So maybe no originally created “kind” boundaries had been bridged! Maybe paleontologists, in describing and naming different genera and/or species of closely similar fossils, were actually just describing different or extreme genetic variants within one of the original created kinds. If so, similar species should actually be expected to occur close together in the fossil record, because they would all belong to one so-called “Genesis kind” that had been specially created at a given time.
So I was left wondering: Did God really create similar species instantaneously at about the same time, geologically speaking. Or did He only create “kinds,” from which descendant species arose by way of a continuous genealogy, the result of descent with modification, the natural outcome of the processes we now call evolution?
As appealing as this second possibility was, I recognized that to embrace it would be to take another significant step away from my creationist origins. Arguing that what paleontologists describe as closely similar species or genera are really just variations within a created kind meant accepting both evolution within a species (micro-evolution) and the evolution of new species (macro-evolution). This meant, in turn, accepting the majority of the natural mechanisms by which evolutionists believe all of life developed. Grouping species and genera into an overarching “kind” did not change the reality of the natural mechanisms involved in their origins. A rose by any other name . . .
This position also posed many vexing questions as I thought about its practical implications. If, as I was now willing to grant, the earth was very old, how long might a given “kind” have existed? Could five million, or ten million, or a hundred million years of descent with modification all be grouped together within a single “kind”? If a kind admittedly displays anatomical variation, at what point does one decide that its descendants are now so unlike the purported originally created kind that they must be considered a different “kind”?
In other words, where does one kind end and the next kind begin? For example, what if there was greater anatomical variation between extreme members of a created kind than between anatomically similar kinds? Would this possibility not exist? If God had created some species instantaneously and others arose by natural processes, how could I distinguish between the two? Could I expect at some point to be able to document evolution within a biblical “kind,” but also recognize by some currently unknown means that the “dawn” members of a kind were sufficiently different to evidence their supernatural and instantaneous origin?
Could we identify these created “mother-kinds” and the approximate time of their supernatural origin? If there was a point in the fossil record at which I believed God had created a “mother-kind” instantaneously, and I published that belief, how would I respond if, subsequent to my publication, an intermediate form or an older, closely similar species was discovered? How would I then describe God’s involvement in that creative process?
If I accepted that there could be evolution within a species (so-called micro-evolution), and also that new species could arise within the limits of a created kind (macro-evolution), had I not already accepted the central tenets of evolutionary biology? What part of creation was still solely the domain of God, if everything required by evolution could have happened naturally? What part of evolutionary theory did I really object to? Was it that evolutionary theory proposed that entirely new genetic information could be introduced into a species, thus extending its morphological boundaries? Would I object to this because it seemingly removed God from being a necessary link in the creative process?
In addition to these scientific questions, there were many questions of biblical interpretation. On what basis could one claim, from a reading of the Bible, that there were limits to genetic variability? Were there really Biblical prohibitions of genetic change over time beyond that within a “kind”? Why was the phrase “according to its own kind” understood as a prohibition of change in the morphology of a kind? Was this simply to keep including God in the process by which new creatures were introduced? Could new genetic variability only come about miraculously? Could it not come about by what a scientist would consider as having happened naturally?
As I read Genesis, it seemed to say not that God had created “kinds” with a certain but unspecified degree of genetic variability, but rather that God was very pleased with everything He had made, just as He had made it. So was this really a biblical position?
No matter how I explained them, I had to acknowledge two indisputable characteristics of the fossil record. First, there were bridging morphologies between major groups of organisms, such as dinosaurs and birds. Second, it was also true that similar organisms were more likely to occur close together in geologic time than they were to be separated by vast amounts of time. These two realities were pushing me in the direction of admitting that there was reasonable cause to look for natural mechanisms that could account for the patterns I was seeing in the fossil record. Even if these patterns were not the result of evolution, I now had to admit that their evolutionary flavor was so strong that I could no longer fault anyone for trying to discover whether natural mechanisms could account for these observations.
The idea that the origin/creation of life and its diversity could have come about naturally, even if that meant natural processes superintended by God, had never been presented to me as a credible option. Therefore, and much to my chagrin, I felt as though God, as proximal agent in the creation of life, was being removed from the creative process. This belief was too fundamental a conviction for me to waltz away from without emotional consequences. Nevertheless, there came a time when I decided to see how far I could take this natural mechanism idea.
These two characteristics of the fossil record became the third stepping-stone in my pilgrimage. (Not that I had wanted to go anywhere to begin with!) Fossil footprint and trace fossils in general had forced me to concede that the Earth was very much older that 10,000 years. Changing suites of organisms through time had forced me to acknowledge that not every “created kind” had lived at the same time, and that no “kind” had lived on Earth for as long as life had existed on this planet. And thirdly, bridging morphologies and adaptive radiations had forced me to admit that life looked evolutionary in its overall expression.
If God had not created every species ex nihilo, then clearly He had limited His creative potential by working with what He had at hand and not doing whatever whenever. On the other hand, if God had created every species ex nihilo, then here too, He had not allowed them to live on earth for as long as they could have existed on this planet! Furthermore, He had not made organisms using every possible anatomically functional permutation.
So maybe there were other self-imposed constraints within which God had decided to work. Did these include creating by way of naturally operating mechanisms, such as natural selection acting on genetic variation within a species?