Creation and Evolution Blog

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Discusses creation and evolution, mostly from a creation perspective.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Few Notes about the Fossil Record


I used to think that the fossil record provided the greatest support for evolution. Not because of homologies, as discussed below, but rather because certain species tended to show up in certain places in the geologic record over and over again. What would account for that except evolution?



In fact, I held this opinion quite recently. I was going to write this article to mention the placement of fossils within the fossil record as evidence for evolution. However, as I began to dig into this I found the same kinds of bad logic that I found in homologies -- namely that if counterexamples are abundant, then the rule must not be sound.



Living Fossils




In homologies, we talked extensively about convergent evolution. Basically, to sum up, if homologies were evidence for evolution, then finding non-evolutionary homologies removes the weight of homology from evolution. If homologies often occurs because of other causes than common ancestry, then using homologies as evidence of common ancestry doesn't hold water.



That's the same basic line of reasoning that will be occurring here. The evolutionists believe that if a fossil of a certain species is always found in a certain layer, then we can conclude that the fossil lived during that period. If a fossil is never found in a certain layer, then we can conclude that the fossil didn't likely live during that period. So, if a species is never found in the same layer as humans, we can assume that they never lived at the same time as humans.



Of course, that's completely wrong. The coelacanth fish, for example, had supposedly gone extinct with the dinosaurs. We have a lot of fossils of the fish in the same layers as the dinosaurs, and NO fossils of the fish with modern humans. They thought this until we found out that they were being sold in the markets of Madagascar. Obviously, the fact that we don't find these fish in the same layer as humans means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about whether or not they lived at the same time as humans. The tadpole shrimp is another similar story.



So, although coelacanth fish RELIABLY are in the same geologic layers as dinosaurs and RELIABLY NOT in the same geologic layers as humans, this DOES NOT mean that they lived in different eras -- we know this because the direct evidence shows that they are living today. So why are we so sure about other cases?



Historic Accounts of Dinosaurs




Now that we know that animals not existing in certain geologic layers isn't proof of when they became extinct, we can ask another question. Is there any evidence that animals believed to be long extinct have existed sooner than the geologic record tells us? Yes there is. In fact, numerous dinosaur-era animals have been described by human accounts. Here are a few:



  • Pterydactyls - native americans called these things Thunderbirds. They have also been spotted in Africa.

  • Ankylosaurus - this is described in the book of Job as "Leviathan". The only difference is that Leviathan supposedly breathes fire. Oh, wait, Ankylosauruses have complex sinuses of unknown function, so maybe they do.

  • Behemoth - also mentioned in Job, matches the description of a Brontosaurus or similar species.



This is actually happening so often that a new field is emerging called paleocryptozoology that correlates historic facts with fossils.



So, we've seen that the geologic evidence can produce results that we know are incorret, and we have historical accounts that lend doubt to other parts of that record. So, as you can see, there is less and less reason to believe that geologists and biologists are correct when assigning dates to the lifespans of these species.


How Old Are Geologic Structures



In fact, not only is it hard to date fossils, it is getting fairly hard to reliably date anything. The grand canyon has often been heralded as a monument to the concept of geology forming over millions of years. However, we have seen similarly stratified layers formed in a matter of DAYS in other canyons. At Mt. St. Helens, we find that a large canyon of stratified layers was formed in a matter of hours.



The island of Surtsey, which has been formed only in the last century, National Geographic said this: "… in one week’s time we witness changes that elsewhere might take decades or even centuries … Despite the extreme youth of the growing island, we now encounter a landscape so varied that it is almost beyond belief."



The speed at which we actually observe these processes take place continually amazes and confounds the uniformitarians. However, apparently it isn't amazing or confounding enough to believe that other geological structures on the earth might have been formed by the same sort of quick-forming catastrophic events that we see today, as opposed to the slow-moving gradualistic processes that noone has ever observed and we can only guess at.


Contra-indications of the Geologic Column



There are many reasons to believe that the geologic column exists, but there are also many reasons not to. Modern dogmatic evolutionists like to present one side of the story, but without addressing the problems. And when they do address the problems, they are absolutely sure that you recognize that it doesn't affect the general concept of millions of years. I'm sure you know the arguments for millions of years. If not, take a look at the Talk.Origins link on the right. Here are some arguments against it (from Ariel Roth):



  • Present rate of erosion of continents - Continents would be eroded 170-340 times over in 3500 Ma.

  • Sediments carried into the ocean - Present rate would produce sediments now found in oceans in 50 Ma and would fill the oceans 19 times over in 3500 Ma.

  • Rate of sediment accumulation on continents - In 3500 Ma, there should be 14-23 times as much sediment as found, excluding some limited recycling.

  • Rates of uplift of mountains - Mountains are rising at a rate of 100 cm/1000 years, which would result in mountains 100 km high in 100 Ma.

  • Rate of production of volcanic ejecta - In 3500 Ma 20-80 times as much volcanic ejecta as we now find would have been produced.

  • Time for evolutionary development - Many orders of magnitude more than 5000 Ma are needed for the improbable events postulated.



Other Geologic Inconsistencies



  • Polystrate fossils - some fossils span multiple geologic layers.

  • Inconsistent finds - the geologic column is not as consistent with its fossils as some may present. The inconsistencies are usually glossed over. It makes sense to gloss over inconsistencies if your assumption is millions of years. However, without that assumption, such inconsistencies point to a reconsideration of the original hypothesis.

  • Preservation of animal tracks - the fossilization of animal tracks indicate that stratified layers formed quickly, not over years, otherwise the tracks would have eroded away.

  • Animal tracks always going upwards - in many spots, like the Grand Canyon, for instance, all of the animal tracks found are going uphill. This could be an indication of a massive flood occurring where the animals are all trying to find high ground.

  • Most geologic features can form faster than previously expected - we've already mentioned some examples. In addition, fossils can form very fast, as well as coal and other features that are supposed to have taken millions of years.



Anyway, the geologic evidence for evolution rests on some shaky assumptions about the validity of the geologic column, and especially its relationship to the survival dates of species. If we find that all of these evolutionary "ancestors" were all living contemporaneously, it casts severe doubt on the idea of the process occurring at all.



This still leaves the question of, what does, exactly, the geologic column represent. I don't know the answer to that. There are some hypotheses, and hopefully the correct one will show itself over the next few decades.


Comments:
There are some things that strike me as odd about this post, so I hope you don't mind me commenting on two of them.

In regards to "Historic Accounts of Dinosaurs":

The native Americans had stories about anthropomorphic bird/snakes (Quetzalcoatl), men that turned into coyotes, etc. Do we take all of this at face value?

I question your invocation of "thunderbird". Check out the Native American mythology site. Look up thunderbird, and read the foot note about Piasa. Can you tell me more about your use of "thunderbird"?

Next, what leads you to believe that the Book of Job is a historical record? The account of the two characters mentioned reference other sources, namely Babylonian, Canaanite, and Jewish mythologies. To me, this is the same as saying minotaurs are literal because Theseus faced one in King Minos' labyrinth. or dragon's were dinosaurs because one killed Beowulf.

Furthermore, who is to say that the origin of such mythological creatures doesn't lie in someone finding fossils, not actual living dinosaurs.

In regards to "Contra-indications of the Geologic Column":

The reasoning you and Roth use is faulty because your extrapolation relies on many assumptions. You assume the present rates have been constant for millions of years. You also assume that there are no counter measures to balance these forces.

Why do geologists say the Appalachian Mountains are older than the Rocky Mountains when clearly the Rockies are much taller?

Why is there new land mass being added to Hawaii if erosion is so prevalent?

How do plate tectonics effect the ocean floor?

thanks for your time
 
"The native Americans had stories about anthropomorphic bird/snakes (Quetzalcoatl), men that turned into coyotes, etc. Do we take all of this at face value?"

No. However, let's say that civilization X has reports of species Y. Let's say that we have never heard of species Y, so we just assume that it's mythic. However, if fossil Z matches near-perfectly with the description given of species Y, it is valid evidence (though not 100% conclusive proof) that Y was discussing a real creature, even if in a fantastic way.

"To me, this is the same as saying minotaurs are literal because Theseus faced one in King Minos' labyrinth. or dragon's were dinosaurs because one killed Beowulf."

Except that we have fossils which match the descriptions. I don't think we have fossils of Minotaurs.

"Furthermore, who is to say that the origin of such mythological creatures doesn't lie in someone finding fossils, not actual living dinosaurs."

It's possible, but I don't think that any of these civilizations were much into paleontology.

"You assume the present rates have been constant for millions of years. You also assume that there are no counter measures to balance these forces."

The uplift (which is what I'm assuming you mean by counter measures) will bring fossils to the surface, where they will be eroded away. It will not keep them buried. Therefore, it still has an impact on fossil dating. In addition, Roth's arguments are not meant to be conclusive proof, but instead show that not all methods of dating match up, and to have a method of dating requires that you take one over another, and apply secondary and unprovable hypotheses for the other.
 
If you want a criticism of creationist geology, this is a good summary:

Creationist Geologic Time Scale: an attack strategy for the sciences

I don't know how accurately he states creationist claims (I identified a few right off the bat), but it is a good overview of the problems that geologists have with creationist claims, and I think its worthy of being read.
 
Another link on this subject: How to Decide Between Sides on Difficult Issues

This specifically targets the age of the earth, and has excellent arguments from both sides, though it is missing the most recent ones.
 
I'd like to point out that some of what you are talking about, like the sediments being washed away, are "One-Sided Equation Fallacies" that young-earthers are famous for. Most processes on Earth are in a state of balance, in which one process (such as erosion of the continents) is counteracted by others (such as emplacement of new continental material by volcanoes and tectonic uplift).

As for Job, I write in my book:

Now we come to the infamous account in Job 40 and 41, the “behemoth” and “leviathan”...A careful review of these passages show that “literally” interpreting these words as dinosaurs is not literal at all. The first clue is the descriptions of the leviathan breathing fire and so forth. This sounds like figurative language describing the fear people had of this animal, after all what literal animal breathes fire? Also, the liberal use of “as” and “like” are dead giveaways of figurative speech.
Some Bibles footnote the behemoth as an elephant or hippopotamus. The leviathan sounds like another feared creature of Africa (such as in Egypt), the crocodile. Both the crocodile and hippo are extremely dangerous and have caused countless human deaths. They also fit the accounts in Job better than dinosaurs or mythical beasts.

**

Bottom line is that there are a lot of problems with young-earth "science." See my article Intro to the Creation-Date Debate for why young-earthism is not biblical or scientific.
 
"he first clue is the descriptions of the leviathan breathing fire and so forth. This sounds like figurative language describing the fear people had of this animal, after all what literal animal breathes fire?"

The bombadier beetle?

If the electric eel were extinct, would you likewise assume that the descriptions of what it did were allegorical simply because there was not another similar creature around?

"Also, the liberal use of “as” and “like” are dead giveaways of figurative speech."

Yes, the tail was not actually a cedar tree, it was _like_ a cedar tree. The comparison was a figurative one.

Now tell me, does an elephant or a hippopotamus have a tail like a cedar tree?

As for your article, you leave out the importance that context has on the translation of yom in Hebrew. yom can refer to an age, but only when used in certain phrases, like "in the day of". There is no place where yom means anything but a normal day when it is used (a) with a number (like the 1st day) or (b) when used with evening and morning. And Genesis uses both.

I've heard the following is a good video, but have not had time to view it yet:

http://www.nwcreation.net/videos/dinosaur_puzzle.html
 
...yom can refer to an age, but only when used in certain phrases, like "in the day of". There is no place where yom means anything but a normal day when it is used (a) with a number (like the 1st day) or (b) when used with evening and morning.

Not true at all. First:

Genesis 1 does not refer to the “days” as 24-hour days. The text only reads as day, so you have to look at the context. The New International Version (NIV) and some other translations set the days off differently, and more accurate to the Hebrew, than do other translations. The King James Version (KJV), or ones that over-simplify such as The Living Bible (TLB), are not as accurate to the Hebrew and make it sound as if these were 24-hour days. Compare and you will see the difference. KJV: “And the evening and morning were the first day.” NIV: “And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.” The Hebrew matches the latter translation more precisely, which shows that a 24-hour day is not as obvious as some claim. If it were a 24-hour day, one would expect it to obviously say so. The text, however, seems to be indicating something else.

Second:

The attaching of an ordinal (such as “first”) or other appendage (such as “long”) to day does not always indicate a 24-hour day. See Zechariah 14:7, which uses “one day” or “a day” depending on the translation and Hosea 6:2. Scholars have long interpreted the use of day in these prophetic verses as meaning years or longer periods. There is no good reason to dismiss these examples simply because they are considered prophecy. In 1 Samuel 7:2, the word for day is translated as “long time” or “the time was long” and refers to twenty years. In Deuteronomy 10:10, day is translated as “the first time” and refers to forty days. In 1 Chronicles 29:27 the word for day is translated as “the time” and refers to forty years (some translations leave it out since the context makes it repetitive).

Third:

The Hebrew for the phrase “evening and morning” or “evening, and there was morning” has usages not limited to 24-hour days. In fact, there are numerous usages in the Bible that this phrase, or variants of it, refer to continuous processes or activities. Exodus 18:13, 27:21, Leviticus 24:2-3 and Daniel 8:14,26 all use this phrase in a context of something that occurs on a continual basis over more than one 24-hour day.

****

Also:

The bombadier beetle?

Again, what large animal breathes fire?

Now tell me, does an elephant or a hippopotamus have a tail like a cedar tree?

The hallmark of figurative langauge is exageration.
 
"The coelacanth fish, for example, had supposedly gone extinct with the dinosaurs. We have a lot of fossils of the fish in the same layers as the dinosaurs, and NO fossils of the fish with modern humans. They thought this until we found out that they were being sold in the markets of Madagascar"

Not "THE" coelacanth, "A" coelacanth. Taxonomically, they form a family.

The species of coelacanth in the fossil record you refer to are not the same species of coelacanth alive today. They're about as closely related as, say, red-tailed hawks and sharp-shinned hawks.

"While the living coelacanths retain many ancient features they have also, contrary to their public image, done some evolving along the way like producing live young."

Quite different than those in the fossil record, as you can see ...
 
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