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 necessary 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.