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Creationism and Fossils

QUESTION: Creationism and Fossils - In Paradise?


Oftentimes people ask us about the length of the days of creation. Science after all is talking about an earth that is several billions of years old. Is it possible that the creation days were no ordinary days, but long periods (or eras) of time instead, and that perhaps the greater part of the history of the earth took place within these periods?

These billions of years are supposed to be necessary for the formation of a thick layer of strata with fossils. Fossils are petrified remnants of plants and animals that lived in the past. Many different types of fossils exist in the earth's layers. Is it possible these fossil bearing layers were formed during long creation periods? Does that mean there were fossils in paradise? In this article I will demonstrate that it is extremely difficult to reconcile the notion of long creation eras with the biblical text.

Creationism and Fossils - Millions of Years and Creation Eras.
In the past my own home country, the Netherlands, was inhabited by mammoths and dinosaurs. How do we know this? Because in the Dutch soil we often find mammoth bones and because in the South of the country fossils have been found of a swimming dinosaur, the Mosasaurus (or Meuse River Lizard). Dinosaur fossils are some of the most intriguing fossils. Fossils in general appear in a certain order in the earth's layers; all the way at the bottom we find bacteria, on top of those we find marine animals, then land animals and flowering plants, and at the top we find humans. According to mainstream science, these fossils have been formed over a time span of 3.5 billion years. In this view on history it is believed that modern man "only" evolved some 500,000 years ago.

This idea of millions of years poses problems for us Christians. The Bible does not seem to leave any room for such long time periods, but instead seems to speak of a creation in 6 days and after that a world history that is "only" thousands of years old. How can we reconcile these ideas?

Can we draw the simple conclusion that mainstream science is wrong? To me that conclusion does seems too simplistic, because science attempts to research the very reality the Bible describes: the world that God has created. But could it be true that the assumption of an old age of the earth is the result of a biased interpretation? Could it be related to the atheist worldview, in which explanations are sought without any references to God or the Bible?

Or it is possible that we are misinterpreting the Bible? In the days of Galileo the Church was clinging to the belief that "according to the Bible" the sun was orbiting the earth. Today no one would even consider that notion. What if we are making a mistake similar to the mistake of the 17th century Church, by clinging to literal creation days of 24 hours? Or is it possible to connect the concept of a long geological history with the Bible? Many believing scientists are convinced it is possible to place practically the entire geological history (namely the part of history prior to man) within the days of creation. In that case they do have to be interpreted as long creation eras.

Other believers, such as Ds. Schaeffer in Dutch magazine "De Reformatie"2, argue that both interpretations should be left on the table for consideration - both the short and long chronological explanation of the creation days. Ds. Schaeffer wonders why people are so concerned about this. Isn't it more important that God created everything than how He did this exactly?

But I have serious doubts about the possibility of reconciling the long creation eras with the biblical creation account and the early history of mankind. At least six exegetical problems arise when this view is adopted, which I will now discuss.

Creationism and Fossils - The Creation Order in Genesis 1.
The view that God created all life forms during some long creation eras implies that the earth's layers reveal an "account" of creation. This is where the first problem surfaces, because the order of the fossils in the earth's layers is significantly different from the order of creation in Genesis 1. According to the Bible the land vegetation was created first, then marine life and birds, then the land animals and finally man. But the earth's layers show us a different order. At the bottom we find marine animals, on top of them plants, then land animals. Only in the higher layers do we find birds and finally humans.

But there is another difference. In Genesis 1, we read that God didn't start creating life until there was dry land. However, most fossil bearing layers of the earth were formed when the continents were almost entirely submerged in water. This means that multiple contradictions exist between the most common explanation for the earth's layers and the biblical account of the creation days. If the earth's layers are viewed as a trustworthy account of God's creative acts, this has direct consequences for the interpretation of Genesis 1; it is no longer possible to interpret it as a historical narrative. In this case, it must be read as poetry, myth or some referential framework.3 Even among Christians it is pointed out that Genesis 1 is poetic in structure: a beautiful description with a clear composition, filled with repetitive elements. It is possible for poetry to describe a story with a message, even if the story didn't actually happen exactly the way it is told. But of course, poetry can also describe true events in a poetic way. What is the case in Genesis 1? I believe the Bible does not give us any clues that the creation narrative should be read in a metaphorical sense (a figure of speech). On the contrary, in other biblical texts Genesis 1 is often used as a description of reality: in Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 the week is partitioned based on the creation week. And in Romans 5 Paul describes Adam as a historical person. Professor Kamphuis4 therefore wrote: “Genesis 1 does not offer the creation story as a myth, but as history.”

Creationism and Fossils - Treasury or Graveyard?
When the days of creation are stretched to match a supposed geological history, there are more implications. From the earth's layers and the fossils it is possible to deduce what the world was like during the creation periods. Does this allow us a glimpse into the treasury of God's creative work? What do we see?
  • In the layers of the earth we find enormous amounts of fossils. This means that the concept of long creation periods means that many plants and animals died during these creation periods. Death was already present on the earth, as well as sin, weakness, suffering and pain. This means that the earth's layers are in fact mass graves. They are testifying that the earth is one giant graveyard.
  • We also find evidence of a competitive struggle between plants and animals over food, habitats and partners. This is Darwin's "struggle for life," in which only the strongest survive; a "survival of the fittest."5 Predators already existed, blood was being shed and cruelty was a common part of this world long before mankind was created. This means that suffering, bloodshed, and death are inherent in God's "very good" creation prior to the fall of man.
  • So the earth was filled with violence and threats. Things couldn't have been very peaceful. Large-scale disasters occurred. Traces have been found of at least 160 impact craters, caused by bombardments of cosmic debris (comets, meteorites). These impacts caused great floods and tsunamis. There were massive volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, sudden climate changes, droughts, scarcity of foods. In short: the geological history tells a story of endless suffering and immense natural violence. Compared to this history our current natural disasters are very minor.
  • Mainstream science holds that during these disasters in our geological past many plant and animal species went completely extinct. There must have been several major extinction rounds, in which sometimes up to 90% of all existing species disappeared from the face of the earth, and it seems that life on earth was almost completely destroyed.6 An example is the disappearance of the dinosaurs. This is supposed to have happened during the creation periods, even before mankind was created (or evolved)! When man finally appeared on the scene, only a small fraction remained of the rich plant and animal life of the prior creation eras.
  • All of these phenomena occurred after the appearance of man as well. This means that the appearance of man did not coincide with any noticeable difference in natural conditions. There was no definite shift in nature that would indicate a curse of the earth. Such conclusions are inevitable if one adheres to the concept of long creation eras.
In short we can say that the geological column is certainly no treasure chamber filled with a perfectly good, harmonious creation, but a graveyard; a world filled with death, destruction and degeneration. An endless road of suffering with many dead ends, "failures" and mass destruction -- what a waste!

Read Creationism and Fossils Part 2 Now!

[1] These articles were written by W.A.M. von Lindheim - Westerink and first published (in Dutch) in the magazine Nader Bekeken (Vol. 17, Nrs. 7/8, July/August 2010). Used with permission and (where necessary) adapted for internet publication.
[2] De Reformatie (or The Reformation), Vol. 84 nr. 21, February 28, 2009.
[3] A concept followed by many Christians, see for example the poll in Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad of May 16, 2009, p. 12-13.
[4] De Reformatie, Vol. 84, nr. 41, July 18, 2009. In Nader Bekeken (Vol. 16 nr. 6, June 2009) Ds. J.W. van der Jagt writes: "Not much has been revealed. But that should not tempt us to suppose that creation was any different from the things that have been revealed."
[5] These mechanisms, discovered by Darwin, rule in nature today. We call this micro-evolution. Weaker animals go extinct, but the stronger and better species survive. This results in a certain variability within the species and eventually between the species. This is not the same as macro-evolution, in which it is supposed that such changes resulted in a gradual development of all species from bacteria and single-celled species.
[6] There have been five large extinction rounds with the following percentages of extinct species: Cambrian 70%, Devonian 60%, Permian 95%, Triassic/Jurassic: 50%, Cretaceous/Tertiary: 75%. These all occurred long before the creation of mankind, so during the creation eras. In between we find several dozens of smaller extinction rounds.

This article is also available in Spanish.

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