co-occur in the fossil record. They don’t appear sequentially as would be expected if they documented an evolutionary transformation.
While these fossil record features raise questions about the evolutionary account, they make sense within a creation model context. Creatures like Ambulocetus and the protocetids could be viewed as creatures that were created to be well-adapted at the water’s edge.
Now it’s time for me to spend some time at the water’s edge, looking forward to a whale of a good time celebrating our country’s independence.


  1. Graham J. Slater et al., “Diversity versus Disparity and the Radiation of Modern Cetaceans,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, online, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0408.
Reprinted with permission by the author
Original article at: