Fossils are fascinating things. I remember, when I was little, my sister found a fossil on the beach at Cromarty in Ross-shire. It was a heavy round stone. I needed my two hands to lift it and it fitted comfortably into them. It had markings in the shape of what looked like a large, round, curly shell. On return visits to the beach at Cromarty I used to scour the rocks looking for fossils but I was never to find another, not even a small one. We will later see that this is a common problem for palaeontologists.
But what is a palaeontologist? Someone who studies fossils. And the study of fossils is called palaeontology. Many palaeontologists spend a lifetime looking for and analysing fossils, as they try to piece together the history of our planet.
A fossil is formed when a plant or animal is buried quickly in mud or sediment. The harder parts of the organism become encased in the hardening mud, and over time there is a chemical reaction between the remains of the organism and the sediment around it. This eventually causes the organism remains to become like rock – mineralised and fossilised. People who believe in evolution think that this fossilisation process occurs over long periods of time, but there is plenty of evidence which demonstrates that fossils can be made very quickly.
When I was on holiday in New Zealand last year I visited a place called The Buried Village of Te Wairoa, near Rotorua. The village had been buried by a huge volcanic eruption in 1886, and 153 lives were lost. A most interesting open-air museum has been made of the partially excavated village. Among the relics were many fossilised items, buried by the hot molten lava, mud and ash from the volcano. Some unusual fossils were a bowler hat, a piece of ham and a bag of flour. It clearly did not take thousands or millions of years for these items to become fossilised. They were excavated 60 years after the eruption but probably they had been petrified (turned into stone) some time before that.
The main problem with fossils for the evolutionists is that there are just not enough of them. Also there are not enough of the sort of fossils they are looking for. This would normally lead someone who thinks straight to conclude that maybe they are looking for what does not exist!
Let me explain. Evolutionists believe that there is a progression from simple organisms to more complex organisms in the plant and animal world. This progression of simple to more complex must have in-between stages of organisms – what are called “transitional forms” – when a species is changing into a more complex one. Evolutionists believe, for instance, that whales evolved from four-legged land mammals. So they would expect, according to their theory, to find evidence of intermediate forms in this progression from four legs to fins – change in body shape and lung shape and size, etc. A few fossil findings have led to claims of “missing links” but when these claims were investigated, they turned out to be based on just a few fragments of bone. An active imagination with an evolutionary bias has then “reconstructed” these fragments into the required “missing link”.
Another “transitional form” commonly referred to is the archaeopteryx, which is supposed to represent the link between reptiles and birds. However, when the fossil remains of this creature have been properly examined they were shown to belong to the bird category. It would have been an unusual bird, but there are some unusual species around – such as the duck-billed platypus– which have baffled people in the past. A leading expert on birds from the University of North Carolina – an evolutionist – has stated: “Palaeontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘palaeobabble’ is going to change that.”
It is a curious feature of evolutionists’ thinking that much excitement is often caused by the finding of a fossil of an extinct organism – as if extinction is a proof of evolution. But for an animal or plant to become extinct is no proof of evolution. Some species – such as tigers and giant pandas – which are in danger of extinction today, are given special protection to help them survive. If that protection fails to save these species, will people living in the future really conclude that their extinction is evidence of evolution? Of course not; they will recognise that extinction was caused by destruction of these animals’ habitat, or by excessive hunting.
Another difficulty evolutionists have when it comes to considering the fossil evidence is that many of the fossils which they suppose to be very old are similar to organisms today. They are called “living fossils”. This is a problem because, according to the theory of evolution, these organisms should have changed; they would have become more complex as time passed. But they have not changed significantly, and any changes can easily be explained by natural selection. This shows that evolution is not happening. An example of a “living fossil” is a type of fish called the coelacanth (seelah-kanth). Evolutionists believed it was extinct for the past 70 million years and fossils of it were dated back 360 million years. Then one was caught off the coast of Madagascar in 1938 and it was obvious that it had not evolved in any way.
Polystrate fossils are another interesting feature. These fossils are found through several layers of rocks which are supposed to have been formed in different geological periods separated by millions of years. Fossilised trees, for instance, have been found whose top is in rock several layers higher than the bottom of it. The tree trunk must have been buried quickly. Had it been buried slowly, its top would have decayed while the bottom was still being fossilised. This shows that these layers of different rocks did not take millions of years to form – they formed in less time than it would take for a dead tree to start decaying. Creationists believe that most polystrate fossils were formed during the Genesis flood and others were probably formed during other catastrophes throughout the history of the world. Evolutionists do accept that there are circumstances in which an organism can be buried quickly, through several rock layers, but they don’t seem to be able to apply this fact when they analyse other rock strata.
Fossil graveyards are probably another result of the Genesis flood. One discovered recently in Wyoming, USA, was found to be full of dinosaur bones, and there are many other sites with large numbers of fossils, indicating that some catastrophe overcame these animals suddenly.
Yet again, the evidence to support evolution is weak. But that same evidence, when interpreted within a biblical framework, does not conflict with a literal interpretation of Genesis chapters 1-8. If evolutionists would accept the flood during Noah’s time as fact, it would help them make sense of the existing evidence. “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Genesis 7:11).
S M Campbell
[This is the seventh article in the series entitled “How Did It All Begin?” originally published in The Young People’s Magazine. This article appeared in the May 2006 issue. The previous article in the series, How Old is the Earth? may be found at this link.]