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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Critical Thinking About the Geologic Column
by Kyle Butt, M.A.

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Modern evolutionists often appeal to the fossil record in their efforts to convince us that all life forms have evolved from lower life forms. Evolutionists insist that there exists an obvious progression of “earlier” forms of life transforming over billions of years of geological time into more complex, “later” forms of life. The words “earlier” and “later” are vital to understanding their reasoning. Evolutionary paleontologist Neil Shubin, in his national bestseller Your Inner Fish, wrote about how evolutionists approach the geologic column: “The working assumption, which is easy to test, is that rocks on the top are younger than rocks on the bottom” (2009, p. 6). This is often called the Law of Superposition. At first glance, this statement seems intuitively correct. Even from a creationist’s standpoint, the layers on the bottom, generally speaking, were laid down before the layers on the top.

A very serious problem arises, however, if the same assumption is applied to fossils. The evolutionary community often assumes that the fossils in the lower rocks represent animals that are older than the animals represented by fossils in the layers above them. For instance, in Shubin’s discussion of a fossil fish known as Tiktaalik, he mentioned certain joints in the fish’s fins. He stated: “Earlier, these joints did not exist. Later, we find them in limbs” (p. 41). What does he mean by “earlier” and “later”? He is using those words to mean lower in the geologic column (earlier) and higher in the column (later). Notice how he assumes that animals lower in the column must be “older” than (or been alive before) those in the higher layers. Throughout his book, you read about the “earliest creatures” or “most primitive living fish” (p. 55). These references all assume that the sequence of fossils in the layers manifests a temporal relationship between those creatures. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is patently false, as Richard Dawkins has so eloquently shown in his latest work, The Greatest Show on Earth.

In chapter six of his newest book, Dawkins claims to provide numerous “missing links” or transitional stages that “prove” evolution to be true (he does nothing of the sort, but that is beside the point). In an attempt to explain the Cambrian Explosion from an evolutionary perspective, he insists that the fossil record is incomplete because the process of fossilization is sporadic and leaves many creatures with little or no representation in the fossil record. To illustrate, he mentions Platyhelminths, or flatworms. He stated: “They are common, both in water and on land, and presumably have been common for a very long time. You’d expect, therefore, to see a rich fossil history. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing. Apart from a handful of ambiguous trace fossils not a single fossil flatworm has ever been found” (2009, p. 149). In his attempt to use the lack of fossilized flatworms to explain the Cambrian Explosion, he completely undermined the way that evolutionists use the fossil record.

Let us think through his example of flatworms. According to evolution, flatworms should be millions, or billions of years old, yet in all that time we have found no fossils of them. If we did find a fossil in a “late” layer that is supposed to be only a few thousand years old, would that mean that flatworms are less primitive than all those creatures below them? No. It would simply mean that they did not fossilize, and that when they do appear is no indication of their “age,” but only indicates when certain fossils of the creature were laid down. So, when we find a fossilized dinosaur, for instance, in a part of the geologic column that evolutionists say is 65 million years old, does that mean that the creature did not live before that, or did not live after that? No. All it means is that we happen to find a fossil of the creature in a certain layer of the column [NOTE: The vast ages of millions or billions of years are not scientifically accurate, and have been shown to be false (see DeYoung, 2005). I refer to them only as a reference point for how the evolutionists view the column]. It is clear, therefore, that the column cannot tell you when an animal lived in relation to any other animals. All it can tell you is in what layer you happen to find a fossil of that animal. Just as no evolutionists would suggest that flatworms, since they are not found in the fossil record, evolved only a few hundred years ago in modern times, neither can they correctly suggest that fossils can offer any evidence as to which animals are more primitive, earlier, or later living than any other animals. When reading evolutionists writings, be on the look out for animals that are said to be “primitive,” “early,” “late,” or “modern” based on their fossils. In reality, these types of temporal words have no relationship to the fossil record.


Dawkins, Richard (2009), The Greatest Show on Earth (New York: Free Press).

Shubin, Neil (2009), Your Inner Fish (New York: Vintage Books).

DeYoung, Don (2005), Thousands...Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).

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