Fossils and the Flood: Exploring Lost Worlds with Science and Scripture
Paul Garner (Illustrations by Jeanne Elizabeth). 2021. New Creation. ISBN-13: 978-0999040966
Fossils and the Flood is intended to introduce contemporary creationist thinking to an audience beyond the small group of active creationist scholars and researchers. As the title indicates, the book focuses on fossils and how they might be interpreted in the light of the global flood described in the Bible. This is a worthwhile but very ambitious goal, and it would be easy for the reader to want more than the book can deliver. This is not the fault of the author, but reflects the limits of our knowledge and the need for more research.
Readers should expect that many of the details in the book will be modified or replaced as new information becomes available. As the author states (page vi) “But you should remember that some of the details are simply our best guess right now.” The reader should keep this caution in mind, and recognize the tentative nature of our present understanding. It is helpful to distinguish what we know about creation from the Bible from the details we propose to fill in the missing parts of the story. Keeping this perspective in mind, the book should be profitable reading for a wide audience, from middle school students to their parents, teachers and grandparents.
The book is organized in six sections or chapters. Each chapter is well illustrated with numerous watercolor paintings. The illustrations enliven the text, but generally do not show a lot of detail. The text ends with a short commentary by the author on how scientific research can bring glory to God. The book does not contain footnotes or a bibliography, but it does have a list of recommended resources, and a listing of the scholarly sources that were consulted is available online at www.fossilsandtheflood.net. A glossary and index are included at the end of the book.
The book contains many commendable features. Foremost, it is faithful to the Bible and is also scientifically well-informed. Some readers may differ in interpreting some texts, such as the exact events of Creation Day 4, but in no case is the Biblical text discounted. The author consulted with the major scholars in creation science, resulting in a book that avoids obvious scientific errors. Unavoidably, it also includes considerable speculation, especially in the second chapter. Readers should take seriously the author’s cautions on the tentativeness of the details of the flood theory presented in the book. Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable point of reference that should stimulate further research and potential adjustment of the ideas presented.
Another commendable feature of the book is correction of some ideas that have circulated in the creationist community. The author explains why the traditional site for the ark, “Mt Ararat” (Agri Dagh) is probably not where the ark actually landed. Agri Dagh appears to be a post-flood volcano. The Bible states the ark landed in the mountains of Ararat, a region that probably includes parts of Turkey, Iran, and present-day Armenia.
The author interprets the biblical name Peleg (division) to refer to the dispersion of the peoples after the flood (Genesis 10), presumably due to the confusion of languages at Babel. The name is highly unlikely to refer to the development of plate tectonics, which seems to have occurred during the flood.
Another example of improved creationist understanding is the idea of post-flood diversification of lineages derived from ark animals. Nothing is said of “after their kind” referring to fixity of species. This fits much better with both the scientific evidence of variation and the contrast between the violence seen among animals today and the biblical description of the peaceable Paradise. This is not an endorsement of the general theory of evolution, but a recognition of the capacity for adaptation to local environments by separately created types of animals.
The first section is only five pages, entitled “The early history of the Earth.” It sets the scope of the book in dealing with the biblical story of creation, flood, and dispersion from Babel. Scientific research is admirably encouraged by describing its benefits and giving three examples of scientists who incorporate ideas from both science and Scripture in their scientific work.
The second section, “The old world”, gives a description of what many creation scientists imagine the pre-flood world to have been like, based on fossils, geology, and the few biblical statements we have. Creation week, creation days, and age of the Earth are described, but not discussed in detail. The biblical statement in Genesis 1:9 that the waters were gathered together in one place, seems to suggest that the pre-flood land masses may have been united into a single supercontinent. Geologists have proposed that a supercontinent named Rodinia existed before the fossil layers were deposited. Thus, we may tentatively think of Rodinia as the pre-flood land area.
The main point of this chapter is to relate the fossil record to the concept of biome. A biome is a large-scale community of living organisms, distinguished primarily by its plant forms and climate. Contemporary examples include grasslands, deserts, temperate forests, rainforests, etc. The different groups of fossilized plants and animals that are found in different layers of the geologic column can be interpreted as different biomes that were buried and preserved in a sequence.
Several pre-flood biomes are inferred from the fossil record. A prominent example is the “floating forest” biome, composed of plants and animals that formed the coal deposits in the Carboniferous layers of the geologic column. According to this idea, there was a floating, coastal forest of trees and shrubs along the margin of the pre-flood continent. This forest was buried, forming the coal deposits that give the Carboniferous its name. Several other biomes are described, ranging from marine to terrestrial ecosystems. Helpfully, each biome is linked to a known geological site that preserves fossils representative of that biome.
A puzzling feature of this chapter is the description of a biome for which it is stated there is no evidence. The missing biome is given the name “Eden and Its Surroundings,” and is described as the location of pre-flood humans, mammals and birds. There are abundant fossils of mammals, and even many birds, but they are largely found in sediments above where the flood is thought to have ended. However, if post-flood animals from the ark arrived in an area where some pre-flood animal carcasses were at or near the surface, the discontinuity in the fossil record between pre-flood and post-flood animals might not be as abrupt as expected.
The third chapter presents a description of the stages through which the flood may have passed. It links the breakup of the fountains of the deep (Genesis 7:11) to the “Great Discontinuity”, a globally observed erosional surface separating Precambrian rocks from those above it. The author accepts the theory that the crust of the earth broke up at the beginning of the flood, and was rapidly subducted into the mantle in a process called runaway subduction. As subduction proceeded, different biomes were torn from the land and buried in the sediments, forming the successive layers of the geologic column. Eventually, subduction slowed dramatically, the continents emerged from the water, and the flood ended. Surprisingly, there is no mention of extraterrestrial impacts and how they might have contributed to the violence of the flood.
Chapter four is titled “A new world emerges.” The post-flood world was very different from the pre-flood world in topography, geologic activity, and climate. Animals from the ark dispersed, filling various habitats and diversifying into locally adapted species. Marine animals, along with many insects and plants, survived in the water or by floating on its surface through the flood. After the flood, the climate gradually cooled and dried. Warm oceans produced high evaporation, producing large amounts of water vapor which encountered cool air over the land, causing it to fall as snow. Eventually, ice sheets formed, lowering sea level and exposing land bridges which facilitated dispersal of land mammals throughout much of the world.
Humans first remained in the lands near the ark, such as Babel, but confusion of languages caused them to disperse globally. Dispersing humans had little technology available, and had only stones and bones to use for tools, as seen in stone age tools. Small bands of humans isolated from each other soon developed different racial features, as evidenced by the variation seen in hominin fossils.
Chapter five, “Fossils and the fossil record,” discusses what fossils are, how they form, what kinds of rocks contain them, and how they are classified. Two interpretations of the geologic column are compared: the creation/short-age view, and the evolution/long-age view. This is a useful feature to illustrate the importance of presuppositions on the interpretation of data.
Chapter six, “Major fossil groups” functions as a tutorial on fossils. Major groups of microfossils, plants, marine invertebrates, and land animals are all described and illustrated. This is not a controversial section, as descriptions of fossils are more objective, and not dependent on philosophical presuppositions.
For readers who are comfortable with the tentativeness of a theory under development, this book represents a useful step in the huge project of improving our understanding of the flood.
Jim Gibson, PhD
Geoscience Research Institute