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Common Creationist Attacks on Geology
In the last issue of this journal, my article "The Fatal Flaws of Flood Geology" attacked the flood geology model of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) by citing a number of geological formations the creationists can't explain without inventing hundreds of convenient ad hoc miracles. However, creationists have attacked orthodox geology by citing geological formations they feel geologists are equally hard pressed to account for with the evolutionary model. This article answers several of their most common arguments, those relating to fossilization, sedimentary facies, and overthrusts. It is written in a question/answer format.
Question: Can geologists actually explain fossilization? Creationists argue that evolution requires sediments to accumulate slowly and tranquilly over millions of years, yet dead animals and plants always rot away or get eaten by scavengers unless they become buried quickly after death. This means if the earth's past were as tranquil as evolutionary geologists say, there would be no fossils; all the potential fossils would have rotted away or been eaten long before enough sediments could accumulate to bury them. Creationists therefore argue that only the Flood of Noah could have buried all the fossils fast enough to insure their preservation. How do you answer that?
Answer: Geologists never said that all geological processes were tranquil. Creationists are setting up a straw man and presenting a false dilemma. Their straw man is the imaginary geologist who supposedly says all geological processes are tranquil; their false dilemma is their attempt to force us to choose between this straw man and their Biblical flood, between total tranquility and a monster catastrophe. Actually, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Geology operates on the assumption that the laws of physics and chemistry have remained unchanged since the formation of the earth. Geology tries as much as possible to explain the geological past in terms of processes that can be seen happening on the earth today.
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This basic approach is called "uniformitarianism", the doctrine that "the present is the key to the past". Uniformitarianism does not teach, however, that geological processes are tranquil. It does not mean that geological processes always occur at the same rates. It does not mean that rare catastrophes (like an asteroid colliding with the earth) never happen. What it does mean is that processes observable today (either in laboratories or in the field) can explain the vast majority of the rocks we find in the earth.
Question: Can you elaborate on these processes?
Answer: Surely! River floods, volcanic eruptions, turbidity flows, tidal waves, storm waves, and other violent processes observable today are quite capable of burying organisms and preserving traces of them. These processes have been going on steadily for billions of years, as geology text books like Dott and Batten (1976) and Stearn, Carroll, and Clark (1979) show.
River floods bury plants and animals both living and dead in river flood plains and deltas. When Charles Darwin was in Uruguay during the voyage of the Beagle, he learned from one of the local people that several million horses and cattle had died in the drought of 1827-1832; when the drought finally broke, the flooding Parana River buried their bodies in sediments. Even though most of the land surface of the earth is eroding away (and hence not collecting fossils), the river flood plains are accumulating sediments all the time, accumulating fossils in the process.
Out on the continental shelves, most of the sediments are deposited in short spurts separated by long periods of time, as geologist Joseph Barrel pointed out in 1917. Even though river floods are rather rare, they supply most of the sediments to the continental shelves. Storm and tidal waves rework sediments already lying on the continental shelves, burying in the process many sea animals intact (though of course burrowing animals bury themselves, and don't need this sort of help to become fossilized). Turbidity flows are like underwater landslides, only more fluid. In the oceans, these turbidity flows overwhelm and bury creatures suddenly. Across billions of years, these processes have preserved most of the fossils we find today. Only a fraction of a percent of all living things ever become fossils, and of all fossils, only a fraction of a percent have soft body parts preserved. This is just what you would expect if the present is indeed the key to the past.
Question: Are there any tranquil processes that form fossils?
Answer: Yes. Swamps and bogs are often highly acid and free of oxygen, and deep ocean basins like the bottoms of the Caribbean Sea and Black Sea are full of hydrogen sulfide and free of oxygen. Here, decay bacteria cannot live, so many animals are preserved and buried, as Dott and Batten (1976) and Stearn, Carroll, and Clark (1979) point out.
In swamps and bogs, bacteria sometimes succeed in rotting some of the plant matter to an extent. However, they soon use up all their oxygen, and kill themselves in their own waste products.
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This explains how entire animals are sometimes preserved from rotting away. P. V. Glob has shown how numerous human bodies have been perfectly preserved for two thousand years in the peat bogs of Denmark. Similarly, delicate insects of Eocene times have been preserved in the bogs that eventually became the lignite coals of Geiseltal, Germany.
In the deoxygenated ocean basins, neither decay germs nor scavengers can live. It is in deposits like these that soft body tissues are preserved as fossils. For instance, the Burgess Shales of the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia are among the very few deposits in the world that give us fossils of soft-bodied animals of Cambrian times. As Morris and Whittington (1979) point out, these animals were living at the base of a reef of calcareous algae, poised between the reef itself on one side, and a deep deoxygenated basin on the other. Every so often, the sediments at the base of the reef would slump into deeper water, burying all these Cambrian animals where no bacteria could reach them. Thus a staggering array of soft-bodied forms were preserved, most of them found only in this deposit.
Question: You seem as though you have no use for catastrophes.
Answer: I wouldn't say that. There's evidence asteroids have collided with the earth in geological history. As Dietz (1961) has shown, remnants of huge craters many miles across have lasted to this day. He even points out that if a large enough asteroid fell into an ocean, it could generate a tidal wave high enough to inundate half a continent. Isaac Asimov, who doesn't take paranormal claims very seriously, has suggested that the story of Noah's Flood (as well as the Babylonian flood story) may have derived from a tidal wave generated when an asteroid fell into the Persian Gulf, washing someone's boat to the foothills of the mountains of Ararat (meaning Armenia). Just this year, Alvarez (1980) reported evidence for a catastrophe that could have wiped out the dinosaurs. Exposed samples of deep-sea sediments show a peculiar dust layer which exactly divides the Mesozoic sediments underneath from the Cenozoic sediments above. This dust layer is very rich in iridium, an element rare on the earth, but plentiful in meteorites. Apparently, then, the dinosaurs may have died off because an asteroid plowed into the earth and kicked up enough dust to blot out most of the sun's light for a number of years. This killed off many food plants in both land and sea. Since dinosaurs, ammonites, and other creatures ate plants and plant-eating animals, they died off along with their food supplies.
So, if there is genuine evidence for a catastrophe, geologists have no trouble accepting it at face value. What bothers them is not catastrophism, but unwarranted supernaturalism. If a perfectly good naturalistic explanation for some phenomenon is available, and if creationists postulate miracles that make God appear deceptive, it is this form of supernaturalism they have no use for.
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Fossil Graveyards and Facies
Question: Creationists say only Noah's Flood can explain huge fossil graveyards like the Agate Springs Bone Bed of Miocene age in Nebraska and the White River badlands of South Dakota. How do you explain these?
Answer: Simple. The Agate Springs and White River graveyards were formed by flooding rivers. The rivers of the Black Hills dumped and buried the White River bones at the base of the hills because there, the torrents slowed down upon hitting the Great Plains. Also, if Noah's Flood were literal history, we would expect fossil graveyards to consist of a mixture of all kinds of animals, but the Agate Springs Bone Bed does not. It contains mostly bones from an extinct small rhinoceros called diceratherium; there are few animals of other species. Evidently a river flood simply overwhelmed a herd of small rhinoceros.
Question: Yes, but creationists note that the Cumberland Bone Cave in the limestone mountains of Western Maryland contains the bones of animals of many different climates mashed together in one pile. How do you answer that one?
Answer: The creationists do not describe the cave very accurately. Once we understand the evidence, we find that the bones accumulated in tranquil circumstances during the Ice Ages. From Franklin Folsom (1956), we learn that this cave has two openings, a horizontal shaft going into the side of the ridge, and a vertical one on the top of the ridge extending down. In the vertical shaft, pioneers hiding from Indians left their rifles, where they were found in this century. By this very same route, the animals one by one brought their bones to be fossilized. During the ice ages, an animal would every so often get killed falling down the vertical shaft, and rot away, leaving disconnected bones. After tumbling down a stepped slope one by one, the bones landed in a pile at the lowest point of the cave. As dripping water dried, it left calcite that cements the bones together. Today we can distinguish distinct layers of bones of cold-weather animals from the glaciations from layers of warm-weather animals from the interglacial periods; the alternation of these layers is hard to explain if the biblical flood story is literal history. As Mohr and Sloan (1955) point out, rats gnawed on these bones, leaving their tooth marks; this fact is rather hard to reconcile with the catastrophist theory that first a tidal wave from the tropics and then a tidal wave from the arctic smashed animal carcasses into the mouth of this cave.
Question: Creationists often argue that many fossils look as though they were buried alive and writhing in their death agony. How do you reply?
Answer: Adrian J. Desmond (1977) explains that dead animals often become contorted when they dry out. The dried-up ligaments contract and distort the body. If an animal's body dries out in the hot sun a month before a flooding river buries it in sediments, its fossil would look as if it had been buried while still in pain.
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Question: Creationists like Dr. N. A. Rupke, a geologist of the State University of Groningen in the Netherlands, claim that certain fossil trees (which they call "polystrate fossils") extend vertically through many meters of strata. Rupke says they are found in such coal-producing areas as the Ruhr region of Germany, Lancashire in England, and Joggins in Nova Scotia. How do you reply?
Answer: The creationists again mishandle their sources. The evidence shows that the vertical trees were really buried by flooding rivers.
For instance, Scientific Creationism (p. 108) quotes F. M. Broadhurst (1964, p. 866) as saying:
However, Broadhurst has some evidence that river floods buried these trees, evidence that the creationists do not mention. He continues:
He goes on to say that fossil polystrate trees are found only in the coarse-grained rocks, but not in the fine-grained ones. The reason is that the sediments of the latter probably did not settle fast enough to bury the trees before they rotted away:
Hence the river flood theory can explain why the trees are found upright and why trees were preserved in some rocks but not others; the creationist catastrophe theory cannot.
Also Stearn, Carroll, and Clark mention the polystrate lycopsid trees in the Pennsylvanian coal deposits of Joggins, Nova Scotia. Their point is simply this: Every so often one or more river floods would bury a forest of lycopsid plants up to ten meters deep in sediment. After each flood, a new lycopsid forest would grow out of the newly deposited sediments. Eventually, as the tops of the trees rotted away, the pulpy interior of the trees would also rot away, leaving the more resistant outer wood surrounding a pit as deep as ten meters.
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Primitive reptiles fell into these pits, died of starvation there, and were buried when fresh flood sediments and plant matter filled the pits. Superficially, these trees look as though they support the Noachian flood theory, but ordinary geology explains the evidence much more easily.
Question: Creationists say the permafrost in the river deltas and offshore islands of Siberia is loaded with the bones of thousands of mammoths. Even more of a surprise is the fact that many mammoths have been found frozen intact, such as the Berezovka mammoth. These animals had subtropical plants like buttercups in their stomachs, and their flesh is so perfectly preserved that some adventurer's club once held a banquet on the meat of the Berezovka mammoth. Can you explain the evidence without assuming that some huge catastrophe overwhelmed and froze the mammoths instantly while changing the climate from subtropical to arctic overnight?
Answer: William R. Farrand (1961) has investigated claims like these, and laid many of the exaggerations to rest. In particular, he proves that these animals were arctic animals, and he proves that the Berezovka mammoth was really rather putrified. He gives a chart of the plants found in the stomach of the Berezovka mammoth: they are all arctic plants like conifers, tundra grasses, and sedges. The mammoths had a thick insulating underwool beneath their shaggy coat of hair to shield them from the arctic cold. Ice age cave artists painted pictures of mammoths in their caves, a fact that should settle once and for all that the mammoths were arctic creatures. Besides, Farrand shows that the Berezovka mammoth took several days to freeze. Predators had had a chance to mutilate it before this happened. The excavators found the stench of the partially rotted Berezovka mammoth unbearable; even the earth in which it was buried stank. Histological studies of the flesh showed "deep penetrating chemical alterations as the result of very slow decay." True, the dogs of the excavators may have been scavengers enough to eat the fresher parts of the meat, but the legendary banqueters would have deserved any ptomaine poisoning they got. These facts alone do not disprove Flood Geology, but they should answer once and for all the more extravagant claims of some catastrophists.
Question: But how do you explain how all those bones got into the river deltas and how all those mammoths got frozen?
Answer: Actually, the cold Siberian rivers could easily wash carcasses of the mammoths to the river deltas during the spring thaw. I'm sure there were thousands of spring thaws which could cause this. But it should be noted that there is really very little frozen mammoth flesh lying around in Siberia. Farrand points out how only 39 mammoths have been found with some of their flesh preserved; of these, only four have been found more or less intact, including the Berezovka mammoth.
But on top of all this, there is additional evidence that a literal Flood of Noah could not have deposited these mammoth remains.
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Farrand points out that we find no other species of frozen animals in Siberia except mammoths and wooly rhinoceri. Since these animals were so big and clumsy, they had trouble crossing crevices in the earth's surface, just as modern elephants do. This evidence fits well with the theory that mammoths fell off cliffs and were killed, fell into holes, were buried in landslides, or were caught and buried in ways that more mobile animals like horses and bison were able to avoid. Yet, if the Flood of Noah were literal history, we would expect to find many different species of frozen animals, not just the mammoth and wooly rhinoceros. Also, the radiocarbon dates taken from various frozen mammoth remains span the time period from 11,450 to 39,000 years before the present, and I dare say, 27,000 years is a little long for Noah's Flood. I can understand how ordinary geological processes can account for the frozen mammoths, but it is hard to see how such animals could stay afloat for one year in Noah's Flood with their last meal in their stomachs and only partially rotting before landing in their final frozen resting places.
Question: Creationists often criticize geologists for assigning different ages to different parts of the same rock formation while assigning the same age to different rocks in the same region. They maintain that geologists cannot explain huge rock formations (like the Saint Peter Sandstone) that cover much of the country. They claim the fossils give the "illusion" of an evolutionary sequence only because the simple round immobile animals sank faster and deeper than the complex light mobile ones during Noah's Flood. How do you reply to these arguments?
Answer: The creationists who make such arguments don't know the first thing about sedimentary facies. I shall explain them here in detail.
Common sense alone will tell you that when sediments are washed into an ocean or lake, the larger heavier sediment articles will settle out closer to shore, and the finer fluffier current-wafted particles will settle out further from shore. So, if the sand settles out in the river deltas, the clays further out, and perhaps calcareous muck the furthest out of all, then you're going to have different types of sedimentary rock forming all at the same time.
Various processes can make the different zones of sediments shift back and forth and vary in width. If the land subsides, the beds of sediment will move to keep up with the receding shore. If the subsidence stops, then the beds of sediment will move away from the land as the coastal flood plains and river deltas build their way into the sea or lake. As the rainfall varies, and as the mountains erode away or get uplifted, the amount of sediments that get into the sea will vary, and hence so will the width of the bands of sediments. Thus, if you could stick a huge knife vertically into the Earth, slice the surface from the ocean to the land, and examine the cross-section of the sediments, you would see the zones of sand, clay, and carbonates deeply interfinger with each other.
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Therefore after percolating ground waters cement the sands, clays, and carbonates into sandstone, shale, and limestone respectively, and after uplift and erosion expose them all to view, different zones are formed which the geologist calls "facies". Different parts of the same facies are of vastly different ages, yet different facies on the same level were all deposited at the same time.
Question: Can you give any specific examples?
Answer: I could give you hundreds of examples, but I'll settle for three. Let's start with the early Paleozoic strata of the Grand Canyon.
As John S. Shelton (1966) pointed out, there are three sets of facies in the lower Grand Canyon: the Muav Limestones, the Bright Angel Shales, and the Tapeats Sandstones. As the land surface subsided beneath the ocean, the western ocean moved eastward covering the land. The limestone far out to sea, the shale closer to shore, and the sandstone right by the shore were being deposited all at the same time. Two lines of evidence prove this. Firstly, these facies intertongue deeply with each other, as the diagram shows. Secondly, species that lived for only an instant of geological time left fossil horizons that slice slantwise across the facies. For instance, the horizon of the Olenellus Trilobite slices right across the Tapeats Sandstone; a little higher up, the Glossopelura Trilobite does the same through the Bright Angel Shales. These fossil horizons each represent an instant of geological time. The two lines of evidence show how the three facies formed together simultaneously, and how different parts of the same facies are of different ages.
Volcanic deposits slice cross facies as well as do fossils. In the southern Rocky Mountains, bentonite beds slice across the facies of the Cretaceous system of rocks. Bentonite is a rock that consists of clays that come from weathered and chemically altered volcanic debris. As Steam, Carroll, and Clark say on page 341:
On page 416, Stearn, Carroll, and Clark show a picture of the sedimentary facies that formed as the Taconic mountains of Ordovician times. As these mountains grew on the east coast of what is now the United States, the river deltas consisting of sediments derived from these mountains built their way further and further westward from these mountains. A shale facies in the east near these mountains interfingers with and gives way to a limestone facies (the Chicamauga limestone) in the west. However, a layer of clay that represent, a volcanic deposit slices right across the shale facies into the Chicamauga limestone. As Stearn, Carroll, and Clark say:
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With this background under our belts, it is easy to recognize the fallacies of the creationist arguments. Those homogeneous sedimentary rock deposits covering thousands of square kilometers are really nothing more than sedimentary facies. If the creationists had read their sources more carefully, they would have found that different parts of the same facies are of vastly different ages; conversely, adjacent facies of different types would often be the same age. Our discussion of facies shows there is hardly any way to prevent different facies from forming within the same geological age. Finally, creationists cannot explain why the fossil horizons slice across facies the way they do. If their hydraulic selection theory were true, the denser fossils would be found in and parallel to the sandstone facies, and the lighter fossils would be found in and parallel to the limestone facies, not slicing across. This means the fossils are a far better clue to the relative ages of the rocks than the rock type. And it doesn't take quotes from technical journals to show this, either. Freshman textbooks in geology are all anyone needs to set creationist misconceptions straight.
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Question: But even if the grosser creationist claims are wrong, couldn't a monster flood produce facies as well?
Answer: Not at all. A flood strong enough to move all the sediments of the earth would tend to mix the different types up into one big mishmash. If a Flood of Noah were literal history, we would expect to find only a post-Flood veneer of well-sorted sediments on top of the poorly sorted ones left by the flood.
Instead we find huge sediment deposits like those of the Gulf Coast. A layer of sediments up to 10,000 meters thick covers the Great Plains, Gulf Coast, and continental shelf. Here the facies of the river flood plains interfinger deeply with the delta facies of the Gulf Coast, which in turn interfinger deeply with the clays of the continental shelf. These deposits first started to form in Cretaceous times a hundred million years ago, and they have been accumulating constantly and without break through all that time on up to this very moment. These sediments are thousands of times too thick to have accumulated in a mere 5 or 8 thousand year period since Noah's flood. Nor could they have been deposited during the Flood, since they are so obviously continuous with and similar to sediments being deposited today.
A similar point can be made on the deep ocean sediments. They are not a mixed-up jumble, and there is no break in their deposition from cretaceous times to today. True, in both cases the rates of deposition have varied; yet, in both cases the sediment types are so similar from top to bottom that the rates of deposition could not possibly have been much faster than the rates of today.
Question: Kofahl (1977) claims that the Mississippi Delta formed in only 5000 years. How do you reconcile his claim with your statements about the Gulf Coast sediments?
Answer: Its current delta is 5000 years old, but it has had dozens of other deltas in the distant past. Every so often it jumps its banks, reaches the Gulf of Mexico by a new path, and starts to build a new delta at its new mouth. In fact, the Mississippi River had partly changed its course in 1955, emptying into the Gulf through the Atchafalaya River, until the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to plug the leak. In the early Cenozoic, the Gulf of Mexico extended as far north as Illinois; the Mississippi had its delta there at that time. These facts, like those on the Gulf Coast and deep sea sediments, can be found in many freshman geology texts.
Question: Is there any more evidence against the hydraulic selection theory besides the sedimentary facies you mentioned?
Answer: Yes, the fossils are in the right order for evolution but not for hydraulic selection. The light animals refuse to stay in the shallow rocks, and the dense animals refuse to stay in the deep rocks where they belong according to creationism.
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Trilobites, light fragile creatures resembling pillbugs, tend to be found only in the deepest rocks. Pterodactyls (flying dinosaurs) are found no higher than the middle rocks, whereas birds are found mostly in the shallowest rocks. Turtles, dense creatures, tend to be found from middle to high rocks, not in the deep ones. Ammonites, light buoyant cephalopod molluscs that resemble the chambered nautilus, tend to be found in the lower and middle rocks, not in the upper ones. There may be many hundreds of obviously distinct species of trilobites of a given size and general shape; the same applies to ammonites. The ICR hydraulic selection theory predicts that many species of the same size, shape, and weight will be found scrambled together in the same rocks, but real rocks show that each distinct species usually has its own horizon absolutely distinct from the horizons of other species of the same size, shape, and weight. Even within the same formation, geologists often find trilobites of the same size and shape segregated by species into horizontal layers. Thus the hydraulic selection theory bristles with contradictions.
Strangely enough, Whitcomb and Morris (1961), staunch champions of the hydraulic selection theory, show nothing but scorn for an orthodox geologist Daniel J. Jones (1958) where he documents some small scale hydraulic selection. Jones' article merely describes in detail processes having nothing to do with evolution that experts observe in progress today moving microscopic fossils out of their proper order. He describes wave action, turbidity currents, streams, ground water, wind, glaciers, burrowing animals, and other various processes. He even gives specific examples actually observed in various parts of the world today. He lists evidences having nothing to do with faunal succession or evolution that should put an observer on his guard that the microfossils he is observing have been displaced. For instance, if these microfossils are as large as the sediment they're buried with, then small scale hydraulic selection may have sorted them according to size out of their proper sequence. Other telltale signs to look for are fragments of shells, lack of normal series of growth stages, and long fossils pointing in the same direction.
Whitcomb and Morris say that Jones is merely trying to rationalize away fossils that are in the wrong order for evolution by assuming without proof that the damning fossils were somehow moved out of order:
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And all that poor Jones did to deserve this gross misrepresentation was simply to supply a dab of evidence for hydraulic selection having nothing whatever to do with evolution.
Question: According to creationists, there are plenty of places where the fossils are in the wrong order for evolution. This must mean geologists have to assume evolution so as to arrange the geological time scale so as to date , , the, fossils so as to erect an evolutionary sequence so as to prove evolution, thereby reasoning in a vicious circle. When the fossils are in the wrong order, geologists apparently assume the "older" rocks were shoved on top of the younger ones (thrust faulting), or else, that the strata were overturned (recumbent folds), even though there is no physical evidence for these processes. In particular, Whitcomb and Morris (1961) maintain the physical evidence proves the Lewis Overthrust and Heart M, ountain Overthrust never slid an inch. How do you reply?
Answer: Whitcomb and Morris, again, quote their sources badly out of context. There is plenty of physical evidence having nothing to do with fossils or evolution that show thrust faulting to be very real. Let us consider the Lewis Overthrust and Heart Mountain Overthrust in some detail.
The Lewis Overthrust of Glacier National Park, Montana, consists of the deformed Precambrian limestones of the Belt Formation that were shoved along a horizontal thrust fault on top of much younger (but viciously crumpled) Cretaceous shales. These limestones, by the way, contain stromatolites and mudcracks of the sort seen forming in the Bahamas today. (Stromatolites are a distinct form of calcareous deposits left by algae.) Ross and Rezak (1959) wrote in their article about the Lewis Overthrust that the rocks along the thrust, fault are badly crumpled, but Whitcomb and Morris (p. 187) lift the following words from this article:
But if we read the rest of Ross's and Rezak's paragraph. we fins that Whitcomb and Morris quoted it out of context:
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Ross and Rezak repeatedly show how "crushed and crumpled" the rocks in the thrust fault are:
Question: Whitcomb and Morris (1961, pp. 189-191) note that their friend Walter Lammerts reported finding a layer of shale-like material 1/16 to 1/8 inches thick lining the thrust fault. If any thrust block had slid over that little layer of shale, it would have obliterated it. How do you explain that?
Answer: Actually, the thrust faulting is the only process that could have created this layer. Notice that the underlying shales are crushed, and the overlying limestones are distorted, whereas this little shale layer is quite level. How could the limestones have been deposited distorted-looking on top of a level layer? Obviously, the shale layer consists of powder that was ground up in the thrust-faulting process and later cemented; the sliding created the shale layer.
Question: Whitcomb and Morris claim that geologists cannot find any possible roots for the Heart Mountain Overthrust of Wyoming. How do you prove that overthrusting could have really formed it?
Answer: Simple! The level Cambrian strata broke off along a bedding plane, and slid downhill. By the way, Whitcomb and Morris misquote their source on the Heart Mountain Overthrust as well. On page 183, they reproduce a photograph from an article by Pierce (1957), and insist that Pierce's picture illustrates the place where the thrust block rests on the underlying rock. They quote Pierce out of context as if he were puzzled that the rocks in the picture show no evidence of sliding even though all good evolutionists know that fossils never come in that order.
Actually, this picture has nothing to do with the thrust block at all. Pierce explains that the thrust block slid over younger rocks, that parts of the thrust block eroded away, and that a volcano finally deposited some debris over the area where a piece of the block had once stood.
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This volcanic "early basic breccia" is illustrated in Pierce's photograph; he only states that the volcanic debris, not being a part of the original thrust block, never slid.
Besides, Whitcomb and Morris ignore some deformation of the thrust block that shows it really slid after all. Pierce notes that the thrust block strata are often grossly deformed even when the underlying strata are not. He even shows how the strata from one piece of the thrust block are often sliced across at a slant, forming an angle with the horizontal strata underlying the thrust fault. Whitcomb and Morris could not explain this fact, but it makes sense if overthrusting has really occurred.
Question: But aren't geologists sort of bound to evolution as a matter of principle?
Answer: If you mean that they are begging the question, then I must certainly disagree. Wherever one small area is undisturbed, its fossils are found in a very definite order from top to bottom. The fossils close to the top resemble modern species far more than the fossils closer to the bottom. When fossils are occasionally found in the "wrong" order, one finds that the rocks' are in disturbed areas like mountain ranges, where the sediments are being squished up and out over the surface of the earth like an ice cream bar crushed in a vice. These mountain sediments show plenty of physical evidence of overturning and overthrusting that has nothing to do with fossils. Therefore geologists who avoid overturned rocks when they determine the fossil sequence are not committing circular reasoning.
Question: But aren't geologists doing a lot of guessing when they fill in big fossil gaps in one area with the fossils of another area? After all, the fossil record in any one place is far from complete.
Answer: Suppose a geologist finds that formations ABCD are separated by an erosional gap from GHIJ in one area. Suppose he finds formations CDEFGH in another area. Logic compels him to infer that the complete record (if there had been no erosion) would be ABCDEFGHIJ. He is scarcely guessing at all.
Of course, the land areas and the sea areas are constantly shifting, though there is always at least some land (and some sea) in any given geological age. The sea areas accumulate sediments washed in from the land, and the erosion of the land will leave a gap in the rocks when the land finally sinks into the sea again. That is how these gaps form. Fortunately, none of these erosional gaps is worldwide, so we can fill the gaps of one area with the sequences of another.
Ironically, the earliest uniformitarian geologists were creationists. Charles Lyell carried his uniformitarianism so far that he believed the species of animals and plants God created in the dim past remain fixed, invariable, and uniform from one geological age to the next.
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The doctrine that species vary was to him the superstition of catastrophists trying to prove the Flood of Noah (among other catastrophes) because catastrophists had argued that the turnover of species throughout the geological ages proved that several times God had wiped out all life on earth with a catastrophe, and then created a new set of living things from scratch. When catastrophists cornered him with evidence that different ages had different fossils, he explained it away by saying that rare species had merely become more common and common species more rare. Only reluctantly at the end of his life after much debate with Darwin and with other geologists did he finally accept evolution.
William Smith, a canal engineer, was the father of modern stratigraphy. He was the first to notice that the higher rocks always had different fossils than the lower ones did. He was always a creationist, and used his discovery only to make money, yet the whole of geology today is based on his discovery. So where is all this circular evolutionary reasoning?
In fact, if anybody is guilty of circular reasoning, it is the ICR creationists. Their Director, Dr. Henry M. Morris (1970) has no reservations about stating what his real attitude to geological evidence is:
Geology is self-correcting, whereas Dr. Morris' beliefs are not. Of course, there is always an infinitesimal chance that he may be right and I wrong in spite of all the evidence I have given. But such a case wouldn't give credit to Dr. Morris. Since his fundamentalist special pleading is not science, his being right could at best be a lucky guess. In the end, it will always be evidence that rules, and today's evidence overwhelmingly favors evolution.
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