Family testimony from South Dakota -- To See What We Believe

Family testimony from South Dakota — To See What We Believe

By Dave

Faith is to believe what we cannot see, but the result of faith is to see what we believe.
—Author unknown

It’s been an interesting summer, and we’ve learned a lot. Our family has followed the modern creation science movement almost since its beginning in the nineteen sixties and we’ve read all the important books on the subject. Perhaps that long familiarity is why we’ve erroneously assumed nearly all contemporary believers had at least an elementary knowledge of the subject. Our eyes have been opened. And the lesson we learned underscores the importance of the ministry of Creation Expeditions.

Recent conversations with many we would consider to be mature Christians left us stunned by their total lack of understanding of the demonstrable truth of Genesis, either of its scientific accuracy or of its foundational position to the rest of the Scriptures. If asked, these people would contend that evolution was untrue and confess an absolute belief in a Genesis-style creation, but were evidently totally unable to give a logical “reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) One person — like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand — even admitted believing that dinosaurs didn’t really exist: that they were purely an invention of atheists intent on destroying belief in the Bible.

Obviously, everyone can’t know everything. But in our minds, this is such a pivotal issue for the church and the culture, that every Christian must gain some basic understanding of the issues at stake, if not of the scientific evidence itself. The danger of ignorance here is two-fold. First, it would be a de facto concession that faith and real life are unconnected; that our beliefs are only that, and need no basis in fact. Faith in the God of Genesis thus becomes something we believe in spite of all the contrary evidence. In essence, this is no different than faith in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It is however, the only kind of religious faith post-modern culture applauds: one that exists only in the imagination.

The second, and perhaps more ominous danger, is that we are left with nothing but sincerity buttressing the tenets of our faith. For some in the church, that may be sufficient, but in reality, it is not. It is a capitulation to the philosophy of the day: something is true because we believe it. That is the antithesis of real faith: believing something because it is true. Sincerity alone is a hopeless defense against the culture’s onslaught and a feeble platform from which to evangelize a lost world. Our faith must be grounded in facts, in truth.

That is why the time our family spent digging in the Badlands with Creation Expeditions was so encouraging and inspiring. It gave us an unprecedented opportunity to see first-hand what we believe and to make personal, physical contact with some unique and powerful evidences of our faith. And it was an exciting adventure as well.

Our week started with a 1000 mile trek in a borrowed RV that hadn’t been driven in two years. (We had lots of friends praying for that old motor home, and the Lord made everything work just fine.) The trip itself was an education, being our first attempt at driving or living in an RV. For such neophytes to head off like that to such a remote part of the US as the Badlands took both courage and faith, but we left home with the expectation that we were embarking on a real adventure, with the Lord as our guide and protector, content to follow His plan, not ours. Our desire was simply to serve the Creation Expeditions ministry with our backs and our hands, but we had no idea what to expect.

Regular rains had watered the high, rolling pastures of western South Dakota, and countless acres blossomed yellow with sweet clover as we arrived at the campsite on the privately-owned ranch in mid-afternoon on Monday. While we stretched our legs and surveyed the landscape, Josh, one of the summer interns, went to report our arrival to Mr. DeRosa, who was out on the dig. Before long, Mr. DeRosa drove up. After introductions and a quick change into work clothes, we hopped in his truck to head out to the site and begin work. The long, rough, circuitous ride over Badlands terrain gave us a premonition of the hard work that lie ahead of us, and also of the effort and energy invested by the DeRosa family in this unique ministry.

Our first glimpse of actual paleontology came as we descended the side of a hill to the site where bones of a triceratops were being unearthed. Before us lay skeletal remains of a beast that had lived in Noah’s day. One glance told a story of judgment and destruction in water. Thick sediments had been removed, revealing bones disjointed and separated: a partial jaw with neck and shoulder several feet from pieces of rib or leg bone. This “terrible lizard” had obviously not experienced a peaceful, serene death and slow burial.

After introducing his family and the rest of the team, Mr. DeRosa gave us an overview of the work in progress. Our first assignment was to clean the overlying sediment from an area adjacent to the exposed “trike” bones. This would enable the team to explore more of the layer in which the bones were found. Seeing hard evidence of the Genesis’ flood lying before our eyes gave us an enthusiasm for even this menial, manual labor. So for the short remainder of the afternoon we invested sweat, mindful that we were removing dirt laid down by flood waters of the Great Deluge and helping discover its concealed treasures. Little did we know that a different kind of heart-throbbing adventure lie only minutes ahead.

Back at camp after a quick supper, we surveyed and explored the abandoned farmstead where the RVs were parked. Rusting farm equipment, household appliances, and vehicles from by-gone days littered the pasture nearby. Many items were missing parts, likely robbed to repair other machines. It was obvious that these relics could never become “fossils” for discovery by future paleontologists. Eons before they could possibly be buried by slowly accumulating silts or sands, they would have been cannibalized by humans for parts, or oxidized into mere rust stains by sun, wind, and rain. That machinery “graveyard” reminded us that the fossilized triceratops bones we had just seen must have been completely buried within a very short time after death.

An avid amateur photographer, our eldest daughter Rebecca was soon scouting the pasture for photo possibilities when a large snake startled her. It slithered under an old stove nearby and with the unmistakable sound of its rattle, warned her to keep clear. Her report to me was met with some skepticism, knowing that harmless bull snakes look much like rattlers and will also vibrate their tails when startled. Such vibration against the stove’s sheet metal, I concluded, could be easily confused with a rattlesnakes warning, so I dismissed it as a case of mistaken identity.

Only minutes later, as my wife walked through knee-high grass only a few yards from the motor home, she nearly stepped on a smaller snake. Peter DeRosa positively identified this one as a rattlesnake and ran for a weapon. A short chase ensued by Peter and intern Josh, who dispatched the snake with a shovel, to everyone’s relief. Rebecca then announced her prior discovery, and the hunting party trekked off in search of a second trophy.

At the old stove, a serious discussion arose as to the proper means for flushing poisonous snakes out of hiding. The stove was lifted up — just far enough to see a large rattler still coiled beneath it — and promptly dropped. More discussion. As the stove was about to be lifted from a different direction, the snake moved from beneath it and Peter was ready for the kill. That made two close encounters with rattlesnakes on our first day of the dig. We were beginning to hope and pray that the rest of the week would be anti-climactic, especially after Peter then announced that the local ranchers had seen mountain lions in our area.

At bedtime, we gave thanks for the old RV to sleep in and added a prayer for the safety of Peter, Mark, and interns, Josh and Justin, who were out sleeping in tents — potential “snacks” for the snakes, spiders, and cats of South Dakota.

For each of the next three days, we packed lunches and water, rode out to a second location at the bottom of a ravine, and dug for fossils. Peter had previously dug several triceratops bones from this site. A petrified log and three-foot bone lay partially exposed, and we were assigned to dig further into the side of the ravine, following the “trail” of fossils. The large bone pointed southwest into the bank. Peter explained that the skeletons and bones in this area are generally aligned in a northeast-southwest orientation. It was more evidence that a huge flood killed and deposited these animals. Floodwaters flowing in that direction would be the most logical explanation of this phenomenon.

This site had several yards of overlying sediments. Picks, shovels, and lots of expended energy prepared the way for the delicate and tedious work, squatting for hours with paring knives and paint brushes, sometimes removing only scant millimeters at a time. The geology itself pointed to a flood-borne origin. Soft sandstone layers many feet thick were interspersed with dozens of thin lamina of “Hershey’s chocolate” clays packed into strata that lay at various odd angles, but broke into slate-like sheets. Occasionally, we would uncover a pocket of loosely packed gravel. The pea-sized stones were smooth and nearly round, almost as if finished in some huge rock polisher. It was easy to understand how raging floods and tides could deposit such diverse geologic structures, but impossible to imagine how millions of years of slow silting and erosion could build them. Neither was there any indication that grasses or plants had grown on or in any of these buried layers: an almost impossible feat if it took countless years to build the column of rock and soil. The evidence again pointed to rapid deposition of the entire geologic column just as one would expect from a world-wide flood.

The fossils themselves told a similar story. Though my son Matt found the only large bone, a rib, (he also found a very nice T-Rex tooth) the diversity and distribution of the fossils cried, “Flood!” Garfish scales were the most common find, but various kinds of dinosaur and crocodile teeth were also uncovered. Pieces of turtle shells, alligator scoots, unidentified bone fragments, petrified wood and seed pods all buried together enhanced our understanding of the devastation Noah’s floodwaters brought to the earth. The Lost World stories of warm, calm, placid oceans and swamps just don’t match the evidence we saw with our own eyes.

The terrain itself echoed the refrain. Our camp was on what looked to be the eroded south “rim” of a huge ancient river basin many miles across. To the south were high rolling plains: to the north, the basin. Now, only a tiny remnant of a river flows through it. It defied logic to believe that little stream wandering back and forth over millions of years could produce such a wide, uniform basin in soft sandstones and clays. But it is almost self-evident that in the past, immeasurable quantities of water once carved the land as the continents rose and floodwaters ran to fill the sinking ocean floors, just as Genesis 7:24 and Psalm 104:8 tell us.

Even the tiniest fossils were saved for identification and cataloging. Once exposed, a larger bone would be measured and mapped. It was then carefully covered with foil and plaster-soaked burlap strips. Several tunnels were carved under the bone and plastered strips wrapped around the bone through them to act as supports. When the plaster hardened, the remaining dirt under the bone could be dug away and the bone cut free. The bone and its top-half cast were then turned over so attached rock and dirt could be cleaned from its bottom side. More plastered strips were then applied to totally encase the bone for shipment to the lab in Florida where it would be cleaned, preserved, and readied for display.

Even with the conveniences of the RV, the time we spent at the dig was certainly not a “lie-on-the-beach” relaxing vacation. We were hours from civilization and except for an abundance of drinking water brought along, we used our supplies sparingly. Digging dinosaur bones in a Badlands ravine in the heat of summer also took a physical toll, even for a Midwestern farm family accustomed to hard work. Kneeling, squatting, or sitting on dirt piles all day was hard on our bones and the mosquitoes were voracious eaters as soon as the sun got low and temperatures moderated. But we slept well at night, and awoke early each morning with the excitement and anticipation of the dig. It was quite a week.

The DeRosa family gave us the opportunity to see with our own eyes what we had formerly believed with our minds, to touch with our own hands what we had previously held in our hearts. Creation Expeditions gave us a faith-building and faith-solidifying week that challenged and motivated us to live our lives more fully for the Lord, and to encourage others to investigate the evidences, study the facts, and support this one-of-a-kind ministry.

The biggest lesson we learned this summer is that the message of Creation is still needed — needed more than ever — in our churches and communities. Far too many believers are unaware of the solid scientific evidence pointing to a young earth and universal flood. Attempted compromise of Genesis and evolution is not only bad theology, it is bad science. We can stand confidently on the truth of God’s word in every area, and thanks to those like the DeRosa family, we have more evidence daily that real science is confirming our faith not challenging it. We who have been there and seen it first-hand urge, exhort, and implore you: take your family on one of these mind-expanding dino digs and you’ll never read Genesis or look at dirt the same.