Evolution says that millions, perhaps billions of years ago, somehow, somewhere, something happened and some sort of non-living something appeared. This may seem a little too strange, but no evolutionist can tell you more than this. —The author at age 14
In his book Refuting Evolution, Jonathan Sarfati says that when it comes to origins, "it's not really a question of who is biased, but which bias is the correct bias with which to be biased!" Unquestionably, Sarfati's choice of bias is towards twentieth-century-style young-earth creationism (YEC).
My convictions, like Sarfati's, were also once firmly rooted in YEC for the greater part of my life. As a product of a fundamentalist Christian home, I rarely heard evolution mentioned except in a negative light (usually in association with atheism and godless immorality). As a matter of fact, I first learned of evolution during a church youth group meeting when I was an early teenager.
The presentation of evolution I received continued to be biased by YEC thinking through my college years. Both my parents were passionate believers in YEC as were my childhood friends. Likewise, the two churches my family faithfully attended also taught YEC.
As a teenager, I took a special appreciation for the YEC debate after my slanted exposure to the issue in that youth group meeting. Ultimately, I read most of the YEC staple in books and viewed every available YEC video with keen interest. I attended a YEC-teaching Christian school and later was home schooled (an excellent education—though my biology textbook was from a YEC publisher). After high school, I attended Bob Jones University, the premier institution of fundamentalist education in America and a group particularly skewed towards YEC.
I became so convinced of YEC by my college years that I mostly lost interest in the subject. I had no doubts about the recent creation of the earth and the reality of Noah's flood.
I started with the bias which is "the correct bias with which to be biased"
If ever a college graduate was "biased with the correct bias with which to be biased," it was me. Never in the first twenty-one years of my life had I been confronted with a serious reason to doubt the authenticity of YEC or to suspect there was anything but deceit in the research of earth scientists.
I mention the issue of bias because it's one you'll hear ad nauseam from YEC defenders. My last discourse with a YEC proponent broke down in desperation when every scientific challenge of mine was met with a questioning of my presuppositions rather than a reasonable attempt to address the issues I raised.
YEC teachers like Sarfati will tell you that it's "a fallacy to believe that facts speak for themselves—they are always interpreted according to a framework." While I'll be the first to admit that bias and presupposition do impact the mind of a scientist, the existence of bias can't be used to justify every imaginable belief. What creationists are really trying to say with the "bias" argument is that it's okay for them to ignore the evidence because their worldview is the right one despite the any evidence to the contrary. I do believe scientists sometimes overlook evidence that doesn't "fit" their bias, but creationists admit to actively ignoring evidence that undermines their position:
By definition, no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record. -Answers In Genesis
If you want to remain a YEC, don't investigate the geologic column
However important bias is to the interpretation of basic facts of natural history, it's my intention here to present facts—and not much evolution at all—and allow the reader to do his own interpretation. And in any case, it should be clear that my bias just a few years ago was overwhelmingly towards YEC interpretations. For this reason, when a YEC friend at BJU suggested the fossil record might be a potentially problematic area, I suspected and (thanks to my intense YEC bias) actively sought an easy solution.
In retrospect, I propose there are two easy steps to converting from YEC: 1.) Try to prove it wrong by gathering the facts about the fossil record. 2.) Eat the humble pie that those facts dish up for the YEC.
When my YEC friend (who 10 years later is still a creationist) mentioned possible trouble in the fossil record, he was referring to the apparent evolutionary sorting of fossils in the rocks of the earth. Remember I said I would not mention much about evolution? Well, I'm not. The statement just made—that there is an apparent evolutionary sorting of fossils in the earth's rocks—is a visible and measurable fact. If you don't agree with this claim, bear with me at least long enough to hear the evidence.
My own reaction to this comment was one of incredulity. I was certain I'd heard from trusted YEC scientists that fossils were deposited catastrophically by the flood and thus did not present any sort of evidence for an evolutionary progression. Further, what process in a destructive world-wide flood could possibly distribute fossils all at once in any sort of evolutionary-looking order?
In defense of YEC, I immediately recalled reading a book entitled Darwin's Enigma by Luther Sunderland. In that book I thought I'd seen a quote to the effect that scientists are often puzzled when they find dinosaur bones, only to dig further down and discover modern mammals.
What my YEC friend said next at once amazed and irritated me. As an avid fossil collector, he said he had never witnessed nor ever once heard of modern mammals buried along side or underneath dinosaurs. Trying to disprove this statement, as it would turn out, lead me down a path toward rejecting YEC.
After returning to Sunderland's book, I did not find a quote that clearly stated modern mammals and dinosaurs were ever buried together (or that modern mammals are sometimes found below dinosaurs). Instead, on page 42 is a humorous—though shamefully misleading—illustration. The drawing depicts a rather artfully rendered rock face exhibiting some dramatic fossils. On the right is a tyrannosaurid dinosaur skeleton frozen in an aggressive pose. On the left side of the sketch is the subject of the meat-eater's aggression: a fossil human skeleton riding a horse (again a skeleton) caught in mid-gallop. A caption under the cartoon reads, "Some fossil assemblages are hard to explain."
No wonder I thought Sunderland said fossils are all mixed up in the geologic column. Sadly, this assertion (like the funny drawing with no real-world relevance) can't be substantiated. Horse and human fossils are not found in the same rock layers as dinosaurs.
I didn't know this at the time. Though Darwin's Enigma hadn't provided solid evidence confirming dinosaur and modern mammal bones are found jumbled together in the earth, I was nevertheless certain these animals must be found together. After all, the funny cartoon certainly implied they were so arranged. And the mass of YEC propaganda in my mind only confirmed this contention.
I immediately began looking for a case of modern mammal and dinosaur fossils together in the fossil record. This was a task I suspected I would complete in a day or two. Even though those sneaky evolutionists might try to hide finds of dinosaurs mixed with modern mammals, I reasoned such finds must be so common as to be impossible to hide from an inquisitive eye like my own. If all kinds of animals lived together in a Flintstonian world before the flood, they must also have been buried alongside one another during God's judgment of floodwaters. I was certain I would uncover a fossil find that would confirm this supposed truth.
It would not be so, however, and my YEC downfall was inevitable. I can now say with confidence that nowhere in the world do dinosaurs appear buried along side (or above) any modern mammals.
And this was just the beginning. After years of reading and collecting fossils for myself, I learned the truth about the fossil record. The layers of rock that make up the crust of the earth are a literal history book of life. In these layers we can see what animals lived first, followed by layer after layer of more and more modern animals. At the bottom layers all you find are primitive sea creatures. Only at the very top layers do you find modern animals.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule such as when very old layers are pushed up to the top. Imagine that the earth's crust is like a three-layer cake. We know the bottom layer is the oldest. Suppose a kid comes along and takes a big scoop of cake and removes the top two layers. The bottom layer will now be visible on the surface. However, a comparison of the disturbed area with the surrounding area reveals the context and relationship of the layers. In a similar way, mountains sometimes push young layers to the surface of the earth. Old (deep layer) fossils then become visible at the very surface. But a careful survey of a cross-section (side-view) of the rock formation in question resolves the puzzle.
Until you've witnessed this for yourself in the field or by studying geologic maps, the true impact of this reality isn't felt. But there's maybe an even easier reality to grasp: that of the associations of fossils found together.
Creationism says that all of earth's animals and plants were created at one time a few thousand years ago. Then Noah's flood consumed the planet and buried every living thing that wasn't on the ark. If this were true, we'd expect to find a jumbled-up mess of animal fossils at all layers of the earth's crust. Fossils of dinosaurs would be mixed with human remains--or at least with monkeys and deer. In fact, nowhere in the world has this observed even though millions of fossils of dinosaurs and mammals have been unearthed.
Here are just a few other dramatic facts about fossil groupings:
1. Flowering plant fossils are never found in rock layers older than the dinosaurs. This is amazing because "flowering plants" (angiosperms) includes every type of flower, but also every type of grass, and pretty much every kind of leafy tree. These are fast-growing, very common plants found all over the earth today. How is it that of the millions of plant fossils found under dinosaur fossil layers, nobody has found a single blade of grass? The only reasonable explanation is that grass (and flowers) had not evolved.
2. Bird fossils have never been found under dinosaur layers. The reason? Birds evolved from dinosaurs so there's no way a bird fossil could be deposited under the dinosaur layers.
3. Fossils of marine mammals like whales and seals are only found after the dinosaur layers. Whales evolved from mammals similar to hippos, so there's no way one could be buried before other mammals evolved.
Think of this: dig down through the top layers of the earth until you reach the dinosaur layers. You'll never again find a fossil from a monkey, a whale, a deer, or any other kind of modern mammal.
Of course, I haven't posted references to substantiate these claims. But what I've spelled out in this post is a brutal truth of geology. If you don't believe it's true, I challenge you to show me documented evidence that any of these fossils are found outside of an evolutionary arrangement. Show me a modern deer fossil buried with a dinosaur fossil. Or do one better: show me a whale fossil down in the deepest layers where only fish fossils are found. You won't. There simply aren't whale fossils down there. No amphibians either. No reptiles, no dinosaurs, birds or mammals. The easy answer is that none of them had evolved.
To me, there are lots of great arguments for evolution. But to this day, the most powerful one is that we can see for ourselves that plants and animals evolved by looking at the layers of the earth's crust.