The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 2)

This is part two of a six-part series examining supposed evidences for a global flood that have recently appeared on the Answers in Genesis web site.
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, 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.
Part one examined the young-Earth creationist (YEC) argument that fossils at high elevations are proof of a global flood.

Flood evidence number two” from Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis is called “The World’s a Graveyard” and claims that fossil graveyards around the world provide proof for a global flood.

According to Snelling, layers that contain large numbers of fossils, or that contain extraordinary preservation, can only be explained by catastrophic processes. Some of his examples include:

At Florissant, Colorado, a wide variety of insects, freshwater mollusks, fish, birds, and several hundred plant species (including nuts and blossoms) are buried together. Bees and birds have to be buried rapidly in order to be so well preserved.

Alligator, fish (including sunfish, deep sea bass, chubs, pickerel, herring, and garpike 3–7 feet [1–2 m] long), birds, turtles, mammals, mollusks, crustaceans, many varieties of insects, and palm leaves (7–9 feet [2–2.5 m] long) were buried together in the vast Green River Formation of Wyoming.

Notice in many of these examples how marine and land-dwelling creatures are found buried together. How could this have happened unless the ocean waters rose and swept over the continents in a global, catastrophic Flood?

According to Snelling, catastrophic flooding is the only way to form layers with large numbers of fossils, or to preserve soft parts.

Here are some basic problems with Snelling’s argument:

  • The first paragraph refers to the Florissant fossil beds in Colorado. The standard geological explanation of the Florissant Formation is that volcanic flows (lahars) blocked a valley, forming a lake. This lake gradually filled with mud and volcanic ash, which trapped fossils from the surrounding community of organisms.
    Fossil wasp from the Florissant Formation (credit: xxx)

    Fossil wasp from the Florissant Formation (credit: National Park Service)

    • Rather than providing for exquisite preservation, a catastrophic slurry such as Snelling proposes would have ground fragile objects such as leaves, flowers, and insects to microscopic fragments.
    • Rapid deposition could be one way to preserve soft parts as fossils, but it is not the only way. Rapid deposition can be a means of preserving delicate parts in a relatively still environment, but is unlikely to do so in a truly catastrophic environment. Anything that keeps decomposers (such as bacteria) away from soft parts will make preservation possible. This could be thin layers of diatoms, as appears to be the case at Florissant, or anoxic (zero oxygen) or toxic bottom conditions, which are well-documented in the natural world today. For example, deep waters in the Black Sea are anoxic, so there is little decomposition of organisms that sink to the bottom.
    • The fossils at Florissant form a coherent ecological package; a group of organisms that would naturally live together in the same ecosystem. If deposited during the Flood, these would have had to been ripped up (gently) by the beginning phases of the Flood, somehow kept together as a unit without mixing with other fossil assemblages while other sediments and volcanic deposits were being formed, and then gently deposited in a 1 x 15 mile area.
    • Having the Florissant Formation created as a post-Flood deposit, as some young-Earth creationists propose, doesn’t help at all. In this case, the entire ecosystem would have had to been established in a short time after the Flood while intense volcanism occurred nearby, and then be washed down into a valley without shredding leaves or breaking wings off of insects. Either way, it just doesn’t work.
  • The second paragraph refers to the Green River Formation of Wyoming. What Snelling doesn’t let you know is that the fossils of the Green River Formation also represent a coherent ecological package.
    • The fossils do not form a random mixture of alligators, sunfish, bass, chubs, pickerel, herring, garpike, birds, turtles, mammals, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, and palm leaves as Snelling implies. These fossils, and many more, are all present, but in a very systematic arrangement that reflects a complete lacustrine (lake) ecosystem. Open water organisms are found in the central part of the basin, shoreline marsh organisms are found towards the edges of the basin.
    • It doesn’t help to suggest that the Green River Formation was formed in a lake after the Flood. For this to happen, the lake would have had to form, a complete ecosystem would have had to form (which doesn’t happen overnight), and then somehow rapid sedimentation would have had to occur with fine-grained lake sediments. By the Answers in Genesis Flood model, this all happened sometime in the time after about 2300 BC. Too many events in too little time.
  • Snelling says, “Notice in many of these examples how marine and land-dwelling creatures are found buried together.”
    • Not a single example given by Snelling is of a unit that has marine and non-marine organisms mixed together. I don’t have the slightest idea what he is getting at.

Answers in Genesis has a deep and wide influence in Evangelical churches and schools. Many look at this as a positive thing. I look at it as an apologetics disaster.

An excellent resource for anyone who wants to dig further is The Bible, Rocks and Time by Christian geologists Davis Young and Ralph Stearley (Chapter 9 Fossil Graveyards: A Rumble in the Jumble).

With love for the body of Christ.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 3 Comments

Reading — April 2009

I only finished one book in April:

  • Three Views on Creation and Evolution, edited by philosophers J.P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, with contributions by eight other authors. The three Christian viewpoints presented are young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism (or progressive creationism), and theistic evolution (or the fully-gifted creation). The contributors are mostly philosophers and theologians, but they had many valuable things to say. I’m hoping to write more on this book soon.

Here are some additional books I worked on in April:

  • Genesis, by Derek Kidner. From the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series.
  • Life’s solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, by Christian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. I’ve been working on this for over a month now; it is not fast reading.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey.
  • Ringworld, a science fiction novel by Larry Niven.

Grace and Peace

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Reading | Leave a comment