Gish repeatedly and emphatically states that one of the biggest issues which the scientific community must contend with in dealing with the question of origins is that of the fossil record. According to the ICR, as of 1980 there had been approximately 250,000 fossil species that have been collected and classified. As Gish continuously claims, the laws of probability would imply that most of these found fossils should be intermediate, transitional species. The fact that this is not so indicates to Gish that evolutionary theory is quite faulty and, indeed, that the fossil record points to a special creation.
The typical scientist would argue that life is hundreds of millions of years old. The world itself is dated at several billion years. This has to be so in order for all the variations to have occurred to create such complexity and speciation present in the universe. Gish and company would tend to disagree. Using geological and fossil evidence, creationists attempt to show that the earth is actually quite young. There are, in fact, seven points of interest that Gish attempts to support. First, the universe and the solar system in which we live were suddenly created. Second, that life was suddenly created. Third, that all present living kinds of animals and plants have remained fixed since creation other than extinctions. Genetic variation occurs only within very narrow limits. Fourth, Mutation and natural selection are insufficient to bring about the emergence of present living species from a primordial organism. Fifth, man and apes have a distinct ancestry. Sixth, the earth’s geologic features appear to have been formed via rapid, catastrophic events (a geological theory called catastrophism). Finally, the inception of the earth, and hence of all earthly living species, may be relatively young.
The first point of Gish’s with which I would like to deal is that of catastrophism. This geological theory is necessary for a proponent of the young earth theory in that it provides an explanation of silting and fossilization. Gish argues that "most of the important geological formations of the earth can be explained as having been formed as a result of the Noachian flood" along with various other local catastrophic events (Gish, 1985, p.50). Also, these rapid, catastrophic events help to explain the process of fossilization. A gradual sedimentation is not favorable to the fossilization of the remains of most organisms. Rather, it is more likely, according to most creationists, that "great numbers of living creatures must have been entrapped and buried in the swirling sediments" of a flood, preserving their bodies in an environment suitable for fossilization (Morris and Whitcomb, 128).
With this in mind, let us look at the fossil record itself. The typical geologist will tell you that one can provide a relative date, for the most part, of a rock based on the fossils discovered within that particular stratum. Also, the same geologist could tell you that the fossils found in subsequently younger and younger strata of rock will be more and more similar to modern species. This arrangement of rocks (and appropriate fossils) from youngest to oldest as one delves deeper into the crust of the earth is called the geologic column. A problem presents itself, however, for the evolutionist in looking at this column. As Richard Dawkins puts it, the scientific community has found many fossilized species "already in an advanced state of evolution the very first time they appear, . . . as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history" (229). Dawkins explanation of this anomaly is simply that "for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from [prior] periods" (230). There are, of course, several species, such as the Archaeopteryx , the "Eohippus" (ancestor to the horse), and the Morganucodon (a reptilian-esque mammal) that have been pointed out as transitional species by the scientific community. However, as Gish points out, a gradualistic evolutionary model would have left behind the fossils of an inordinate number of intermediate species. Even the average paleontologist should be able to go out and find hundreds of intermediates. Even the few transitional species that have been produced, most creationists will claim to be less transitional than the evolutionist camp would hope for. For example, Gish claims that "in 90 years, the Archaeopteryx has . . . evolved from a creature so emphatically bird-like its reptilian ancestry was barely hinted at into a creature some evolutionists declare to be nothing more than a reptile with feathers." However, despite this conceptual evolution of the Archaeopteryx in the minds of scientists trying to defend an evolutionary model, Gish argues that there is fairly conclusive evidence that the species is no such transitional form, but rather an ancient bird. He bases this argument on several morphological features of the creature, such as its perching feet, feathers similar to those of flying birds, pattern and proportion of the wing, and a furcula (wishbone) similar to that of a bird (September 1989, pp.1-2).
There are, of course, several other theories of evolution with which Gish and the creationists must deal in discussing the fossil record. Two such theories include the ‘hopeful monster’ and punctuated equilibrium. The hopeful monster theory, originally proposed by geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, restated in the words of Stephen Jay Gould, claims that "macroevolution is not simply microevolution extrapolated, and that major structural transitions can occur rapidly without a smooth series of intermediate stages" (188). Gould claims that "small changes in embryology accumulate through growth to yield profound differences in adults" (192). However, anyone with even a little knowledge of genetics, evolutionist and creationist alike, will agree with Carl Sagan when he says that "mutations occur at random and are almost uniformly harmful" (28). This applies especially to the embryological stage of development since induction and differentiation are so reliant on the interaction of properly working cells. Punctuated equilibrium is slightly different from the ‘hopeful monster’ idea. According to the punctuated equilibrium model, "major evolutionary changes in small populations take place rapidly . . . rather than slowly" (Davis and Kenyon, 86). Punctuated equilibrium runs into the same sort of problems as does the ‘hopeful monster.’ Given the relatively short timespan that creatures have to evolve during a punctuation in the stasis of the organic timeline, it seems unlikely that the necessary beneficial mutations for evolution on the scale needed to produce the present variety of species could have occurred. Gish argues that the evolutionary model in all its various forms, is both unproven and unprovable, and as such, can only "serve as a postulate and . . . a model within which attempts may be made to explain and correlate the evidence from the historical record, that is, the fossil record" (19). For the record, he uses the exact same wording to define creationism’s role in science, too.
Coming from a Christian perspective one must determine (if one is take the inerrancy of Scripture seriously) what the biblical texts say concerning our origins. The most obvious conclusion that one can draw from the bible concerning origin is that through some process, God created us. This theme is repeated throughout the Old and New Testament. It becomes a little more difficult to determine what the text has to say about evolution/special creation. Obviously, the first two chapters of Genesis portray our beginnings as a six (or seven) day special creation in which evolution plays no role, but do these chapters have to be interpreted literally? The translation of the phrase "the first day" literally reads, "a day, one" and can be interpreted as both a literary frame or strictly as a twenty-four hour period (Radmacher, et. al, ed, 5). The question, then becomes how to interpret passages such as Romans 5. 12 which claims that "just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned" and passages such as Romans 8. 20 and 22, which states "the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, . . . for we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now" (NKJV). The verses preceding Romans 5. 12 are referring to the physical death of Jesus and it seems unlikely for Paul to jump from physical to spiritual death without any explanation or context. Thus, it would seem that the more theologically sound argument is that physical death (at least for humans) occurs as a direct result of the sin of humanity. The question that must be asked next, then, is whether or not the animal kingdom experienced suffering and death prior to the fall of humanity. Our best description of a world without sin is that of Revelation 21. 4, which states that "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain" (NKJV). It seems unlikely, then, that in the pre-human world in which there would have been no sin, that death and all its related suffering could have been an option. Serious hermeneutical questions must be dealt with if one is to claim otherwise. A world of no suffering prior to human existence is impossible in an evolutionary timescale considering the fossil record. Thus, it seems more likely that the easier theological conclusion is that this is a young earth we inhabit. The easier scientific explanation, however, is that this is an old earth upon which we are the newcomers. Easy answers, however, generally are not always the right one (with apologies to William of Ockham).
I think that the best answer for me to give right now concerning the entire young earth/old earth debate and all its connected subplots (such as catastrophism and evolutionary history) considering a relative lack of knowledge in paleontology and cosmology (which, by the way, Gish himself tends to avoid but other faculty with the ICR address) is simply that I do not know. I think also, that the Christian would be wise to remember that the age of the earth is generally not an argument worth fighting. Neither is the manner in which we came to inhabit this earth. What is important is that we, as humans, are created by God in His image. As a scientist, I would do well to remember that the Bible is not meant to be a science text, but at the same time is reconcilable with the discoveries of science.
Davis, Percival and Dean H. Kenyon. Of Pandas and People. Dallas: Haughton
Publishing Company, 1989.
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
Gish, Duane T. "As a Transitional Form, Archaeopteryx Won’t Fly." Impact: Vital Articles on Science/Creation. El Cajon: Institute for Creation Research, June 1991.
Gish, Duane T. Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record. El Cajon: Creation Life Publishers, 1985.
Gish, Duane T. "The Origin of Mammals." Impact: Vital Articles on Science/Creation. El Cajon: Institute for Creation Research, June 1991.
Gould, Stephen J. The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980.
Judson, Sheldon, Marvin E. Kauffman, and L. Don Leet. Physical Geology. 7th ed.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1987.
Morris, Henry M. and John C. Whitcomb. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and
its Scientific Implications. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
Radmacher, Earl, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House. Nelson’s New Illustrated
Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. New York: Ballantine Books, 1977.
Related Links:Back to the Interdisciplinary Research Conference homepage