In the very lowest reaches of the fossil record we have very simple photosynthetic bacteria from roughly 3.5 billion years ago. Further up we find the more complex eukaryotes (~2 bya), then basic multicellular organisms like worms and sponges (~600 mya). Around 400 mya we find tetrapods, then amphibians (~350 mya) and reptiles (~300 mya). Closer to the surface we find mammals (~250 mya) and birds (~200 mya). Humans can be found only at the very top, only about 7 mya. Plants follow a similar pattern: "The oldest are mosses and algae, followed by the appearance of ferns, then conifers, then deciduous trees, and, finally, flowering plants." Below is a depiction of the latter (upper) part of the fossil record:
Coyne also provides some detailed small-scale examples from deep within the fossil record, showing that ancient plankton and trilobites changed slowly over periods of a few million years. He summarizes the "big picture evidence" as follows:
"Simple organisms evolved before complex ones, predicted ancestors before descendants. The most recent fossils are those most similar to living species, and we have transitional fossils connecting many major groups. No theory of special creation, or any theory other than evolution, can explain these patterns."
And he's right. He doesn't mention the creationists' attempts to explain them, but as with their massively flawed explanation of continental drift, I don't blame him. How do creationists explain the exquisite ordering of fossils throughout the geologic column? Their answer once again is essentially "the Flood did it." Basically, they think that denser creatures that lived at lower altitudes would be fossilized at the bottom, and less dense creatures living at higher altitudes would be at the top. They also think dumber, slower animals would be buried more quickly and deeply than smarter, faster animals. It makes just enough sense to convince the creationist crowd, but it's laughable to anyone who thinks about it critically for a few seconds.
I wonder if the creationists can tell us why fossils of helpless infant specimens are buried at the same level as their intelligent, mobile adult counterparts. If their ideas are correct, I wonder why birds, which have hollow bones and could fly to escape the flood waters, aren't virtually all found at the very top of the geologic column alongside humans. I wonder why the land mammal and early whale transitional Indohyus, which has unusually dense bones, didn't sink significantly deeper than other similar creatures. I wonder why we observe the delicate small-scale plankton and trilobite patterns that Coyne mentions in spite of the upheaval and chaos that would accompany a global flood. I wonder why we don't find a single fossil rabbit in the Precambrian.
The principles that the creationists propose are so weak that even if they were true, we would still expect there to be a huge standard deviation in burial point. There should be outliers: a few humans and penguins and flowering plants that for one reason or another were buried much deeper than the rest. Yet the fossil record is far too consistent for their ridiculous sorting mechanisms to account for. So I guess I'll continue to wonder how creationists can ever hope to explain away all the problems with their claims—I don't expect decent answers from them anytime soon.