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paleontology

This tag is associated with 3 posts

“Oceans of Kansas,” Unexpected Fossils, and Young Earth Creationism

ook-everhartRecently, I reviewed the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. In that debate, Bill Nye challenged Ken Ham to come up with just one fossil that was in the wrong place in the fossil sequence. In that review, I mentioned polystrate fossils as one possibility for the YEC rejoinder. Strictly speaking, these fossils are not “out of sequence” in a formal sense and so do not qualify as such evidence. Are there other possibilities? Michael J. Everhart’s fascinating look at the natural history of the Western Interior Sea brings up another possibility which may draw some looking for out-of-sequence fossils. After an introductory narrative about how a mosasaur (pictured on the cover of the book getting chomped by a shark) fossil could end up broken up in the middle of the sea, he wrote:

“Bloating and Floating” is certainly the case in many instances and is the only reasonable explanation for how the remains of large dinosaurs, such as Niobrarasaurus coleii…could have found their way into the middle of the Western Interior Sea… (48)

There have been, he noted, discoveries of dinosaurs in the middle of what should have been fossils of only aquatic creatures in the chalk and limestone that covers much of the central states–what was in ancient times the Western Interior Sea. His proposed explanation is that a dinosaur might die on the shore and get swept out to sea, bloated and floating until coming to rest at the bottom and becoming fossilized. Though not necessarily the “only reasonable” explanation, Everhart’s scenario provides an interesting test case for rival hypotheses.

Young Earth Creationists (YECs) tend to view evidences like these as proof of the Flood. That is, given a catastrophic global flood, one would expect that different life forms, all killed together by the flooding of the whole Earth, would be mixed together. Thus, a dinosaur in the middle of what should be sea creatures is alleged to provide evidence for the YEC Flood hypothesis.However, Everhart’s scenario does seem to be more plausible than a young earth account for several reasons.

First, Everhart’s proposed scenario is much simpler an explanation than the hypothesis that a global flood swept the dinosaur(s) into the position they are found among so many aquatic remains. This point is not to be understated; on a purely historical level, without any a priori assumptions of what should be the case given a specific reading of Genesis, it seems more reasonable to suppose that a dinosaur died and had its carcass swept out to sea before it was scavenged and sank to the bottom of the sea to be deposited than to suppose that a global catastrophe led to the dinosaur being found in its present location.

1scene

A picture I took at “Castle Rock” in central Kansas. This beautiful formation has huge amounts of deposited limestone and shells layered atop each other. One can walk to the walls and literally pull slabs of fossils out of the sides. If the YEC account of the flood were correct, one would expect to find multiple varieties of creatures found throughout these layers.

Second, and perhaps more problematic for the YEC position, is the fact that such finds as these are extremely rare, when, given a global flood, the expectation should be to constantly find such mixing of types of fossils. Simply finding one dinosaur fossil (or even several) among countless numbers of mosasaurs, icthyosaurs, fish, and of course limestone deposits from sea life (alongside shells of all sorts of varieties, etc.) does not actually provide sufficient evidence for the YEC account of the flood. We should instead find primates, dinosaurs, mosasaurs, trilobites, mammoths, and archaeopteryx fossils jumbled together. What we do find is a stunning uniformity of fossils such that the find of a dinosaur is means for speculation regarding how it got there rather than a commonality which demonstrates a planetwide flood.

Third, the dinosaur in question was contemporaneous with the aquatic life. That is, it lived at the same time as the creatures in the chalk in which it was deposited. Again, on a YEC scenario, one would expect instead to find all sorts of mixing of fossils from different time periods. The fact that these dinosaurs lived on land in the same time in which we find them at the bottom of the sea does not suggest a massive global flood which mixed all life (which all lived at the same time) together in one death pool; instead, it counts as direct evidence for the gradual diversification and extinction of life. The finds are consistent with what one would expect with longer periods of time instead of a global flood. Thus, it does not seem that fossils found in unexpected places may serve as evidence for Young Earth Creationism. Indeed, given the second point in particular (and in conjunction with the third), it seems that they serve as yet another evidence against the notion of a young earth and global flood. There are better options for Christians than Young Earth Creationism.

Links

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What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Shells and the Biomass of Earth: A serious problem for young earth creationists– I argue that the sheer amount of living organisms we can discover weighs against a young earth position.

Michael Everhart has written more on the specific find related to the dinosaur in the Smoky Hill Chalk at the Oceans of Kansas site.

My thanks to fellow blogger “The Natural Historian” for some comments on the topic of this post prior to publication.

Source

Michael J. Everhart, Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea (Indiana University Press, 2005).

SDG.

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Really Recommended Posts: 11/09/2012

I have featured literary apologetics, apologetics to Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, geocreationism, and more. Check out the posts. Let me know what you liked. Come back for more.

Elves, Orcs, and Freaks: The Shared Authorial Vision of JRR Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor– Garret Johnson has written a very interesting look into the works of Tolkien and O’Connor. He notes that they viewed fiction as reality from a different outlook. It’s a fascinating post, and there is a second part, which can be viewed here.

An Encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness– It is easy for Christians to slam their doors on those who come door-to-door. What if, instead, we engaged them? This post is a model for engagement and provides some ways forward to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Day After: My Thoughts on the Presidential Election– Michael Licona, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, one of the best books I’ve read on the resurrection of Jesus, offers his thoughts after the election.

Human Footprints in Dinosaur Footprints– Over at GeoCreationism (a highly recommended site), Mike addresses the notion that human and dinosaur footprints have been found together or side by side. Some argue that this supports young earth creationism. Mike explores the paleontological evidence.

Meet the Multiverse– Edgar Andrews, author of what I think is the best introduction to Christian apologetics with a scientific emphasis, Who Made God?, explores the notion of the multiverse and whether it offers a challenge to the Fine Tuning argument for the existence of God. Regarding said argument, I’ve written on it in my post on the teleological argument.

Did Jesus Claim to be Divine? (Answering Islam)– I found this look at answering Muslim objections to the deity of Christ refreshing. It offers an essentially presuppositional approach, which I have found to be very useful when engaging with Muslims. Check it out.

Naturalis Historia: Is Young Earth Creationism True?

I recently came upon what is, in my opinion, the finest collection of essays challenging the scientific aspects of Young Earth Creationism to date. The blog, Naturalis Historia features a broad spectrum of posts offering challenges to Young Earth perspectives from a scientific viewpoint. I can’t recommend the blog highly enough. Below are a few links with brief summaries of the contents.

An Ancient and Alien Forest Reconstructed– the recent finds of several fossilized forests have revealed alien landscapes not similar to our own forests in any way. In fact, many of these ancient forests lack any kind of flowering plant whatsoever. If the biodiversity found across all of fossil history is compressed into a young earth timespan, the possibility of explaining these anomalous forests without contemporary features becomes extremely difficult for young earthers. Another forest found in New York exacerbates the problem.

The impact craters from various meteorites presents another difficulty for YEC. Dating these craters puts them well beyond the allowances of a young earth perspective, but the young earth explanations stretch credibility beyond the breaking point.

What of dinosaur eggs? The fact is that these eggs are found across the various strata. Now most YECs I have read argue that the large amounts of sediment across the earth were deposited by the Flood. If that is the case, then how did these dinosaur nests appear across various layers. Natural Historian put forward this challenge in the post, “Juvenile Dinosaur Fossils In a Nest…”  One current YEC explanation is that the dinosaurs moved on top of the sediment as it was deposited and laid their eggs on the various layers, which were then covered as the rains continued to fall. The problem is that discoveries have now been made of juveniles in these nests, which would mean they would have had to hatch and grow before being buried by the Flood. Again, this truly stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

What is the point of linking to these posts and challenging YEC? I am a devout Christian and I’ve struggled with the issues involved in this debate myself. I’ve written extensively on the topics involved and I continually seek to read and understand more about the debate. So why have I been focusing on rebutting YEC? The more I’ve read on the topics involved, the more I’ve realized that YEC truly does undermine the Christian faith. I’m not suggesting those who defend YEC are actively seeking to discredit Christianity; no, I think that YECs generally have their hearts in the right place–they are seeking to defend what they view as the only possible Biblical position against attack. The problem is that when one investigates the scientific evidence, one finds that if one ties Christianity to YEC, it simply cannot hold up to a deep investigation. The issues above are just a number of peripheral problems with YEC, and I don’t see any feasible answers forthcoming on just those topics. There are a great many to be found over at Naturalis Historia, as well as across the web. We must not marry Christianity to positions that are indefensible.

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