The fossil record is hardly “the record of life in the geologic past” that so many scientists incorrectly espouse, assuming a long prehistory for the earth and life on it.
Fossils are the remains, traces, or imprints of plants or animals that have been preserved in the earth’s near-surface rock layers at some time in the past.1 In other words, fossils are the remains of dead animals and plants that were buried in sedimentary layers that later hardened to rock strata. So the fossil record is hardly “the record of life in the geologic past” that so many scientists incorrectly espouse,2 assuming a long prehistory for the earth and life on it. Instead, it is a record of the deaths of countless billions of animals and plants.
For many people, the fossil record is still believed to be “exhibit A” for evolution. Why? Because most geologists insist the sedimentary rock layers were deposited gradually over vast eons of time during which animals lived, died, and then were occasionally buried and fossilized. So when these fossilized animals (and plants) are found in the earth’s rock sequences in a particular order of first appearance, such as animals without backbones (invertebrates) in lower layers followed progressively upward by fish, then amphibians, reptiles, birds, and finally mammals (e.g., in the Colorado Plateau region of the United States), it is concluded, and thus almost universally taught, that this must have been the order in which these animals evolved during those vast eons of time.
However, in reality, it can only be dogmatically asserted that the fossil record is the record of the order in which animals and plants were buried and fossilized. Furthermore, the vast eons of time are unproven and unproveable, being based on assumptions about how quickly sedimentary rock layers were deposited in the unobserved past. Instead, there is overwhelming evidence that most of the sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly. Indeed, the impeccable state of preservation of most fossils requires the animals and plants to have been very rapidly buried, virtually alive, by vast amounts of sediments before decay could destroy delicate details of their appearance and anatomy. Thus, if most sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly over a radically short period of time, say in a catastrophic global flood, then the animals and plants buried and fossilized in those rock layers may well have all lived at about the same time and then have been rapidly buried progressively and sequentially.
Furthermore, the one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that when we find animals and plants fossilized together, they didn’t necessarily live together in the same environment or even die together, but they certainly were buried together, because that’s how we observe them today! This observational certainty is crucial to our understanding of the many claimed mass extinction events in the fossil record. Nevertheless, there is also evidence in some instances that the fossils found buried together may represent animals and plants that did once live together (see later).
In the present world, when all remaining living members of a particular type of animal die, that animal (or plant) is said to have become extinct. Most scientists (incorrectly) regard the fossil record as a record of life in the geologic past. So, when in the upward progression of strata the fossils of a particular type of animal or plant stop occurring in the record and there are no more fossils of that animal or plant in the strata above, or any living representatives of that animal or plant, most scientists say that this particular creature went extinct many years ago. Sadly, there are many animals and plants that are extinct, and we only know they once existed because of their fossilized remains in the geologic record. Perhaps the most obvious and famous example is the dinosaurs.
There are distinctive levels in the fossil record where vast numbers of animals (and plants) are believed to have become extinct. Evolutionists claim that all these animals (and plants) must have died, been buried, and become extinct all at the same time. Since this pattern is seen in the geologic record all around the globe, they call these distinctive levels in the fossil record mass extinctions. Furthermore, because something must have happened globally to wipe out all those animals (and plants), the formation of these distinctive levels in the fossil record are called mass extinction events. However, in the context of catastrophic deposition of the strata containing these fossils, this pattern would be a preserved consequence of the Flood.
Now geologists have divided the geologic record into time periods, according to their belief in billions of years of elapsed time during which the sedimentary strata were deposited. Thus, those sedimentary strata that were supposedly deposited during a particular time period are so grouped and named accordingly. This is the origin of names such as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and more.
There are some 17 mass extinction events in the fossil record recognized by geologists, from in the late Precambrian up until the late Neogene, “just before the dawn of written human history.” However, only eight of those are classed as major mass extinction events—end-Ordovician, late-Devonian, end-Permian, end-Triassic, early-Jurassic, end-Jurassic, middle-Cretaceous, and end-Cretaceous. Most people have probably heard about the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, because that’s when the dinosaurs are supposed to have been wiped out, along with about a quarter of all the known families of animals. However, the end-Permian mass extinction event was even more catastrophic, because 75 percent of amphibian families and 80 percent of reptile families were supposedly wiped out then, along with 75 to 90 percent of all pre-existing species in the oceans.
So what caused these mass extinction events? Evolutionary geologists are still debating the answer. The popularized explanation for the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event is that an asteroid hit the earth, generating choking dust clouds and giant tsunamis (so-called tidal waves) that decimated the globe and its climate, supposedly for a few million years. A layer of clay containing a chemical signature of an asteroid is pointed to in several places around the globe as one piece of evidence, and the 124-mile (200 km) wide Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico is regarded as “the scene of the crime.”
However, at the same level in the geologic record are the massive remains of catastrophic outpourings of staggering quantities of volcanic lavas over much of India, totally unlike any volcanic eruptions experienced in recent human history. The Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines in 1991 blasted enough dust into the atmosphere to circle the globe and cool the following summer by 1–2°C, as well as gases which caused acid rain. Yet that eruption was only a tiny firecracker compared to the massive, catastrophic Indian eruption. Furthermore, volcanic dust has a similar chemical signature to that of an asteroid. Interestingly, even more enormous quantities of volcanic lavas are found in Siberia and coincide with the end-Permian mass extinction event.
What then should Bible-believing Christians make of these interpretations of the fossil and geologic evidence? Of course, we first need to recognize that both creationists and evolutionists start with presupposed assumptions, which they then use to interpret the presently observed evidence. So this difference of interpretations cannot be “religion vs. science,” as it is so often portrayed.
What should Bible-believing Christians make of these interpretations of the fossil and geologic evidence?
Furthermore, it needs to be noted that in the geologic record there are very thick sequences of rock layers, found below the main strata record containing prolific fossils, which are either totally devoid of fossils or only contain very rare fossils of microorganisms and minor invertebrates. In the biblical framework of earth history, these strata would be classified as creation week and pre-Flood. Also, a few fossils may also have been formed since the Flood due to localized, residual catastrophic depositional events, so Flood geologists do not claim all fossils were formed during the Flood.
As already noted, the only dogmatic claim which can be made is that the geologic strata record the order in which animals and plants were buried and fossilized. However, it is clear from Genesis 1–3, Romans 5:12, 8:20–22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 that God created a good world which was severely marred by death as a result of Adam’s sin. Because the animals were created as vegetarians (Genesis 1:29–30) and the whole creation was subsequently impacted with corruption and death due to the Fall, there could have been no animal fossils in Eden’s rocks. Indeed, fossilization under present-day conditions is exceedingly rare, so evolutionary geologists applying “the present is the key to the past” have a real problem in explaining how the vast numbers of fossils in the geologic record could have formed. Thus, the global destruction of all the pre-Flood animals and plants by the year-long Flood cataclysm alone makes sense of this fossil and geologic evidence (though as noted above, a small percent of the geological and fossil evidence is from post-Flood residual catastrophism).
Indeed, not only did the animals and plants have to be buried rapidly by huge masses of water-transported sediments to be fossilized, but the general vertical order of burial is also consistent with the biblical flood. The first fossils in the record are of marine animals exclusively, and it is only higher in the strata that fossils of land animals are found, because the Flood began in the ocean basins (“the fountains of the great deep burst open”) and the ocean waters then flooded over the continents. How else would there be marine fossils in sedimentary layers stretching over large areas of the continents? Added to this, “the floodgates of heaven” were simultaneously opened, and both volcanism and earth movements accompanied these upheavals.
In a global watery cataclysm, therefore, there would be simultaneous wholesale destruction of animals and plants across the globe. The tearing apart of the earth’s crust would release stupendous outpourings of volcanic lavas on the continental scale found in the geologic record. The resultant “waves” of destruction are thus easily misinterpreted as mass extinction events, when these were just stages of the single, year-long, catastrophic global flood.
It is also significant that some fossilized animals and plants once thought to be extinct have in fact been found still alive, thus demonstrating the total unreliability of the evolutionary time scale. The last fossilized coelacanth (a fish) is supposedly 65 million years old, but coelacanths are still here, so where did they “hide” for 65 million years? The Wollemi pine’s last fossil is supposedly 150 million years old, but identical living trees were found in 1994. The recent burial and fossilization of these animals and plants, and the extinction of many other animals and plants, during the single biblical flood thus makes better sense of all the fossil and geologic evidence.
Even though the order of strata and the fossils contained in them (sometimes extrapolated and interpolated) has been made the basis of the accepted millions-of-years system of geochronology and historical geology, the physical reality of the strata order and the contained fossils is generally not in dispute. Details of local strata sequences have been carefully compiled by physical observations during field work and via drill-holes. Careful correlations of strata of the same rock types have then been made between local areas and from region to region, often by physical means, so that the robustness of the overall fossil order and strata sequence of the geologic record has been clearly established.
Indeed, it is now well recognized that there are at least six thick sequences of fossil-bearing sedimentary strata, known as megasequences, which can be traced right across the North American continent and beyond to other continents.3 Such global-scale deposition of sediment layers (e.g., chalk and coal beds) is, of course, totally inexplicable to uniformitarian (long-ages) geologists by the application of only today’s slow-and-gradual geologic processes that only operate over local to regional scales. But it is powerful evidence of catastrophic deposition during the global Genesis flood. Thus, it is not the recognized order of the strata in the geologic record that is in dispute, but rather the millions-of-years interpretation for the deposition of the sedimentary strata and their contained fossils.
It is true that the complete geologic record is hardly ever, if at all, found in any one place on the earth’s surface. Usually several or many of the strata in local sequences are missing compared to the overall geologic record, but usually over a given region there is more complete preservation of the record via correlation and integration. However, quite commonly there is little or no physical or physiographic evidence of the intervening period of erosion or non-deposition of the missing strata systems, suggesting that at such localities neither erosion nor deposition ever occurred there. Yet this is exactly what would be expected based on the biblical account of the Genesis flood and its implications. In some areas one sequence of sedimentary strata with their contained fossil assemblages would be deposited, and in other areas entirely different strata sequences would be deposited, depending on the source areas and directions of the water currents transporting the sediments. Some strata units would have been deposited over wider areas than others, with erosion in some areas but continuous deposition in others, even when intervening strata units were deposited elsewhere. Thus, as a result of the complex interplay of currents, waves, and transported sediments with their entombed organisms, a variety of different types of sedimentary rocks and strata sequences would have been laid down directly on the pre-Flood strata sequences and the crystalline basement that probably dates back to the creation week itself. Thus the pattern of deposition of the strata sequences and their contained fossils is entirely consistent with the strata record the Flood might be expected to have produced. In contrast, by using the present to interpret the past, evolutionary geologists have no more true scientific certainty of their version of the unobservable, unique historic events which they claim produced the geologic record.
Nevertheless, if the general order of the strata and their contained fossil assemblages is not generally in dispute, then that order in the strata sequences still must reflect the geological processes and their timing responsible for the formation of the strata and their order. If, as is assiduously maintained here, the order in the fossil record does not represent the sequence of the evolutionary development of life, then the fossil record must be explainable within the context of the tempo of geologic processes burying these organisms in the sediment layers during the global flood cataclysm. Indeed, both the order of the strata and their contained fossils could well provide us with information about the pre-Flood world, and evidence of the progress of different geological processes during the Flood event. There are a number of factors that have been suggested to explain the order in the fossil record in terms of the Flood processes, rather than over the claimed long ages.
If we look at today’s living biology, we find that across mountains such as the Sierra Nevada of California, or in a trip from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River, there are distinct plant and animal communities in different life or ecology zones that are characteristic of the climates at different elevations. Thus, we observe cacti growing in desert zones and pines growing in alpine zones rather than growing together. Therefore, just as these life/ecology zones today can be correlated globally (all deserts around the world have similar plants and animals), so too some fossil zones and fossil communities may be correlated globally within the geologic record of the Flood.
There could well have been distinct biological communities and ecological zones in the pre-Flood world that were spatially and geographically separated from one another.
Thus it has been suggested that there could well have been distinct biological communities and ecological zones in the pre-Flood world that were spatially and geographically separated from one another, and that they were then sequentially inundated, swept away, and buried as the Flood waters rose. This ecological zonation model for the order of fossils in the geologic record4 would argue that the lower fossiliferous layers in the strata record must therefore represent the fossilization of biological communities at lower elevations and warmer climates, while higher layers in the geologic record must represent fossilization of biological communities that lived at higher elevations and thus cooler temperatures.
Based on the vertical and horizontal distribution of certain fossil assemblages in the strata record, it has been concluded that the pre-Flood biogeography consisted of distinct and unique ecosystems which were destroyed by the Flood and did not recover to become re-established in the post-Flood world of today. These include a floating-forest ecosystem consisting of unique trees called lycopods of various sizes that contained large, hollow cavities in their trunks and branches and hollow root-like rhizomes, with associated similar plants. It also includes some unique animals, mainly amphibians, that lived in these forests that floated on the surface of the pre-Flood ocean.5 Spatially and geographically separated and isolated from this floating-forest ecosystem were stromatolite reefs adjacent to hydrothermal springs in the shallow waters of continental shelves making up a hydrothermal-stromatolite reef ecosystem.6
In the warmer climates of the lowland areas of the pre-Flood land surfaces, dinosaurs lived where gymnosperm vegetation (naked seed plants) was abundant, while at high elevations inland in the hills and mountains where the climate was cooler, mammals and humans lived among vegetation dominated by angiosperms (flowering plants).7 Thus these gymnospermdinosaur and angiosperm-mammal-man ecosystems (or biomes) were spatially and geographically separated from one another on the pre-Flood land surfaces. In Genesis chapter 2, the river coming out of the Garden of Eden is described as dividing into four rivers, which may imply the Garden of Eden (with its fruit trees and other angiosperms, mammals, and man) was at a high point geographically, the rivers flowing downhill to the lowland swampy plains bordering the shorelines where the gymnosperms grew and the dinosaurs lived. This would explain why we don’t find human and dinosaur fossil remains together in the geologic record, dinosaurs and gymnosperms only fossilized together, and angiosperms only fossilized with mammals and man higher in the record separate from the dinosaurs and gymnosperms.
It can therefore be argued that in a very general way the order of fossil “succession” in the geologic record would reflect the successive burial of these pre- Flood biological communities as the Flood waters rose up onto the continents. The Flood began with the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep (the breaking up of the pre-Flood ocean floor), so there would have been a sudden surge of strong ocean currents and tsunamis picking up sediments from the ocean floor and moving landward that would first of all have overwhelmed the stromatolite reefs in the shallow seas fringing the shorelines. This destruction of the protected lagoons between the stromatolite reefs and the shorelines by these severe storms would have then caused the strange animals that probably were unique to these stromatolite reefs to be buried and thus preserved in the lowermost Flood strata directly overlaying the burial of the stromatolites.
Increasing storms, tidal surges, and tsunamis generated by earth movements, earthquakes, and volcanism on the ocean floor would have resulted in the progressive breaking up of the floating-forest ecosystem on the ocean surface, and thus huge rafts of vegetation would have been swept landward to be beached with the sediment load on the land surfaces being inundated. Thus, the floatingforest vegetation would have been buried higher in the strata record of the Flood, well above the stromatolites and the strange animals that lived with them. Only later, in the first 150 days of the Flood, as the waters rose higher across the land surface, would the gymnosperm-dinosaurs ecosystem be first swept away and buried, followed later by the angiosperm-mammal-man ecosystem that lived at higher elevations. People would have continued to move to the highest ground to escape the rising Flood waters, and so would not necessarily have been buried with the angiosperms and mammals. Thus the existence of these geographically separated distinct ecosystems in the pre-Flood world could well explain this spatial separation and order of fossilization in the geologic record of the Flood.
The vast majority by number of fossils preserved in the strata record of the Flood are the remains of shallow-water marine invertebrates (brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, corals, graptolites, echinoderms, crustaceans, etc.).8 In the lowermost fossiliferous strata (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian), the contained fossils are almost exclusively shallow-water marine invertebrates, with fish and amphibian fossils only appearing in progressively greater numbers in the higher strata.9 The first fish fossils are found in Ordovician strata, and in Devonian strata are found amphibians and the first evidence of continentaltype flora. It is not until the Carboniferous (Mississippian and Pennsylvanian) and Permian strata higher in the geologic record that the first traces of land animals are encountered.
Because the Flood began in the ocean basins with the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep, strong and destructive ocean currents were generated by the upheavals and moved swiftly landward, scouring the sediments on the ocean floor and carrying them and the organisms living in, on, and near them. These currents and sediments reached the shallower continental shelves, where the shallow-water marine invertebrates lived in all their prolific diversity. Unable to escape, these organisms would have been swept away and buried in the sediment layers as they were dumped where the waters crashed onto the land surfaces being progressively inundated farther inland. As well as burying these shallow-water marine invertebrates, the sediments washed shoreward from the ocean basins would have progressively buried fish, then amphibians and reptiles living in lowland, swampy habitats, before eventually sweeping away the dinosaurs and burying them next, and finally at the highest elevations destroying and burying birds, mammals, and angiosperms.
Moving water hydrodynamically selects and sorts particles of similar sizes and shapes. Together with the effect of the specific gravities of the respective organisms, this would have ensured deposition of the supposedly simple marine invertebrates in the first-deposited strata that are now deep in the geologic record of the Flood. The well-established “impact law” states that the settling velocity of large particles is independent of fluid viscosity, being directly proportional to the square root of particle diameter, directly proportional to particle sphericity, and directly proportional to the difference between particle and fluid density divided by fluid density.10 Moving water, or moving particles in still water, exerts “drag” forces on immersed bodies which depend on the above factors. Particles in motion will tend to settle out in proportion mainly to their specific gravity (or density) and sphericity.
It is significant that the marine organisms fossilized in the earliest Flood strata, such as the trilobites, brachiopods, etc., are very “streamlined” and quite dense. The shells of these and most other marine invertebrates are largely composed of calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, and similar minerals which are quite heavy (heavier than quartz, for example, the most common constituent of many sands and gravels). This factor alone would have exerted a highly selective sorting action, not only tending to deposit the simpler (that is, the most spherical and undifferentiated) organisms first in the sediments as they were being deposited, but also tending to segregate particles of similar sizes and shapes. These could have thus formed distinct faunal “stratigraphic horizons,” with the complexity of structure of deposited organisms, even of similar kinds, increasing progressively upward in the accumulating sediments.
It is quite possible that this could have been a major process responsible for giving the fossil assemblages within the strata sequences a superficial appearance of “evolution” of similar organisms in the progressive succession upward in the geologic record. Generally, the sorting action of flowing water is quite efficient, and would definitely have separated the shells and other fossils in just the fashion in which they are found, with certain fossils predominant in certain stratigraphic horizons, and the supposed complexity of such distinctive, so-called “index” fossils increasing in at least a general way in a progressive sequence upward through the strata of the geologic record of the Flood.
Of course, these very pronounced “sorting” powers of hydraulic action are really only valid generally, rather than universally. Furthermore, local variations and peculiarities of turbulence, environment, sediment composition, etc., would be expected to cause local variations in the fossil assemblages, with even occasional heterogeneous combinations of sediments and fossils of a wide variety of shapes and sizes, just as we find in the complex geological record.
In any case, it needs to be emphasized that the so-called “transitional” fossil forms that are true “intermediates” in the strata sequences between supposed ancestors and supposed descendants according to the evolutionary model are exceedingly rare, and are not found at all among the groups with the best fossil records (shallow-marine invertebrates like mollusks and brachiopods).11 Indeed, even evolutionary researchers have found that the successive fossil assemblages in the strata record invariably only show trivial differences between fossil organisms, the different fossil groups with their distinctive body plans appearing abruptly in the record, and then essentially staying the same (stasis) in the record.12
There is another reason why it is totally reasonable to expect that vertebrates would be found fossilized higher in the geologic record than the first invertebrates. Indeed, if vertebrates were to be ranked according to their likelihood of being buried early in the fossil record, then we would expect oceanic fish to be buried first, since they live at the lowest elevation.13 However, in the ocean, the fish live in the water column and have great mobility, unlike the invertebrates that live on the ocean floor and have more restricted mobility, or are even attached to a substrate. Therefore, we would expect the fish to only be buried and fossilized subsequent to the first marine invertebrates.
Of course, fish would have inhabited water at all different elevations in the pre-Flood world, even up in mountain streams, as well as the lowland, swampy habitats, but their ranking is based on where the first representatives of fish are likely to be buried. Thus it is hardly surprising to find that the first vertebrates to be found in the fossil record, and then only sparingly, are in Ordovician strata. Subsequently, fish fossils are found in profusion higher up in the Devonian strata, often in great “fossil graveyards,” indicating their violent burial.
A second factor in the ranking of the likelihood of vertebrates being buried is how animals would react to the Flood. The behavior of some animals is very rigid and stereotyped, so they prefer to stay where they are used to living, and thus would have had little chance of escape. Adaptable animals would have recognized something was wrong, and thus made an effort to escape. Fish are the least adaptable in their behavior, while amphibians come next, and then are followed by reptiles, birds, and lastly, the mammals.
The third factor to be considered is the mobility of land vertebrates. Once they become aware of the need to escape, how capable would they then have been of running, swimming, flying, or even riding on floating debris? Amphibians would have been the least mobile, with reptiles performing somewhat better, but not being equal to the mammals’ mobility, due largely to their low metabolic rates. However, birds, with their ability to fly, would have had the best expected mobility, even being able to find temporary refuge on floating debris.
These three factors would tend to support each other. If they had worked against each other, then the order of vertebrates in the fossil record would be more difficult to explain. However, since they all do work together, it is realistic to suggest that the combination of these factors could have contributed significantly to producing the general sequence we now observe in the fossil record.
In general, therefore, the land animals and plants would be expected to have been caught somewhat later in the period of rising Flood waters and buried in the sediments in much the same order as that found in the geologic record, as conventionally depicted in the standard geologic column. Thus, generally speaking, sediment beds burying marine vertebrates would be overlain by beds containing fossilized amphibians, then beds with reptile fossils, and, finally, beds containing fossils of birds and mammals. This is essentially in the order:
This order is essentially consistent with the implications of the biblical account of the Flood, and therefore it provides further circumstantial evidence of the veracity of that account. Of course, there would have been many exceptions to this expected general order, both in terms of omissions and inversions, as the water currents waxed and waned, and their directions changed due to obstacles and obstructions as the land became increasingly submerged and more and more amphibians, reptiles, and mammals were overtaken by the waters.
Other factors must have been significant in influencing the time when many groups of organisms met their demise. As the catastrophic destruction progressed, there would have been changes in the chemistry of seas and lakes from the mixing of fresh and salt water, and from contamination by leaching of other chemicals. Each species of aquatic organism would have had its own physiological tolerance to these changes. Thus, there would have been a sequence of mass mortalities of different groups as the water quality changed. Changes in the turbidity of the waters, pollution of the air by volcanic ash, and/ or changes in air temperatures, would likely have had similar effects. So whereas ecological zonation of the pre-Flood world is a useful concept in explaining how the catastrophic processes during the Flood would have produced the order of fossils now seen in the geologic record, the reality was undoubtedly much more complex, due to many other factors.
In no sense is it necessary to capitulate to the vociferous claim that the order in the fossil record is evidence of the progressive organic evolution to today’s plants and animals through various transitional intermediary stages over millions of years from common ancestors. While there are underlying thick strata sequences which are devoid of fossils and were therefore formed during creation week and the pre-Flood era, most of the fossil record is a record of death and burial of animals and plants during the Flood, as described in the biblical account, rather than being the order of a living succession that suffered the occasional mass extinction.
Asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions accompanied other geological processes that catastrophically destroyed plants, animals, and people, and reshaped the earth’s surface during the Flood event. Rather than requiring long ages, the order of fossils in the rock record can be accounted for by the year-long Flood, as a result of the pre-Flood biogeography and ecological zonation, the early burial of marine creatures, the hydrodynamic selectivity of moving water, and the behavior and higher mobility of the vertebrates. Thus, the order of the fossils in the rock record doesn’t favor long ages, but is consistent with the global, catastrophic, year-long Genesis flood cataclysm, followed by localized residual catastrophism.