08 Summer field work and the start of graduate school

In the summer of 1981, upon completion of my Bachelor of Science degree at Bishop’s University, I worked for Dr. Richard C. Fox at the University of Alberta, prospecting for and collecting Paleocene mammals in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Various epoch and era names, such as “Paleocene,” will be used throughout the book to refer to fossils and fossil beds. While paleontolgists understand these names to refer to specific geologic times, readers who, at this early point in the book, are unsure about an ancient earth can conveniently think of them simply as referring to groups of fossils that tend to occur together.)

Dr. Fox had debated Dr. Gish only a few months earlier in Edmonton, Alberta, so there was tension between the two of us, as he had been told of my creationist views. Coming on the heels of my humiliation at Bishop’s, I made every effort to avoid engaging him in a debate. Although questions were beginning to arise in my mind, nothing I saw or collected that summer caused me to have any further doubts about the position I held.

Nevertheless, Dr. Fox did give me two books to read which continued to cause me to think about the length of the creation “days” in Genesis 1. One was God’s Time Record in Ancient Sediments by Dan Wonderly; the other was Creation and the Flood by Davis A. Young. Both of these were of “concordist” character, that is, they sought to harmonize the “days” of Genesis with geologic ages. During one of our discussions, Dr. Fox mentioned that a book on biological evolution for Christians was greatly needed. The two aforementioned books were written to accommodate geological evidence within the Christian world view; why couldn’t a biologist do the same for the biological sciences?

That fall I began my doctoral research in the Redpath Museum at McGill University, a natural history museum that had been opened 100 years earlier with Sir John William Dawson (1820-1899) as its first director. Dawson was an influential and well-known paleontologist, but also a staunch Presbyterian. Initially, he was very much opposed to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, but later he became more favorable towards the notion. Even as a creationist, Dawson believed that the earth was considerably older than 6,000-10,000 years.

Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

 

Sir William Dawson. Artist presently unknown.

On the public recommendation of Dr. Gish that creationists at the graduate level should keep quiet for fear of dismissal, I kept my creationist views to myself while at McGill. Years later, however, I discovered that my graduate committee had been informed of my position even before I began. Perhaps my claim to have the same zeal Dawson had had for the truth of fossils helped secure my admission. Whatever the reason, I have Dr. Robert L. Carroll, my supervisor, to thank.

At the height of my interest in young-earth creationism, I remember my Dad telling me that I would not become another Duane T. Gish. What he meant was that I did not have his ability to communicate effectively with an audience and that I therefore would not become a star creationist. I don’t think he realized at the time how accurate this statement would prove to be (in more ways than one).

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