The Fossil Record

Author: Paul S. Taylor of Christian Answers

The strata beneath Earth’s cities, parks and wilderness are filled with vast numbers of dead animals and plants some petrified, some carbonized, some almost totally dissolved, and others merely decayed. What is the origin and meaning of this vast graveyard? Evolutionists and Creationists interpret these remains in markedly different ways.

Many Evolutionists claim that fossils are the world’s best evidence of Evolution. Other Evolutionists say such statements grossly overstate the facts.

Creationists maintain that the fossil record provides superb evidence against Evolutionism, showing that animals have not evolved, but merely diversified within basic, separate types. Many Creationists do not view fossils as remnants of great spans of history. Rather, they see the fossil record is a solemn reminder of a single great death event a multifaceted, worldwide catastrophe involving flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and thousands of years of after-effects. In various cultures, this is traditionally known as The Flood. Most ancient legends about the Deluge include a “Noah” of one sort or another.

Which of these two radically different views of the fossil record best fits the evidence? This chapter discusses: the strata, key fossils claimed as evidence for Evolutionism, the origin of coal, the Grand Canyon, and a global flood as described by Creationists.

Interpreting the Strata’s Organization and Disorganization

There is a somewhat erratic tendency for fossils to be found in specific groupings. Marine animals are frequently found buried together certain reptiles and dinosaurs together mammals together etc. These general groupings are sometimes called “geologic systems.”[245] These groupings are occasionally found in a certain vertical order within the sediments. This order is the so-called Geologic Column an idealized grouping of the generalized systems into a single, vertically-stacked series. This idea was developed partially in an attempt to sort out some kind of order in the chaotic layers of strata.[246]

Evolutionists interpret these grouping in terms of the Evolutionary model. They believe there was once an age of fish, a later age of reptiles, and ultimately an age of mammals and man.

Creationists insist that the evidence is grossly insufficient to prove this view. Many believe the little order that does exist is primarily due to burial of successive ecological zones during and after a worldwide flood.[247]

The “Geologic Column” is more of a concept than a reality.[248] Eighty to eighty-five percent of Earth’s land surface does not have even 3 of the 10 “geologic periods” appearing in the correct consecutive order required by Evolutionism.[249] Even the walls of the Grand Canyon include only about 5 of these “periods.” [250] All rock systems include gaps in the sequence expected by Evolutionists. It is common to find layers in orders which contradict the “proper” Evolutionary sequence.[251]

index fossil: a term used primarily by Evolutionists to identify fossils thought to be unique representatives of a particular and distinct period of geologic history;[252] Some trilobites, for instance, are thought to have only existed during the Cambrian period. Therefore, if a rock is found to contain one of these, it is automatically “dated” as Cambrian.

paleontologist: a person who scientifically studies fossil animals and plants.

Age Estimation

How do Evolutionists estimate the age of most fossils? How, for example, do they determine the age of a dinosaur bone? Creationists suspect that most dinosaurs did not become extinct until about 3 or 4 thousand years ago.[253] Evolutionists claim extinction was complete some 60 or 70 million years ago.

It is important to understand that no one has scientifically proven the age of any fossil dinosaur remains. Few fossils are assigned a “date” based on the radioactive age estimation systems.[254] If anything, the case is stronger for a recent death of the dinosaurs, since their fossils are usually not heavily fossilized. They contain much original bony material, proteins and amino acids. The millions-of-years estimates for dinosaur remains and other fossils are quite theoretical. They are based on the assumption that Evolution with its “geologic periods” is correct.[255] The age estimate is assigned using the “index fossil” method.

It is not uncommon for paleontologists who believe in Evolutionism to date the fossils by the rock layer in which they are found and the rock layer by the fossil.[256] To assign a “date” to a dinosaur bone, they would first determine what layer of rock (or system of rock) the fossil was found in. Next, they would look up the layer in a geology book or chart. The paleontologist would then say the bone was, for instance, 100 million years old, based on the assigned 100 million year old “age” of the rock.

How did the geologists come up with that age? “The rock must be at least 100 million years old, because it contains this type of dinosaur.”

It is not difficult to see that this is circular reasoning. The fossil is “dated” by the strata, and the strata are “dated” by the fossil. From time to time, Evolutionists recognize this blind spot, but such admissions are rare.

Of course, Evolutionists must postulate that most dinosaur bones are millions of years old. This is part of their origins model. Evolution requires huge time spans to yield even the remotest possibility of producing the tremendous changes necessary to develop dinosaurs, birds, mammals, and man.

Sometimes there is circular reasoning involved in the radioactive age estimation systems, as well. A particular “date” produced by an age estimation system may be considered accurate simply because it is the age which was expected (based on the above circular reasoning about the strata and the fossil),[257] or because it was the date researchers wanted, based on their personal theories. Alternately, when a radioactive system yields an age estimate which does not at all match what an Evolutionary researcher wants, it may be rejected.[258]

Macroevolution and the Fossil Record

Evolutionary theory states that animals have evolved ever higher throughout time, producing radically different creatures with complex and unique features. One group of the fishes produced amphibians, which in turn produced many varieties of amphibians, one group of which produced the reptiles. A group of reptiles produced the dinosaurs, another group the mammals, and another group the birds.

If this scenario is true, it would seem logical to expect numerous clear evidences in the fossil record. According to Evolutionism:

  • The original life forms were quite simple and eventually became increasingly complex through thousands of generations. (The fossil record should substantiate this claim.)[259]

  • Life eventually evolved all types of new animals, including all the Families known today.

It would seem there should be substantial evidence of clear Evolutionary ancestors in the fossil record of the transitions between invertebrates (animals without backbones), vertebrates (animals with backbones), fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, etc. In fact, one might expect to find evidence of billions of transitional forms in the fossil record.

The Origin of Flight

One series of Evolutionary steps which might reasonably be expected to be recorded in the fossil record is the development of flight. In fact, one would think such documentation would be easy to find. There are, after all, a number of completely different creatures with flying ability, and the unfolding of such an important capability would clearly require new physical features.

The search for evidence of the origin of flight has been quite disappointing to Evolutionists. No convincing transitional forms have been found to fill the gap between creatures that can fly and those that cannot. Appearing abruptly in the fossil record with complete, fully-functional wings are: birds, bats,[260] flying reptiles (pterosaurs), and flying insects.[261]

ARCHAEOPTERYX: A “Missing Link?”

Archaeopteryx is an extinct, flying bird[262] which had wing claws and teeth. Evolutionists have widely promoted this animal as a definite transitional form between dinosaurs and birds. On the other hand, Creationists (and even some Evolutionists) maintain there are significant problems with this claim.[263]

  • The teeth and wing-claws of Archaeopteryx are not conclusive details in distinguishing reptiles from birds. Some reptiles have teeth, and some do not. Some fossil birds had teeth, and some did not.[264] The claws on the wings are not a distinguishing factor, either. Some living birds have them, such as the ostrich, the touraco,[265] and the hoatzin.[266] There is no question that these are 100% birds.[267]

  • Most importantly, this creature had feathers. Feather impressions found with Archaeopteryx indicate they were fully-developed and functional. There is no evidence of reptilian scales developing into feathers.[268] No animal except a bird has ever been known to have feathers.[269] Inspection of the fossil feathers by electron microscope has even revealed the thousands of “zip fasteners” (barbs and barbules) which allow invisible mending to take place during preening. Again, this is very bad news for Evolutionists who hoped to find crude feathers evolving from reptilian scales.

  • The wings of Archaeopteryx are said to be fully-developed and completely functional. The long bones were hollow. Various features, including lack of air sacs in particular bones, have led some to the conclusion that Archaeopteryx was aquatic.[270]

  • True, Archaeopteryx did have a breastbone that was “shallow.” However, some living birds, also, have very small breastbones.[271] And, on the other hand, Archaeopteryx did have an extremely robust furcula which is interpreted by many as evidence that it was a strong flier,[272] and therefore was a bird not an unfinished transitional dinosaur evolving into a bird.[273]

    furcula: the bone where the muscles attach which give the power stroke in flight.

  • Bones and further evidences of other birds[274] (which their Evolutionist discoverers have said were essentially identical with those commonly living today) appear to have been found in formations which Evolutionists estimate are as “old” as or “older” than Archaeopteryx. The inference is that the Archaeopteryx specimens could not have been any sort of “missing link.” Archaeopteryx was too late, if birds already existed.

Do Fossil Horses Prove Macroevolution?

In addition to Archaeopteryx, the other main group of fossils promoted most widely by Evolutionists is a series of fossil horses of varying sizes. These horses also vary in their number of toes and ribs. Some Evolutionists have claimed these absolutely prove that modern one-toed horses macroevolved from a very small mammal which had multiple toes.[275]

Many professors have taught this theory as fact, including biologist and paleontologist Dr. Gary Parker.[276] However, after detailed study, he rejected the theory completely and no longer teaches it. He and many others have concluded that the museum exhibits and textbook illustrations showing horses evolving are misleading and contrived. They do not represent good science.[277]

Biologist/paleontologist Dr. Gary Parker:

“More detailed information has now forced us to abandon the idea that horses have truly evolved. We find that the size difference between the fossil horses is not crucial. It is now possible to breed extremely small horses.

What about the so-called “dawn horse?” We now know that it was not a horse at all. Instead it was a rock badger or a coney what scientists would call a hyrax. It was the ancestor NOT of the horses, but of the coneys that still live on Earth today.

What about the “in-between forms” that show how the toe number was gradually reduced? Some living Shire horses have been known to have more than one toe per foot. Also, all of the supposed “in-between forms” are found buried in the same geological formations, which indicates they lived at the same time and could not have been the ancestors of one another.

Instead, it’s more like a scene we might see around an African waterhole, where animals of many sizes and shapes animals with a few toes or with many toes all lived together at the same time.”[278]

Paleontologist and Evolutionist Dr. Niles Eldredge, American Museum of Natural History:

“I admit that an awful lot of that [fantasy] has gotten into the textbooks as though it were true. For instance, the most famous example still on exhibit downstairs [American Museum of Natural History] is the exhibit on horse evolution prepared perhaps fifty years ago. That has been presented as literal truth in textbook after textbook. Now, I think that that is lamentable, particularly because the people who propose these kinds of stories themselves may be aware of the speculative nature of some of the stuff. But by the time it filters down to the textbooks, we’ve got science as truth and we’ve got a problem.”[279]

Is There, or Is There Not, Substantial Fossil Evidence of Macroevolution?

Has clear evidence of macroevolution been found in the fossil record? Well-known paleontologists at prestigious Evolutionist institutions, including Harvard, the American Museum of Natural History, etc., have said it is questionable whether any proof of Evolution has ever truly been seen in the rocks. (See endnotes concerning: Plants, [280] fish, [281] amphibians, [282] reptiles, [283] mammals, [284] and the entire animal and plant world[285].)

Renowned fossil experts, such as British paleontologist Colin Patterson (an Evolutionist), have stated that no true Evolutionary transitional forms have ever been revealed in the fossil record.[286]

Darwin said that the world’s fossils provided perhaps the most serious objection to his theory.[287] However, he believed this situation would change as fossil collections expanded. Since Darwin’s time, millions of dollars have been spent by museums, universities, governments, and individual researchers to find evidence of Evolution in the fossil record. Many tons of new fossils have been unearthed and closely examined. There is no longer any lack of fossils. For some time now, there have been more specimens than scientists and museums can handle.[288]

Evolutionists have been keenly disappointed to find that the result is the same as in Darwin’s day. There is still no proof of Evolution (true macroevolution).[289]

If Evolution is a fact, the problem is: How did it mysteriously manage to leave no clear evidence of such massive transitions over billions of years? The evidence is indeed missing, and there is no longer any good excuse.

What Does the Fossil Record Actually Show?

  • The fossils clearly record the fact that millions of animals and plants have lived and died on this planet.

  • Many animals and plants have not changed significantly throughout the geologic column. Most fossils are very similar (if not totally identical) to creatures living today.

  • The fossil record reveals that some varieties and types have become extinct. The Earth is becoming increasingly impoverished of its formerly greater diversity of animals and plants.

  • Most fossils are not of extinct animals. It is said there are many more living species of animals than there are types known only as fossils.[290]

If Evolution is true, some wonder why the case is not just the reverse. Why are not millions of times more extinct types found than living species?

Biochemist and author Dr. Duane Gish[291] has debated a large number of well-informed Evolutionists on these points. It is his conclusion that:

Although “the fossil record is often cited by Evolutionists as support for the theory of Evolution, actually, the fossil record is an embarrassment to the theory of Evolution. It provides support for the concept of direct special Creation.”[292]

If the Creationist model is correct, the fossil record should:
  • Begin with the abrupt appearance of very complex forms of life.

  • There should be no evidence of Evolutionary ancestors for each basic type of animal and plant. Creationists feel the fossil record agrees with this exceedingly well.[293]

How Did Most Animals and Plants Become Fossilized?

In our present world, fossilization is an extremely rare occurrence.[294] For all practical purposes, one could say that no fossilization is known to be occuring today. Why? Fossilization requires highly unusual circumstances. Animals and plants must be buried relatively quickly and deeply in materials and conditions ideal for the preservation process.[295]

The usual animal or plant that dies in a forest does not become a fossil, and neither does the average creature that dies in a sea or lake. Under most normal conditions, a dead creature in water floats and disintegrates. The body is destroyed by predators, bacteria and the elements.

What conditions would truly be necessary to form the gigantic fossil deposits found in Earth’s sediments? A very massive flood catastrophe that would deposit enormous quantities of sediments and leave them percolating with mineral-rich groundwater for many years before fully drying.

Worldwide Evidence of Rapid, Catastrophic Burial and Erosion

Traditionally, Evolutionists have claimed that most of Earth’s strata were laid down slowly over millions of years. Yet, the fossils contained within these sediments clearly speak of rapid burial.[296] Increasingly, Evolutionists are joining Creationists as believers in catastrophism.

Humankind actually lives upon a vast fossil graveyard, filled with evidence of catastrophe. The outer layers of the planet contain vast quantities of fossils bearing testimony of rapid burials on an immense scale.

Enormous deposits of intact fossil fish can be found, buried suddenly by overwhelming quantities of mud and sand.[297] Whole dinosaurs have been found quickly buried in sediments and thus preserved for modern examination. Some sites contain huge deposits of diverse animals. All were evidently swept together by masses of water and mud.

Coal: Its Catastrophic Origin

Coal is a rock which contains a large amount of carbon. It may primarily be the product of vast amounts of dead plants. Although once thought to take millions of years to form, it is now known that coal can form (and does form) quite rapidly. Scientists now produce both coal and oil in the laboratory, in small quantities.[298]

There is no proof that coal seams are being created in modern swamps or bogs or anywhere in nature today. Therefore, what caused Earth’s vast coal deposits? Most Creationists believe they were formed in connection with a worldwide flood.

Geologist and coal formation specialist Dr. Steven Austin[299] has studied this question extensively.[300] He, and many others, are now convinced that the plants that formed coal did not grow at the sites where the coal is found. They believe the plants were transported from other locations by flood water.

This fits well with the fact that coal deposits are always found in sediments deposited by water and are commonly associated with huge masses of marine fossils.

Dr. Austin has concluded that various coal layers in the United States consist of a surprising main ingredient tree bark.[301] His theory is that these bark sheets and fragments were deposited beneath huge, floating masses of trees forests uprooted and swept away by massive flooding. As the trees floated in the waves, abrading against each other, a large amount of bark would be soaked off and ground off the trees. These bark fragments would then sink to the sea bottom. Layers of these fragments would then be buried beneath the muddy sediments of the flood. Tree bark is currently being deposited in this manner in Spirit Lake on Mount Saint Helens (Washington, U.S.A.) underneath a huge log mat created by the volcanic destruction of a large forest.

Rapid Strata Formation and Erosion

Throughout the world, fossil trees are found buried in sediment. As at Mt. Saint Helens, the trees appear to have sunk to the bottom of flood waters and been buried. Fossil trees are found at various angles in the sediment, or they may be standing upright with the heavy bottom of the tree down. Petrified logs are sometimes found buried amidst layers of coal and mud extending through multiple layers.[302] These polystrate tree fossils are another indication that the strata were laid down quickly under flood conditions, not over slow eons.

There is now scientific evidence that many great layers of strata were deposited quickly. Examples are found throughout the world. Geologist Dr. Art Chadwick[303] has reported evidence that the layers of the Grand Canyon could have been accumulated in a short time. After much research of a 500 foot thick layer in the canyon, he was forced to conclude that it was not deposited slowly over millions of years in a large lake or shallow sea, as Evolutionists had claimed. Instead, it was apparently laid down very quickly and violently under deep water.

Chadwick believes the layer may have been produced by a process involving turbidity currents, or something similar.

turbidity currents: mass movements of sediment in deep water which can occur at very high speeds. They lay down huge masses of sediment in a matter of hours or minutes. Moving at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, the sediment can be deposited in areas up to 100 thousand square miles.

Such discoveries are revolutionizing ideas on rates of sedimentation, erosion, and the depths of water in which sediments were deposited. As Dr. Chadwick states:

“We can accumulate great quantities of sediment in a given area very rapidly. This has changed our whole thinking about the processes that came to lay these layers here in the Grand Canyon.”[304]

sedimentary rocks: rocks deposited by water (or sometimes wind). They consist of material derived from pre-existing materials (e.g., rocks, sand, lime, mud, organic materials). Most of Earth’s crust is covered with such sediments.

Not only is there evidence that various layers in the Canyon formed quickly, but many Creationists now believe the entire Grand Canyon, itself, was produced rapidly. There is increasing scientific evidence that the bulk of the canyon was not carved by the slow-paced erosion of the Colorado River, but rather by violent, fast-working flood conditions[305] which rapidly eroded through sediments which appear to have been still soft.[306] Most Creationists conclude that much of the Grand Canyon was carved in the after-effects of a great worldwide flood (the Genesis flood of Noah).

Creationists believe this was the greatest of all floods, a catastrophe of truly worldwide proportions.[307] They assert that most of Earth’s geologic depositions, including the great coal layers, were created as a result of this year long flood and its dramatic aftereffects which reverberated throughout the world for hundreds of years.[308] Indeed, much of Earth’s geology does testify to catastrophe and to rapid deposition by water.[309] Further credence is lent by the fact that a universal flood destruction is found in the legends of almost all ancient peoples around the world.[310]

on the fossil record

  • All the different kinds of animals appear abruptly and fully functional in the strata with no proof of macroevolutionary ancestors. At the very least, this is a strong indication that not all life evolved from a common ancestor.

  • There is no scientific proof that life has evolved.

  • Although scientists will continue to discover new varieties of fossil animals and plants, it is generally agreed that the millions of fossils already discovered and the sediments already explored provide a generally reliable indication of which way the evidence is going. That is, there will continue to be little or no fossil evidence found to support Evolutionism.

  • Most fossil animals and plants were buried in water-laid sediments.

  • There is no scientific proof that the fossils, the coal, or the Earth are billions of years old.

  • There is increasing evidence that many sedimentary rocks, which some thought took thousands or millions of years to accumulate, almost certainly were deposited in only months, days, or hours.

  • In almost all cases, the very existence of the fossils, in the types and numbers discovered, strongly indicates catastrophic conditions were involved in the burial and preservation of these animal and plant remains. Without such conditions, there seems to be no plausible way to explain their existence.

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