The reality that so many Christians understand evolution as a fact, and accept it matter-of-factly, puts the lie to the notion that evolution equals atheism or that the former leads inexorably to the latter. My own atheism has little to do with my study of paleontology, geology, cosmology, or any of the other sciences. The fact that these sciences have made belief in a creative deity unnecessary in order to account for existence does not by any means rule out the possibility that a god exists, that the universe is permeated by the consciousness of that god, and that the presence of such a god imparts a special kind of meaning to the cosmos. (I am personally satisfied, however, that the fact that natural processes account for the natural phenomena we see all around us makes the existence of such a god unlikely in the extreme.)
Some atheists may find the foregoing language somewhat puzzling; nevertheless, pantheists understand full well what I’m talking about. So do the majority of Christians worldwide.
Christian fundamentalism, however, is a horse of a different color. There are several identifying marks of Christian fundamentalism, the most important of which (for purposes of this essay) is insistence on the literal truth of the Genesis account of creation. A verbatim reading of Genesis – even if informed by the Procrustean twists and turns of “gap theorists,” “day-age theorists” and “Flood geologists” – simply does not pass muster in light of what is now known about the composition and history of the Earth and the universe. Those who make the claim that Genesis 1 captures in rough outline the progression of life as revealed by paleontology don’t know what they’re talking about. To cite a single example, it has been understood for well over a century that plants do not predate animals in the fossil record as Genesis 1 would have us believe. Animals arrived on the scene a hundred million years before the evolution of anything we would recognize as plants.
Since Darwin’s 1859 bombshell, fundamentalist Christians have resorted to three ruses in an attempt to reconcile their beloved book with the fossil record. One does not usually encounter a combination of these artifices in a single author; they could therefore be described as three “camps” of Genesis interpretation.
One is the “gap theory” championed by such dispensationalists as J.N. Darby. According to this reading, a vast temporal “gap” exists between the first two verses of Genesis. It was during that time that all the now-extinct animals and plants lived, a period of time that could well have spanned millions of years. At the end of that time, the rebellion of Lucifer resulted in his being “cast out of heaven,” whereupon he wreaked havoc on Earth – hence the fossil record: a relic of Satan’s wrath. It is to this “theory” that closeted homosexual/cocaine addict/megachurch pastor/über hypocrite Ted Haggard subscribes. (“I’m a gap theory guy,” he proudly proclaims.) I think it goes without saying that if it had not been for a gradually-emerging awareness of the inconvenient truth of the fossil record in the heads of those with a stake in literal Bible-belief, such an outlandishly twisted reading of Genesis 1 would never have occurred to anyone.
Another is the “day-age” theory, which is supposedly supported by such verses as II Peter 3:8. On this view, each of the “days” of Genesis 1 is actually a considerable span of time, and the fossil record could have been built up over millions of years in the exact order recorded in the story. The problems in this reading are as multitudinous as they are obvious. This would mean that the Earth was created millions of years before any of the rest of the universe was created, that plants existed millions of years before the sun (how did they photosynthesize?) and, for that matter, millions of years before the first animals. But as the fossil record makes clear concerning that last bit, the very opposite is true.
Finally, there is the “Flood theory” first set forth somewhat systematically by Henry Morris. Here, we have a 6,000-year-old Earth whose surface was completely reshaped by the flood recorded in the early chapters of Genesis – a flood that created the fossil record. Convicted tax evader/fraudster/“creation scientist” Kent Hovind (a.k.a. “Dr. Dino”) subscribes to this imaginative school of exegesis.
Henry Morris was a hydrologist who should have known better than to claim that the Grand Canyon was carved in a matter of weeks by the runoff (to where?) of flood waters. There are only two conclusions possible regarding him: either he was abysmally ignorant of his own science, or he was lying. Either case is pretty much equally damnable.
On the “Flood theory” view, the apparent progression of life recorded in the Earth’s sedimentary strata is accounted for by the fact that marine animals, generally, died first because of an influx of fresh water; that the smaller ones were immediately buried while the larger ones bloated and floated for a while before being interred higher in the geologic column; that land animals died next, with the birds ending up at the top of the column since birds are the last animals to die in a flood. This is so laughable as to be hardly deserving of comment, yet I am moved to do so on account of some observations that I have made at a fossil-collecting site that I frequent.
(As I indicated in an earlier post, I am not by training or profession any kind of scientist: I am simply an interested individual who has done a great deal of reading – especially in geology and paleontology – and who follows up on that reading with actual field work, conducted in the nineteenth-century fashion; that is, as an informed amateur.)
The site in question is a range of low hills near a recreational lake in east-central Oklahoma, in a region whose bedrock is of Upper Carboniferous (or Pennsylvanian) age – somewhat older than 300 million years. All of the fossils there are of benthic organisms: denizens of the advancing and retreating intracratonic seas that periodically covered the central part of what is now the North American continent. The Pennsylvanian Period covers a span of about twenty million years, and a good deal of deposition, topographical reworking and evolution can happen during such a long duration of time. It’s fairly easy to determine certain basic facts about the depositional environment represented by a particular lithic horizon: dark shale, for instance, usually represents deep-ocean deposits rich in organic matter; sandstone usually represents near-shore, shallow marine environments; and so forth.
Within my favored collecting site I’ve identified four distinct lithic horizons which I call A, B, C and D, reading from the lowest upward (which of course reflects the order in which they were deposited). There’s probably no more than a couple dozen meters of relief from the base of “A” to the top of “D.” I cannot say how long a time span this site represents, but to judge from the index fossils that can be found at the locality and the changes in sediment type, it seems safe to say that it represents at least a few million years, and that there is possibly an unconformity present in the record. So, what do we see there?
Horizon “A” is a dark grey shale with minor selenite, typical of deep-sea (i.e. far offshore) deposits. The shale is extremely fine and friable, which means that the clay of which it is made is extraordinarily fine-grained. That is to say, the particles are so fine that they would have remained suspended in water for a very long time, settling much more gradually – and thus farther out into the ocean from the mouth of the river that delivered them – than (in order of increasing size) silt, sand, pebbles, cobbles and boulders. The only fossils found here are of deep-sea dwellers or of swimming animals whose remains have settled to the bottom: conulariids, a few fish teeth and ammonoids, occasional rugose corals, and so forth.
Horizon “B” is a lighter-colored, somewhat more coarse-grained shale which no doubt represents an environment a little closer to shore – which is to say that the sea was probably receding at the time this material was deposited. Here one finds the occasional conulariid or fish tooth, but there are many more gastropods and rugose corals present.
Horizon “C” is a clay layer that is brimming with fossils of small gastropods, pelecypods, nautiloids, ammonoids, brachiopods and the occasional crinoid. These calcareous fossils are so numerous as to suggest a “hatchery.” The soil looks to be the weathering product of limestone, which represents a completely different marine environment from the silty shale that lies just beneath it; it is at the base of this horizon that I suspect the presence of an unconformity.
Horizon “D” is a sandy soil (i.e. a weathering product of sandstone) replete with fossil crinoids. The best collecting locations in this horizon are quite a bit higher than horizon “C.” Horizons “C” and “D” seem to represent a continuous record of deposition.
I could furnish a great deal more detail about each of those horizons, but I believe this is enough to proceed with my argument: hydrologic sorting of the kind proposed by Henry Morris simply cannot account for what one finds at this collecting locale. All of these fossils are about the same size; they all represent animals that lived on or near the seafloor, but at different bathymetries and at different times. All of these animals included hard body parts that sink to the bottom as detritus – most of them as shells or calcareous skeletons. Most damning, hydrologic sorting would not result in shale at the bottom and sandstone on top: it would be just the other way around, as sand settles out of moving water before silt, which settles before clay particles.
The one site I’ve described puts the lie to Henry Morris’s preposterous “theory” of “Flood geology.” That “theory” (I place the word in quotation marks for a reason) is a sham, and Ken Ham has made of it a full-blown, hugely lucrative scam. Anyone who believes it has a very special need and is willing to grasp at the most unlikely straws in order to satisfy that need (and to be swindled in the process). No Christian should ever invoke it: it only discredits their already-suspect religion and calls their intelligence into question.