Beneath the surface with marine reptiles
Paleontologist Dr Marcus Ross talks with Tas Walker
Dinosaurs captivated Marcus Ross when he was just four years old. It happened when he first heard a read-along record album about dinosaurs. ‘I was enthralled by the vivid descriptions and the roaring, crashing and screeching,’ Marcus said.
At seven he discovered that people who studied fossils were called paleontologists. ‘From that point onward I wanted to do just that.’
In December 2006, Marcus completed his Ph.D. dissertation, at the University of Rhode Island, about mosasaurs. These marine reptiles are now extinct but their fossil remains are abundant in rocks that also contain dinosaur fossils. Marcus’s Ph.D. supervisor, Dr David Fastovsky, said his work was ‘impeccable’.
Marcus Ross is also a ‘young-earth creationist’, and this comes as a shock to many people who think there is a contradiction between the Bible and science. But when paleontologists dig up fossils they do not find a date label attached; the age is an interpretation.
In February 2007 The New York Times ran an article about him, which said, ‘Dr Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist”—he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.’1
Commenting on the Times article, a Mr Leo Myers said, ‘It is really sad that such a smart and industrious man can be so stupid!’1 In our culture today, that is a typical (but erroneous) response when someone discovers some real scientists who believe the Bible.
However, a paleontologist who believes in a young-earth is not doing mental gymnastics, as many imagine. In fact, Marcus follows such pioneers of paleontology as Nicholas Steno (1631–1686) and John Woodward (1665–1728), who believed the fossils were produced by the biblical Flood about 2500 BC.
His worldview has prompted him to work through many issues over many years as he seeks to understand how the Bible relates to fossil distribution.
He said, ‘I recall, as early as the age of nine, contemplating the various ways that I might harmonize a recent, 6-day creation (as described in the Bible) with evolution over millions of years (as described in my dinosaur books). ‘Looking back, I recall wrestling with the gap theory and theistic evolution, although I didn’t know those names.’ Marcus saw that these compromises did not work, and decided that, if the Bible really was God’s Word, then it must be true. He thought, ‘The writers of the dinosaur books must be wrong!’
His commitment to the Bible began when he first believed in Christ at about five years of age. At high school he was known for taking the Bible seriously.
When he entered college, he purposely joined the local church because he realized the importance of regular church involvement. He also befriended other Christian students, and still remains close friends with one of them to this day. While at college, he studied creationist ideas, and was president for a time of a student creationist organization, the Penn State Origins Club.
As a result of this experience Marcus was thoroughly convinced of a recent creation in six literal days. He said, ‘Very simply, it was my commitment to the Bible’s authority on all matters upon which it touches.’
Naturally, he was concerned about how to raise his position with his supervisor before beginning his research. ‘As early as I could, I met with each of my advisors and committee members to tell them I was a young-earth creationist. Sometimes, I found that word had already spread.’
His advisor at the University of Rhode Island was one who already knew, and he asked Marcus to elaborate. ‘After I told him that I was a young-earth creationist there was a brief silence. Nonetheless, he was remarkably open to having me as a student. I had a good project and a good record. To reject me would, in his view, have been religious discrimination.’
One challenge that I have had is dealing with people who, without getting to know me first, decide to dislike me simply because of my creationist beliefs.’—Paleontologist Dr Marcus Ross
Being a young-earth creationist in a secular research facility provided some interesting experiences. Marcus said, ‘One challenge that I have had is dealing with people who, without getting to know me first, decide to dislike me simply because of my creationist beliefs. Thankfully this does not happen very often.’
After the New York Times article, Marcus received many angry emails, but the people who were rude or downplayed his work were those who knew the least about him. Marcus finds it helpful to talk and work with people who disagree. ‘Showing them the love of Christ and treating them with respect go a long way towards building relationships and dialogue.’
Marcus appreciates the recent research by the RATE group (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth).2,3 ‘Their discoveries of carbon-14 in coal beds4 and, even more impressive, in diamonds,5 provides a powerful argument for a young earth. He also finds their argument about helium leaking from zircons6 to be an interesting counter to conventional dating methods such as uranium-lead.
Naturally, as a paleontologist, Marcus often gets asked whether the fossil record supports creation or evolution. Marcus explains that both evolutionists and creationists have expectations about the fossil record, and both have parts that they like to highlight as well as parts that raise questions. That is why there is always a need for ongoing research.
Marcus said, ‘Lots of fossils indicate that they were buried catastrophically, in massive flooding conditions. This is what we would expect to see from a global flood like the Bible describes.’
Marcus is keen on a model-building approach that shows people that the biblical view of history makes sense of the world. As he looked through his mosasaur data, he started to think about extinction and how that could relate to Noah’s Flood.
Marcus now lectures at Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia. In all of its teaching, it starts with the biblical foundation of a recent 6-day creation, which is a totally different philosophy from the secular universities. ‘Being at Liberty means that I am able to use the Bible as part of my evidence base, as a springboard for investigation into the natural world. In essence, I can ask questions like “What are the boundaries of the biblical kinds?” “What rocks and fossils were made during Noah’s Flood, and which ones formed before and after?” These were questions that, previously, I could only consider personally and not discuss openly among the faculty. Now I am free to ask.’Photos of Marcus Ross by Corinna Ross
- Dean, C., Believing Scripture but playing by science’s rules, The New York Times, Science Section, 12 February 2007; <news.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/believing-scripture-but-playing-by-sciences-rules>. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Radiometric dating breakthroughs, Creation 26(2):42–44, 2004. <creation.com/rate>. Return to text.
- DeYoung, D., Thousands … Not Billions, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, 2005; Vardiman, L., et al. (eds), Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, ICR, California, USA, and CRS Chino Valley, Arizona, 2005. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, pp. 51–55. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend, Creation 28(4):26–27, 2006; <creation.com/diamonds/>. Return to text.
- Humphreys, D.R., Austin, S.A., Baumgardner, J.R. and Snelling, A.A., Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay; in; Ivey, R.L. (ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pennsylvania, USA, pp. 175–196, 2003; <www.icr.org/pdf/research/Helium_ICC_7-22-03.pdf>. Return to text.