How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?
A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims
by Dave E. Matson
Copyright © 1994-2002
Hovind: Poly-strate fossils, missing layers, layers out of order, misplaced fossils, and layers in reverse order all invalidate the geologic column.
None of these charges amount to a hill of discarded beans. We can't examine every such claim, but we can look at a few examples.
By this, Dr. Hovind means fossils which cross several strata. Usually that means fossilized, vertical tree trunks. Creationists are attacking a straw man. No geologist claims that every little stratum requires thousands of years to be laid down! The strata associated with polystrate fossils invariably show evidence of relatively rapid deposition.
'Polystrate' trees show every sign of extremely rapid burial, generally when rivers flood over their banks.
(Eldredge, 1982, p.105)
An example of this very thing is given by Dunbar and Waage (Dunbar & Waage, 1969, p.52). They show a photo of the Yahtse River area in Alaska, which depicts a number of upright, broken-off stumps stripped of most of their branches. The taller stumps poke out above the alluvial mud. This is the result of natural processes accompanying river course change. A couple of pages later we find a photograph showing how trees can be buried fairly quickly in another way. In this case, volcanic ash has partially buried a forest whose trees are mostly reduced to broken-off stumps stripped of their branches. Continuing volcanic eruptions over a period of years (dead trees last a long time!) and the interaction with wind would create variations in the strata which finally bury the stumps.
In some cases, burial might well be less than instantaneous. In the San Francisco area fossils of cedar and redwood (dated at 23,000 years) are found in place 20 feet below present sea level. This may be due to a rising sea level from melting ice-caps. (Encyclopedia Americana, 1978 Annual [Geology].) A similar find exists off the coast of Japan where remnants of a forest of willows and alders are found in 70 feet of water. They are some 10,000 years old (Chorlton, 1984, p.90).
Thus, we have polystrate fossils in the making, without the aid of Noah's flood.
As to the 80-foot whale, standing on its tail, which was found by the GREFCO Corporation near Lompoc, that being an outstanding example of a polystrate fossil, you may rest assured that geologists do not assume that it remained on its tail until slowly buried by diatoms! More likely it died a natural death, sank to the bottom for a time, and was buried in some kind of underwater avalanche which left it in its vertical position. Here's what a Christian geologist had to say:
Before the discovery of rapid, submarine sediment flows the circumstances under which these animals were buried was very much a mystery...
...it is logical to conclude that the Lompoc diatom beds were deposited naturally on the ocean floor, and that sometime before the period of tectonic activity which finally raised them to an elevation above sea level the earthquakes in that area triggered at least one large sediment slide and flow which overwhelmed and buried the animals that were down-slope from where the slide began. As pointed out in the early parts of this section on rapid burial, we now know of large sediment flows in various parts of the world which apparently had all of the characteristics necessary for overwhelming and burying both swift and large marine animals.
(Wonderly, 1987, pages 56,58)
The original source of our story appears to be K. M. Russel, who wrote an article in Chemical and Engineering News (Oct. 4, 1976). Some "facts" were wrong from the start. To begin with, the whale fossil was not buried vertically. The angle was more like 40-50 degrees from the horizonal. Most importantly, the skeleton lay parallel to the bedding plane, meaning that the site was, more or less, once a level sea floor. The discovery of hardground‡ horizons within this strata make it clear that for long periods of time this was, indeed, the ocean floor and not a quick load of sediment from Noah's flood. The fossil was buried by the same kind of diatomites that accumulated in deep bays and basins along the Pacific Coast during Miocene times.
These sediments lack any sedimentary structures that would indicate catastrophic deposition. Rather, the strata exhibit laminations indicative of slow accumulation on an anoxic bay bottom.
(Darby South, Internet)
Indeed, a partially buried, fully connected (articulated) whale skeleton is slowly being buried even now off the California coast! It was discovered about 10 years ago by a deep-sea submersible.
Plate tectonics wrote the final chapter. As the Transverse Ranges were being folded and pushed up, the sea floor on which our whale had settled and, in time, had been buried, was now subject to folding. As a result, that whale skeleton became tilted along with the strata on which it lay. Now that we have the real facts, we can see that this whale fossil is actually a good reason for rejecting Noah's flood as the source of the geologic column! Funny, how creationists often shoot themselves in the foot while trying to attack conventional geology!
In order to collect the point, creationists must show that polystrate fossils exist where they shouldn't be. That involves a lot more work than conjuring up interesting pictures and local stories accompanied by much speculation.
Missing layers are no problem at all once one understands that the geologic column is an abstract conceptual tool, an ideal reference frame, which gives order to the overall geologic record. It's like a dictionary listing the more important English words. No one expects that every one of those words will be present in some history book! Neither does the geologist expect any particular locality to exhibit all the known strata.
Has it occurred to you that the thick strata now being formed in the oceans off our coasts are not forming on the mainland? Thus, we have one cause of our missing strata, namely that it might not have been laid down in the first place! The late Jurassic, for instance, was not laid down everywhere; where land existed no sediment was being added, except in lakes, dune accumulations, and in certain other situations. Another possibility is erosion. Given enough time, erosion will strip away exposed strata. Large parts of Canada have been, with the help of glaciers, stripped all the way down to the Precambrian rock! Talk about missing layers!
Again, missing strata present no problem for geologists. The geologic column has no missing strata because it is a catalog of all known strata; it is not a physical locality but a chronological compilation of all localities, an ideal reference frame.
Out of Order and Reversed Layers
"Overturning of strata is associated with intense folding in tectonic belts formed by continental collision." (Strahler, 1987, p.384) Anyone who makes the most elementary observations of mountain strata will note a high degree of folding. Anyone who has studied a decent geology text, a result of numerous years of careful work by thousands of trained geologists who made numerous field trips to assorted mountains and valleys in order to chip away at the earth's old rind, will appreciate just how messy things can get.
Nevertheless, except in the very worst cases of mangled rock, there is almost always a pattern to it which holds the key to its history. The Grand Morgon in the French Alps, for instance, has a recumbent fold giving a strata sequence like D-C-B-A-B-C-D. Common sense suggests that the strata have been folded, and careful mapping bears that out. Footprints, mudcracks, ripple marks, cross laminations, and various other clues found on the surfaces of bedding planes often confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt that a given sequence of strata have been overturned.
A strata sequence of B-C-A-B-C, to give another example, suggests that the strata A-B-C had been shoved upon itself after breaking along a front, and that stratum A- had eroded away. A geologist studying the site would look for evidence of an overthrust at the boundary of C-A. To hear creationists complain, you'd think the strata were shuffled like a deck of cards without a clue as to which way is up! Far from it! A careful mapping of an area is usually enough to unravel the mystery or at least point to a likely solution. Strahler (1987, Chapter 40) provides an excellent discussion on the nature of overturned strata, including a thorough discussion of the Lewis Overthrust.
When geologists look at areas which haven't been seriously disturbed for great ages, such as the Grand Canyon, they always find the strata in the right order. Some strata may be missing, but the order will be correct. Such studies soon made it abundantly clear to the early geologists that the earth's strata has a very specific order. Thus arose the concept of the geologic column.
Let me also add that radiometric dating supports only one order for the geologic column, the same order found in undisturbed areas. Radiometric dating, where applicable, also clearly identifies reversed strata and other anomalies. Such anomalies, as already noted, can often be identified by extended mapping of an area.
More evidence illustrating the correct order of the geologic column may be had by mapping the bottom sediments of the Atlantic Ocean according to their geologic ages. If we move away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, either towards the United States or North Africa, we move successively from the recent sediments of the Quaternary period to the Pliocene, Miocene, Oligocene, Eocene, and Paleocene epochs, which make up the Tertiary period, to the late, middle, and early Cretaceous periods, and finally into the late Jurassic period just beyond the continental shelves of either coast (McGeary and Plummer, 1994, p.79). The fact that these sediments are in perfect textbook order is hardly surprising since the Atlantic sea floor has been continually spreading apart since the late Jurassic. As new sea floor emerges and spreads outward it picks up the most recent sediment, which means that the farther away we look from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge the older the sediment is in the bottom layer. We should, therefore, find the whole textbook sequence (as far as it goes) in its proper order as the sea floor is a perfect place for the continuous deposition of sediment, and that is exactly what we do find!
A similar story holds for the East Pacific Ridge, which runs roughly south of central Mexico. If we move northwest towards the Marianas Islands (south of Japan) we cross the same order of geologic epochs and periods as we did in the Atlantic! Again, this is not surprising since the Pacific sea floor is spreading out from that ridge, meaning that it would also record the true order of sediment deposition. Naturally, it will agree with the order found in the Atlantic. Further confirmation, if needed, can be found in the Mid Indian Ocean Ridge (McGeary and Plummer, 1994, p.79). There is really no question whatsoever as to the proper order of the world's major strata. It is a sign of sheer desperation that today's creationists would even try to challenge such a solidly established fact as the geologic column.
d) Misplaced Fossils
The creationist claim of misplaced fossils, i.e., fossils (or manufactured items) in the "wrong" strata, is scarcely more than a collection of dime-a-dozen rumors that are completely lacking in scientific documentation. The one, shining exception, the supposed man-tracks along the Paluxy River in Texas, which had enough "substance" to be the subject of a creationist movie, has proved to be an embarrassing bust. It is an embarrassment to all but the most die-hard, head-in-the-sand creationists. A thorough discussion of all the claims for "misplaced" fossils and manufactured items would fill an entire book. We can only scratch the surface.
Carl Baugh's hammer: This hammer was supposedly dug out of Ordovician strata. In fact, it is a 19th century miner's hammer of recent American historical style.
Carl Baugh is something of an embarrassment even to creationists in that he is continually finding things in the Paluxy River area which just ain't so! Perhaps you've heard of "Glen Rose Man" which was created from a fish's tooth! That was one of Baugh's productions. As for the hammer, which was actually found by others near London, Texas in the 1930s, supposedly in an Ordovician stone concretion, it merely came into Baugh's possession.
The stone concretion is real, and it looks impressive to someone unfamiliar with geological processes. How could a modern artifact be stuck in Ordovician rock? The answer is that the concretion itself is not Ordovician. Minerals in solution can harden around an intrusive object dropped in a crack or simply left on the ground if the source rock (in this case, reportedly Ordovician) is chemically soluble. This is analogous to stalactites incorporating recent objects in their paths as they grow. The rapidity with which concretions and similar types of stone can form is evident in soil caliche development. "Rapid formation of limestone has been shown in coral atolls in the Pacific where World War II artifacts have been found in the matrix" (McKusick and Shinn, 1980).
(Cole, 1985, pp.46-47)
Given the above data, evolutionists are scarcely troubled by Carl Baugh's hammer.
Paluxy River Footprints: For years creationists claimed that human footprints could be found side by side with dinosaur prints at this site near Glen Rose, Texas. The complete story of creationist doings in and around the Paluxy River is, with one or two notable exceptions, a classic study of wishful thinking gone awry. Few studies shed more light on the creationist mentality than does the history of the Paluxy River "mantracks." Richard Tierney (1986) captures some of the flavor of that story which is too long to tell here. A running account can be found in various issues of Creation/Evolution.
There was even a seductive creationist movie, Footprints in Stone, which "documented" the "mantracks" found along the Paluxy River. Laurie Godfrey (1981) showed that the film was pseudoscientific. The "man prints" in the film had been darkened, with either shellac or oil, making them look far more human than they would have otherwise (Godfrey, 1981, p.24). In some cases the "man print" was a portion of a larger footprint which was probably made by a dinosaur. "In other cases the shellac seemed to connect erosional depressions." (Godfrey, 1981, p.24). One of Godfrey's students wrote to Eden Films to ask whether or not duplicates of their casts could be purchased for firsthand examination. Their answer was "no, not yet," leaving Laurie Godfrey wondering "Why not yet?" Perhaps a careful examination of such casts would have exposed the wishful thinking, expressed in shellac outlines, that went on. Dr. Coombs, a vertebrate paleontologist who has studied dinosaur tracks, and Dr. Gomberg, an expert on the anatomy of the primate foot, both watched the film and concluded that they saw no genuine human tracks except those made during a modern demonstration. They concluded that some of the prints shown were genuine in the sense that some kind of animal made them, but the details from the film were too poor to draw any conclusions.
It is fortunate that some Texas paleontologists have examined firsthand the Glen Rose tracks. Wann Langston, Jr., pointed out that some of the "man prints" have distinct claw marks emanating from what the creationists call their "heels." (The creationists apparently reversed the direction of travel for these critters.) Langston also noted that one of the most widely reproduced footprint photos of Paluxy man shows a portion of a poor print of a tridactyl dinosaur; this may be clear, however, only to someone who, having studied the anatomy of the dinosaur foot, knows what to look for. Milne  makes the same point using photographs of in situ "man prints" taken directly from creationist literature. These "man prints" are nothing more than dinosaur toe impressions, selectively highlighted, with sand obscuring places where the rest of the dinosaur's foot might show. ... The existence of claw marks on some of the best series of "giant man prints" is now acknowledged by creationist John D. Morris, son of Henry Morris and author of Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them. This includes the McFall track, which is shown in Footprints in Stone.
(Godfrey, 1981, p.25)
After commenting on the film's unbalanced testimonials from supposed "experts," a group of commentators that did not include a single vertebrate paleontologist or paleoichnologist (an expert on the tracks of extinct critters), Laurie Godfrey concluded: "In short, the film is a distorted pseudodocumentary, which belongs in the realm of science fiction rather than science."
Before long others had visited the site. Issue XV of Creation/Evolution is devoted to the Paluxy River footprints. In it the studies/reports of R. J. Hastings, L. R. Godfrey, J. R. Cole, and S. D. Schafersman are devastating. "Man tracks" turned out to be erosional features and partial dinosaur prints. A study of stride length added additional support to the obvious. Nor has previous paleontological studies of the area offered any hope for creationists. Fossils typical of the Cretaceous were found in the Cretaceous strata. Mammoth remains were found above that strata in recent deposits, but never embedded in the Cretaceous. The Ryals Trail, the McFall site, Taylor's Trail, and other items were examined and discounted as human trackways or footprints. The details of these studies are too numerous to repeat here.
In September of 1984 Glen Kuban and Ronnie Hastings noticed that coloration patterns, due to secondary infilling of the original depressions, patterns previously noticed on only some of the Taylor site tracks, now appeared on tracks of all four alleged human trails. The coloration clearly brought out the dinosaurian nature of the "human" footprints! A few creationists became so hysterical that they actually hinted that evolutionists might have painted in these markings! Taylor was so impressed with Kuban's guided tour of these problems that he withdrew the film Footprints in Stone from public circulation! (Schadewald, 1986, p.6) The Institute for Creation Research halfheartedly backed off without giving Glen Kuban any credit for his work, which blew the lid off the whole affair. (Schadewald, 1986, p.7).
In the March 1986 Acts and Facts, an anonymous author (presumably Henry Morris) defends John Morris' half-hearted retraction in an unapologetic apologetic. Regarding John Morris' hints about fraudulent colorations, the anonymous author of "Following Up on the Paluxy Mystery" notes that "no evidence of fraud has been found, and some hints of these dinosaur toe stains have now possibly been discerned on photos taken when the prints in question were originally discovered." Glen Kuban, who pointed out these colorations in the early photos, is not mentioned at all. Indeed, the original creationist interpretation of the trackways is characterized as "not only a valid interpretation but arguably the best interpretation of the data available at that time." The "close-minded" evolutionists who have criticized the Paluxy tracks are mentioned only with sneer and smear.
Another creationist organization with a heavy stake in the Paluxy River footprints is the Bible-Science Association. The Reverend Paul Bartz, editor of the Bible-Science Newsletter, has hotly defended Footprints in Stone and editorially sneered at the work of the "Raiders." After Films for Christ withdrew Footprints in Stone, I watched the Bible-Science Newsletter for a reaction. Nothing. The BSA headquarters are in Minneapolis, and BSA officials are active in the Twin Cities Creation-Science Association. I attended TCCSA meetings to hear what the BSA had to say in that forum. Nothing. I privately showed BSA field director Bill Overn an unpublished manuscript on the tracks. About a month later, the BSA finally broke its silence.
(Schadewald, 1986, pp.8-9)
The statement made no mention of Kuban's work or of the contribution that the "Raiders of the Lost Tracks" had made. Schadewald referred to it as "whitewash as usual from the Bible-Science Association," but he held out hope that they would yet come clean. Meanwhile, as if nature intended to add insult to injury, the colorations were becoming more and more distinct as the years rolled by! The "human" footprints were turning into dinosaur footprints! Glen Kuban (1986, pp.15-17) discusses the coloration at some length, noting that:
The colorations provide strong confirmation that all the trackways on the Taylor site are dinosaurian. Even before these colorations became more prominent, the tracks did not merit a human interpretation.
(Kuban, 1986, p.17)
The upshot of all this is that many creationists, at least the more sophisticated ones, have had the good sense to abandon this argument. (Hopefully that includes Dr. Hovind.) The die-hards, of course, continue to dream of finding their Holy Grail along the Paluxy River, a find which will magically banish evolution along with 120 years of scientific study. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a few of them are still poking around the Paluxy River even today. Thus, from time to time, we may expect pathetic attempts to rejuvenate the Paluxy River juggernaut which had sunk of late. Stay tuned!
Trilobites and Humans: Dr. Hovind has a slide of a trilobite which was "stepped on" by a human!
This looks suspiciously like one of the bogus Meister tracks (Conrad, 1981, pp.30-33). Mr. William J. Meister's specimen, found in 1968 near Antelope Springs, Utah, was offered as evidence that a trilobite was stepped on by a human wearing a boot with a heel. In a 1973 debate Reverend Boswell claimed that it had been tested by three laboratories around the world!
Sounds pretty impressive, huh? In fact, it is nothing more than a slab of Wheeler shale that has a fragment spalled off in the form of a footprint, which reveals a trilobite, Erathia kingi. To fully appreciate that fact, which has been established beyond any reasonable doubt, you should read Conrad's account.
The Olmo, Castenedolo, and Calaveras Skulls: Creationists have made some interesting claims about these fossils. In his book, the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter, Robert Kofahl stated that the above fossils were essentially modern and yet were found buried in very old strata. In The
Creationist Explanation, Kofahl and Kelly Segraves suggest that the above fossils were relegated to dusty museum closets and forgotten because they didn't fit the evolutionary scheme. Scientific Creationism, one of Henry Morris' classic works, states that the Castenedolo and Olmo skulls were found in undisturbed Pliocene strata in Italy. The Bible Science Newsletter had this to say (from: Conrad, 1982, p.15).
Another example of how people react when the evidence does not agree with their philosophical position is the treatment which the Castenedolo skull received. This totally modern type skull was found in Pliocene strata, dated at one-half million years. Because this discovery did not agree with preconceived ideas, it is rarely mentioned in textbooks or other literature. (p.5)
As the professional creationist watcher might suspect, there was more to the story. Conrad (1982, p.16) fills us in with a quote from the 1957 issue of Fossil Men, by Boule and Vallois:
The bones from Castenedolo, near Brescia in Italy, belong to several skeletons of men, women, and children and were found on various occasions in a shelly bed of sand and clay, of marine origin and of Pliocene age. In 1899, the discovery of a new human skeleton was the subject of an official report by Professor Issel, who then observed that the various fossils from this deposit were all impregnated with salt, with the sole exception of the human fossils... It seems certain that at Castenedolo we are dealing with more or less recent burials.
(Boule and Vallois, page 107)
Ernest Conrad goes on to inform us that in 1965 collagen tests demonstrated "that the Castenedolo materials were intrusive burials into the Astian clays." Radiocarbon dating in 1969 by the British Museum placed the cranial fossils in the Holocene. We're dealing with relatively recent fossils and they present no problem for evolution.
The creationists are also mistaken about the Olmo skull:
In the case of the Olmo materials, the creationists are in error from the beginning. The Olmo skull fits perfectly into the evolutionary chronology and is a legitimate specimen, for here we find a modern skull cap in upper-Pleistocene gravels--exactly where it ought to be.
(Conrad, 1982, p.16)
Based on various lab tests developed by the British Museum, it was determined that the Olmo skull was probably from the upper Pleistocene. It was relatively old, but it presents no embarrassment for evolution. It came from the Upper Paleolithic cultural period.
The Calaveras skull turned out to be a hoax! If you wish to read the details, see Conrad (1982, pp.17-18). Thus, Morris, Kofahl, and Segraves were taken in by a hoax! Take note, those of you who speak of Nebraska Man!
Neanderthal Man in Louisiana?: Why is it that skeptics like to see such claims documented in good, scientific journals? Take the case of the 11-foot Neanderthal Man, whose fossil was supposedly unearthed in Louisiana. This case, which was researched by Paul V. Heinrich, was sent to me by Ed Babinski via the Internet.
In 1951 the Morning Advocate stated:
A gravel contractor unearthed parts of a human skeleton 35 feet from the surface of the ground and an LSU geologist said today the bones may be prehistoric. ... J. W. West, of LSU and several student scouts viewed the bones but called their finds too inconclusive to make an official statement.
(Morning Advocate, January 9, 1951)
The above story was distributed all over the U. S. by the Associated Press. The State Times (now defunct) put it this way:
Sicily Island, Jan. 9, (UP) - Anthropologists and geologists studied today a collection of bones from a gravel pit that may show that the Neanderthal Man - an 11-foot tall ancestor of modern man - lived in North America about 50,000 years ago.
If so, it may cause revolutionary changes in anthropological thinking. ...
(State Times, Jan. 9, 1951)
Thus, we seem to have evidence for 11-foot giants roaming about Louisiana as documented by bones from the Plio-Pleistocene Citronell Formation within Louisiana. Unlike similar creationist stories, which are often extremely vague, this account comes with details. The specific geological formation is identified along with at least one of the scientists involved. We are even told that the site is about 5 miles west of the small town of Sicily Island. As Paul Heinrich noted, "Had the bones not been donated to and catalogued in the LSU Museum, another anomalous fossil human skeleton would have appeared on the scene." Creationists would have had a field day! "... shows like 'The Mysterious Origins of Man' and books like 'Forbidden Archaeology' would have had an example of 'human remains' of Plio-Pleistocene age being found in Louisiana and ignored by myopic paleontologists and archaeologists."
As it happened, those bones were donated to the LSU Museum and catalogued. Several years later they were examined in detail and proven to be those of a bear (Arata and Harmann, 1966). The newspapers and wire services lost interest and dropped the story. Newspapers are written to entertain their readers, not to set facts straight.