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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

     

Part I: The Preparation of the Earth Before Man

Chapter 5

The Setting of the Stage

     THERE IS little doubt that the first step in preparing the earth as a habitation for man must have been to clothe it with vegetation as a source of food for the animals which preceded him. The earth's earliest atmosphere was almost certainly not suited for the support of animal life of any kind on land, though the seas could do so. All animals which live on land must have free oxygen as a source of energy. This oxygen can be breathed (or taken in through the skin, as it is in insects) mixed with other gases such as hydrogen or nitrogen, for instance. It appears that in the earth's atmosphere, at the beginning, even after noxious gases had been removed chiefly by loss from the earth's gravitational field, the available oxygen was combined with carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. In order to free the oxygen, plants were created to perform this role by photosynthesis, taking in carbon dioxide and setting the oxygen free in the atmosphere again, converting the carbon into usable form. Since all flesh is grass (1 Peter 1:24) in the sense that all animal life depends upon plant life for energy, plant life had to precede animal life not only to make the atmosphere respirable for them but to supply them with food energy.
     But the first plants obviously had to be able to survive without soil, since soil is composed of decayed vegetation. Once vegetation of such a kind had multiplied sufficiently to create humus, then higher forms of plant life more effective as sources of energy for animals and later for man could be created and planted. That God should create and plant is not strange, for this is what we are told He did with respect to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8).
     The course of events was, then, somewhat as follows. The rock at the surface of the earth was broken down into gravel and sand by the action of waves, wind, gravitational shock (i.e., falling and breaking), and by alternating heat and cold, which would fragment the rock by expansion and contraction. In addition, volcanic action

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contributed ash and certain chemicals. In due time such combined forces provided suitable beds for the creation and planting of vegetation capable of growing without soil. As W. Bell Dawson pointed out, to begin the process of clothing the earth, God designed plants that could grow in pure sand; and these gradually made soil for plants of higher classes to grow in. There is, for example, one species of pine which is used extensively in France in the dunes along the coast, for the purpose of preventing them from drifting back over the cultivated fields. (35)
     These first plants were reeds, rushes, and ferns, and although they often grew as large as trees, they were not the kind of vegetation which higher forms of animals use as food. They served a dual purpose, however. While they lived, they began to remove from the atmosphere its excess carbon dioxide; and when they died, they created a humus which when it had accumulated sufficiently provided the bed into which higher forms of plant life were introduced by creation. Lichens also enter this picture as fundamental to all that followed. "Lichens have no need for soil, but, preparing it, they lay the cornerstone for flowers and trees. They are the plant world's pioneers, bringing life where none existed."
(36) When the time was fully come that animals should move out of the sea on to the dry land, there was both air fit for them to breathe and food suitable for them to eat.
     George Wald, Professor of Biology at Harvard, speaks of the preparation of the atmosphere by plant life in the following way:
(37)

     The atmosphere of our planet seems to have contained no (free) oxygen until organisms placed it there by the process of plant photosynthesis. . . .
     Once this was available organisms could invent a new way to acquire energy, many times as efficient. . . This is the process of cold combustion called respiration.

     Wald spoke of "inventing" a new way to acquire energy far more efficient than the methods by which plants acquire it. The word "invent" is inappropriate since it attributes to inanimate things a consciousness of purpose which they surely do not have. But his remarks serve to point out that the liberation of free oxygen for cellular respiration allowed for the introduction of living forms with immensely increased energy potential. The lowest, and thus

35. Dawson, W. Bell, Forethought in Creation, The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1925, p.18. See also Dale Swartzendruber, "Wonders of the Soil," in The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by J. C. Monsma, Putnam, New York, 1958, pp.188f.
36. Platt, Rutherford, "A Visit to the Living Ice Age," National Geographic Magazine, April ,1957, p.526.
37. Wald, George, "The Origin of Life," Scientific American, August, 1954, pp.49, 52.

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presumably the oldest, deposits of minerals are found in non-oxidized form, which seems to demonstrate the initial absence of free oxygen. It is evident, therefore, that animal life could not have existed until the plants had transformed the atmosphere.
     This step thus opened the way for the introduction of creatures which were far less tied to their environment, one further step in the unfolding of God's purposes in the ultimate creation of man. As Wald put it:
(38)

     Photosynthesis made organisms self-sustaining; coupled with respiration, it provided a surplus (of energy). To use an economic analogy, photosynthesis brought life to the subsistence level, respiration provided it with capital.

     But this is not all. The new atmosphere thus generated had an equally important function of another kind:(39)

     The entry of oxygen into the atmosphere also liberated organisms in another sense. The sun's radiation contains ultraviolet components which no living cell can tolerate. We are sometimes told that if this radiation were to reach the earth's surface, life would cease. That is not quite true. Water absorbs ultraviolet radiation very effectively, and one must conclude that as long as these rays penetrated in quantity to the surface of the earth, life had to remain under water.
     With the appearance of oxygen, however, a layer of ozone formed high in the atmosphere and absorbed this radiation. Now organisms could for the first time emerge from the water and begin to populate the earth and the air. Oxygen provided not only the means of obtaining adequate energy for evolution, but the protective blanket of ozone which alone made possible terrestrial life.

     These stages of preparation reinforce the concept of purpose, because they indicate the timed introduction of the requisite elements in the economy of Nature at each step as required -- and very frequently without predecessors. The appearance of lichens, for example, looks much more like deliberate creation than the outcome of pure chance. Similarly, later on, lungs seemed to be in the making at the same time that the atmosphere was being prepared for creatures that could make full use of such structures, a circumstance which again looks much more like planning than the operation of pure chance.
     Everything is orderly and purposeful, there is nothing accidental about the order in which forms of life appear from amoeba to man.

38. Ibid., p.53.
39. Ibid.

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The Evidence for a Succession of Forms

     In giving introductory courses in the life sciences, which are naturally presented from the evolutionary point of view, university professors often refer to the "Evolutionary Base Line." By this is meant a succession of forms of life which are chosen to represent what are believed to be the basic steps in the process of development from amoeba to man.
     This base line begins with unicellular forms such as Paramecia, but it is worth noticing that an authority like Gaylord Simpson considers the step from no life to amoeba as being as great as the whole passage from amoeba to man. In order to make the picture more or less complete, the Evolutionary Base Line will be given very briefly with a note explaining the advance represented by each form in the series.
     The line is traced from the invertebrates to the vertebrates through Amphioxus, a creature which stands lowest in the phylum Chordata. This creature lacks a brain in the accepted sense, all its controls being distributed along the dorsal cord. It differs from other invertebrates in the possession of a pharynx perforated by gill slits which, however, serve to strain food rather than to provide an oxygen supply. Next in this base line it is customary to place the Lamprey, which has its notochord apparently encased in part in bony segments. Lampreys have "nostrils," rudimentary eyes, ears under the skin, and a single nasal pouch. These animals have a brain, but no movable jaw and no fins. Next comes Climatius which, like the former, is quite small but now has a kind of primitive jaw. Then comes Cladoselache, with paired fins, fully developed jaws, jointed and muscled, and with both upper and lower segments free to move. We are then introduced to Crossopterygians. Here we find the presence of bony structures underlying the fins constituting genuine limbs. These are viewed as the forerunners of legs in amphibians. Unlike the animals which preceded, they possessed a simple lung. Associated with these representative creatures in the base line are the Dipnoi, or lung fishes, which are at a similar level of development except that they have a modified mouth construction in which there is an opening from the nasal sac (now a kind of lung) to the inside of the mouth. This enabled the animal for a limited time to dispense with the use of the gills and use oxygen stored in the nasal sac. In conjunction with the development of fins with a bone sub-structure, it became possible for these creatures to make short trips out of the water. It is generally held that, in Devonian times, extended drought dried up many rivers leaving only stagnant pools.

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When these became depleted of oxygen, the lung fishes were able to move to new pools. Thus began, supposedly, the conquest of the land.
     The most primitive amphibians appear in the Carboniferous Era, namely, the labyrinthodonts, in which appear rudimentary legs with five webbed digits and a more highly developed olfactory sense. Later in the Carboniferous Era, the Cotylosaurs are first discovered. One particular species, the Seymouria, have genuine legs which, however, were very squat and suggest that the possessor was not really at home on land. Nevertheless, the Seymouria produced the first land-type eggs in which the water environment is contained within the egg and surrounded by a "shell."
     Up to this point, all living creatures were cold-blooded. So long as they stayed in the water, this was no disadvantage, a water environment being probably the most stable environment conceivable. In very hot weather, the deeper waters remain cool and in sub-zero weather, the ice which forms on the top protects the water beneath from dropping too low. It is generally thought that this accounts for the persistence of many fishes, such as Coelacanths, through millions and millions of years with virtually no change in form. However, when the environment over land areas had been prepared by plant life and the atmosphere had been made fit for animals that breathe air, it was then possible for living creatures to leave their watery home and come up to stay on the dry land. At first these had been forays only, then some of the first pioneers began to lay their eggs on the land, though they and the young returned to the water as a natural habitat. Longer and longer stays were made by such creatures in this new environment, but so long as they were cold-blooded, they were at the mercy of the elements, for when the sun went down or cold weather came, their energy was reduced to a very low level.
     There is an early creature occasionally mentioned in the Evolutionary Base Line, the Dmetrodon, that was apparently supplied with a strange sail-like structure along its back supported by a number of "masts." Sometimes it looks as though God took delight in experimenting. It is not certain what purpose these served, but it has been thought that they were heat exchangers, a kind of network of arteries set in a thin membrane stretched out to present the maximum surface area to the sun, thus providing the animal with heat more rapidly than otherwise. Presumably, when cold temperatures came, the reverse process was avoided by a form of vasoconstriction so that deep body heat was not lost to the cool air

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through the heat exchangers. But no cold-blooded animal can remain active and alert outside of a fairly narrow range of temperature variation. Such creatures could never, therefore, become complete masters of the environment.
     At this point, it is customary to follow a sideroad in the Evolutionary Base Line. Warm-blooded animals as a class bear their young alive. The egg, as such, is never "laid." But there was a stage and representatives still exist in which the transition was not completely made, as represented by the Duckbilled Platypus and the Spiny Anteater, both of which are egg-laying mammals. These creatures are truly mammals and warm-blooded, yet the young they bear appear first as reptilian eggs. A further stage is represented by the Marsupials. These are pouched animals which, like the Duckbilled Platypus and Spiny Anteater, are not included in the base line; but they are also referred to as transitional forms, because although the egg is never laid in this case, the young are nevertheless hatched "too soon" and have therefore to be returned to a kind of "shell" to complete the full process of embryonic development. They are not included because they are too "late" in the series.
     Transitional forms between cold-blooded animals and mammals are sometimes represented by the Therapsids, of which one particular species, the Cynognathus, is customarily singled out. It is not necessary here to detail the reasons why this species is considered transitional, except to mention that it has a number of mammalian features, especially in the mouth region. And although it is coldblooded, it appears to have been highly active -- which most coldblooded land animals are not.
     Among the earliest representatives of the Placentals, which bear their young in a fully developed state are Hedgehogs, Ground Shrews, and Tree Shrews. The Evolutionary Base Line is traced through the Tree Shrews for several reasons, one of which is its completely unspecialized form. These little animals enjoy the privilege of being able to sit upright and use prehensile front feet to feed. While they have an exceedingly simple brain, they are highly mobile, with limbs capable of complex movements and a fair range of stereoscopic vision.
     On a rung nearer the top of the ladder are placed the Lemurs, in which there is a development of fingernails and well-formed "hands," with opposable thumbs widely separated and separable from the rest of the fingers. They appear to have a wide range of vocalization and their eyes are closer to the front than similar mammals which preceded them. They were quite common in Eocene

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times. Their facial appearance was somewhat foxlike, a fact which has led some authorities to question whether they should be classed as Primates.
     Soon after the appearance of the Lemurs, we find the Tarsioids. These creatures are placed much higher in the scale of evolution and are classed as Primates. Their eyes are turned completely forward, the nose is very short, and the flattening of the face is taken to mean that the sense of smell has become less important and stereoscopic vision has now taken over.
     We come, then, to monkeys and apes which appear next in the geological time scale and seem to stand quite close to man in many interesting ways. It is now customary to complete the Evolutionary Base Line tentatively by passing from monkeys and apes through the South African man-apes (Australopithecinae) and certain Far Eastern fossil men (Sinanthropus and Pithecanthropus) to modern man.
     In looking over this thread of progress, which is presented in slightly variant forms depending upon the authority, one can discern a certain purpose throughout the story. Sir Julian Huxley formulated a very simple definition of what is meant by progress from this biological point of view. He said:
(40)

     We have thus arrived at a definition of evolutionary progress as consisting in a raising of the upper level of biological efficiency, this being defined as increased control over and independence of the environment.

     Possibly there are many faults in this provisional base line. The order may be incorrect, and it is admitted at once that some of the stages are represented by animals which are still with us, though "ideally" they should long since have left the scene, having once fulfilled their role in the chain of events. But one can discern an apparently orderly progression which is intellectually satisfying and not at all unreasonable. This allows us to see that God may have acted in setting the stage for man through a series of steps which, if we ourselves had had His creative power, we too might have adopted as being entirely appropriate. If one thinks about it, there is really no reason why we ourselves should not have been so designed that embryological and foetal development, instead of taking nine months to complete, might have been completed in a matter of minutes. It is a startling thought and one can think of all kinds of physiological difficulties, but with His infinite design capacity God could easily have overcome any such difficulties, and this accelerated gestation would seem the most natural thing in the world. There are

40. Huxley, Sir Julian, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, Harper, New York, 1942, p.564.

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social applications, of course, in such a program, and I am entirely ignoring these by this proposal. But the fact remains that God could have appointed this as the normal method. That He did not do so, that He made it a drawn-out process, suggests to me that He also had a good reason for making the preparation of the earth for man a drawn-out process. It is not altogether impossible that David, by inspiration, may have penned his words in Psalm 139:1416 in such a way that they could have a kind of double meaning to reflect some such thought as this:

     I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
     My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret,
and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
     Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect;
and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance
were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

     The process of the preparation of the earth for the coming of man was not altogether unlike the process of the preparation of the organs and tissues in the womb which, when the time has come for birth, will all be perfectly suited for the role they are to play in the introduction of a human being into the world.
     If there is any sense in which later forms of life were "higher" than earlier forms, it may not be so much in their complexity as it is in their increasing independence of the environment. With the appearance of man, we have a creature who, though by no means wholly independent of the environment, yet is so constituted structurally and functionally as to be superior to the environment in an entirely new way. He is, or may be, more independent geographically by being ubiquitous, dietetically by being omnivorous, environmentally by being master of land and sea and air and now even of space also and governmentally by his acquisition of superior means of achieving dominion over all other contestants. In a manner of speaking, each of these areas of superiority was apportioned a little at a time to animals which preceded him, though to none of them was given superiority in them all.
     The nearer the time came for the playing out of the final act of the drama, the more nearly can the stage be seen to have achieved its final setting. It is not therefore surprising that just before the appointed time for the creation of man, there were already in existence man-like creatures whose presence demonstrated how nearly ready the setting of the stage was. Such creatures were in existence by then not because some blind evolutionary process was about to cast man up as a final gesture in fulfilling its own destiny, but rather because

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God had now deliberately and purposefully brought the world to that condition of preparedness appropriate for the introduction of man, the crown of creation. The idea that this vast display of creative activity in thus setting the stage, occupying an inconceivably great span of time, could be likened to the gestation period in the birth of a human being, may seem far-fetched indeed, and yet it is an idea that has appealed to many minds in the past -- until Darwin turned men's thoughts into the barren channel of atheistic evolution. Somewhere during the Middle Ages an anonymous writer, without benefit of the knowledge of the past which we now have, set forth this concept very simply and with great beauty when he said, "The Cosmos was pregnant with man.'' (41)

41. Ramm, Bernard, Thc Christian View of Science and Scripture, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1954, p.227.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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