The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

A Visit to the Institute for Creation Research
Copyright © 1998 by Karen Bartelt
[Last Update: June 24, 1998]

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Geology and Fossils

To me, the most egregious examples of bad science are concentrated in the ICR museum's explanations of the geologic column, radiometric dating, and the Flood. Is this the type of science that their graduate students learn? Here are examples of the misinformation and half-truths, along with my comments.

The standard geologic column is found only in textbooks. Real local geologic columns vary widely from place to place. The 'ages' of the formations in any given local column may represent any sequence whatever. Many columns show various 'ages' missing, many show inverted 'ages', some show 'ages' mixed together -- all as indicated by the fossils which supposedly identify the 'ages'. In general, however, there does exist a quasi-statistical correlation between the fossils found in each local column with that in the standard column.

There is nothing mentioned here that is not discussed and explained in an introductory level geology class. There are very few parts of the world that contain a complete geologic column, though there are at least 25. I would encourage anyone interested in the geologic column -- young earth creationists in particular -- to visit Glenn Morton's excellent and undervisited website, especially the article entitled "The Geologic Column and Its Implications to the Flood." One has to go no farther than North Dakota to find a complete geologic column -- no textbook needed.

Missing ages? Missing strata? No problem. Lehi Hintze's Geologic History of Utah describes about 100 local geologic columns for that state -- all differ at least slightly from each other. The beauty is that they correlate from location to location, and one can build a history of the larger area from a number of local columns. The geologic columns of Utah are rich in Mesozoic strata and dinosaur fossils, unlike the state of Illinois (where I reside), which has neither Mesozoic age rocks nor dinosaur fossils in most of its local columns. An incomplete local geologic column is typical, and this means only that no sedimentary rock was being deposited during that geologic time period. What the ICR refers to as "inverted ages" are nothing more than folds and thrust faults -- concepts that are covered in introductory geology. The ICR sets up a "straw man" argument concerning geologic columns, indicating problems that anyone who has passed a 100-level college geology course knows are ridiculous.

The fossils in the column supposedly show the evolution of life through all the 'geologic ages' from the oldest on the bottom to the youngest on top. Almost all the fossils are marine invertebrates and fish, however, and most major kinds of these animals are found from the lowest layer up through to the present. The 'ages', therefore, are referenced to so-called 'index fossils' contained in them, particularly fossils thought to exist only in one time zone.

This is a gross misinterpretation of the fossil record. Marine invertebrates and fish are not found from "the lowest layer up through to the present". There is increasing evidence of marine invertebrate fauna that predates the Cambrian (eg Holmes 1997); fish are not seen until the Ordovician (Cowen 1995:125). Neither of these periods is anywhere near "the lowest layer" in a complete geologic column. For a museum that supposedly informs its patrons about the fossil record, a few little details are missing -- for instance:

No mention is made that in lower strata, no multicellular life is found at all, although fossils of eukaryotic and then prokaryotic cells are found.

There is no mention that flowering plants are not found throughout the fossil record, but first appear in the Cretaceous, nor that birds first appear in the Jurassic, nor that those pesky humans/apes/whatever appear way at the top of the column, in the Pliocene.

Index fossils are "...abundant, widely dispersed, and derived from organisms that lived during a relatively short span of geologic time" (Levin 1996:135). The 'ages' given to the periods of the geologic column have been assembled from a variety of data, including index fossils, magnetic reversals, and radiometric dating of rocks. Why doesn't the ICR at least tell their patrons how the geologic column is really assembled?

The sequences in the column were originally arranged in accordance with the order suggested by the so-called 'great chain of being', before many actual fossil sequences were discovered. The 'index fossils' were then chosen to help identify the zones in this arbitrary column. The geologic column provides a convenient system of nomenclature for rocks and fossils, but should not be considered as proving an evolutionary series, or even as representing actual field conditions.

The sequences in the column were deciphered and arranged by Christian creationist geologists of the early 19th century, way before Darwin. For example, William Smith (1769-1839) was a land surveyor and civil engineer who participated in building projects all over England. He constructed a geological map of England in 1799, observing that England was constructed of strata which were never inverted, and that even at great distances "each stratum contained organized fossils peculiar to itself, and might, in cases otherwise doubtful, be recognized and discriminated from others like it, but in a different part of the series, by examination of them" (quoted in Geikie 1897:224). His results, published in 1816 in Strata Identified by Organized Fossils, demonstrated that fossils were not randomly buried, as in a flood, but always occurred in a definite order in the geologic column. Marine species were often found between strata containing terrestrial species -- a real blow to flood geology. Smith never formulated a theory of fossil deposition and was, in fact, a literal creationist. "Neither Smith nor Townsend (Rev. Joseph - a publisher of Smith's results) grasped the idea that time was involved in laying down the successive strata, and thought they had contributed support to Mosaic cosmogony" (Haber 1959:248).

The ICR asserts that there is just one way to ascertain the age of a fossil. There are many "do nots":

Do not use the depth where it is found (many "old" formations lie on the surface, and others are known to be above "young" formations).

Again, museum patrons are not apprised of fundamental geological principles like folding and faulting.

Do not use the type of rock in which it is found (rocks and minerals and structures of all types are found in every 'age').

Geologists don't do this anyway. There are 800 myr-old limestones, 200 myr-old limestones, and 10 myr-old limestones. They will tend to not contain the same fossils.

Do not use a radiometric date (these are practical only in non-fossil-bearing igneous rocks, and often disagree with each other).

The ICR neglects to inform its patrons that age of a sedimentary stratum can be bracketed by dating igneous rocks that lie above and below it, for instance. The ICR's attempts at radiometric dating have produced some pretty disagreeable dates (Austin 1997, Austin 1992). Generally, radiometric dates measured using two independent methods agree very well. Check out the radiometric dates of lunar rocks or meteorites in Dalyrymple (1991), for example.

Do not use the 'stage of evolution' of the fossil (this would be circular reasoning, for the age-sequence of fossils is the main 'proof' of evolution).

Ages of rocks are sometimes estimated on the basis of the fossils they contain, but this estimate can and should be substantiated by other methods such as radiometric dating.

The ICR says that there is only one way to determine a fossil's age:

Do use the Word of God (The Bible indicates that most of the fossils must have been buried in one year - the year of the Flood).

No chapter and verse of the Bible are given to substantiate this statement. Tough luck, all of you 'old earth' creationists who accept the standard geologic column! According to the ICR, you, like those flood victims of Noah's time, have missed the boat. And so much for the ICR saying that they are 'doing science'. If the ICR believes that their interpretation of Genesis is the only way to, say, determine the age of a fossil, I began to wonder why they bother to do any dating experiments at all.

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