Noah's flood account for
and fossil record?
Lenny Flank (c) 1995
As we have seen, one of the strongest evidences for evolutionary descent comes from the fossil record, which presents several examples of evolutionary transitions from one class of organisms to another. In addition, the fossil record grades clearly and unmistakably from simple early life forms which appear early in the geological column to larger and more anatomically complex forms which appear later. The sequence of the appearance of various fossil groups--first invertebrates, then simple vertebrates, then jawed fishes, then amphibians, then reptiles, and finally birds and mammals--is exactly what we would expect from evolutionary descent with modification, with the organisms appearing higher in the geological column being the modified descendants of those organisms which appear lower in the column.
The creationists, of course, must answer this clear evidence for evolution, and demonstrate in some way that this apparent evolutionary sequence is not valid. And, as usual, they turn to their Biblical source for this--specifically, to the Flood of Noah described in Genesis:
"The great Flood of Genesis 6-9 is of critical importance to the true understanding of earth history." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 250)
"The evidence in the earth's crust of past physical convulsions seems to warrant inclusion of post-creation global catastrophism in the model." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 11)
If there was a global flood, as the Bible says there was, then every living thing on earth must have died in it (other than those saved on Noah's Ark). "Consequently," the creationists conclude, " the vast fossil record, comprising as it does, a worldwide cemetery preserved in stone for men everywhere to see; is not at all a record of the gradual evolution of life, but rather of the sudden destruction of life." (Morris, 1972, p. 77)
However, if the "vast fossil record" is actually the drowned remains of the victims of Noah's Flood, that would mean that the sediments they are buried in must have been formed all at once, during the single Flood, rather than building up gradually over billions of years as geologists believe. As Morris puts it, "The creationist suspects that the fossil record and the sedimentary rocks, instead of speaking of a long succession of geological ages, may tell rather of just one former age, destroyed in a great worldwide aqueous cataclysm." (Morris, Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1974, p. 21) "In effect," Morris further concludes, "this means that the organisms represented in the fossil record must all have been living contemporaneously, rather than scattered in separate time frames over hundreds of millions of years. . . The only reason to think that all should not have been living contemporaneously in the past is the assumption of evolution. Apart from this premise, there is no reason to doubt that man lived at the same time as the dinosaurs and trilobites." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 112)
Therefore, Morris declares, "The geologic column does not represent the slow evolution of life over many ages, as the evolution model alleges, but rather the rapid destruction and burial of life in one age, in accordance with the creation model." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 112)
Of course, a paleontologist would quickly point out that the fossil remains are not all jumbled haphazardly together as they would be if they had all died in one single flood, but instead appear in a precise unvarying order, with simple organisms appearing at the bottom of the column, and more complex organisms appearing, in order, towards the top. The creationists find their answer to this problem in the raging Flood waters:
"The fossil-bearing strata were apparently laid down in large measure during the Flood, with apparent sequences attributed not to evolution but rather to hydrodynamic selectivity, ecological habitats, and differential mobility and strength of the various creatures." (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 327)
In other words, according to the creationists, all of the organisms whose remains we find in the fossil record--everything from trilobites to the Burgess Shale invertebrates, the placoderm fishes and the therapsid reptile-mammals, the dinosaurs and the woolly mammoths, to birds and human beings--were all actually living together, simultaneously and side by side, until the Flood of Noah drowned them all and then sorted their dead remains, over a period of less than a year, into an order that just happens to make it LOOK as though all of these organisms developed slowly by a long process of evolutionary descent. All of the sedimentary rocks we see today, which appear as though they were laid down over incredibly long stretches of time, were actually all laid down within one year by the raging flood waters; all of the fossils we see today, which are found within the geological column, actually died in the same year, in the Flood, and were sorted out, buried and fossilized in the flood sediments. This is the creationist's "scientific" explanation for the fossil record, which they refer to as "Flood geology".
There are three basic sorting methods hypothesized by the creationists. The first is hydraulic sorting, in which the drowned bodies of smaller, denser and more streamlined animals would settle faster to the bottom, and thus would tend to be buried first and appear lower in the geological column. This is described by Morris: "In the marine strata, where invertebrates were fossilized, these would tend locally to be sorted hydrodynamically into assemblages of similar size and shape. Furthermore, as the turbulently upwelling waters and sediments settled back down, the simpler animals, more nearly spherical or streamlined in shape, would tend to settle out first because of lower hydraulic drag. Thus each kind of marine invertebrate would tend to appear in its simplest form at the lowest elevation, and so on." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 119)
While the "hydraulic sorting" hypothesis certainly sounds scientific and perhaps even logical, there are numerous examples from the fossil record which demonstrate that it is simply not true. The ammonites, for instance, were a large group of marine invertebrates, similar to the modern day nautilus, which existed for several hundred million years until they were wiped out in the same mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs. Although they remained at approximately the same size and shape, the ammonites over time developed a complicated system of sutures which separated the various gas chambers inside their curved shells. The earliest ammonites, found in the Devonian layers, had simple straight sutures. Later ammonites, found in Triassic layers, retained the same body size and shape, but exhibited slightly more complex suture patterns. The very latest ammonites, from the Cretaceous layers, differed from the others only in the increased complexity of their shell sutures.
According to the creationist hypothesis, all of these varieties of ammonites actually lived at the same time and were drowned in the same Flood. Then, they settled to the bottom at rates that differed according to their "hydrodynamic properties". But the only difference exhibited by the ammonites was the complexity of their shell sutures--the size and shape of their shells was the same, and therefore, one must assume, their "hydrodynamic properties" would not have differed significantly. Yet these species are precisely sorted in the fossil record--no simple-sutured ammonite has ever been found in Cretaceous layers, and no complex-sutured ammonite has ever been found in the Devonian layers. Since a small complex-sutured ammonite would have much less hydraulic drag than would a large simple-sutured ammonite, one would expect that it would settle to the bottom more quickly and be preserved lower in the sediment column than would the larger ammonites. Yet this is not what we see in the fossil record. Each separate layer of ammonites contains a variety of sizes and ages, but always of only one variety. This is impossible to explain by Morris's "hydraulic sorting" theory.
A similar situation exists with the marine invertebrates known as brachiopods, which are bivalved animals that are similar to clams. Fossil brachiopods are found throughout the fossil record, from the top of the geological column to the bottom. Yet, despite the fact that they are all similar in shell shape (and also presumably in their "hydraulic properties"), we do not find them all sorted together in one layer; rather, certain species (of all sizes and ages) are found in only one narrow layer and no other, while other species (of all sizes and ages) are found in other layers and no others. This is impossible to explain through hydraulic sorting, but makes perfect sense if we assume the higher brachiopods to be the descendants of those lower in the sediments.
The creationist "hydraulic sorting" idea also fails completely when it comes to the observed sequence of plants in the fossil record. Since nearly all plants float in water, it is inconceivable that they might have become "sorted" through differential sinking rates as were animals. Instead, one would expect, according to the creationist hypothesis, that they would have floated on the Flood waters until they dried up, depositing a thick layer of plant flotsam at the very top of the huge column of Flood sediments. Yet this is not what we see in the fossil record--the plants exhibit the very same apparent order as do animals, with simpler forms appearing low in the geological column, and more complex forms appearing higher up in the column.
The second sorting method proposed by the creationists is "ecological zoning". The idea here is that deep-sea organisms would tend to get drowned and buried first, then shallow-water animals, then amphibians which live at the edge of water and land, then reptiles, who live on dry land, and finally birds and mammals, who live in higher elevations and thus would be drowned and buried last. Morris says, "Marine invertebrates would normally be found in the bottom rocks of any local geologic column, since they live on the sea bottom. Marine vertebrates (fishes) would be found in higher rocks than the bottom-dwelling invertebrates. They live at higher elevations and also could escape burial longer. Amphibians and reptiles would tend to be found at still higher elevations, in the commingled sediments at the interface between land and water." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 119)
This idea too falls apart under examination. Contrary to Morris's assertion, most marine invertebrates do not live in the deep sea floor; they inhabit the shallow areas along the coast where sunlight can penetrate to the marine plankton and other small organisms at the bottom of the marine food chain. The deep sea is inhabited by pelagic fish, which should, according to Morris's theory, have been buried first by sediments, before the invertebrates living in the shallow seashores. But this is not what we find.
Also, according to Morris, we should expect to find deep sea reptiles, such as plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs (remember, according to Morris, all of these reptiles were alive on the very day of the Flood) and sea turtles buried much lower in the Flood sediments than land reptiles and amphibians such as Eryops, Lagosuchus or Herrerasaurus. Instead, we find the marine reptiles consistently higher in the column than these land animals. Evolutionary theory explains that the reptiles evolved from the amphibians and didn't appear until later; creationist "sorting" cannot explain it at all.
Creationists are also at a loss to explain the many instances where we can trace a marine deposit containing mososaurs, clams and ammonites which grade horizontally, at the same geologic level, into terrestrial deposits containing the remains of dinosaurs and early mammals. These fossils are not one on top of the other as they would be if the dinosaurs had been sorted by habitat in the churning Flood waters, drowning later than their marine cousins.
The "ecological zoning" postulate also fails completely to account for the order of plants in the fossil record. Under Morris's hypothesis, one would expect that sea plants would be lower in the column that would terrestrial plants, while lowland-favoring plants, such as cattails, willow trees and lily pads (which live on or near the surface of water) would have been buried long before those plants which favor higher and cooler areas, such as pine trees and other conifers. This, however, is not what we find in the fossil record. Instead, the evolutionarily primitive conifers appear much lower in the column than do modern angiosperms such as willow trees and oak trees. Not a single willow tree, which would presumably have shared its lakeside habitat in pre-Flood days with such aquatic amphibians as Eryops and Diplocaulus, has ever been found in association with extinct amphibians. Similarly, no tree ferns, large treelike plants which have been found in association with these extinct amphibians, have ever been found with the fossils of any modern animals of similar habitat.
The final sorting mechanism postulated by creationists is "differential mobility". The theory here is a simple one--those animals which were larger and faster would be able to move to higher ground, thus escaping the Flood waters for a longer time and being drowned much later than their less mobile contemporaries. As Morris puts it, "These higher animals (land vertebrates) would tend to be found segregated vertically in the column in order of size and complexity, because of the greater ability of the larger, more diversified animals to escape burial for longer periods of time." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 119)
Questions abound. The creationists assume that birds are found high in the column because they could have flown above the raging Flood waters until they tired and fell in to drown. Why, then, did the flying reptiles such as Pteranodon and Ramphorynchus not do the same? Since we also find fossil clams at all levels of the sedimentary, even at the very top, are we justified in assuming that these clams must have run to the high ground, while the brachiopods didn't? What about the many nesting sites that have been found for terrestrial dinosaurs? Are we to assume that these animals, panicked by the rising flood waters and the torrential rain and fleeing for the high ground, suddenly decided to stop and dig huge numbers of nests in the Flood sediments and lay eggs, which apparently had time to hatch before the Flood engulfed them?
Then there are the plants. How did the oak and willow trees manage to get to the top of the sediment layer along with all those mobile mammals? Did the trees run for the high ground too? The creationists have no explanation.
The creationist "sorting" hypothesis is absurd. Apparently, the creationists would have us believe that the therapsid reptiles (who they assert were all contemporary and lived side by side) just happened to drown and become sorted by the Flood into a sequence which looks just like evolutionary descent; the forms with well-developed reptilian jaw joints and incipient mammalian joints just happened to be buried first, followed by those like Probainognathus with double jaw joints, while forms like the Morganucodonts, with functional mammalian joints and receding reptilian joints, just happened to climb a little higher or sink a little slower than the others (but not so high or so slow as the true mammals with no reptilian characteristics).
Sea turtles, on the other hand, violate all three of the presumed "sorting mechanisms"; they live in the open deep sea, but are found high in the sediment layer, above such terrestrial animals as amphibians and dinosaurs; they are big and heavy and sink rapidly upon death, but are found in the upper layers, above such lighter organisms as jellyfish and seaweeds; and they are clumsy and slow on land, but apparently managed to run to the higher elevations before the Flood engulfed them (since they are found in the same sediment layers as such speedy animals as sabre-toothed tigers and horses). And none of the creationist theories can explain how plants became sorted into an apparent evolutionary sequence.
The entire structure of Flood geology is nonscientific and is based directly on the creationists' religious beliefs. As the creationists themselves admit, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support any of their Flood geology: "The study of the Flood, especially its scientific aspects, is often called 'Flood geology' or 'Deluge geology'. However, it has not yet reached that state of development where it can be rightfully called a science, and I doubt that it ever will. It is only a model of the action of the Flood described in Genesis." (Clarke, 1977, p. 8)
Other creationists also flatly admit that their Flood theories are based directly upon the book of Genesis and their own religious convictions:
"The simple fact of the matter is that one cannot have any kind of a Genesis Flood without acknowledging the presence of supernatural elements." (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 76)
"Either the Biblical record of the Flood is false and must be rejected or else the system of historical geology which has seemed to discredit it is wrong and must be changed. The latter alternative would seem to be the only one which a Biblically and scientifically instructed Christian could honestly take." (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 118)
"When one holds this high view of Scripture, he necessarily must accept Genesis at face value. This not only means six literal days of Creation, but also no geological ages . . . . The Scriptures clearly and emphatically teach that there was such a global and cataclysmic Flood. This can only mean that the Flood and its after affects must explain most of the stratigraphic and fossil evidences that are commonly found in the earth's crust." (Morris, Back to Genesis, August 1995)
"The Biblical record has provided a clear description of the causes, nature and results of true catastrophism, the Noahic Flood . . . We cannot verify it experimentally, of course, any more than any of the various other theories of catastrophism, but we do not need experimental verification: God has recorded it in His Word, and that should be sufficient." (Morris, 1970, p. 30)
The "scientific alternative" of Flood geology, we can see, in fact has no science at all in it. In order to preserve their fundamentalist preconceptions, the creationists are forced to invoke the "power of God" throughout their supposedly "scientific" model. While such a religious model may be acceptable in a Bible college, or in a fundamentalist sermon, it has no place whatsoever in a public school biology classroom.