Geological records and Genesis time frame
I am a Bible-believing Christian interested in geology. As such, I accept the Scriptures as God's inspired and reliable revelation. There are features in the geological structures and in the fossils that provide impressive evidence for catastrophic processes, consistent with what I think could have occurred in a global flood. However, I find it difficult to fit all the geological record within the narrow time-frame provided in the chronology of Genesis 7 and 8. Any help?
My colleagues and I deal with these and other similar questions in the research that we do in geology and paleontology. In my study, I have found a process very helpful in seeking answers. I accept Scripture by faith, since God knows much more than we do about geology. I allow biblical insights to assist me in asking questions that others are generally not asking--to open my mind to see data that others may have missed, and to consider new interpretations that conventional scientific thinking is unlikely to suggest. At the same time, it is important to be involved in the geological scientific community, and even to work with non-creationist scientists, and publish papers in the scientific research literature. This is an important quality-control process that helps us to avoid superficial thinking on both sides. My worldview causes me to notice things that non-creationist scientists are less likely to see, and they see things that I might miss. This process has led me to conclude that a lot of data in the rocks and fossils are difficult to fit with either of two extremes--millions of years on one hand, and a one-year Flood on the other hand.
I now see that Christians have been making one assumption that is not in the Bible--the assumption that there was no geological activity before the Flood (and some think there was also no such activity after the Flood). But the Bible doesn't give us that specific information; it does not tell us how much of the geological record was formed during the Flood. Genesis tells us the biological world began to change after sin (e.g., thorns and thistles), and perhaps geological changes as well began at that time. The Flood was certainly a significant event, but to claim that we know exactly what happened then and that all the rocks were formed during that one year is an extra-biblical theory, and may not be true.
The geological record with its abundant fossils could have formed over a period of several thousand years, before, during, and after the Flood. I believe this theory fits the data best. There are still conflicting data that are troublesome for Bible believers, and other data that are a problem for non-believers. For instance, I don't know the answer for radiometric dating, which is the most difficult line of evidence to explain within a biblical chronology. But a lot of geological data are difficult to reconcile with those multiple millions of years, so for both faith and scientific reasons I predict we will ultimately find there is something wrong with the radiometric time scale.
The interpretation I am suggesting implies that humans were living on the Earth for hundreds of years while the early part of the fossil record was forming. It may be hard to understand how this could be. However, the first part of the fossil record (Paleozoic) is mostly marine--formed in the ocean. This tells us that humans were living somewhere else at that time, perhaps even on continents that no longer exist. We usually think of our Earth as solid and stable, but the structure of the Earth has completely changed since the first fossils of complex animals were buried, and our current ocean floors did not even exist until after those early marine deposits formed. This reminds me of the description in Ellen White's Patriarchs and Prophets (p. 108) of the entire surface of the Earth changing at the Flood, with old mountains disappearing and new mountains forming.
We have much study to do before we will truly understand how to fit together all the evidence into a coherent picture. But I as a Christian and a scientist find a three-step process helpful: trust God's communication to us in Scripture; study carefully and seek to recognize human ideas that we have incorrectly read in between the lines in Scripture; and follow up with careful scientific work. Such a process leads to promising insights and points the way to a realistic synthesis of science and faith. While we continue this study, the most important thing is for each of us to know Jesus as our most trustworthy Friend and our Saviour. This is more important than having all our questions answered right away (although it is hard to be patient!).
Leonard Brand (Ph.D., Cornell University) is professor of biology and paleontology at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, U.S.A. His E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org