When did Antarctica change from the forested continent it was 50 million years ago to the desolate ice sheet it is today? And why is this event important from an apologetics standpoint? Thanks to ancient fish “and their big mouths,” scientists have discovered evidence that points to a Creator’s involvement in Earth’s history. Researchers have dated a major geologic event, the opening of a seaway called the Drake Passage (approximately 41 million years ago), by studying neodymium (a rare earth element) deposits in fish fossils. The Drake Passage, named after English explorer Sir Francis Drake, who circumnavigated the globe in the sixteenth century, refers to the area of ocean between the southern tip of South America (Cape Horn) and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The opening of this gateway allowed ocean waters to circle the globe above Antarctica and cut off the continent from warmer ocean currents. This gradual oceanic breakthrough contributed to a dramatic climate shift from a warm “and getting warmer” Earth to a cooler planet suitable for more diverse life-forms and, eventually, humans.
Where do the fish come in? At the bottom of the ocean—and even below. That’s where paleoceanographers drilling into the sediment discovered fossilized teeth. Analysis of the fish teeth from the Drake Passage region revealed deposits of neodymium in concentrations consistent with a mixing of Atlantic and Pacific waters that began 41 million years ago.
Gradual erosion of the landmass connecting South America with Antarctica can be traced in these neodymium concentrations. The element made its way from rocks to rivers to the ocean bottom, where dying fish absorbed it, as evidenced in their fossilized teeth. Scientists know how much should be concentrated in Atlantic versus Pacific fish and, by dating the radioactive neodymium, have been able to determine an accurate date for the opening of the ocean corridor.
Here’s the point: The timing of the Drake Passage’s opening is conspicuously favorable for advanced life today. All sorts of beneficial changes resulted from this event. (Learn more by listening to the June 27, 2006, archive of Creation Update.) Without it, the planet would have continued to heat up due to the sun’s increasing brightness. It’s not a stretch to assert that a purposeful Creator intervened in Earth’s history to mitigate runaway heating and provide an ideal climate for human habitation.
As a layperson, I’m also impressed by how science works. Who would have thought that by dropping a drill two miles down into the ocean off the tip of South America you would find a rare element in the mouth of an ancient fish that would solve a geological mystery? Perhaps a Creator has been directing scientific advance so that humans can gain clues about how He operates, and He even uses fish to help us. Christians believe this same Creator took the form of a human being not long ago and directed a person to pay a tax by finding a coin in a fish’s mouth.