Many evolutionists claim that the order of events in Genesis 1 is incompatible with the fossil record and the order in which life came about on earth. They accuse the Bible of stating that insects came after birds, plants came before marine life, and so forth. The problem with these evolutionists is that they don't have the patience to carefully inspect the fossil record or the details of the Genesis account and the actual meaning of the words there. They presuppose the inaccuracy of the Bible and don't take it seriously. For instance, if they actually took the time to examine the Hebrew, they'd understand that "creeping things" is not referring to insects. It's no wonder that evolutionists don't have a clue about the accuracy of the Bible! When Genesis 1 is carefully inspected and interpreted, it is beautifully in line with the fossil record.
You'll see me make a big deal about modern kinds of life. The reason for that is because the Bible makes no less than ten references to animals and plants producing "according to its kind" in Genesis 1. It is my interpretation that "according to its kind" is referring to modern kinds of animals that are no longer evolving significantly (macroevolution has almost ended and species are relatively locked). So, I believe the focus of Genesis 1 is on modern, final kinds of animals and plants that are still around with us today.
Vegetation (Day 3)
The Bible uses the word 'vegetation' to describe the first form of life on earth that would be recognizable to early man. Vegetation as used in the Hebrew Bible is probably talking about fungi, bacteria, and all kinds of simple organisms visible on the macroscopic scale. This could include algae, plankton, xenophyophores (giant amoeba growing on the seafloor), and other simple life without nervous systems living in the water or on the land. For the sake of simplicity, I'll use 'vegetation' in this broad sense.
The first modern life form found in the fossil record is vegetation in water. Cyanobacteria was likely some of the first life at about 3.5 Ba. According to the Journal of Science plankton fossils were found at 3.7 Ba in Greenland (though there is now evidence suggesting that these fossils could be improperly dated). Seaweed fossils have been found dating to 1.25 Ba. Xenophyophores are a kind of giant amoeba (~10 cm) that look like a sort of plant that grows deep in the sea and could date easily to 1000-700 Ma. Complex seaweed 'plants' were found at c. 600-635 Ma. Frond-like vegetation apparently was growing underwater on the seafloor around 580 Ma. Complex tulip-like life forms have been found at ~500 Ma. So, it is clear that 'vegetation' was around before any kind of complex, emotional, thinking animals.
Vegetation on land probably began with bacterial life c. 2.75 Ba , followed by algae scum c. 1.2 Ba. Fungi probably formed on land at around 500 Ma, though there are some indications that complex vegetation of various kinds may have been on the land as early as 1 Ba. (Some scientists argue that fungi, based on molecular evidence, invaded the land as early as 1.2 Ba.)
So, looking at modern kinds of vegetation, algae and seaweed were growing around 1.25 Ba, if not earlier.
Diversity of plant life exploded from 500 - 250 Ma. Other than angiosperms (flowering plants), most basic kinds of plants were already growing by 250 Ma. By 200 Ma, probably 50% of modern kinds of plants were formed, likely including some of the angiosperms.
Complex Marine Life and Birds (Day 5)
The Bible next talks about sea creatures proliferating in the waters on creation Day 5. It repeatedly uses the phrase 'living souls' to describe the kinds of marine life created on this creation Day. The word 'soul' indicates cognition and awareness and probably emotions. So, the types of marine life being referred to are thinking/emotional sea creatures. Also, it talks specifically about swarming sea creatures, which would probably exclude such sea creatures as octopi and eels.
Soft-bodied animals started forming first (<600 Ma), and almost certainly didn’t have brains of any kind. Around 560 Ma, mollusks and other simple sea creatures started forming, probably without brains. Simple sea squirts apparently were in existence as early as 550 Ma. There were probably thinking animals forming during around 530 - 500 Ma, including trilobites (526 Ma) and jawless invertebrate fish (c. 530 Ma). These animals were all clearly after 'vegetation' started forming sometime from 3.7 - 1.2 Ba.
Diversity of sea life exploded several times during the last half billion years. Speaking about modern kinds of sea creatures, the first modern marine animal with cognition would probably be the common fish, which originates very early at about 530 Ma. Yet, the primary starting point of most modern forms of sea creatures begins about 252 Ma, when there was a massive extinction event that killed roughly 96% of the sea creatures existing during that time. From about 250 - 100 Ma, sea life diversified greatly and most of the modern families of sea creatures formed by the end of that time-frame.
The fossil record for birds seems to be quite incomplete so far. Some people believe birds began as early as 220 Ma, though a more likely date is about 190 Ma. By 150 Ma, birds had definitely come on the scene. Many experts now believe that some kinds of modern birds were in existence by 100 Ma. From about 100 - 65 Ma, most basic bird families seem to have appeared. In any event, the vast majority of bird kinds clearly came after the majority of sea creature kinds.
Terrestrial Animals (Day 6)
The Bible lastly mentions land animals that have ‘souls,’ that produce after their kinds and have the breath of life. This would include mammals, and possibly some reptiles and amphibians. The Bible specifically mentions ‘cattle’ (herd animals, herbivores, or easily-tamed animals), ‘beasts’ (non-herd animals, carnivores, or wild and untamable animals), and ‘creeping animals’ (quickly-moving animals or smaller, ground-based animals).
The first animals on land were possibly as early as 450 Ma, though good evidence doesn't start until about 400 Ma. Either way, it is clearly after marine life had begun. The majority of these ancient land animals went extinct or evolved into different species. Dinosaurs started c. 250 Ma and started going extinct around 65 Ma.
Modern kinds of land animals, like mammals, didn't begin until roughly 180 Ma, which is likely after the first prehistoric birds had taken flight. The majority of modern land animal families, however, probably didn't form until after 50 Ma, which was after the majority of modern bird kinds had formed.
The Bible account ends with the formation of modern man. This would have been somewhere between 300 - 60 Ka. That places the formation of man clearly at the end of land animal speciation.
So, regardless of how one looks at the Days in Genesis 1, the basic starting points of the days are in the correct order: (a) vegetation, (b) complex marine life (emotional/thinking), and (c) terrestrial animals. Here are the different ways you could look at the starting points:
1.) First appearance of life forms (modern or extinct)
a) vegetation (3700-1000 Ma)
b) complex marine life (550-500 Ma)
c) terrestrial animals (450-400 Ma)
2.) First appearance of modern life forms (non-extinct)
a) vegetation (3700-1000 Ma)
b) complex marine life (530-400 Ma)
c) terrestrial animals (180-150 Ma)
3.) Appearance of majority (50%+) of modern forms (non-extinct)
a) vegetation (250-180 Ma)
b) complex marine life and birds (100-70 Ma)
c) terrestrial animals and man (50-10 Ma)
4.) Appearance or proliferation of modern forms
a) vegetation appearance (3700-1000 Ma)
b) complex marine life proliferation (250-125 Ma)
c) terrestrial animals appearance/proliferation (125-0 Ma)
Clearly, all of these perspectives produce orders that are chronological. Looking at the text of the Bible, I believe (4) is the best interpretation of the starting points of the days (periods) of creation. The end points of the days are much harder to determine, and it is possible that the days overlapped, though I personally don't believe the periods are intended to be taken as overlapping ages. At some later date, I will post explanations of my personal interpretation of Genesis 1, and why I believe it takes the Bible's actual words most seriously and makes sense of the whole of the creation account.
Disclaimer: Evolutionary timelines are constantly being revised. I am not responsible if this timeline becomes outdated within the next 5 years. New fossil finds are continually calling for revisions in the evolutionary tree of life, and I suspect this info will be shown to be inaccurate in 5 years.References