Saturday, April 05, 2008

Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth

I picked this book up at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, and have read about halfway through. It is very readable for a paleontology text, despite the long names and the frequent discussion of strange flora and fauna. It also has beautiful color illustrations and photographs that might fool some into thinking it's a children's book. The book talks about a series of fossil discoveries that link together to form a comprehensive history of the development of life from an evolutionary standpoint. I don't believe in evolution as an explanation for God's creation -- I hold to the standpoint that God could have created the Earth in six literal days if he wanted to, although it doesn't appear to us humans that he did in fact take only six days to do it. The fossil record in this book challenges me to think in new ways about God's creation. Dinosaurs, for example, are fascinating creatures, but I want to think of them as part of the sixth day -- part of an explosion of life across the planet that involved all animal life. But if death didn't enter the world until after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, which was presumably after the sixth day in which they were created, how did the dinosaurs become extinct before humankind even makes an appearance in the fossil record? Was God's creation on the sixth day so powerful that it resulted in a huge number of species appearing and disappearing without ever really dying? Genesis puts the first day as the creation of light and dark. The second day is the separation of water below the sky from water above the sky. The third day is the creation of land. The fourth day is the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars. The fifth day is the creation of plants, birds, and fish. The sixth day is land animals and man. A scientific account of this creation would have to begin with the Big Bang, although some would argue that there had to be stuff before the Big Bang. The Big Bang led to the creation of the universe we now live in, so it could be considered the first and second days -- if you believe the "water above the sky" to represent heaven, as I do, as opposed to the universe. If land came next, then the planet Earth was created and placed in the universe like a jewel, because the fourth day is the creation of the sun, moon, and stars. (tracking with me?) The fifth day roughly corresponds with the creation of flora and fauna in the seas first, which gradually move onto land according to the fossil record. Flight, according to the book, develops as something of a mystery in the fossil record, and it occurs among fauna of the land and sea. The sixth day would be the creation of mammals and man. The problem with this correlation is it vastly oversimplifies the process described in the fossil record, with so many species living and dying and reaching evolutionary peaks and valleys before the arrival of man. Still, the rough correlation is enough for some to say that evolution and Creation can be combined. I know that evolution is not enough explanation for me -- I don't believe that my consciousness was created as part of a process driven primarily by random chance. That is a broad philosophical question, though, not one that can be answered by science. The scientific evidence in the fossil record is overwhelming that there were vast numbers of species created before the advent of man, but that evidence cannot explain the creation of a single human soul. God is responsible for our souls and for the vast abundance of life on this planet. I'm just not sure about the "how" part of the question. This book describes a process that I can't quite wholeheartedly agree with, but it makes a compelling read for its detailed account of what the fossil record shows about the nature of the development of life on Earth.
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