EVOLUTION: FACT OR PHILOSOPHY?
by Jan Young
CHAPTER 4: FOSSILS
THE CASE FOR EVOLUTION
Now that we've discussed the foundational matter of origins, let's go on to the subject that most people connect with evolution--fossils. Fossils are thought by many to be the single greatest argument for evolution. For years, school textbooks have presented the fossil evidence as the main focus of evolution theory.
Darwin's theory of evolution was based on the assumption that the fossil record shows the slow gradual progression of life from simple to more complex forms, over long ages. In Darwin's day (the mid-1800s), an abundance of fossil evidence showed that certain types of fossils seemed to be common to certain layers of rock. Without the fossil evidence, it is doubtful that the theory of evolution would ever have been born.
What is a fossil? A fossil is some part of a creature or plant that was buried in sediment (or perhaps caught in tar or tree sap) and eventually hardened into rock. Soft parts decay easily, so often only the hard parts remain, such as bones, teeth, or shells. Sometimes the entire plant or animal dissolves over time, leaving only its imprint in the rock. But occasionally a complete plant or animal is fossilized.
THE GEOLOGIC RECORD
Geology is the study of the earth's history as recorded in the rocks. Geologists have discovered that the earth's outer layer, or crust, is formed by layers, or strata, of rock. (One layer is called a stratum.)
There are three types of rocks: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. Almost all fossils are found in sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rock is formed from sediment--the soil and other matter found in moving or standing water, that settles to the bottom of the water, and later hardens into rock. Many layers are deposited, one on top of another. Strata range from less than an inch thick to hundreds of feet thick.
The strata on the bottom were formed first, and those on top were laid down later. Therefore, the deepest strata are the oldest, and the ones on top are youngest, unless some sort of geologic upheaval has taken place since they were deposited. Exposed strata can be seen on cliffs, mountains, or cutbanks.
Many scientists believe that sediment slowly and gradually built up over thousands and millions of years to form the strata, thereby leaving us a record of the earth's history since its formation. Each stratum represents a certain time period in history. The fossils found in each stratum are plants and animals that lived during that period. As sediment slowly and gradually built up, plants and animals were buried and eventually fossilized as the sediment turned to rock.
THE GEOLOGIC TIMETABLE
Most science textbooks and encyclopedias show a chart of the strata, called the geologic column or geologic timetable. It shows the order of the strata, and is the timetable of the earth's history. It is the foundation of the science of geology.
The geologic timetable lists the age of each stratum and shows the types of fossils it contains. The ages were assigned back in the early 1800s, even before Darwin's theory of evolution. At that time, geologic dating involved two methods, relative dating and index fossils.
Relative dating is a method that assumes, for example, that a higher stratum is young in relation to a lower stratum. The lower stratum is old in relation to the higher stratum. Therefore, fossils in higher strata can be considered younger, or more recent, relatively speaking, than fossils in lower strata, and fossils in lower strata are relatively older than those in higher strata.
An index fossil is a fossil commonly found in a particular stratum and represents an organism which lived only during that time period. Index fossils provide an index, or a kind of guide chart, of geologic time periods. If a geologist isn't sure which strata he is digging in, and he happens to find an index fossil, then he can identify the stratum by that index fossil.
Since the early 1900s, scientists have been able to use radioactive methods of dating. These methods have allowed them to fine-tune their dates, but in general, have not changed the picture of the geologic timetable.
TWO VIEWS OF GEOLOGIC HISTORY
Up until the 19th century, scientists believed that the earth was quite young and that most of the geologic formations, including fossils, were evidence of great catastrophes, especially the worldwide flood described in the Bible. This view was called catastrophism.
But during the 1800s, a new view became popular. Many scientists began saying that the processes that shaped the earth in the past must have been the same processes that can be observed in the present--slow, gradual processes such as wind, rain, and local flooding. Erosion has taken place slowly and gradually. Sediment has been deposited and built up slowly and gradually. All the features of the earth can be explained by such gradual, uniform processes. All these processes have taken place at a slow, fairly uniform rate throughout history.
Because processes have operated at a fairly steady rate, scientists can “play” time backwards and make assumptions about things that happened millions and billions of years ago. This applies especially to the study of the origin of the universe, to the interpretation of the earth's strata, and to radioactive dating. If processes have not operated at uniform rates, then there is no way to scientifically assign dates to these distant events.
This theory came to be known as the geologic theory of uniformitarianism. According to this view, "the present is the key to the past." Whatever forces we observe today must have been operating throughout the history of the earth. They must have been operating in the same way and at roughly the same rate we see them happening today. There was no longer any need to explain geologic features in terms of great catastrophes.
One of the major effects of this new view was a new concept of the age of the earth. If geologic features were not shaped rapidly by catastrophes, then a great deal of time would be needed to shape the features of the earth slowly and gradually. The earth must be much older than scientists had always thought.
Another effect of the concept of uniformity was a new interpretation of fossils. If they were not deposited during a worldwide flood, then they must have accumulated slowly and gradually over the long history of the earth. Now they were looked at as the record of life forms that evolved slowly and gradually throughout history.
Based on this theory, and on their observations of strata and fossils, uniformitarian scientists began to piece together the chart of the geologic column. Strata with simpler life forms were placed at the bottom of the column. Strata with more complex life forms were placed at the top of the column.
Using calculations based on present-day rates of processes, such as sedimentation and erosion, scientists worked backwards to find the possible age for of earth, and for the various time periods represented by the strata. Of course, these rates have been somewhat revised over the years as new methods of dating have been developed.
By the mid-1800s, all the elements were in place for a new theory of the history of life. Charles Darwin published his famous book, The Origin of Species, which offered an explanation of how it all fit together. Life developed naturalistically, slowly and gradually, from simple to more complex, over very long ages of the earth. As more complex forms took over, their primitive ancestors died out--became extinct. Darwin's proof was found in the fossil record, as interpreted in the context of the geologic column.
Many kinds of fossil organisms had been found at that time, ranging from plants to animals, from simple to complex. They could be arranged in a series, with tiny, simple marine organisms at the beginning, and mammals, including man, at the other end. Darwin suggested that a species could change slowly and gradually over time, continually adapting itself to its environment by a process called natural selection. Small changes would eventually accumulate and result in major changes. In this way, one species could evolve into another species. This continual process of adaptation would result, over very long periods of time, in more and more complex organisms.
Darwin knew that his theory required the existence of many transitional forms--organisms in various stages of transition (change) from one species to another. He believed that evolution had happened by one small change at a time, with each change persisting because it helped the organism to adapt better. There should be an unbroken chain of plants and animals--a line of descent--with each form being a tiny bit different from the one before and after it. Between each species, there should be many of these transitional forms.
He also recognized the fact that these seemed to be absent from the fossil record. The fossil record at that time was considered incomplete. He was confident that as more fossils were found, the necessary transitional forms would also be found. In a rather short period of time, Darwin's theory of evolution was accepted by the majority of scientists.
The debate between uniformitarianists and catastrophists is not over yet. Catastrophism is making a comeback, but in general, uniformitarianism is still presented in textbooks as the better overall explanation for the framework of the evolutionary time scale.
PROBLEMS WITH EVOLUTION
The fossil record is no longer considered to be conclusive proof of evolution. Let's examine some of the reasons why.
1. Dating Methods
Most people have no idea how fossils are dated. (Blind dates? double dates? or how about relative dating--taking out your cousin? Then there's radioactive dating--yikes!)
Actually, dating fossils is a serious matter. Knowing the age of fossils plays an important part in establishing our view of life--how and when it began. A fossil is a piece of evidence in the puzzle of life. So is the rock strata in which it was found.
Neither fossils nor rocks have dates inscribed on them. They can't tell us anything about themselves. Before dates can be assigned to them, the fossil and the rock must be interpreted, and interpretations can vary.
Fossils are dated by the rocks, or strata, in which they are found. How can the age of a rock be known? Rocks, or strata, are dated by the fossils found in them. There is no way to prove either assumption. Circular reasoning--arguing in circles--can’t prove anything. The accuracy of this method depends heavily on the accuracy of the geologic column.
Neither dating by fossil content or by radioactive methods is very precise. Dates are assigned to rocks and fossils, but they cannot be proven scientifically at this time.
Radioactive dating measures the amounts of certain elements in rocks and how they have changed over time. Radioactive dating, which began in the early 1900s, held out the promise of truly scientific measurements.
Published radioactive dates seldom conflict with the geologic timetable because, when the two sets of dates conflict, the geologic dates, based on fossils and the geologic timetable, are always used. Conflicting radioactive dates are not reported. This gives the appearance that the two methods always coincide, and so it is claimed.
Another problem with radioactive dating is that it is based on unprovable assumptions. There is no way to test it for accuracy. This method will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter.
2. The Geologic Column
If fossils are dated by the strata in which they are found, and strata are dated by their fossil content, then we need to know more about the geologic column that provides scientists with these dates.
Nowhere in the world can the geologic column be found. It only exists in books. Parts of it can be found in various places in the world, but never with all the strata in one location. It was established in Europe, then applied to strata worldwide, although there is no worldwide uniformity of strata.
Even the Grand Canyon is missing some strata. Geologist Steven Austin, of the Institute for Creation Research, says that all the Ordovician, all the Silurian and most of the Devonian are missing, which could have easily amounted to 1000 feet of sediment. In the Grand Canyon, a deposit called the Coconino Sandstone rests directly on the Hermit Shale. In other locations in Arizona, 600 feet of sediment is found between those two layers.
In some places, strata are found in the wrong order. Older layers are actually on top of younger layers. For example, the 14,000 foot high Matterhorn, in the Swiss Alps, is composed of rock that is older than the rock beneath it (if the geologic column is correct). Far from being unusual, this situation can be found in almost every major mountain range in the world.
Evolutionists explain that rocks in the wrong order are the result of a geologic force called "overthrusting," in which some great force caused the lower strata of rock to slide up and over the younger layer. Geologists have concluded that because small-scale overthrusts have taken place, very large rock movement can also be explained by overthrust.
This type of logic is called extrapolating. According to the process of extrapolation, if one thing is true, and you project it over any given length of time, distance, etc., it must continue to be true. It must continue to happen in just the same way. Extrapolation is at the heart of the concept of uniformity.
The dating and interpretation of rock strata are based, to a great extent, on a prior belief that evolution has taken place. The reason for assigning them long ages and a specific order is so that the fossil evidence can be arranged in a way that supports the theory of evolution.
Nothing about the geologic features of the earth demands that geologic processes have continued throughout history slowly and gradually, at uniform rates, the way we see them operating today. It is not necessary to assume that "the present is the key to the past.” That is just one possible way of interpreting the data.
Interpretation of strata and their boundaries varies. One reason is that fossils or rocks that can be dated radioactively are found only sporadically. (This will be explained in the next chapter.) The problem of missing strata and uncertain boundaries implies that any dates assigned must be considered questionable.
Geologists recognize missing strata, and the time period they represent, simply because those strata are often found as part of a certain sequence of strata in other places. Using this system of recognizing missing strata (the "sequence" concept), geologists can date strata over much larger areas than could be dated if they only recognized the strata that were actually present.
The missing strata are considered to be a record of events that actually happened, even though there is no evidence for such events. Because of this sequence concept, the lack of evidence is considered just as important as the actual strata that are present.
Evolutionists are beginning to accept the possibility that strata may have built up more rapidly than they once thought. Now, in order to still maintain the accepted time frame of the geologic timetable, they assume that the long periods of time must have elapsed at the boundaries of the strata--before and after they were laid down. This means that major assumptions are being based on the absence of evidence, rather than on actual physical evidence. An argument based on missing evidence is a weak argument.
Uniformitarianism cannot explain the great lava beds of the Columbia Plateau, a 200,000 square mile area of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and Idaho. According to Norman Macbeth (Darwin Retried), there is more lava in this one area than could be produced by all the volcanoes of the world, at their present rate of eruption. Could these rates have been much higher at some time in the past?
Another mystery that uniformitarianism cannot account for is why evidence of meteor strikes is mostly found in surface rocks. If strata were laid down at fairly uniform rates throughout earth's history, and if all known processes have been occurring at fairly uniform rates throughout history, including meteor activity, why aren't craters found in all strata? Contrary to uniformitarian assumptions, meteor activity is thought to have been more frequent in past geologic ages. Apparently the processes of weathering, erosion, and mountain building have destroyed the craters of the past, while somehow still leaving such fragile fossils as footprints and water ripple marks.
Recently, more and more evolutionists are admitting that uniformitarianism may not be the best explanation of geologic features. Long ages are still needed for evolution to occur. But perhaps the idea of a few catastrophes here and there are acceptable, and do a better job of explaining many features of the earth.
3. No Gradual Change
Although many fossils must still remain to be found, the claim that there are gaps in the fossil record can no longer be considered valid. According to Darwin's theory, all life should be transitional--constantly changing. If so, the law of averages says that no matter how many, or how few, fossils are found, the majority of them will be transitional types.
There are a few possible candidates, which you may have read of in textbooks. Their qualifications will be reviewed in a later chapter. If evolution is true, there should be thousands. Logic tells us that all life forms should be transitional, if indeed each blends in with the next. There should be no distinct types or species, as we see today.
The fossil record does not support the idea of slow gradual change. Not only are the transitional forms missing, but almost all the major life forms can be found in the Cambrian strata--the earliest layer in which we find multi-celled organisms. This amazing phenomenon has been called "the Cambrian explosion"--kind of like the "big bang" of animal life. Consider these excerpts from Discover (April 1993):
"Almost all the major phyla appeared in one brief burst a half-billion years ago, and nothing as dramatic has happened since then."
"All the basic body plans appeared in the Cambrian Period some 550 million years ago."
"Yet Homo sapiens and other modern additions to the animal world do not represent wholesale changes in body plans; rather, they are mere variations on the broad themes established at the start of the Cambrian."
The fossil record shows that once life forms appear, they stay basically the same throughout the various strata, only showing minor changes within types, or else later extinction. As Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould explains in his book, Wonderful Life:
"The current earth may hold more species than ever before, but most are iterations upon a few basic anatomical designs."
This characteristic of staying the same is called stasis. There is no evidence of slow, gradual, continual change from simple to more complex. In the strata below the Cambrian, called the Precambrian, there are fossils of single-celled creatures, but where are the many transitional forms connecting them to the complex creatures of the Cambrian? In comparing the two strata, Gould notes that the evidence doesn’t match “Darwin's prediction of a continuous rise in complexity.”
Finding complex organisms in the Cambrian strata does not fit the theory of evolution. However, the whole concept of simple vs. complex needs to be rethought. What is meant by simple, or primitive? We have already seen, in the previous chapter, just how primitive a single-celled organism is.
A good example of a "simple" organism found in the Cambrian layer is the now-extinct trilobite (tri = three; lobos = lobe), a member of the arthropod phylum, which resembles the modern pill-bug. These "primitive" animals are often over a foot long, have jointed legs, a distinct head and tail, and many have complex eyes. Surely many previous, simpler forms must have connected the single-celled organisms of the Precambrian to the trilobites in the Cambrian.
Yet there are no intermediate forms. Trilobites just appeared, in the earliest layer that contains multi-celled organisms.
The majority of fossils are not mammals or even vertebrate animals. The vast majority of all fossils are shallow marine invertebrates. Of those that aren’t, the vast majority are algae and plant fossils. Out of the small group remaining, the vast majority are insects and all other invertebrates.
A tiny percentage of the fossil record is made up of vertebrates--fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The vast majority of those are merely one single bone. That means that an extremely minute percentage of the entire fossil record are vertebrate fossils of more than a single bone. Many of the conclusions that have been drawn about fossils are based on very sketchy data.
4. Punctuated Equilibrium
The idea of gradualism is losing credibility, both in the development of geographic features and in the development of life, although you might not get this impression from science textbooks. Since the fossil record shows that organisms appeared rapidly, fully formed, and with no intermediate forms, the theory of evolution must fit this evidence. A new version, called punctuated equilibrium, attempts to do just that.
This term means that most of the time, evolution was in a state of equilibrium--balance, no change taking place. But every so often it was punctuated, or interrupted, by a time of rapid change, too rapid to even be recorded in the fossil record. In other words, organisms would stay the same for long periods of time (stasis), then would evolve so rapidly and by such big jumps that the next form of that organism to be fossilized was quite different from the last.
Is there evidence for punctuated equilibrium? The main evidence is the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, or an "argument from silence," which, again, is a weak argument.
The new theory, developed by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge, has drawn public attention to the "problem" of the fossil record. Denton points out that the “old comfortable notion” of fossil evidence for slow gradual change has probably seen its last days. There is no longer any reason to pretend that the missing transitional forms exist. It is now socially acceptable to admit what the evidence has always shown.
If punctuated equilibrium is true, there must be a biological mechanism able to explain such rapid, drastic change. The biological basis of both slow and rapid change will be examined later in this book.
The evolution of plants is a mystery. The fossil record provides few clues, and as with fossil animals, there are no transitional forms. Plants that appear in the fossil record are easily recognizable as the same types of plants that we have today. When they appear, they are already highly specialized.
Perhaps the reason that little work is being done on the evolution of plants is because they don't seem to have much bearing on the origin of man. But the theory of evolution must explain how life divided into the plant and animal kingdoms. Many books just say it happened.
British botanist J. C. Willis has written extensively on the problems of Darwinian evolution and plants. He believes that “survival of the fittest” cannot explain plant evolution, and that huge jumps, not small steps, are necessary for plant evolution. However, an explanation for such large jumps has not yet been discovered.
6. Unusual Locations
Misplaced fossils are fossils that are found out of order, in the wrong strata. A wrong strata is one that doesn't follow the accepted classification of the geologic timetable.
Explanations range from how entire strata somehow moved from their original location, as mentioned earlier, to how a fossil could move from where it was originally deposited and hardened into rock.
Fossils from different ages may be found in the same strata. In Wyoming's Bighorn Basin, in an almost-complete section of strata showing early mammal evolution, some species were found in the same strata as their supposed ancestors.
At the Grand Canyon, the highest strata contain fossils of sponges, the most primitive type of animals. Primitive single-celled organisms called foraminifera are found in the upper strata, but are missing in the lower strata, where they are generally found in other locations. Corals are found in higher strata than trilobites, although they are supposed to have evolved first. Brachiopods are found below the first bryozoa, although they are supposed to have descended from bryozoa.
At Holzmaden, Germany, are fossils of ichthyosaurs (ICK-thee-a-sores), marine reptiles that gave birth to their live young in the water. One fossil showed a baby about to be born, part way down the birth canal. Others had embryos in them, and young ichthyosaurs were also fossilized. They were found in six different geologic layers.
In reporting on this find, Natural History (September 1992) speculates on what caused the females to continue to come to this spot to bear young, over long periods of geologic history. The question was also raised: what could account for the fossilization of a birth in progress? Since the ichthyosaurs were preserved in six levels, long ages must be represented.
A catastrophe would be an equally valid explanation for this fossil find. Rapid burial of the creatures--some preparing to give birth, and some having already given birth--followed by rapid deposit of layers of sediment, is just as believable an explanation as slow gradual build-up of sediment over long ages. Which explanation is correct? It all depends on how the evidence is interpreted, and who is doing the interpreting.
7. The Fossil Horse Series
In almost every school science book and encyclopedia, you can find a chart documenting the evolution of the horse. The typical chart shows the dog-sized Eohippus, several intermediate forms, and then the modern horse, Equus. Each has a decreasing number of toes, and each is progressively larger. Next to each is listed the strata in which it is found.
Nowhere in the world does this sequence exist. Each fossil form was taken from different geographical locations, even different continents. Each appears in the fossil record fully formed, with no record of gradual evolution from one to the other. When characteristics other than toes are compared, there is no evolutionary sequence. Increasing size is not a factor, because modern horses range in size from miniatures and Shetlands to huge draft horses.
Eohippus does not even resemble a horse. It is now considered to be more closely related to the hyrax, the tapir, and the rhinoceros than the horse. The textbook chart of Eohippus does not picture horse evolution.
Many current books still present the fossil horse series as one of the best evidences for evolution.
8. Earth Age
Does geology demand an old earth? Were all the strata laid down at a slow and uniform rate over very long ages? Is the present the key to the past? Must we measure the geologic features of the earth by the same processes and rates that we see in today's world?
Mount St. Helens
A study of Mount St. Helens can help answer those questions. In 1980, the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington was captured on film. The main explosion and later events provided a rare opportunity to study the concept of catastrophism. Scientists now have a model of how geologic features can form in very short periods of time.
Beginning on May 18, 1980, several types of major catastrophic events transpired: earthquake, explosion, rockslide, mudslide, melting, and flooding. Lava, mud, water, pumice, ice and steam proved to be powerful agents of geologic change. The eruption itself lasted nine hours. It put out as much energy as 20,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. A gigantic mud flow, 30 feet deep and 1/4 mile wide, scoured a valley right down to bedrock.
At Mount St. Helens, over 600 feet of new deposits were not only made in less than one day, but clearly display the layered effect known as stratification. Deposits ranging from one millimeter to one meter in thickness were formed in seconds or minutes. A 25-foot-thick deposit was laid down in less than a day.
Wouldn’t a similar formation elsewhere have been attributed to millions of years of history? Thin laminations (very fine layering) within strata are usually interpreted as representing seasons or years, but here is evidence that this is not necessarily so.
Experiments in the hydraulics laboratory at Colorado State University’s Engineering Research Center show that the formation of strata is not the result of a series of deposits over time, with some earlier and some later. The forward motion of flowing sediment causes a sorting action, with fine particles settling into one strata and coarse particles into another strata. Several strata of varying thickness will result from one flow of sediment, just as seen at Mount St. Helens.
Following the summer of 1980, a 100-foot-deep canyon was eroded through solid rock. A new canyon system was made in only one day, due to a mud flow in 1982, with one canyon over 140 feet deep. Although a creek runs along the bottom of a canyon, it obviously did not form the canyon by gradual erosion. The canyon formed the creek.
Secondary steam explosions were caused by glacial ice buried under 550 degree volcanic ash. The ice melted to steam, which jetted to the surface, forming steam explosion pits. The largest pit was 2300 feet long, 1000 feet wide, and 125 feet deep.
The area now has features amazingly similar to those found in the Grand Canyon and the Badlands of South Dakota. It is virtually a 1/40th scale model of the Grand Canyon, and gives scientists new insight on how the canyon, and other geologic features, could have formed quickly rather than over long ages.
Millions of trees were uprooted during the eruption and swept into Spirit Lake, just below the volcano. Many are floating on the surface of the lake. But many more have sunk to the bottom, in an upright position. The heavier root ends are pulled downward by gravity. Other upright trees are floating at different levels in the water. Investigation by scuba divers shows sediment several feet thick already building up around the base of the lowest level of trees.
The effect is quite similar to that of the fossil forest in Yellowstone National Park. A sign there proclaims that this forest formed 50 million years ago when the trees fossilized as they grew in 27 overlapping layers. Now scientists know how such a phenomenon can happen practically overnight. And those trees could not have fossilized slowly and gradually over millions of years. They would have decayed first.
The petrified forest contains over 200 species, from habitats such as tropical, semi-desert, and rain forest. Most of the trees lack bark and limbs. Taken along with the phenomena at Spirit Lake, the evidence seems to point to uprooted trees transported by catastrophic flooding. Perhaps these trees, like those in Spirit Lake, were also carried along by mud or water, then buried in rapidly deposited sediment.
The catastrophic processes operating at Mount St. Helens give new meaning to the uniformitarian concept that “the present is the key to the past.” Present-day catastrophic events can cause rapid, major geologic change. They give concrete evidence that rates of geologic processes in the past could also vary dramatically. Rapid stratification at Mount St. Helens raises the possibility of rapid stratification in the past also.
For many people, the Grand Canyon is powerful evidence of evolutionary processes. They point to the many exposed strata as laid down over millions or billions of years. They point to the chasm of the Colorado River, in many places over 5000 feet deep. They explain how it took the river 50 to 70 million years to cut that huge canyon. These facts are found in textbooks, on TV documentaries, and on signs at the Grand Canyon.
Today most geologists have thrown out the theory that the Colorado River gradually cut the Grand Canyon. Over a period of 70 million years, a huge amount of sediment should have been carried along and accumulated somewhere. No such large deposit exists.
The river cuts through an uplifted area called the Kaibab Upwarp. Everyone knows that water flows around, not across, higher ground. Evolutionists explain that the Kaibab Upwarp was originally a flat plain, and that it began to uplift just at the same time that the river began cutting through the plain, and that the plain continued to uplift at exactly the same rate that the river was eroding the canyon.
If the entire area did uplift in such a manner, slowly over time, there should be evidence of brittle rock cracking and breaking. Instead, it is twisted and bent, like taffy. Freshly deposited sediment could bend and later harden into a fold structure.
In the Grand Canyon, many strata are missing from the geologic column. If these deposits eroded away, there should be evidence of weathering between the strata. But instead, the areas where the strata meet are smooth and even. Smooth, unweathered strata is evidence of short periods of time, not long ages.
Could the “present be the key to the past” at the Grand Canyon? Could the present-day catastrophic processes observed at Mount St. Helens be the key to the past geologic processes that formed the Grand Canyon? Could the Grand Canyon have been formed rapidly, rather than over long ages? It all depends on how the evidence is interpreted.
Another supposed evidence for long ages is cave formations--stalactites and stalagmites. Do they prove that the earth is millions of years old? Only if you interpret them within the uniformitarian model of earth history.
Stalactites and stalagmites are formed by dripping of water which causes mineralization. If you assume that the water in the cave has always dripped at the present rate, you can calculate the age. So many drips of water per day, times so much mineral in the water, equals the mass of the formation, which gives an age of many thousands or millions of years.
Can anyone know that the water has steadily dripped at the same rate throughout the history of the earth? Common sense tells us it is much more likely that it has varied. Scientists believe that the climate in the past was much more temperate than today, with an abundance of lush vegetation. This implies greater amounts of water, higher rates of dripping, and more rapid growth of cave formations than at the present.
Other methods of dating cave formations include the study of magnetically reversed sediments, fossils, and radioactive decay, using such processes as Carbon 14, uranium/thorium, potassium/argon, lead/lead, and electron spin resonance (ESR). These methods are difficult to apply, and even more difficult to interpret.
Cave formations can grow in short periods of time. In fact, stalactites grow on the back sides of cantilever dams, under the Lincoln Memorial, under bridges, in mines, shopping centers, and multi-story car garages. In Australia, for example, they are growing under the buildings of Murdoch University and under the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. They grow so fast that they are a nuisance in railroad tunnels; they sometimes have to be cut so they won't block the trains.
Stalactites have been observed to grow on the average of half an inch per year, while some have even grown three inches in a year. Some stalagmites have been observed to grow a quarter inch in height and .36 inch in diameter at the base, per year. Similar evidence of rapid growth has been observed in simulated cave conditions in controlled laboratory experiments.
Strata and other geologic features have no dates inscribed on them, or explanations of how they got there. They must be interpreted. Depending on how they are interpreted, and the bias of those doing the interpreting, they may give evidence of an earth that is billions of years old. Or they may not.
9. Living Fossils
The fossil record supposedly shows the progress of life from simple, primitive forms to complex, modern forms. The primitive forms became extinct, giving way to more complex forms which were better adapted and more able to survive--"the survival of the fittest." The fossil record supposedly shows the very simplest organisms in the oldest layer; then, in the next layer, more advanced forms which took over, and on through the various strata.
Some living plants and animals have been found as fossils in older strata. Why have these living fossils, as they are called, continued to thrive in the same "primitive" form they had millions of years ago? Why did they not die out, as they were supposed to, when more advanced forms arose to take their places?
Fossils of the horseshoe crab are found in the Ordovician Period, more than 430 million years ago. They not only still exist today, but they also look quite similar to their fossil counterparts. Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, and tortoises remain unchanged from their fossil forebears, who lived about 200 million years ago.
The tuatara is a lizard-like reptile that became "extinct" about 135 million years ago, but is now living in New Zealand. The coelacanth (SEE-la-canth) is a fish that became extinct 70 million years ago, yet was found to be still around in 1938, when a fisherman caught one off Cape Province, South Africa. The neopilina, a small mollusk that lived in deep-sea bottoms, had been extinct for about 280 million years. Then it turned up alive in the Acapulco Trench off Central America.
Bats from the Eocene Period look just like modern bats. Tiny primates called tarsiers look just like they did 45 million years ago. Butterflies look just like butterfly fossils. Some lamp shell species (tiny sea creatures) look just like they did 500 million years ago. Shrimp look just like they did 150 million years ago. Cephalopods (marine invertebrates) look just like they did 500 million years ago. The lungfish persists unchanged for 350 million years. The opossum has not changed in 100 million years.
Recently a new fossil was discovered in the Canadian province of Quebec--a bristletail, distantly related to the modern silverfish. Scientists were amazed at how similar it was to some modern insects, even though it lived about 400 million years ago. They were excited because they thought they had found the oldest known insect.
But if evolution is true, an insect should not remain essentially unchanged for 400 million years. Because insects live such short lives and reproduce in great numbers, evolution of insects should proceed at an incredibly fast rate, evolving faster than other creatures. This makes it even more unlikely that any insect could flourish for 400 million years without evolving. Are the strata really evidence of such long ages? Does the fossil record really show a series of evolving life forms?
If earlier, more primitive forms were less fit than more modern forms, why have so many of them continued to survive and thrive? Their survival is even more unexplainable when you consider that, according to some estimates, 99% of all species that ever lived have suffered extinction. Evolutionists are not only unable to explain why these extinctions took place, but also why such primitive forms were able to survive until the present time.
Can organisms survive millions, or hundreds of millions, of years without change, if evolution is true? If they have continued throughout history, why are their fossils not found in later layers after their initial appearance? Why did they apparently become extinct, only to surface again in the present-day world? Or did they really become extinct?
How and when did strata appear? What do strata and fossils tell us about the earth's past?
A fossil is a plant or animal that has been buried and preserved as rock. The theory of evolution, as originally formulated by Darwin, says that the process was slow and gradual. However, in order to be preserved, the organism must be buried quickly.
Within days or weeks, dead animals usually decompose or are eaten by scavengers. It is unlikely that any dead animal would be around for a year, or for thousands of years, in order to be slowly buried. Fossilization speaks strongly of catastrophes, not slow gradual processes.
Methods used to date fossils raise questions of circular reasoning. The concept of the geologic column is based on a prior belief in evolution. There is no independent proof for the dates of the geologic timetable. Where are the missing transitional forms? Where is the proof of slow gradual change, or, for that matter, of rapid change? If the theory of evolution involves continual change into more and more complex forms, why does the fossil record show all major life forms in the earliest layer, with no new types since then? The theory of evolution predicts that many organisms, if not all, should be transitional forms.
Scientists cannot account for the evolution of plants. They cannot account for living fossils or misplaced fossils. Scientists, textbook publishers and encyclopedias continue to pass off the fossil horse series as one of the best evidences for evolution.
Mount St. Helens throws serious doubt on the geologic theory of long ages, slow processes, and uniform rates. Perhaps it is time to rethink our ideas about the history of the earth, and about how old it really is.
The only compelling reason to insist on long ages is to give evolutionary processes enough time to "create" life from non-life and then to change into the modern forms we see today, even though many of those modern forms have been around since the Cambrian period.
Popular science writer Isaac Asimov assures us:
"In fact, in the entire fossil record, and among all living species, there is nothing, no inconsistency, that could seriously upset the classification in any fundamental way. Scientists have no choice but to consider evolution a fact." (Science Digest, October 1981)
Did life originate from a single-celled organism and evolve into all the plants and animals and people we see today? The fossil record does not give strong support to this idea.
Copyright 2003 Jan Young
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Jan Young--Author