The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Dinosaur footprints part 4

About two years ago I wrote three posts on young-Earth creationist (YEC) claims of human footprints being found with dinosaur footprints, and the problems that footprint fossils in general cause for the young-Earth catastrophic “flood geology” model.

Following the wrong footprints

Following more wrong footprints

Dinosaur footprints part 3

To their credit, the major YEC organizations, such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, haven’t used the “human and dinosaur footprints together” argument for a couple decades, but many smaller YEC organizations do.

Answers in Genesis recently put a new article on its website about the formation of dinosaur footprints: Fossilized Footprints—A Dinosaur Dilemma. The article focuses on dinosaur footprints found in Israel in the Cretaceous Judea Group (A “group” in geology is a sequence of two or more sedimentary rock formations).

The footprints are found in a rock called dolomite. Chemically, dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2) is similar to calcite (CaCO3), which is the primary component of limestone. The author correctly states that dolomite forms only in rather exotic environments, such as desert salt flats and hot springs, or in ocean water of rather unusual chemistry. Dinosaurs could not have survived in large numbers in salt flats, and wouldn’t have been walking through hot springs, so the layers of dolomite must have formed from ocean water. Here’s the explanation in the article:

The pre-Flood ocean floor would have been littered with the remains of mollusk shells, in the form of lime. (Mollusk shells are made out of calcium carbonate, the main ingredient in lime.) When the fountains of the great deep broke up at the start of the Flood, massive earthquakes would have caused the ocean waters to rise and sweep in across the pre-Flood supercontinent, like tsunamis, carrying the lime sediments landwards with them.

The water temperature would have progressively increased as hot volcanic waters were added to the ocean. Also, many volcanic eruptions would have added magnesium to the lime-rich Flood waters. This combination of hot water, lime, and magnesium would produce the layers of dolomite. Thus, catastrophic plate tectonics can explain the increase in Flood water temperatures, the inundation of the continents, and the formation of enormous amounts of “marine” carbonate sediments on the continents.

As all of this gets washed up onto the continents, some dinosaurs who have survived the previous parts of the global catastrophe manage to walk around on the newly deposited dolomitic mud.

There are two major problems with this, in addition to the numerous problems with fossil footprints and “flood geology” I have outlined elsewhere.

  1. Most dolomite in the geologic record is not what we call primary dolomite, that is, dolomite that was formed directly from water solutions. Instead, most dolomite is secondary, formed by the conversion of limestone that was formed in a wide variety of environments. Magnesium-carrying fluids move through pores in the limestone, and react to change the calcite to dolomite. Multiple lines of evidence point to this: obvious recrystallization of calcite to dolomite (the two minerals have different internal atomic structures), studies of strontium isotopes in the minerals, and studies of tiny inclusions of fluids trapped in mineral grains. A quick search on the internet for “Judea group dolomite” brings up articles that discuss all of these as having occurred in the rocks in Israel in which these dinosaur footprints were found. The sediments were composed of lime (calcite) mud when deposited, not dolomitic mud.
  2. The scenario where volcanoes added heat and magnesium to ocean water as the flood progressed doesn’t work either. First of all, seawater is considerably richer in magnesium than in calcium to start with (though I suppose a YEC scientist might argue that in might not have been so before the flood). Basaltic magma (which must be what is being considered in this model, since the seafloor is made of basalt) is rich in both magnesium and calcium, so I don’t see how this would make the ocean into a dolomite-producing brew. Second, the ratio of dolomite to limestone decreases as one goes up the geologic column. If this YEC scenario were correct, the amount of dolomite should increase as the flood progressed.

I outlined the general problems with the “dinosaur footprints formed by the flood” hypothesis in Dinosaur footprints part 3, where I focused on dinosaur footprints in Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks at Dinosaur Ridge west of Denver:

Here’s what would have had to have happened:

  1. The flood covers all the Earth, eroding the continents down to their roots. Most erosion, according to this model, would have had to have happened early in the flood.
  2. At this point, the world-wide ocean was a slurry of water, sediments, and fossils.
  3. Deposition of thousands of feet of sediments, representing Proterozoic through Triassic rocks.
  4. Deposition of some Jurassic sediments. Then some dinosaurs go walking around. Then some more deposition. Then some more dinosaurs–a bunch this time–go wandering around. Then some more deposition of sediments. Then more dinosaurs trotting along the beach. Then more sediments. Wait, how did these dinosaurs all survive the previous part of the Flood?
  5. Deposition of thousands of feet of sediments on top of all of this.
  6. Lithification of the sediments (changing from soft sediments to solid sedimentary rocks).
  7. Uplift of the Rocky Mountains, tilting up these layers to a steep angle (they aren’t horizontal anymore).
  8. Erosion to expose the rocks.

I know that the author of the article read my Dinosaur footprints part 3 post, as it was referenced in the footnotes.  This current AiG article did not adequately address objections such as mine, and its “dinosaurs could not have made footprints in dolomite” approach is a failure.

I write this with love and respect for YEC advocates. They love the Word of God, as do I, and share the desire to see people pointed to Christ. However, I don’t think that the whole YEC flood geology hypothesis works—nor is it Biblically necessary—and for many people it drives them away from Christianity rather than pointing them to Christ and his gospel.

Grace and Peace

September 21, 2010 - Posted by | Apologetics, Geology, Young-Earth creationism | , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. Welcome back! And back with a slam-bang post too!

    Question – does Dr. Snelling not realize that most dolomite is secondary dolomite, including that in the Cretaceous Judea Group?

    Generally, I tend to ascribe errors to things like enthusiasm-caused oversight and/or lack of knowledge before I ascribe them to intentional deception. That said, I don’t believe Dr. Snelling to be purposefully lying.

    But, that leaves the other two options, and neither of them sound very good for someone with a doctorate in the field of geology. It seems a pretty basic sort of fact to overlook in one’s enthusiasm, and I doubt that he just didn’t know a bit of information like that. Heck, I just did a big of Googling and found that information.

    I actually found more than that – I found that part of the Cretaceous Judea Group (CJG) has been dolomitized while another part hasn’t. And I found that there are reefs in those rock layers.

    The dolomite in the CJG is formed by carbonate rock turning into dolomite later: http://www.springerlink.com/content/n882461v40l86m05/
    The carbonate rocks in the CJG are only partially changed: http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2001NC/finalprogram/abstract_5543.htm
    There are reefs which had grown and were buried in that layer: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3091.1979.tb00344.x/abstract

    All three of those sound like they are completely at odds with what Dr. Snelling claims, and yet those are all basic research papers about basic facts of that area.

    The formation of the dolomite is obviously opposite to what Dr. Snelling claims.

    The fact that parts have been changed to dolomite and parts haven’t sounds “difficult” to explain in any Flood explanation, and is again opposite what Dr. Snelling said.

    The fact that numerous reefs grew in that layer (apparently in less than a couple weeks while flood waters were rushing around depositing hundreds and thousands of feet of sediment is completely nonsense for a Flood explanation, especially the one Dr. Snelling made.

    How does Dr. Snelling make those sorts of oversights?

    And compound that with his claims of footprint tracks made by dinosaurs underwater!!!

    Is there some sort of obscure something I’m missing about all that which allows it to work as a coherent picture for a Creationist like Dr. Snelling, or is he just ignoring the facts he doesn’t want to deal with?

    Comment by WebMonk | September 22, 2010

  2. The author of “Fossilized Footprints — A Dinosaur Dilemma” committed a classic logical fallacy that I see in many YEC writings – assuming the conclusion. Implicit in their arguments is that the only possible scenarios are those that involve a young Earth. Notice that the Answers in Genesis writer implicitly assumes that the Dolomite must have been deposited “as is.” As Kevin points out, the current understanding of geologists is that existing limestone is infused with magnesium at a later time, and there are multiple lines of evidence for this. This is a priori ruled out by the Answers in Genesis writer. YECs like Jason Lisle have been writing a lot about logic lately, but they don’t seem to be willing to take their own medicine.

    I’d also like to see a YEC provide an actual physically-based model on how water could have been squeezed out of just-deposited sediments on a global scale to allow them to rapidly turn to rock, while also allowing enough pore water to pass between the grains to deliver enough minerals to cement all the sediments together. As anyone who has built a sand castle on the beach knows, sand doesn’t just turn to sandstone when all the water is dried out.

    Comment by Tim Helble | September 22, 2010

  3. 1 And the LORD said to Job:
    2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” … Job 40:1-2 (ESV)…

    15 “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox. 16 Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly. 17 He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together. 18 His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron. 19 “He is the first of the works of God;”

    A monster who lives in the swamp, eats grass, and has a tail like a cedar tree? Well, the sauropod may indeed be extinct but apparently not for the length of time the evolutionist has imagined. So why do you quiblle over your childish theiries? The life of dinosaurs and men overlaps. God has indeed spoken on the matter. Now conform your “scientific” musings to the word of God, rather than attempting the opposite, and you might find some inspiration.

    Comment by Gary | September 22, 2010

  4. WebMonk (#1):

    I agree that Dr. Snelling should have said something about dolomitization (the process of turning limestone into dolomite), which is the source of most of the world’s dolomite. Why didn’t he? Perhaps because his doctoral and professional experience was in the very different field of ore deposits, and he isn’t an expert on sedimentary geology. He probably did learn about dolomitization in a mid-level undergraduate course, but if he never took any more courses in carbonate geology it may not have been sufficiently reinforced in his geological memory.

    I’m speculating here, and not putting him down in any way. I wouldn’t be very authoritative if I sat down to write an article about certain topics in geology, such as geophysics or metamorphic petrology.

    There is an entire chapter on dolomites in one of the books he referenced in the footnotes (Blatt, Sedimentary Petrology).

    Comment by geochristian | September 22, 2010

  5. Gary:

    Thanks for your comment.

    I don’t buy the YEC interpretation of Behemoth in Job 40, which says that it is some sort of sauropod. Consider vv. 21-22, which say

    Under the lotus plants he lies,
    in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
    For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
    the willows of the brook surround him. (ESV)

    Could a sauropod hide under lotus plants along the Jordan River (v. 23)? I don’t think so. I’ll stick with the traditional interpretation of this passage, which has the advantage of having “behemoth” as an animal that we know lived in the area, probably a hippopotamus.

    I’m not conforming to the world in critiquing YEC arguments such as the “dinosaur footprints” topic of this post. Is there something wrong with my argument? Can you tell me why Snelling’s argument about dinosaur footprints in dolomite is correct?

    I take the Bible seriously, and see nowhere in Scriptures where it talks about dinosaurs, or where it requires that the sedimentary rock record be deposited by the flood.

    Comment by geochristian | September 22, 2010

  6. When I was studying Geology, Carbonate sedimentology offered great difficulties to my (then) YEC’ism. I was fortunate to have Prof Nick Beukes, world-renowned expert in these matters for my Carbonate Sedimentology Prof.
    The Transvaal Supergroup is a major Geological sequence in Southern Africa. It contains extensive dolomites, and host major Iron ore deposits (Sishen), as well as the majority of the world’s known manganese reserves (up to 80%).
    In a paper on molecular fossils by Waldbauer et. al (http://www-eaps.mit.edu/geobiology/recent%20pubs/Waldbauer%20et%20al%202009.pdf – btw, this is good reading for any YEC’ist who thin the other guys are just idiots), the Supergroup is described as follows:

    The Transvaal Supergroup consists of a mixed siliciclasticcarbonate
    ramp that grades upward into an extensive carbonate
    platform overlain by banded iron formation. It was deposited on the Kaapvaal Craton between 2670 and 2460Ma (Armstrong et al., 1991; Barton et al., 1994;Walraven and Martini, 1995; Sumner and Bowring, 1996). The platform is up to 2 km thick, with predominantly peritidal facies in the north and east andmostly deeper facies to the south and west. Platform, slope and basinal sediments are
    preserved between Griquatown and Prieska (Beukes, 1987; Sumner and Beukes, 2006).

    Now, in this paper, and in my studies,both in the classroom and in the field, the numerous microfossils are described, and includes cyanobateria, stromatolites, oolites etc. A modern-day equivalent of such a carbonate platform is the Bahamas platform, a shallow sea with carbonate sands etc. The numerous fossils distributed throughout the sequence are all remnants of creatures who grew, and died in a shallow, calm sea. The evidence points to a gradual build-up, and I further need to point out that a clear sea with a very specific chemical signature is evident from isotopic studies – thus, no major flooding event. Also, to build up sediments consisting of such microbial creatures, takes considerable time. Yet, here we have a major sequence, underlain by many other rocks, (such as the sedimentary Witwatersrand Supergroup, host of the richest gold deposists the world has ever known), and a thick, fluvial sequence in itself), then overlain by many other sequences, mostly sedimentary, but also one of the world’s biggest intrusive complexes, the Bushveld complex, incidentally one of the richest sources of Platinum-group minerals etc etc.

    Within a rapid scenario of a single global flood a number of thousand years ago, that just ain’t going to happen.

    Comment by Louis | September 23, 2010

  7. I understand one of Snelling’s arguments a little better now than I did when I wrote this blog post. Primary dolomite deposition in the laboratory does not occur at normal temperatures (~25°C) but can occur at temperatures above 60°C.

    Boggs, Sam, 2011, Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, 5th Edition (Asian edition), p. 154.

    Comment by Kevin N | June 17, 2012


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