Question: "How does young earth creationism handle the evidence for millions of years in the fossil record?"
Answer: The “fossil record” is a term used by paleontologists to refer to the total number of fossils that have been discovered, as well as to the information derived from them. The problem with interpreting the fossil record is that most paleontologists also subscribe to the theory of evolution. They interpret the fossil record in the terms of a particular theory of evolution, inspect the interpretation, and note that it confirms the theory, which is not a surprise considering the starting point. Creationists, on the other hand, ascribe to the biblical account of creation. How, then, do creationists interpret the fossil record?
To answer this question, we need to begin with the premise that it is impossible for the Bible to contradict true science, as God is the author of both. When a fallible human scientist’s interpretation of a finding does not correspond with the clear teaching of the biblical texts, we should never reinterpret the Bible, as God’s written Word is the final authority in all matters that it addresses. Yet that is what many in the church, as well as others in the Christian community, have been doing for far too long—reinterpreting Scripture to accommodate scientific findings. Consequently, we see a continual erosion of faith in the authority of Scripture.
Clearly, the many contributions made by the scientific community are staggering indeed. In one way or another, everyone undeniably has benefited from their research and technological discoveries. However, the fields of paleontology and fossilology are highly prone to error. In the last century, we have witnessed countless examples of “groundbreaking” discoveries that have ultimately been proved misleading. Recall, for example, the coelacanth. Declared to have been extinct for about 70 million years, this fish was thought by scientists to have been the fish that first walked out of the ocean on its way to becoming the ascendant of modern man. One can only imagine the disappointment in the scientific community when a fisherman caught a coelacanth off the island of Madagascar in 1938. No lungs, no legs. Interestingly, many evolutionists believed the reason this fish disappeared from the fossil record is that it had evolved into land-dwelling tetrapods. And here they are, still swimming in and around the Indian Ocean. No lungs, no legs. Yet how many fossils were dated to be roughly 70 million years old simply because their fossilized remains were found in the same stratum as the fossilized remains of the “70-million-year-old” coelacanth. This is one example why using the geologic timescale to date the age of the earth does not work.
Next, recall the “Nebraska Man” debacle. In the early 1920s a scientist found one single tooth from which he was, amazingly, able to draw a picture of what this entire “ape-man” looked like. The scientific community was ecstatic. In fact, this tooth was used in the 1925 Scopes trial as proof for human evolution. Two years later, however, other parts of this very same “Nebraska Man’s” skeleton were found. It was determined that “Nebraska Man” was actually an extinct wild pig!
The vast majority of these discoveries come from a worldview that excludes God, the author, creator, and sustainer of life. Any scientific findings, at least those relative to God’s creation, made outside the purview of a Christian worldview are suspect from the onset. As the principal methods for dating the fossils and rocks begin with a pre-suppositional paradigm that entails some form of evolution, their findings will often make sense biblically only if we alter Scripture to make them fit. The truth is that our vast fossil record is and always has been compatible with the global flood, which God used to send judgment on the earth. The flood was a violent geologic upheaval with enormous destructive power that not only destroyed all land-dwelling, air-breathing life (Genesis 9:21–23) but also changed the landscape of the entire planet. And the tens of millions of marine fossils found inland on practically every continent certainly dispel the notion of this deluge being “local,” as some have argued.
Now, here is what we do know. Fossils represent death. And we further know that sin and then death came about as a result of Adam’s disobedience, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). Now, there is some discussion as to whether or not there was plant and animal death before Adam’s sin. However, that debate can be laid to rest when we consider that the last creative work of God was the making of man (Genesis 1:27). And when God finished His work and looked at “all that He had made,” He deemed it all to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Now, as numerous fossil discoveries have clearly revealed violence and sickness and disease and even cancer, how possibly could our great and perfect Creator have declared a world filled with such abundant sickness, grief, and “frustration” (see Romans 8:20) to be “very good”?
We further know that Jesus Christ told us Adam was made at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6), and the genealogical lines given to us in Genesis 5 and 11 reveal the earth to be roughly 6,000 years old. Accordingly, we can say with God-given confidence that the vast and abundant fossil record we have today was laid down within the last 6,000 years. Indeed, every fossil ever found, then, must have begun the fossilization process after Adam’s sin introduced death and decay into our world. Now, of course, the secular scientists would certainly deny this, but keep in mind they, for the most part, deny the occurrence of the biblical flood, even though God spent more time talking about that than He did talking about the creation of the world or the fall of man.
Those who abide in the truth of God’s inerrant Word are not the ones who need a paradigm shift. Nonetheless, the world will do its level best to shake us from our beliefs by teaching that truth is only knowable through the changing concepts of science. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon said in 1877: “You and I are to take our Bibles and shape and mold our belief according to the ever-shifting teachings of so-called scientific men. What folly is this!”