The primitive-looking coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was thought by scientist to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs about 70 million years ago. In 1938, thirty-two-year-old Marjorie Courtenay Latimer was the curator of a tiny museum in the port town of East London, South Africa. She had befriended a local seaman, Captain Hendrick Goosen, of the trawler Nerine, which fished the nearby coastal waters of the Indian Ocean. On December 23, 1938, the Nerine entered post after a trawling off the mouth of the nearby Chalumna River. A dockman called Marjorie to join them on the dock, who was at the time, busy mounting a reptile collection. She felt she ought to at least go down to the docks to greet her friends. When she was about to leave, she noticed a blue fin protruding beneath a pile of rays and sharks on the deck. She later wrote, “This was the most beautiful fish I had ever seen, five feet long, and a pale mauve blue with iridescent silver markings.” Marjorie had no idea what the fish was, but knew it must go back to the museum at once.
Looking through the few reference books she had on hand, Marjorie found a picture that led her to a seemingly impossible conclusion. She shared her find with Professor J.L.B. Smith, a persnickety chemistry teacher at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, with a locally well-known passion for fish. Meanwhile, Courtenay’s museum director in East London was not impressed with the find. He dismissed the fish as a common rock cod – a grouper!
On January 3, 1939, Miss Latimer heard back from Smith in a now-famous cable: “MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED.” On February 16th, Smith arrived at the East London museum to view the mounted specimen., exclaiming, “I always knew somewhere or somehow, a primitive fish of this nature would appear.” Smith identified the fish immediately as a coelacanth. The fish would soon be called the “most important zoological find of the century. A living dinosaur, it was said, would be no more amazing than this incredible discovery. But, what makes this discovery so important?
As Young Earth Creationists, we believe that the earth was created in 6 literal 24-hour days. We look for evidence to prove the Bible. To do this, we turn to the question of the “fossil record.” This record is what paleontologist call the total number of fossils that have been discovered, as well as to the information derived from them. In our scientific community today, most paleontologists subscribe an atheistic version of evolution. The fields of paleontology and fossilology are highly prone to error. In the last century, we have witnessed countless examples of “groundbreaking” discoveries, such as the coelacanth, that has ultimately proved scientist to be misleading. Most paleontologists interpret the fossil record in terms of that evolutionary worldview. The question is, how do Young Earth creationists interpret the fossil record?
That very question takes us into the world of fossils. According to those who believe in the “Old Earth” theory, the thought of this extinct fish called the “coelacanth” was devastating. Scientist for years has told us that this fish had been extinct for about 70 million years. Scientist thought the coelacanth was the fish that first walked out of the ocean on its way to becoming the ascendant of modern man.
You can only imagine the disappointment in the scientific community when the fisherman caught this coelacanth off the island of Madagascar. It has no lungs and no legs. Many evolutionists believed the reason this fish disappeared from the fossil record is that it had evolved into land-dwelling tetrapods (a four-footed animal). The reason this amazing find is so important is that many fossils by the scientific community have been dated to be roughly 70 million years old simply because their remains were found in the same stratum as the remains of the coelacanth. And yet there are coelacanths alive today that look exactly like those fossils – so using coelacanth fossils to date other fossils doesn’t really work.
The problem is that most fossil discoveries are being interpreted through a worldview that excludes God, the author, creator, and sustainer of life. As it relates to fossils, the principal methods for dating the fossils and rocks begin with a paradigm that embraces atheism and rejects creationism. We believe that the vast fossil record is and always has been compatible with the great global flood, which God used to send judgment on the earth.