Students ask: “Is the fossil record ‘the history of life’?"

Textbooks like the 7th grade California life-science textbook, Focus on Life Science, often paint the picture that it takes millions of years for fossils to form, and that fossils found in sedimentary rock layers record the supposed 3.5 billion year history of life on earth1, but are these claims true?

Paleontology, the study of fossils, is an example of historical science, because it deals with one-time events in the past that cannot be repeated, observed, or tested in the present. In historical science, worldviews play an important role in the interpretation of scientific data. Depending on a scientist’s worldview (including what he or she believes about the past), he or she may interpret the data in a variety of different ways. Such is the case with the fossil record.

Evolutionary scientists, because of a belief in uniformitarianism (the idea that present-day geological processes are the key to interpreting geologic formations) assume that sedimentary rock layers and the fossils they contain must have been deposited slowly over a long time. Using long ages as a framework, evolutionary geologists then assign each layer and its fossil contents to a certain period in earth history (i.e. Jurassic).

However, scientists now know that sediment deposition and fossil formation do not need millions of years to occur. During the 1980’s eruptions of Mt. Saint Helens, hundreds of feet of sedimentary deposits were laid down rapidly in a matter of hours, including fine layers thought to represent regular cycles of slow-and-gradual deposition.2 Likewise, petrified wood has been produced in the lab in a matter of days!3

Image credit:

Image credit:

Without the the need for millions and billions of years of earth history to explain fossils, creationist geologists interpret sedimentary strata and the fossils they contain as a record of the devastation of the Global Flood described in Genesis 7-9. Lower layers, which contain the fossils of shallow marine creatures, are interpreted as the remains of the pre-Flood ocean-floor environment, which were likely the first to be swept away and buried when ‘the fountains of the great deep’ broke up (Genesis 7:11). Fossils in the middle strata of the geologic column, including dinosaurs, represent the remains of lowland and forest creatures, while higher strata represent the pre-Flood highland environments that were the last be be buried, as well as some post-Flood and Ice Age deposits.4,5

Is there any evidence that confirms that fossils formed rapidly? Our next blog post will examine more on this fascinating subject and find that the answer is overwhelmingly, yes!

Free Resources for Further Reading:

Chapter 2: Did Noah’s Flood Really Happen?

Chapter 4: Do Fossil Show Evolution?

Video – Doesn’t the Order of the Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages? 


1Coolidge-Stoltz, Elizabeth. Focus on California Life Science. Boston, MA: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. 236-40. Print.

2Austin, Steven A. “Why Is Mount St. Helens Important to the Origins Controversy?” Answers in Genesis. N.p., 18 July 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014. <>.

3Miller, Brandon. “Presto! Instant Petrified Wood Created in Lab.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 27 Jan. 2005. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <>.

4Wise, Kurt P. “Sinking a Floating Forest.” Answers in Genesis. Answers Magazine, 2 Sept. 2008. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <>.

5Garner, Paul. “Time for an Upgrade?” Answers in Genesis. Answers Magazine, 2 Sept. 2008. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <>.