My Thoughts on the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate
Part 2: The Fossil RecordWhen I was a kid growing up in churches, I can remember how creationists loved to talk about the "fossil record". In particular, they loved to talk about "missing links". The picture they drew of the fossil record was one where a fossil was laid down every now and then of a particular individual creature who happened to be unlucky enough to fall into a bog or something. Thus, to create an evolutionary continuum, one had to fill in a lot of wide gaps, or missing links. One got the impression that these fossils were few and far between, and that it took a lot of imagination to envision a hereditary linkage between them.
Bill Nye starts out his 30 min. presentation talking about limestone underneath Kentucky, where they are holding their debate. He makes the startling statement (and Ken Ham will never address this) that every layer of this limestone (millions of layers going down for miles beneath the ground) contains fossilized creatures which "lived out their lives".
But Bill Nye doesn't really take this far enough, in my opinion.
When I was with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, I traveled all over the world and spent a lot of time with scientists studying long cores brought up from underneath the ocean floor. Rather than talking about ice cores, I wish Mr. Nye had looked into what the IODP does. The IODP regularly brings up many hundreds of meters of continuous core from underneath the ocean. I'm talking about hundeds of meters (even miles) of continuous core going straight down beneath the ocean floor. These cores are sometimes frozen, sometimes solid rock, or mud. They often show the same kinds of bands (like tree rings) which can be used for measuring their age, but this is just one of several independent ways the age of sections of core can be measured. Experiments are done on samples taken from the cores using instruments on board the ship, and these experiments give age estimates which generally agree to a high degree. And they agree not only with other samples from the same core, but with other samples taken from cores that come from all over the world. All of this information from literally thousands of miles of core samples taken from hundreds of locations from pole to pole is publicly available, and tons of research has been done on it.
And of course, the age estimates are always in the millions of years.
But there's another thing: every cubic centimeter of the stuff (be it rock or clay or mud, etc) is filled with tiny fossils. These little beings are called foraminifera and diatoms (and others). And they can be seen to be evolving over time. They evolve gradually and lay down so many fossils that if one took photos of samples from every few centimeters one could literally make a movie documenting ages and ages of evolution, though smooth, continuous changes (in fact this has been done).
They evolve both inside and out, and in many ways. If one looks at two specimens from, say, 100 meters apart in the core (which might equate to a few million years), they look as different as a polar bear and a pumpkin. The only way we know they are related by descent is that a complete record of their gradual evolution is available to us.
This is partly what Bill Nye was talking about when he was talking about the order of fossils in layers. When you look at these layers of tiny fossils, they occur in a very specific and predictable order. If anyone were to find a sample containing creatures from different layers, it would be like finding an iPhone on Mars. It just doesn't happen. Anywhere. Ever.
I concur with Ken Ham's assertion that Christians (and people of other faiths) can be good scientists. Aboard the IODP's ship, the JOIDES Resolution, I met many scientists from all over the world who were believers in God. In fact, I would say that a surprisingly high percentage of the scientists I met were religious in one way or another. Many of them would pray before meals, or could be found reading their Bibles (or other sacred books) on the decks now and then.
But I never met a scientist aboard the JOIDES Resolution that was a young-earth creationist. The reason is, the evidence for a long history of earth (and life on earth) over many millions of years is just absolutely overwhelming, and incredibly well documented with every core that comes up.