Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1)
A few weeks ago, I was pointed to some recently-published articles by young-Earth creationist geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling on the Answers in Genesis (AiG) web site. These make up a series called “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.”
The people at AiG are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I share their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, their respect for the Bible as the Word of God, and their desire to see people come to faith in Christ. However, I view their arguments for a young Earth and geological catastrophism as unnecessary Biblically, really bad apologetics, and a serious obstacle to the evangelism of scientists.
Unfortunately, few people in our churches or Christian education system have the geological background to critically analyze these arguments. The result is that people read articles like these from AiG, find them to be rather impressive, and believe that these present sound arguments in defense of the Bible. The opposite, however, is true. A vast majority of Christian geologists find the arguments for a young-Earth and the geologic work of the Flood to be untenable. It is my strong opinion that the young-Earth arguments of organizations like AiG have no place in our churches and Christian education system.
Let’s take a look at the first of Snelling’s “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.”
Snelling begins this article with an overview of the vertical distribution of marine fossil-bearing sediments. Marine fossils are found throughout the geologic column in places like the Grand Canyon, at elevations approaching 8000 feet (2400 m) above sea level, and even at the summit of Mt. Everest (29029 ft, 8848 m).
Most young-Earth creationists acknowledge that the marine fossils at the top of Mt. Everest were deposited at a lower elevation and then uplifted through mountain-building processes, so I’m not sure what Snelling’s point is in bringing this up. The standard geological model of deposition and uplift works perfectly fine for explaining how marine fossils ended up at the top of many mountain ranges.
In his article, Snelling brings up fossils of organisms called crinoids:
Other rock layers exposed in Grand Canyon also contain large numbers of marine fossils. The best example is the Redwall Limestone, which commonly contains fossil brachiopods (a clam-like organism), corals, bryozoans (lace corals), crinoids (sea lilies), bivalves (types of clams), gastropods (marine snails), trilobites, cephalopods, and even fish teeth.
These marine fossils are found haphazardly preserved in this limestone bed. The crinoids, for example, are found with their columnals (disks) totally separated from one another, while in life they are stacked on top of one another to make up their “stems.” Thus, these marine creatures were catastrophically destroyed and buried in this lime sediment.
His description of the Redwall Limestone is mostly correct. The Redwall Limestone is part of a layer of Mississipian age that covers much of western North America, from Canada down to Mexico. This layer has different names in different regions, such as the Leadville Formation in Colorado and the Rundle Group at Banff in Canada. These can be traced as a continuous layer either in outcrop on the surface, or in the subsurface through oil and gas wells or by seismic methods. I have not observed the Redwall Limestone in Arizona, but am familiar with its equivalent in Montana, the Madison Group. The Madison Group consists mostly of marine limestone, and contains many quadrillions of crinoid stem fragments (I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and came up with about 1016 stem fragments in a 500 x 500 km area; I know I’ve seen this figured out somewhere else before), as well as some beautifully preserved complete crinoid organisms.
In the young-Earth creationist scenario, these quadrillions of crinoid columnals had to be lying in the shallow sea before the flood, be ripped up in the early stages of the flood, be held together as a coherent package for a while during the flood with no loss or mixing with other units while Cambrian through Devonian sediments were deposited, and then deposited on the seafloor in the middle of the flood. Some of the fragile crinoid organisms would have had to stay together through all of this without disarticulating, such as the crinoid fossils illustrated to the right.
According to standard geological explanations, parts of the continents have been covered by shallow marine waters at numerous times throughout geologic history. Over time, in the absence of tectonic forces leading to mountain-building, continents are worn down to relatively flat surfaces. When sea level has risen (sometimes due to varying rates of mid-ocean ridge volcanism), these eroded continents became covered by shallow sea water. It was in one of these times that the Mississippian marine limestones were deposited on the continents. In places within these limestones, small-scale ecological distribution of organisms is preserved in the rocks (e.g. “Waulsortian mounds“, which are in some ways similar to coral reefs, but without a reef-building organism such as corals).
Crinoids are not really abundant in today’s oceans, but they are common enough for us to study them in their natural habitats. When they die, the stems often break up into small cylindrical segments, and the calcium carbonate portion of the stem can be preserved on the sea floor. Over time the stem fragments can accumulate to a greater depth. Snelling’s statement that it would require some sort of catastrophe to form beds of crinoid stem fragments is completely without a basis. A natural analog in the modern ocean can explain these layers easily.
- It is not necessary to posit a global flood to explain marine fossils at high elevations. Snelling knows this.
- Catastrophism cannot explain the fossil assemblage of Mississippian limestones such as the Redwall. It is difficult to see how this mixture of fossils (which contains more than just crinoids, as Snelling acknowledges) could have stayed together as a coherent package in a global flood.
- Local ecological zones are preserved at places in Mississippian limestones. Were these mounds carried by the flood and then deposited gently on the surface without breaking apart? I don’t think so.
The young-Earth catastrophist arguments of AiG might sound good to Christians without a strong science background, but this whole system simply does not work, and should not be used for apologetics and evangelism.
Up next: AiG argument #2: The World’s a Graveyard.
Grace and Peace