Imagine an earth covered with 15 creatures per square foot. And no, these creatures are not merely bacteria; rather, they are animals which can produce shells. The sheer amount of biomass would be so great that none of the creatures could survive. Their food would all be gone and their habitat insustainable. Over at Naturalis Historia, the Natural Historian has written a compelling article about how just the fossilized shells in one portion of the Midwest lead to extreme problems for the Young Earth position.
The author of that post did a brief survey of fossils over a 300×500 mile section of the Midwest from West Virginia to Eastern Missouri and from southern Kentucky to the middle of Indiana and Ohio. Utilizing samples and several calculations which were based off of these samples, he decided to try to calculate how thick a layer would be of fossils if just this area (totally covered in fossils) were spread out over the surface of the entire planet. He was able to conclude that “15 shells per square foot are estimated…” over the surface of the earth just from this sampling. Readers should note that in his article he utilized the lower end on his estimates in order to avoid tilting the scale in favor of an old earth position.
What is the point of this discussion? Who cares? Well this fact actually presents young earth creationism (YEC) with a few major difficulties:
…even 15 shells trying to live within the space of a square foot at the same time would have trouble. One also has to consider several other things:
1) Not all the surface of the earth was ocean before the flood, if we say that 50% of the surface was land then that would mean there were 30 shells per square foot in the ocean.
2) In addition, most organisms that produced these shells likely could only live in shallow water along coasts not in the deep ocean so unless the whole ocean were very shallow (and I think some claim that it was, although that presents some other very perplexing problems) then that would also dramatically reduce the space in which these shells could have grown and died.
3) The shells are not sorted at all by size, as very small (<1cm) to large (>4cm) shells are always found mixed with one another.
Each of these is presents a different difficulty with YEC. For, as the author noted, the shells he surveyed is only one small sample of untold amounts of these deposits across the surface of the earth (see below for my own samples and some analysis). Now if YEC is correct, then all of these creatures would have had to live over the course of around 10,000 years (or fewer). Think about that for a moment. I know from personal experience that the area covered with these shells is about twice as large as estimated in the numbers already referenced above, and so we are then talking about 30 creatures per square foot over the surface of the earth. But then consider that these types of formations can be found across America and across the earth. I have no way to estimate the numbers, but ultimately we’re talking about a simply astounding amount of life living on the surface of the earth in that short of a time span. It would be physically impossible for the sheer weight of living creatures to survive at the same time. If the Earth were only about 10,000 years old, then we would have been knee deep or even buried in shell-producing creatures over the course of our lives.
Not only that, but these creatures would have been competing for resources like food and air (think about how much oxygen these creatures would have sucked up all at once!). And again, it’s not like the entire surface of the earth would have been habitable–these creatures live only in shallow waters. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that if all these creatures lived over the course of 10,000 years then the oceans would have overflowed with them.
The image I have linked to the right shows a pair of stones discovered in limestone in Kansas. There were literally dozens of feet of fossils just like these as far as the eye could see in the Castle Rock formation in Kansas. One could just walk up and pick a rock up off the ground and it would be like the picture to the right. There are places one can’t walk without stepping on large numbers of fossils. The picture that is at the beginning of this post is a picture I took while in this formation. It is not just the author of the article above who has observed the seemingly unending supply of fossils throughout the Midwest. I myself have observed limestone formations with fossils like these across Kansas for hours and hours of interstate. Not only that, but I grew up in northwest Indiana and observed massive limestone formations there as well. Here in Minnesota, one can also observe limestone along cutouts of the highway and elsewhere. One can go to areas along the Mississippi here in Minnesota and pick up fossilized shells along the riverbed.
So imagine that the estimates listed above by the Natural Historian are correct on the low end. Now imagine that all of Kansas is covered with these shells–I can attest to it. Imagine further that more portions of the Midwest are covered with other types of limestone which also would have added to the biomass of earth. Again, the numbers are staggering.
How in the world did all of this biomass get here within a few (10?) thousand years? That is the question which young earth positions must deal with. Note that the argument and evidence in this post do not rely upon any dating system, any background knowledge, or other scientific dating systems YECs tend to denigrate. Note that the argument only shows what is observable and asks a question: how did it get here? YECs would have to come up with some way to plausibly explain how all these creatures could have had their lives condensed into about 10,000 years.
God is not a liar (Numbers 23:19). The natural world attests to Him (Psalm 19). These conjoined Biblical points tell us that when we go outside and observe that the life we can observe in the past could not have all lived within 10,000 years, then it did not. Those who claim otherwise seemingly must either introduce a third option (some plausible explanation for these creatures’ lives–and note that it must be more plausible than the argument that they lived and died at the same rate they do now and that the world is simply old enough to have had that much life and death over the course of time) or they fall victim to a dilemma involving the cited verses: either the natural world does not attest to the Truth or God is actively deceiving us. The bottom line is that this is just one more hole in the Young Earth position. YEC is, simply put, false.
Appendix 1: A response to one objection
There have already been a few responses to this post on places other than this site. One response argued that the samples which I and/or Natural Historian took were not representative of the fossil record. Here is my brief response:
Take a trip through the Midwest sometime and look at the cuts through the highways. Every single time you pass through one in Kansas it is absolutely filled with limestone and fossil-rich rock. The same happens through most of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, etc. I could literally walk up to a wall of shells and pull out a huge sampling of them.
Now suppose this isn’t representative. Suppose that it just so happened, at random, that the roads were set up in such a way that they only hit the most fossil-rich deposits out there. What does that mean?
Not very much. We can observe these same deposits all over the world. The sheer amount of these deposits means that we could very easily produce the number of fossils Natural Historian estimates over just the Midwest.
Again, to clarify, I’m saying let’s assume that Natural Historian overestimated several thousand(milliion?)-fold and so the number of fossils he estimates for the midwest can only be gathered if we collect them from all over the earth, and only from those highway cuts or other points of exposure where such deposits have observed (again, making the extreme assumption that only those places which have happened to get hit by highways or erosion are those with these deposits). But in that case, we can still gather enough fossils to say the entire surface of the earth could be covered by about 15 fossils per square foot.
But wait–these fossils don’t occur in deep oceans or on land. They only occur in shallow oceans. Suddenly we’re up to about 30 per square foot if we assume they occurred in water anywhere (including riverbeds, deep oceans, and the like). But eliminate the places these types of fossils do not occur and the number of fossils increases even more.
Suddenly we find that the exact problem I raised above remains a problem–even if we only take those fossils which are exposed now (and again note that this is a huge underestimate and requires extreme blind faith that there are no other fossils under the ground anywhere, not to mention the fact that there may be even more fossils that are exposed which could drive that number up exponentially). There has been simply too much life on earth to maintain a young earth position.
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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.