Fossils administer a home window into the distant past, revealing just how life has adjusted across vast periods of earth history. The arrangement of fossils within absent layers and throughout the world is very ordered, and transitional fossils space abundant. While fossil evidence alone does no prove the all life forms are associated by usual ancestry, the fossil document is regular with (and very suggestive of) the conclusion. Predictions around where transitional fossils have to be found—made on the basis of common ancestry—have yielded stunning discoveries. Because that Christians, the fossil record is a amazing gift that prompts reflection on the sort of people God has actually made.

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Fossils are the remains or traces of old organisms, maintained over the periods in rock, amber, tar, ice, or an additional medium. Researchers who examine fossils, dubbed paleontologists, usage a variety of approaches to disclose what an old organism looked like, where it lived, what that ate, and also how that behaved.

Today, we take because that granted that a fossilized this or bone come from a creature that lived lengthy ago. But that wasn’t always true. In the 1600s, as fossils began to it is in systematically studied, there was vigorous debate around how to analyze them. Some argued they were no remnants of life things. This was because fossils to be made of stone—the very same kind of rock as the bordering rocks, not bone or tooth or shell—and because there was no recognized mechanism for exactly how they could be buried so deeply in ~ the earth. Furthermore, fossils frequently did not resemble any living creature, and also at that time it to be widely believed that species were “fixed,” or unchanged since their creation. Extinction was not believed possible. Through the late 1600s, however, arguments that fossils space in fact the hardened remnants of past life started to victory the day. Devout Christians such as John Ray and William Smith played an essential role in describing and understanding the true nature and distribution that fossils. These beforehand Christian geologists experienced God as creator of this life creates that lived in remote ages past.

Fossilization is an extremely rare event, yet fossils space plentiful. How can this be?

The likelihood that fossilization depends considerably on regional conditions and also the makeup of the organism. After they die, many organisms are consumed or decompose quickly because they are exposed come the air. In order to end up being fossilized, organisms should be maintained in low-oxygen problems (oxygen feeds the bacteria that failure dead organisms). An insect grounding in tree sap; an Iron period man trapped in a bog; a dinosaur swept downriver and buried in sediment indigenous a flood—these are rare events, but since life has existed for so long, and so countless creatures have walked the face of the earth, we now have massive collections of fossils spanning many of earth’s history. The earliest fossils, microbial carpet in Greenland, are 3.7 billion years old!

The bulk of fossils come from creatures with difficult body parts like teeth and bone, however there are countless other type of fossils, too. A mammoth frozen in ice have the right to be kept with remarkably tiny degradation for tens of thousands to millions of years. Scientists have discovered pristine, individual pipeline pressed in ancient lakebeds, sometimes with the original pigment intact until exposed come air. Various other examples include dinosaur skin, feather impressions, pollen, invertebrate crawling traces and also burrows, shells, dinosaur swarms with preserved eggs, and also “petrified” (paleontologists prefer the term permineralized) wood. Researchers have even discovered soft tissue preserved inside fossilized dinosaur bones! The processes through which these different species of fossils form, called taphonomy, is an exciting area of research within paleontology.

Fossils are most often found in sedimentary rocks, rarely found in igneous rocks (those developed from magma), and virtually never uncovered in metamorphic rocks (those transformed by heat and also pressure). Sedimentary rock develops when mineral and also organic material is set down and eventually cemented in layers called strata. Periodically this can happen rapidly, but it commonly takes countless years because that appreciable layers come form.

In many cases, larger strata are found listed below younger strata, just as critical week’s newspaper will commonly be discovered under today’s junk mail in the recycling bin. Geologists speak to this the principle the superposition. End time, beds of rock may be tilted, folded, broken, or otherwise disturbed. Yet scientists can often determine the most likely sequence of events that resulted in these results. The fossils in each layer of absent are for this reason a sampling the the type of biology that lived in those settings when the class formed. In this way, strata room the “pages” that a book around life’s background that deserve to be read and also interpreted.

Fossil distribution is strikingly bespeak in several ways. Long before Darwin’s day, it to be observed that various varieties of fossils were constantly found together loved one to others within a shaft of rock. That is, part kinds that creatures were discovered with each other and not through others.

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Trilobites are uncovered in lower, enlarge layers; giant insects and also ferns greater up in younger layers; dinosaurs greater still in even younger layers; and also so on. The stimulate of fossil groups in different layers is highly constant from place to place—even across continents. This sample of one team of fossils look at being replaced by an additional is so consistent that it ended up being known together the principle the faunal succession.

Faunal sequence not only shows evidence of extinct (even massive or mass extinction events, in which up to 90% of species were lost) but additionally evidence that new species on regular basis come right into existence. When both ideas were how amazing in the 1800s, they space widely welcomed today, even amongst those who challenge the theory of evolution.

Some christians today think that all fossils to be laid down number of thousand years ago in Noah’s flood (Gen 6-9). If this were the case, we would expect fossils that all types to be mixed together. But never do we discover trilobites and also flowering plants in the exact same layer, nor a single dinosaur in the Grand Canyon (though they are found, as expected by the period of the rocks, in higher layers in the nearby Grand Staircase formation). The fossil record plainly testifies (along with various other geological evidence) the there has actually never been a catastrophic, worldwide flood event. Yet that does not typical there is no historic basis because that the flood story. The biblical account may be called theological history: that is, it describes real occasions (perhaps a local flood event) in extremely figurative language because that a theological purpose. Many scriptures scholars and also scientists who are committed come the inerrancy that Scripture reject flood geology for both biblical and also scientific reasons.

Fossils additionally display stimulate in other ways. Not just are details layers of rock identifiable the world over by the fossils lock contain, however moving up a column of rock, one deserve to see a trend toward larger organisms in ~ lineages. The size trend only works within lineages, not between them: mammals gain larger together you relocate up, yet are not larger than dinosaurs. Furthermore, little organisms are current in every layer, however no big animals are uncovered at the bottom. These fads are difficult come square through Young-Earth overwhelming geology but are exactly what one would suppose if rock layers took countless years to kind and if life develops are associated by usual ancestry.

Many critics of evolutionary theory cite a lack of “transitional fossils,” which represent the evolutionary shift from one varieties to another. In one feeling they space right: because that a variety of reasons, it is rare to discover a fossil that can be definitively assigned come the lineage in between two other recognized species. One analogy help to present why: If you choose a dig at arbitrarily from a family cemetery, that is unlikely the you would discover the interment place of your great-grandfather (your straight ancestor), but an extremely likely the you would discover one the a remote cousin (your family, but not your straight ancestor). Since of the “bushiness” the the evolutionary family tree, there deserve to be plenty of closely-related types that room not straight ancestors the one another.

True transitional creates are for this reason expected to be extremely rare. More common, in theory and in practice, are types that room evolutionary “cousins.” They are still thought about to it is in transitional because they re-superstructure a close common ancestor v both groups.

Archaeopteryx is a standard example—it to represent the transition from non-avian dinosaurs come birds, yet is no the straight ancestor of any birds lively today.


Scientists have actually found many, many feasible transitional fossils. Castle are abundant for so-called “microevolutionary” transitions, however they are likewise present at each major hypothesized evolutionary transition. Sometimes entire sequences of transitional fossils are known. These major transitions encompass one of many lineages that fish adapting come land, a lineage of at an early stage theropod dinosaurs evolving flight, floor mammals adapting to a marine habitat, and also one lineage of primates right into humans. We currently turn to one example: the shift from sea come land.

Fossils of soil animals, or tetrapods, very first appear in rocks that are around 370 million year old. In larger rocks, only sea creatures space found. However in 1998, scientists uncovered a fossilized fin, 370 million year old, through eight digits comparable to the five fingers humans have actually on your hands. However, the fin was undoubtedly that that a fish, which method this fossil is strong evidence the a transitional form.


One the the an excellent success stories in the examination of the fossil document was the detect of a near-perfect fossilized change between a vertebrate adapted for water and one adapted for land. Evolution biologist Neil Shubin set out to find a more complete transitional specimen than the 1998 fin. He determined the exact period of rock the he expected would productivity a transitional land/water animal, and then he and also his team spent four summers in the Arctic scouring rocks of that period to discover one. The results were spectacular: they found a fish through gills and also scales, yet with a planarization head favor a crocodile and strong fins that might support the animal’s weight in the shallows. Tiktaalik, together the specimen is named, is a remarkable example of the predictive strength of evolutionary theory.

Sometimes the beauty and wonder the fossils obtain lost in arguments about evolution. As soon as we step back, we have the right to appreciate the every new fossil we uncover is a gift—a tiny piece the the vast, facility puzzle the is the history of life on our planet. For the Christian, fossils can help us reflect ~ above the kind of human being God has actually made.

Consider the mosasaurs, a group of ocean-dwelling reptiles:


As long as a institution bus, this fearsome predators ruled the sea because that 20 million years. (To put that in perspective, Homo sapiens have only walked the earth for 200,000 years!)

What perform the thin number, diversity, and also strangeness of extinct creatures choose the mosasaurs, and also the large ages over which castle lived, phone call us around God and his world?

First, they reveal that predation and extinction have actually been a reality for countless years, long before humans. That method predation and extinction are not the an outcome of the Fall, as some Christians believe, but part of God’s good world. This is constant with the biblical description of a Creator who glories in the strength and ferocity of fearsome creatures (Job 38-41), yet perhaps nuances ours understanding about life and death.

Second, the lengthy ages involved suggest that God take away time come create­—lots that time. God is patient! The arrival of innumerable varieties over the ages means that development is not a “once and also done” event; that is ongoing. These observations have actually implications for how we analyze the days of creation in Genesis 1.

Finally, we need to wrestle with the fact that the vast majority of the creatures God has actually made no much longer walk the earth. Lock existed for a time, not for person enjoyment or use during their life, but solely for God’s good pleasure and purposes. God can have produced in any way he wanted to, however he chose to do so in a details way. Fossils—ancient, beautiful, and also fascinating—give united state clues about how. We have actually scientists to say thanks to for their painstaking job-related that gives us a glimpse right into these creatures’ lives.

Trace Fossils in Sandstone – by James St. JohnTiktaalik in the ar Museum, Chicago. – by Eduard Solà – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, LinkArchaeopteryx_fossil – James L. Amos , via Wikimedia CommonsFossil of Mosasaurus, an extinction mosasaur – Ghedoghedo – Own work

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Table that ContentsFossils room rare, plentiful, and also diverseFossil distribution in sedimentary rocks is extremely orderedTransitional fossils are plentifulThe transition to land: sea creatures to land animalsFossils phone call us around God


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