A new discovery reveals that complex vegetation appeared much earlier on Earth than previously thought. This discovery, as I will explain, has profound theological significance. Let me first, however, set the historical stage.

Earth’s first life-forms were prokaryotes. Prokaryotes are Earth’s simplest organisms. They are all single-celled. Their cells lack an interior membrane-enclosed nucleus. Their cells also lack mitochondria and other membrane-enclosed organelles.

Eukaryotes, which arrived later, are much more complex than prokaryotes. Eukaryotes include both single-celled and multicellular organisms. All eukaryotes are organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and other organelles that are enclosed within membranes.

The earliest evidence for prokaryotes’ existence is 3.825±0.006 billion years ago.1 And until two weeks ago, the earliest undisputed evidence for the appearance of eukaryotes was 1.65 billion years ago.2 Eukaryotes akin to modern groups, in the form of red algae, date back to 1.2 billion years ago.3

Now, a team of four paleontologists have announced their discovery of two species (Rafatazmia chitrakootensis and Ramathallus lobatus) of crown-group red algae that date back 1.6 billion years.4 These algae species (see featured image) are complex multicellular life-forms that possess multicellular thalli (photosynthetic shoots or twigs). Sibling cells are separated by a pit connection. Cellulose fibrils (fine fibers) are embedded in an extensive gelatinous matrix. In addition to cellulose fibrils, these algae species possess xylan fibrils, which store both polysaccharides and starches.

This discovery by the four paleontologists means that complex eukaryotes akin to modern groups have a much longer history on Earth than previously thought. The discovery sustains the theme of Psalm 104 where God is described as packing Earth with life as broadly as possible, with as much diversity as possible, and with as much abundance as possible. This theme also is briefly expressed in Isaiah 45:18.

The discovery also implies that God was aggressively introducing complex life as early as conditions on Earth would permit. As I explain in Improbable Planet,6 such a creation strategy is essential for making possible the existence of human beings and global human civilization.

Further, the discovery may also shed some additional light on the events of creation days 3 and 5 in Genesis 1. One of the most persistent challenges to the accuracy of the scientific chronology of Genesis 1 is that the fossil record contradicts the Bible’s claim that the first plants on the landmasses (creation day 3) preceded the first animals in the oceans (creation day 5).

As I explained in Navigating Genesis,7 the definitions of the Hebrew words used in creation day 3 (zera, es, and peri) are more generic than “seeds”, “trees”, and “fruits.” Rather, they are three non-exhaustive examples of the much more generic term deshe (vegetation). In this context, I cite research papers based on isotope ratios and small parts of fossils that demonstrate that continental vegetation (mentioned in creation day 3) preceded the first appearance of ocean animals (mentioned in creation day 5) by hundreds of millions of years.

The typical habitats for red algae are the shallow (depths of a few feet or less) marine environments that border continental landmasses. Red algae can thrive above sea level as long they are at least occasionally washed over by ocean waves or are recipients of marine mist. About 5% of all known red algae species live in shallow freshwater environments.8 Such environments are continental in that freshwater can only exist on landmasses. Thus, red algae likely qualify as the first known complex continental vegetation. As such, the events on creation day 3 apparently precede those on creation day 5 by about 1 billion years.

Red algae are still abundant on Earth today and contribute significantly to human civilization. They are rich in protein, nutrients, and vitamins and serve as an important food source in Britain, Japan, Korea, and southeast Asia. The gelatins and agar from red algae have industrial applications. For many reasons we can thank God for red algae and for creating it as early as he did.

Featured image credit: Toby Hudson


  1. Craig E. Manning, Stephen J. Mojzsis, and T. Mark Harrison, “Geology, Age, and Origin of Supracrustal Rocks at Akilia, West Greenland,” American Journal of Science 306 (May 2006): 303–66, doi:10.2475/05.2006.02; Kevin D. McKeegan, Anatoliy B. Kudryavtsev, and J. William Schopf, “Raman and Ion Microscopic Imagery of Graphitic Inclusions in Apatite from Older than 3830 Ma Akilia Supracrustal Rocks, West Greenland,” Geology 35 (July 2007): 591–94, doi:10.1130/G23465A.1; Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 98–106.
  2. Andrew H. Knoll et al., “Eukaryotic Organisms in Proterozoic Oceans,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 361 (June 2006): 1023–38, doi:10.1098/rstb.2006.184.
  3. Nicholas J. Butterfield, “Bangiomorpha pubescens n. gen., n. sp.: Implications for the Evolution of Sex, Multicellularity, and the Mesoproterozoic/Neoproterozoic Radiation of Eukaryotes,” Paleobiology 26 (March 2000): 386–404, doi:10.1666/0094-8373(2000)026<0386:bpngns>2.0.CO;2; Eun Chan Yang et al., “Divergence Time Estimates and the Evolution of Major Lineages in the Florideophyte Red Algae,” Scientific Reports 6 (February 2016): id. 21361, doi:10.1038/srep21361.
  4. Stefan Bengtson et al., “Three-Dimensional Preservation of Cellular and Subcellular Structures Suggests 1.6 Billion-Year-Old Crown-Group Red Algae,” PLoS Biology 15 (March 14, 2017): e2000735, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2000735.
  5. Robert G. Sheath, “The Biology of Freshwater Red Algae,” Progress Phycological Research 3 (1984): 89–157.
  6. Ross, Improbable Planet, 94–219.
  7. Hugh Ross, Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1–11 (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014): 49–52.
  8. Sheath, “Biology of Freshwater Red Algae.”

Subjects: Bacteria, Cells, Challenges to Evolution, Creation, Early Earth, Genesis, Life History, Origin of Life

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

Email Sign-up

Sign up for the TWR360 Newsletter

Access updates, news, Biblical teaching and inspirational messages from powerful Christian voices.

Thank you for signing up to receive updates from TWR360.

Required information missing