Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Debunking "Scientific Evidence for a Global Flood" Part 4 - Marine fossils on mountains are explained by uplift of ancient ocean beds

One of the easier YEC arguments to refute is the claim that marine fossils on mountains are proof of a global flood. SEfaGF asserts:
Marine fossils can be found on the crests of mountains. Apart from mountain uplifting, this can also be explained as the marine animals being washed there and then buried. A global flood could do this.
No, it could not. Marine fossils are found on mountains due to uplift from plate tectonic activity, as SEfaGF reluctantly acknowledges. There are many flaws in the YEC assertion, but arguably the most devastating is the fact that when the flood waters receded, the dead animals would also be dragged back by the strong currents, and be deposited at the base of such mountains. We do not see this, and just on this point, the YEC claim about a global flood is shown to be nonsense.

It is hard to understand why SEfaGF even bothers with this argument when he acknowledges the mainstream explanation that uplift from tectonic activity can explain this. Geologist Kevin Nelstead, who is also a Christian likewise finds this argument puzzling. In his refutation of YEC apologist Andrew Snelling's argument, he notes:

Most young-Earth creationists acknowledge that the marine fossils at the top of Mt. Everest were deposited at a lower elevation and then uplifted through mountain-building processes, so I’m not sure what Snelling's point is in bringing this up. The standard geological model of deposition and uplift works perfectly fine for explaining how marine fossils ended up at the top of many mountain ranges.
In his article, Snelling brings up fossils of organisms called crinoids:
From Wikipedia: Echinoderms
Crinoid fossils (From Wikipedia: Echinoderms; Credit: Smith609 GFDL) Crinoids are echinoderms, which is the group of organisms that includes starfish and sea urchins. Adult crinoids (also known as sea lilies) looks superficially like plants. They are attached to the sea floor by a long, slender stalk, at the top of which is its body and some feeding arms surrounding its mouth. The entire organism---stem, body, and arms---is readily preserved as a fossil.
Other rock layers exposed in Grand Canyon also contain large numbers of marine fossils. The best example is the Redwall Limestone, which commonly contains fossil brachiopods (a clam-like organism), corals, bryozoans (lace corals), crinoids (sea lilies), bivalves (types of clams), gastropods (marine snails), trilobites, cephalopods, and even fish teeth.
These marine fossils are found haphazardly preserved in this limestone bed. The crinoids, for example, are found with their columnals (disks) totally separated from one another, while in life they are stacked on top of one another to make up their “stems.” Thus, these marine creatures were catastrophically destroyed and buried in this lime sediment.
His description of the Redwall Limestone is mostly correct. The Redwall Limestone is part of a layer of Mississipian age that covers much of western North America, from Canada down to Mexico. This layer has different names in different regions, such as the Leadville Formation in Colorado and the Rundle Group at Banff in Canada. These can be traced as a continuous layer either in outcrop on the surface, or in the subsurface through oil and gas wells or by seismic methods. I have not observed the Redwall Limestone in Arizona, but am familiar with its equivalent in Montana, the Madison Group. The Madison Group consists mostly of marine limestone, and contains many quadrillions of crinoid stem fragments (I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and came up with about 1016 stem fragments in a 500 x 500 km area; I know I’ve seen this figured out somewhere else before), as well as some beautifully preserved complete crinoid organisms.
In the young-Earth creationist scenario, these quadrillions of crinoid columnals had to be lying in the shallow sea before the flood, be ripped up in the early stages of the flood, be held together as a coherent package for a while during the flood with no loss or mixing with other units while Cambrian through Devonian sediments were deposited, and then deposited on the seafloor in the middle of the flood. Some of the fragile crinoid organisms would have had to stay together through all of this without disarticulating, such as the crinoid fossils illustrated to the right.
According to standard geological explanations, parts of the continents have been covered by shallow marine waters at numerous times throughout geologic history. Over time, in the absence of tectonic forces leading to mountain-building, continents are worn down to relatively flat surfaces. When sea level has risen (sometimes due to varying rates of mid-ocean ridge volcanism), these eroded continents became covered by shallow sea water. It was in one of these times that the Mississippian marine limestones were deposited on the continents. In places within these limestones, small-scale ecological distribution of organisms is preserved in the rocks (e.g. “Waulsortian mounds“, which are in some ways similar to coral reefs, but without a reef-building organism such as corals).
Crinoid columns (from Wikipedia: Crinoid; credit: xxx)
Crinoid columns (from Wikipedia: Crinoid; credit: Wilson44691)
Crinoids are not really abundant in today’s oceans, but they are common enough for us to study them in their natural habitats. When they die, the stems often break up into small cylindrical segments, and the calcium carbonate portion of the stem can be preserved on the sea floor. Over time the stem fragments can accumulate to a greater depth. Snelling’s statement that it would require some sort of catastrophe to form beds of crinoid stem fragments is completely without a basis. A natural analog in the modern ocean can explain these layers easily.
To summarize:
  1. It is not necessary to posit a global flood to explain marine fossils at high elevations. Snelling knows this.
  2. Catastrophism cannot explain the fossil assemblage of Mississippian limestones such as the Redwall. It is difficult to see how this mixture of fossils (which contains more than just crinoids, as Snelling acknowledges) could have stayed together as a coherent package in a global flood.
  3. Local ecological zones are preserved at places in Mississippian limestones. Were these mounds carried by the flood and then deposited gently on the surface without breaking apart? I don’t think so. [1]

As Nelstead so effectively points out, the lethal argument against the global flood explanation is that they cannot explain the en bloc lifting of ecological zones and deposition without damaging fragile marine organisms. 

The problems for the global flood hypothesis do not end there. As Karen Bartelt notes, what the YECs do not acknowledge is that:
...interspersed with these "water-laid formations and marine fossils" are numerous sedimentary layers that are indisputably nonmarine in origin. Using the Grand Canyon as an example, the Kaibab Limestone and Redwall Limestone do contain marine fossils. However, in between these layers lies the Coconino Sandstone, which contains the tracks of reptiles...and shows strong evidence of being deposited as sand dunes in a desert.... It's kind of difficult to create a desert environment during the year of the flood. Below the Coconino Sandstone lies the Hermit Shale, which contains the remains of terrestrial plants such as ferns, and insect wings, and does not contain marine fossils. Below the Hermit Shale is the Supai Formation, containing the tracks of terrestrial animals... Creationists have proposed that these tracks might have been made by animals while they were in the water, but this theory falls apart rapidly when one considers first the purported violence of the Flood, and second, the year-long duration. How long were those animals treading water, and why were they able to make their tracks only in a way that supports faunal succession? [2]
The YEC argument sounds superficially plausible to the layperson without any scientific training who is desperate for an explanation to preserve a particular interpretation of the Bible, but when the implications are carefully considered, the global flood explanation lacks credibility, and requires an endless sequence of miracles to preserve it.