The following is a review of an article written by Robert T. Johnston (Link) and published in the journal Adventist Today with a forward by John McLarty (November 16, 2017 – Link). This article is directed against a 2016 article I wrote about the Navajo and Coconino Sandstone layers representing the actions of a Noachian-style Flood rather than the standard story of these sandstone layers representing millions of years of dry desert conditions and desert sand dunes (Link).
Robert Johnston is a retired industrial polymer chemist living in Lake Jackson, Texas (B.S. in Chemistry from Andrews University – 1977-1981).
Johnston’s comments are in blue and indented while my responses follow below each comment:
Table of Contents
- 1 Uphill Trackways:
- 2 Pinstripe laminations:
- 3 Asymmetrical Ripples:
- 4 Erosion:
- 5 Interdune Deposits:
- 5.1 Remains of Plants, Animals, and Common Trackways:
- 5.2 “Ten Observations” (plus a few):
- 5.2.1 Conifer Shoot:
- 5.2.2 Large Coniferous Trees in Interdune Areas:
- 5.2.3 Tufa Mounds:
- 5.2.4 Interleaved Carbonate Lamina:
- 5.2.5 Desiccation Cracks:
- 5.2.6 Crack-fills:
- 5.2.7 Enterolithic Textured Gypsum:
- 5.2.8 Massive Sandstone Flows with Laminated Carbonates:
- 5.2.9 Upright Stumps:
- 5.2.10 Aligned Tree Trunks:
- 5.2.11 Logs Beneath Interdune Carbonate Layers:
- 5.2.12 Root Mats, Leaves, Stems, Cones, Stromatolites, Burrows, etc:
- 6 Color Transformations Requiring “Millions of Years”:
- 7 Moqui Marbles:
- 8 Trackways on Single Foresets:
- 9 Trackways of Large Dinosaurs Going Down Hill:
- 10 No Features of Repeated Cycles of Flooding and Retreat:
- 11 Evidence of Dune Moisture:
- 12 Not Enough Time for Archaeological Record:
- 13 An Isolated Mystery Verses a Wide Range of Evidence:
- 14 Enriching Christian Faith While Not Denying Physical Realities:
- 15 Conclusions:
We have seen clear evidence at Moccasin Mountain for dinosaurs and other animals traveling in various directions, not all of which could have been uphill. So, where did Pitman (and many other creationists) get this idea of trackways only going uphill in the Navajo (or Coconino) sandstone?
In the “Uphill Only” section of his article, Pitman cited four references and linked to a previous article of his…
It appears that Pitman lifted Lockley’s statement about Brasilichnium out of context and applied it to all animals including dinosaurs, regardless of what surface they were on—in direct contradiction to the photographic evidence and written descriptions of dinosaur behavior that Lockley provided in the same article!
The second reference in Pitman’s discussion of uphill-only tracks is a 1944 paper by McKee entitled, “Tracks that go uphill”, the title of which Pitman drew attention to. I was unable to obtain a copy of this paper, but in a 1979 review of that work, McKee noted that in hundreds of trackways in the Coconino Sandstone, he had found only 3 exceptions to the observation that they went uphill.
As for McKee’s observations of uphill trackways from small animals in the Coconino Sandstone, they seem similar to Lockley’s observation of Brasilichnium tracks. Thus, McKee’s observations of small quadruped tracks should not be extrapolated to all animals any more than Lockley’s should be.
The last two references Pitman cited were publications by Loma Linda University professor Leonard Brand describing experiments with amphibians in sand beds, and comparison to Coconino trackways. The first paper, published in 1978, followed the earlier work of McKee in general aspect, except that Brand included underwater sand and several species in his study. He studied small animal tracks in Navajo type sand in the laboratory, using dry, moist, wet, and underwater sand, in sand beds with 25° slopes (a few experiments at 15° and 20°), and using 5 species of salamander and 3 species of lizard covering a range of size and weight. Brand reported generally similar uphill results to McKee for dry, damp and wet sand, but found the closest match to Coconino tracks to be tracks produced underwater. He concluded that this was not proof that Coconino Sandstone was water-deposited, but that it suggested further study of that hypothesis…
Comparing his laboratory results with fossil trackways, he concluded [Brand, 1996] that the Coconino trackways most closely resembled those made in subaqueous sand or subaerial damp sand, suggesting one of those substrates… That tracks are found only in a minor fraction of Coconino strata, despite all layers of that formation indicating the same environment, he considers to be further evidence supporting a Flood interpretation…
It is true that trackways found on foresets from a variety of animals seem to be predominantly uphill. However, downhill examples do exist.
Perhaps animals climbing to burrows may explain trackways up the dune face (with a primary dip of 25° in this instance, so less prone to avalanches), but it doesn’t explain why so few downslope trackways have been found for these animals. Thus, while suggestions have been offered for why Brasilichnium trackways are associated with dunes, a conclusive explanation for the relative scarcity of downslope tracks for certain small animals remains to be found… Another hypothesis is that animals may have preferred descending by a different route, via the stoss side or along the more gently descending crests; however, no modern behavioral analogs are known.
Moisture was present in the area during at least some of the time of dune migration, as indicated by the nature of track preservation and various dune features including slip grooves, cohered layers in avalanches/slumps, and small fluid escape features…
It seems as though we agree here. After all, even Johnston concludes that, “It is true that trackways found on foresets from a variety of animals seem to be predominantly uphill” and that, “no modern behavioral analogs are known”. He goes on to add that, “A conclusive explanation for the relative scarcity of downslope tracks for certain small animals remains to be found” – with a caveat that, “However, downhill examples do exist” (but with “only 3 exceptions” out of hundreds in the Coconino Sandstone observed by McKee).
Of course, I fail to see how the existence of “numerous tracks on horizontal surfaces, including interdune areas, in the Navajo… pointing in many directions” is at all relevant to this particular problem? – and I’m not really talking about the larger dinosaurs that can take 2+ meter strides in a single bound, but much smaller animals.
The cited evidence of fairly abundant generalized moisture is also interesting from an eolian perspective – especially considering that the trackways themselves seem to require, at minimum, that a significant amount of moisture was present within the sand at the time. Even if not actually under water at the time the prints were made, the sand dunes had to have been heavily saturated with water for such prints to be produced.
That tracks are found only in a minor fraction of Coconino strata, despite all layers of that formation indicating the same environment, he considers to be further evidence supporting a Flood interpretation (mainstream geologists associate track-containing strata with favorable paleoenvironments).
The finding of trackways in only a “minor fraction” of the Coconino Sandstone strata is actually quite problematic from a mainstream perspective where desert conditions are thought to have existed for millions of years. After all, trackways in modern deserts are very common and extensive – especially around “watering holes”. What reasonable mechanism could erase all features of such common trackways from the significant majority of strata within the Coconino (and Navajo) Sandstone layers?
In short, it seems much more difficult to reasonably explain the absence of trackways within these sandstone layers from the eolian perspective as compared to the Flood perspective – where the rarity of trackways would be explained by the relative rarity of sand dune exposure above the massive tides of the Flood (which would allow for such trackways and other trace fossils to be produced).
Fryberger and Schenk proposed pinstripes as a useful criterion for recognizing eolian deposits precisely because they are commonly produced from all three fine stratification processes in eolian dunes (grainfall; grainflow; and climbing ripple migration), whereas they are not commonly associated with other types of unidirectional current.
A stratum less than 1 cm thick is a lamina (the term ‘lamina’ is often used as a synonym of stratum). A pinstripe (or ‘pin stripe’) is a thin lamina, in the range of 1 mm thick (Link).
Pinstripes in sand deposits have long been thought by many to be diagnostic of eolian conditions ever since Hunter first proposed this criterion in 1977. Consider, for example, a section of a 2008 article by Gregory Frebourg:
The “climbing translatent ripples” or “pin-stripe laminations” are the only unequivocal criterion for discriminating eolian deposits (Loope and Abegg 2001). Pinstripe laminations are inversely graded laminations of a few millimetres thick formed by the progression of wind ripples (Hunter 1977).
Frebourg, Gregory, et al. Facies characteristics and diversity in carbonate eolianites, Facies, 2008, Vol. 54, no. 2, p. 175-191 (Link)
However, how reliable are pinstripe laminations as the “only unequivocal criterion” when it comes to diagnosing eolian environments? Well, as noted by Archer (1994) pinstripe laminations can be produced in certain underwater conditions. For example, pinstripe laminations are seen in the sands of barrier islands along tidal flats – along with herringbone cross-laminations (Link). Others have noted that pinstripe laminations are not actually definitive:
“The depositional criteria used to differentiate between aeolian and fluvial deposition in the South Morecambe Field are pinstripe lamination, good sorting and lack of rounded clay clasts, but these criteria are not definitive.” (Cowen, 1993)
Johnston counters by arguing that,
The pinstripes in the Navajo are not the same as the pinstripes in Archer’s work, and can readily be distinguished on the basis of textural differences and the presence of bi-directional flow indicators. If Pitman wishes to invoke the production of “tidal rhythmites” as an explanation for Navajo pinstripes, then he should also deal with the time implications of such cyclic deposits.
Of course, that’s exactly what I am arguing for – massive tidal actions that both ebb and flow over entire continents with periods of calm and exposure of the previously deposited sedimentary layers. Such periods of exposure would result in the opportunity for the creation of trace fossils – like trackways, raindrops, and even the occasional products of wind-generated formations like ripples on the surfaces of sand dunes that were previously put into place by massive tides or tsunami-type waves.
Similar features have recently been discovered on water-deposited sandstone on Mars, of all places. Yet, even though these sandstones are interpreted as being deposited by fluvial water currents, there are places were pinstriping can be found within these sandstones. And, what is the suggested interpretation of this particular feature in this setting?
“The highly parallel geometry of the laminations and their pinstripe character lead to the interpretation that this facies records the deposits of sub-critically climbing translatent wind ripples (Hunter, 1977a,b; Fryberger & Schenk, 1988) which suggests aeolian reworking of fluvially transported sands. Alternatively, this facies could be interpreted as suspension fallout lacustrine [lake] deposits, or upper flow regime planar bedding.”
Edgar, L. A., et al., (2017), Shaler: in situ analysis of a fluvial sedimentary deposit on Mars. Sedimentology. doi:10.1111/sed.12370 (Link)
This is what I would suggest for the Coconino and Navajo Sandstones as well – large fluvially transported sand dunes with periodic exposure to wind and the potential for occasional short periods of reworking by exposure to open air and wind.
Regarding the fairly rare ripple marks found in the Coconino and Navajo Sanstones, Johnston argued:
The ripple formation mechanism under wave oscillation, wave-formed ripples are generally symmetrical. This contrasts with eolian climbing ripples, which are asymmetrical, with a shallow stoss angle and steeper lee angle. Oscillation wave ripples also create different sedimentary structures than current (wind or flowing water) ripples do, unless there is a flow component. Asymmetrical ripples can form on beaches due to lapping wave action, but Hunter discussed these in his 1977 paper, noting that these are rarely so uniform as eolian climbing ripple deposits. Beach deposits also typically have marine detritus and other larger particles embedded in the sand.
Besides the relative rarity of such wave ripples within the sandstone layers in question, Johnston seems to admit that asymmetrical ripples can be formed by water, given that there is a “flow component”, which Johnston argues is “rare”. However, he follows this by noting that such asymmetrical ripples commonly form on beaches due to “lapping wave action” – which I myself have often observed to be quite uniform over large distances – even when the water is flowing in a single direction. Even Wikipedia notes that, “Current ripple marks, unidirectional ripples, or asymmetrical ripple marks are asymmetrical in profile, with a gentle up-current slope and a steeper down-current slope. The down-current slope is the angle of repose, which depends on the shape of the sediment. These commonly form in fluvial and aeolian depositional environments…” (Link). Clearly then, the asymmetry of ripple marks is not at all diagnostic of desert conditions vs. ripple marks formed by water deposition.
But what about the lack of “marine detritus” and other “larger particles” embedded in the sand? These particular sand dunes were transported and water-sorted over the span of almost an entire continent – which would explain its relative purity due to water sorting. Similar features can be found today in large underwater dunes.
Ironically, the larger context of Archer’s study raises even more difficult challenges to a short-chronology interpretation: a valley incised in putative Flood deposits whose base was filled with conglomerate containing “clasts and fossils eroded from older units exposed within the paleovalley.”
First off, these particular “paleovalleys” are not related to the Coconino or Navajo Sandstones, but are located in “eastern Kansas” as part of the Paleozoic Douglas Group.
Beyond this, however, erosion during the Noachian Flood is only to be expected during massive tidal actions that repeatedly flowed over entire continents. The simplistic idea that the Noachian Flood was a simple uniform rising of water is not an accurate understanding of the Noachian Flood. Rather, the Noachian Flood was a very complex catastrophe comprised of a great many local or regional repetitive catastrophic events taking place all around the globe for over a year.
Remains of Plants, Animals, and Common Trackways:
Interdune deposits in the Navajo Sandstone speak to its eolian origin, as well as to periodic rain or flooding in the paleoenvironment. The carbonates and evaporite pseudomorphs often included in these interdune successions, especially in their intimate association with clastic dune deposits, are particularly difficult to explain as Flood products, since they indicate deposition by chemical rather than mechanical processes. Siltstones are even more common, and indicate an abrupt change in transport energy from the adjacent dunes. These often contain mud cracks, reinforcing the evaporite evidence supporting episodic dessication, a dynamic difficult to reconcile with short-chronology Flood interpretations, given the number of interdune layers preserved vertically in the Navajo stratigraphy. Animal tracks are much more common in interdune deposits than in dune deposits. A limited number of animal fossils have also been located in interdunes, including dinosaurs and crocodilomorphs. Also found have been root casts, horsetail fossils and permineralized wood, indicating that plants grew there. It is significant that these are not found within undeformed dune deposits themselves. It is difficult to conceive of a Noachian Flood model—even with periodic advances and retreats as some creationists propose—that would account for the thickness of the sandstone deposits and the multiple, vertically spaced interdune layers within the Navajo, with time for these plants to grow and mature during Noachian Flood intervals…
Most roots are an average of 2.5 to 5 centimeters thick and roughly 30 centimeters long. Several roots were discovered to be over 3 meters in length and exhibit a branching or radiating pattern which suggest connecting either to each other or to a centralized point like a tree trunk.
I really don’t understand this as an issue?Of course the remains of plants and fairly rare animals would be concentrated in interdune deposits from a Noachian Flood perspective.
However, it does seem a bit problematic, from an eolian perspective, to have the occasional remains of creatures that live in water. After all, there Navajo Sandstone occasionally contains skeletal remains of unionid bivalves [mussels] (Bromley 1992), ostracodes [seed shrimp] and conchostracans [clam shrimp] (Rinehart et al. 2000) as well as actinopterygian fish (Frederickson and Davis, 2017).
As far as the relatively rare presence of roots and root casts, this does not necessarily mean that the plants actually grew in these locations – as is clear from places like Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone where the “root casts” of various trees are present, but are now known to have been transported by mud flows into these locations catastrophically (Link, Link, Link).
Johnston responds to this as follows:
Pitman claimed that these coniferous fossils are evidence of the Noachian Flood, arguing that upright stumps and trees were deposited by sinking upright from flood waters just as trees were in Yellowstone fossil forests (as interpreted by some creationists).
I’m sure Johnston meant to say, “as interpreted by mainstream geologists finally” – not just “some creationists”. Even Wikipedia presents this fairly new interpretation of the catastrophic formation of these layers of trees:
“Within Specimen Ridge, the Yellowstone Petrified Forest consists of a mixture of fossilized, in place (in situ) buried forests and beds of transported logs and stumps. The rare beds that contain buried forests were buried in place (in situ) by volcanic lahars and braided streams. The concentrations of fossilized upright stumps, flat-lying logs, and logs lying at various angles were transported from the higher slopes of adjacent volcanoes and buried by either volcanic lahars or braided and meandering streams. Notably, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, and other Quaternary and Holocene eruptions of other Cascade Range volcanoes have created virtually identical beds containing either the buried upright standing trunks of forests, transported logs and upright stumps, or a combination of both. These beds consist of a mixture of lahars and stream deposits. Prehistoric logs and upright trunks that are buried in Late Pleistocene lahar and stream deposits of Mount St. Helens were found to be the initial stages of being naturally petrified by silica. (Link)
The National Park Service also issued a very similar statement (February, 2015):
Around 1900, F. H. Knowlton proposed the theory that the petrified trees on Specimen Ridge were forests petrified in place. His theory remained dominant through most of the 20th century. A more recent theory proposes the trees were uprooted by volcanic debris flows and transported to lower elevations. The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens supported this idea. Its mud flows transported trees to lower elevations and deposited some trees upright—similar to what you see on Specimen Ridge. (Link)
It’s interesting that the National Park Service would cite Mt. St. Helens as one of the reasons why their story for the formation of the layers as Specimen Ridge has changed so significantly – since creationists have long cited this very same evidence very since the eruption and aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens catastrophe.
Another interesting reason as to why their story changed is because the National Park Service finally allowed a geological team to study the tree rings at Specimen Ridge and found evidence the trees in the different layers were actually the same age and had experienced the same weather patterns at the same time. In other words, “These trees grew together.” (Link, Link).
This the same thing that Dr. Michael Arct discovered in 1991 when he presented his PhD dissertation (building upon research that he had been doing since 1979) on the trees in Specimen Ridge. He sampled fourteen fossil trees at different levels in a twenty-three foot section of the Yellowstone formations. Analysis showed that all fourteen trees matched and that ten of them died at the same time. The other four trees died seven, four, three, and two years before the other ten died. The theories of ancient formation no longer seem to match the facts available (Link).
Now, this is exactly what creationists have been saying all along (Link), and it would be most interesting if such tree ring analyses could also performed for the fossil trees buried in various layers of the Navajo Sandstone. I would hazard that all of these trees also lived at the same time as well. Unfortunately, however, the Navajo coniferous trees do not have tree rings (Link) – which is quite strange in and of itself given the uniformitarian perspective of regular annual seasons.
The absence of growth rings in the wood of the 15 sampled trunks [in the Navajo Sandstone] further indicates that there was little or no seasonal variation in temperature or water supply throughout the year capable of inducing cambial dormancy (Creber and Chaloner 1984)…
Given the palaeotropical setting (Smith et al. 1994), absence of significant temperature fluctuation is not surprising. However, in the light of the strongly monsoonal rainfall regime inferred for the region based on sedimentary data (Chandler et al. 1992; Parrish 1993b; Loope et al. 2001, 2004), the absence of drought-induced growth rings is striking; tropical conifers growing in such settings today commonly produce growth rings (Ash 1983; Jacoby 1989; Schweingruber 1992).
The explanation for this strange lack of tree rings is that perhaps these trees had a sustained water supply or were less sensative to drought conditions:
However, assuming the trees grew in waterlogged soils, it is possible that they may have been buffered from seasonal variations in rainfall (Demko et al. 1998). In addition, growth under elevated atmospheric CO2 levels (Berner 1994; Retallack 2001) may have significantly increased water-use efficiency (Beerling 1998) such that the trees were less drought sensitive. (Parrish, 2007)
This still seems a bit problematic for the eolian perspective given the assumption of not only generally dry desert conditions, but consistent annual wet and dry periods during the formation of the Navajo sand dunes (illustrated in the photo to the right).
From the Flood perspective, on the other hand, it could be that these trees all grew when the entire world at a given latitude and altitude was much more uniform with regard to temperature and available moisture throughout the year before the Flood came along.
In any case, it was very unfortunate for many Christians that for over 100 years mainstream geologists argued that the layers of trees at Specimen Ridge actually represented entire forests that were sequentially buried over long periods of time as one forest grew on top of the buried remains of the earlier forests. This story was very unfortunate because it destroyed the faith of many in the church, including some friends of mine, who could not see how to discount or even question the prevailing view of the “experts” of the day and see for themselves that Specimen Ridge was actually a story of rapid shortly-spaced catastrophes. This correct understanding has only recently being realized by mainstream geologists.
“Ten Observations” (plus a few):
However, Pitman failed to mention at least ten observations from this study that are difficult to reconcile with a Noachian Flood interpretation:
(1) A “conifer shoot with helically arranged, broad-based leaves” was found at the site.
So? Conifer and deciduous shoots and leaves were also found at Specimen Ridge as well.
Large Coniferous Trees in Interdune Areas:
(2) The large coniferous trees were only found in wet interdune areas in a small region where springs enabled their growth (if Flood-deposited, one would expect them to be distributed widely throughout the formation, and not limited to interdune areas and mass flow areas of dunes).
A flood would also tend to deposit trees in interdune areas. At first the trees would be floating horizontally in the flood waters. As the water receded, they would tend to roll down the sandy hills and remain in the smaller and smaller bodies of water that formed in the interdune areas. Eventually, then, they would become water logged and sink in a vertical orientation that resembles a “position of growth”, but stripped of bark and branches. Such a universal lack of bark and branches would not be expected from the eolian perspective where at least some trees should have been preserved by the moving sand dunes “in the position of growth” gradually enough to have preserved the bark of the trees and at least some portion of the branches as well. Of course, this would not be the case for massive flooding events which would have stripped the bark and branches away from the trees (as was the case at Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone).
A unique feature that also strongly favors this conclusion is that the trees found in the Navajo show many similar features as do the Specimen Ridge trees – to predictably include a “preferred orientation in long-axis direction of the trunks. In one bed, trunks are aligned in a dominantly NNE–SSW orientation, whereas in a second bed at another locality, trunks exhibit a dominantly NW–SE orientation” (Parrish, 2007). This very same type of orientation can also be seen at Specimen Ridge. Of course, such orientation is not found in any modern desert oasis today.
Beyond this, the finding of large numbers of large coniferous trees seems more than a bit problematic for the eolian story of the Navajo Sandstone. Where is there any kind of modern equivalent for such forested deserts? – with large sand dunes? Rather, the features associated with these trees are much more consistent with a Noachian-style series of flooding events.
“The lenticular bodies of massive sandstone described here are interpreted as mass flow deposits (cf. Herries 1993). This is based on their massive nature, channelled geometry that infill hollows between preserved aeolian dunes, and very large carbonate-suspended clasts. Given that cohesionless aeolian sand was the main material available for transport, the sediment must have moved as a fluidized mass flow, buoyed up by high pore pressure (Boggs 2001). Mass flow deposits possibly resulted from heavy downpours of rain or seismic events, which led to the sudden collapse of dune slip-faces…
The occurrence of large conifers over a wide area of the Navajo Sandstone Formation in south-east Utah may record long-lived pluvial episodes during which the dune field stabilized, or reflect the erg-margin position of the localities.”
Parish and Falcon-Lang, 2007 (Link)
“Long-lived pluvial episodes”? – in deserts with massive dunes? Doesn’t sound much like any kind of desert I’ve ever heard of. Given such conditions, the dune fields would not only stabilize, but would start to support abundant plant and animal life. There simply is no such evidence that this happened in these regions. Rather, these features are much more easily explained as massive flood deposits of truly Noachian proportions. Even a number of sizable fossilized actinopterygian fish are being found in the Navajo Sandstone (Frederickson and Davis, 2017). It must have been a very very special “desert” indeed!
(3) There were associated tufa (carbonate spring) mounds, up to 2 m high and 6 m diameter, made of multiple accretionary carbonate layers with brecciated interiors, suggesting predominantly sub-aerial development. (Building up that large a mound through calcite precipitation from spring water takes time).
It wouldn’t take much time given the background of a massive flood. A massive flood can very quickly produce limestone from water that is heavily saturated with carbonate minerals. Given such a situation, there will be very rapid precipitation at ambient temperatures.
Interleaved Carbonate Lamina:
(4) Interdune beds with sandstone and siltstone lamina interleaved with carbonate lamina.
Again, I fail to see this as a problem for a waxing and waning flood…
(5) Interdune beds with “desiccation cracks with upturned edges”, indicating that the interdune lakes periodically dried out.
Beyond the fact that cracking that is similar to “desiccation cracks” can be produced under water (known as syneresis cracks), I’ve already noted that the Flood waters did recede on multiple occasions in various places for short periods of time – time enough to dry out the surfaces of sand and mud layers.
(6) Interdune “crack-fills containing red siltstone and sandstone”.
Again, I fail to see the point here? As noted in my original article on this topic (Link), cracking of mudstone and the infilling of these cracks with sediment seems quite problematic for the uniformitarian perspective. How so? Well, take, for example, the cracking of the Hermit Shale that underlies the Coconino Sandstone layer. Cracks in these underlying mudstone shales formed after the overlying layers were already formed. That is why these cracks are filled only with material from the overlying layer (pure Coconino Sandstone in the case of the Hermit Shale cracks).
Consider also that there is no significant erosion between the Coconino Sandstone layer and either the layer above it (the Toroweap Formation) or the layer below it (the Hermit Formation). All of these layers formed like sheets of glass – one on top of the other. Isn’t it strange that significant portions of these layers have not been weathered away to be filled in by overlying layers in an uneven way? If the Hermit Formation took millions of years to form, which would surely turn the layers in this formation into solid rock in a small fraction of this time, how did such deep cracks form in solid rock in such a way that the surface was completely flat and yet the cracks themselves were filled with pure Coconino sandstone? One would think that if such formations and characteristics took very long periods of time to form that the boundary between the Hermit Formation and the Coconino sandstone would have been blurred by “bioturbation”, disturbed in an uneven way by erosion, and that the cracks found in the Hermit shale would have been filled with other contaminants besides pure Coconino sandstone.
Of course, these findings are not strange if the layers were all formed rapidly and catastrophically by water deposition instead of over vast expanses of time.
Interestingly, in 2010 Whitmore published a paper (Link) arguing that most of the cracks in the Hermit shale were not causes by desiccation, but by downward clastic dikes – which would require that the Coconino Sandstone not be cemented or consolidated when these clastic events occurred. This, of course, would much more easily explain the purity of the Coconino Sandstone that fills these cracks in the Hermit Shale – as well as numerous other features detailed in the paper (Whitmore, 2010).
Enterolithic Textured Gypsum:
(7) “[E]nterolithic texture at one locality; this feature forms by the repeated dehydration and hydration of massive gypsum”.
Johnston must realize, of course, that there are also other ways that anhydrite gypsum can form enterolithic features. When gypsum is buried and the temperature rises above 60° C, it is transformed to an anhydrite, which often has nodular and enterolithic texture. This process is completed at depths of around 1000 meters. However, when the pore fluids are saline, the process can be complete at depths as shallow as 1-2 meters (Hosler, 1979; Shearman, 1985; Hovorka, 1988). CaSO4-saturated water is released upon burial as the gypsum is transformed into an anhydrite form (Link).
Dean et al. (1975) concluded that this laminated deepwater gypsum had been converted to nodular and contorted nodular beds by the recrystallization of gypsum to anhydrite upon burial and not during evaporative drawdown.
Generally then, enterolithic and nodular anhydrite is “not environmentally diagnostic” since it can form in several different ways; 1) in the supratidal zone of an Arabian Gulf sabkha, 2) during burial as gypsum dehydrates with subsequent compaction to form an anhydrite, 3) as a near surface, soft sediment slumping into the basin, 4) crumpling as diagenetic anhydrite hydrates back to gypsum – a 64% volume increase and 5) as shallow-burial features where laminar units slump into dissolution voids. (Link).
Massive Sandstone Flows with Laminated Carbonates:
(8) The “massive [non-eolian] sandstone units, up to 17 m thick” that for several reasons were interpreted as mass flow deposits, possibly triggered by earthquakes, contained “common, metre-sized intraclasts of laminated carbonate”.
And the significance of this is? – in regard to countering a Flood scenario? What’s wrong with “mass flow” “non-eolian” deposits occurring during periods when the flood waters recede? – carrying pre-formed laminated carbonates with them? Some of the largest mass flows are found in the Navajo Sandstone covering large areas and spanning “several tens of vertical meters or more”. These are thought to represent catastrophic flooding episodes from water released by “dune dams” with subsequent flooding of widespread areas (Eisenberg, 2003).
I’m sorry, but this seems to fit rather nicely with a year-long Noachian-style Flood that would have been comprised of a repetitive series of flooding events all over the world.
(9) Upright stumps were found in the carbonate beds “that are almost certainly in growth position” as evidenced in part by rhizoturbation in the underlying sandstone from which the trees apparently grew, and carbonate accretions around the trunk where it penetrated the carbonate bed.
Carbonate accretions extended slightly—up to 6 cm—above the bed of surrounding carbonate units. These observations suggest gradual build-up of carbonate layers while the trunk was in place (already drowned and rotting), not sediment vertically deposited on a waterlogged stump that sank upright from Flood waters.
As previously discussed, the “position of growth” here was due to how trees naturally sink in water in the vertical position with the root ball oriented in a downward position (as seen in the Specimen Ridge fossilized trees illustrated to the right). The carbonates would naturally form higher up around the already partially buried tree as the water continued to recede for a while to the point of carbonate supersaturation.
Also, the sandstone closely associated with the upright stumps in the Navajo isn’t really as one would expect if these trees actually grew in these particular locations. Consider, for example, the following observations:
“The sandstone beneath the stump bases may be locally silty, but more typically is free of fine-grained sediment, consisting of friable, massive sandstone. Sandstone within 1 m below the friable sandstone commonly shows little disturbance of aeolian sedimentary structures other than slight rhizoturbation. Silicified roots were noted in the sandstone only at one locality, where their relationship with the overlying limestone or any vertical trunk could not be determined.” (Parish, 2007)
That doesn’t sound much like a true “position of growth” where only rare rootlets are associated with these upright stumps and there is very little if any associated bioturbation of the closely associated sandstone. These features are very similar to those found at Specimen Ridge.
What is also problematic here, with respect to the eolian story for these sand dunes, is the consistent orientation of these trees with respect to water flow. It is also a bit difficult from the eolian perspective to explain the near complete lack of bark and branches.
Consider again that all of these features cited by Johnston were once commonly used to argue for the in situ growth of the trees at Specimen Ridge – as story that is now known to be an incorrect interpretation of the actual evidence.
Aligned Tree Trunks:
(10) Tree trunks associated with mass flow deposits were aligned with those mass flows, and the two mass flows were almost perpendicular to one another despite being located in the same region.
And how does this alignment and consistent orientation not speak to a catastrophic positioning of these tree trunks? – within massive flows? – not of eolian origin?
Logs Beneath Interdune Carbonate Layers:
In multiple instances, logs were found lying in the underlying sandstone beneath interdune/lakebed carbonate layers. In a location with logs buried in the sandstone under a carbonate unit, a therapod track was found on the upper surface of the carbonate (dinosaur tracks are frequently found in interdune/carbonate areas, but these are hard to reconcile with logs under the same carbonate layers, if those logs were Noachian Flood-waterlogged trees that eventually sank to the bottom, as Pitman proposed).
How is this a problem from the Flood perspective? These logs simply sank and were buried by sand in an interdune area (a rather obvious location for waterlogged logs to end up during a flood) where the water receded at some point, became supersaturated with carbonates, produced a carbonate layer as the water continued to receded, and was then walked upon by some therapods before the next round of flooding to this region preserved these trackways in fine detail.
Root Mats, Leaves, Stems, Cones, Stromatolites, Burrows, etc:
A fossilized root mat was found atop a carbonate unit at one site, where an interdune lake dried enough for plants to grow on the lakebed. Other biota from these sites, besides logs and stumps, includes leaves, stems, cones, stromatolites, burrows, and riparian assemblages of palynomorphs and microfossils.
Very similar features are found at Specimen Ridge. Yet, we know that these features were produced either catastrophically or very quickly – not over long periods of time. What is interesting about these sites is that broad leaves are preserved much more commonly than are pine needles – even in regions where logs of pine trees predominate.
Pollen is another problem. Trees with wind-transported pollen should have left a pollen record in the forest floor, but little or no pollen is generally found in these dune regions – similar to the situation at Specimen Ridge. Modern forest floors contain pollen in abundance inversely proportional to the distance from the source trees especially trees for which wind is the pollen-transporting agent. Research done on four levels of Specimen Creek Petrified Forest showed no positive correlation between fossil pollen abundance and the proximity of possible source trees.
The organic layers themselves also show no significant decay of the leaves and other organic materials as one goes from top to bottom. In a real forest floor, organic material decays. Evidently, this does not happen in the “forests” or desert “oases” of the past because the leaves at the bottom of organic layers are just as well formed as preserved as the leaves at the tops of these organic layers.
Also, outside of very limited burrows, it is very uncommon to find other remains of animal life in these interdune “oases” – remains such as bones, eggs, teeth, scales, molted skins, castings, droppings, etc., which would qualify as evidence of normal animal life in these areas. Considering that delicate plant parts are excellently preserved, animal remains should also have been preserved if they were present living normal lives in these locations.
Also, burrows and bioturbation in general are too rare to be consistent with a normal long-term desert environment. Overall, there is far far less bioturbation than would be expected from the eolian perspective.
Color Transformations Requiring “Millions of Years”:
Bleached rock generally overlies red rock, suggesting a buoyant reducing fluid (e.g., hydrocarbon). We observed this directly in Snow Canyon near St. George (Figure 8). Beitler et al. found evidence for multiple cycles of oxidation/reduction requiring transport of reducing fluids through the rock over a distance of up to several kilometers. Based on actualistic fluid-flow and chemical reaction rates, the diagenetic processes are estimated to have taken several million years to complete.
I’m sorry, but these estimates are based on current amounts of water flow through the porous rocks in these regions. They are not based on the amount of water that would be available in a massive Flood scenario or the immediate aftermath – a scenario that would not require far far less than “millions of years” to produce the same features as we see today.
Whether or not one wishes to accept this specific interpretation, any viable scientific model must account for the complex geochemistry involved, including deposition of the sand dunes without widespread inclusion of organic material (a requirement that seems difficult to reconcile with the subaqueous dune formation interpretation of some creationists, since they also argue that a massive amount of organic material was buried by Flood waters to create coal, oil and gas)…
Again, underwater dunes can be very pure and largely free of organic materials due to water sorting of the sand. The assumption that a worldwide Noachian-style Flood would produce homogenous layers with uniform features is misguided. The Noachian Flood was complex and produced complex features around the world.
…formation of the iron coatings around each quartz grain in an oxidizing environment (free of organic material), compaction, lithification of the rock, permeation by hydrocarbon (which itself was formed over an extended period), transport of reduced iron to a region of oxidizing fluid and formation of crystalline iron oxide aggregates and iron concretions…
None of these features requires long periods of time – not even close to millions of years of time. Compaction and lithification can take place rapidly – especially given a catastrophic situation like a worldwide Flood which deposited hundreds of meters of sedimentary layers rapidly over these sandstone layers…
…erosion to the modern topography (and in Snow Canyon, multiple sequentially formed canyons and inverted valleys after volcanic lava flows capped exposed sandstone surfaces), followed in places by coating with desert varnish…
And how is erosion a problem? – from the Noachian perspective? How are lava flows an issue? or “desert varnish”? Color can change shortly after deposition, as shown, for example, by Walker (1967) and Folk (1976). Moberly and Klein (1976) found that oxidation and bacterial action caused permanent color changes when fresh sediments, such as deep sea cores, are exposed to the air (Link).
Consider also that similar arguments were once used to support the claim that the Scablands of Oregon and Washington State also took millions of years to produce. It took J Harlen Bretz many decades of argument before mainstream geologists finally accepted the reality that these features can be produced catastrophically (Link).
The Grand Canyon also shows many features of being carved out catastrophically, even though this particular geologic feature was likely produced well after the Noachian Flood (as was the case for the Scablands) (Link).
And, as noted in last year’s report, some of this colored and lithified sandstone is found in lithified conglomerate formed from later supposed “Flood” deposits, with this conglomerate itself being found within outcrops that have been extensively eroded and coated with desert varnish. It is a lot to compress into 4500 years, especially if you want to leave time for the archeological record on top of all this geological transformation!
Again, I fail to see the significance here of a lithified conglomerate formed by overlying sedimentary rock? Of course the Flood continued to deposit sedimentary rock over the tops of the Coconino and Navajo Sandstone layers. The argument that this could not have been done rapidly or that even the overlying “archaeological record” is too old is mistaken and is based on a very narrow understanding of how elapsed time can be measured (Link, Link).
A further discussion of the popular claims regarding the archaeological record vs. the claims of the Bible can be found below (Link).
Add to these time considerations the problem of moki marbles and their accumulation on the surface of sandstone outcrops. As noted above, concretions form as a result of an extended geochemical process, with moki marbles themselves estimated to have formed within the last 25 million years. These concretions are formed within the rock. Yet, today they may be found in collections on rock surfaces, due to erosion of the rock around the erosion-resistant concretions. However, the massive erosion of the Navajo Sandstone is attributed by some creationists to catastrophic flooding associated with Noah’s Flood (including shortly afterwards). Pitman argued that the Grand Canyon was formed by such flooding and resultant erosion before the sediment was yet lithified. With the Navajo lying higher in the geologic column than the Grand Canyon, it must have been eroded at or before the time the Grand Canyon was eroded, if the erosion occurred after all sediment layers were deposited. Yet, if moki marbles are the products of an extended geochemical process, how could they have even existed when the erosion that exposed them allegedly occurred?
Moqui Marbles are sandstone balls cemented by a hard shell of iron oxide minerals. Ironically, these marbles have been used as evidence for water on Mars (the so-called Martian blueberries).
Again, the dating of these marbles is based on radiometric dating methods. The iron oxide minerals coating these marbles contain traces of radioactive uranium and thorium, and these decay by expelling helium – which forms the basis of the “clock”. Unfortunately, these clocks are unreliable in that they are not, among other reasons, closed systems and the starting conditions are unknowable (Link).
In any case, however, this has nothing to do with how fast these marble-like concretions can form – which is very rapidly given the right conditions. Beyond this, the production of such marbles does not require extensive lithification of the surrounding rock. Of course, it is possible that the sedimentary layers had started to lithify by the time that the Grand Canyon was catastrophically produced – likely hundreds of years after the Noachian Flood do to subsequent massive regional floods. Massive sheets of rapidly moving water are not easily resisted – even by lithified solid sedimentary rock.
Clastic Pipes and Dykes:
Beyond this, we know that these sandy layers were not lithified by the time the hundreds of meters of overlying sediments were deposited. After all, structures such as clastic pipes and dykes cannot form from sedimentary layers that are already lithified.
A clastic dike is formed when a layer of liquefied sediment squirts up into an overlying layer or layers of sediment. This only happens in modern flooding and mudslides if the lower mud layer or sandy layer was still soft and recently deposited just before additional layers were added on top of it. The extreme pressure of sedimentary layering on top of a soft layer causes the soft layer to “squirt up” at intervals through the layers above it (Link).
Trackways on Single Foresets:
In summary, the layout of the Moccasin Mountain site and the track locations in relation to the foresets strongly support an interpretation of many years of eolian deposition and repeated episodes of animal movement. Even if one chooses to reject the sedimentological evidence and argue that the dunes were created by a Noachian Flood, there still remains the undeniable implication that the animals walked across the dune at different times (since even subaqueously deposited foresets are deposited sequentially over time). Therefore, either there were multiple episodic flooding events followed by water retreat, or at least some of the animals walked underwater. And, when constructing a Flood timeline, all of this would have to be squeezed into an extremely short time since there were many strata above and below that also needed time to form their structures and fossils…
The trampled areas were always within a given foreset, with trampled foresets separated from each other by other foresets with no visible tracks. This suggests a possibly seasonal periodicity for the reactivation surfaces and track-making (or at least track preservation), perhaps tied to precipitation cycles. In any case, this periodic spacing challenges Flood interpretations.
Of course foresets are produced sequentially over time. But why would this be a problem from the Flood perspective? How long did it take the an animal to walk a given distance to produce the trackway(s) in question? Not more than a minute – right? Johnston himself notes that, “Two of the Kayentapus trackways appeared to lie in adjoining foresets, so must have been made relatively close together in time.” Very closely in time indeed… even minutes apart. He really can’t argue otherwise with any certainty. So, how is this at all significant with regard to countering the Flood model?
Trackways of Large Dinosaurs Going Down Hill:
However, the two trackways pointed in opposite directions. This example clearly shows that not all dinosaur tracks go uphill. To the extent one track angled uphill, the other obviously was angling downhill. The two parallel tracks in opposite directions oblique to the lee face suggest animals following customary terrain features, not frantically escaping rising water.
Of course not all trackways go uphill. However, when one is not talking about dinosaurs with 6-foot strides, very few of the trackways produced by smaller quadrupeds go downhill – which is quite unexpected given a truly eolian environment. Larger dinosaurs capable of 6-foot strides, and perhaps capable of swimming for a while, would probably be a bit less concerned with rising water…
Trackways Before Body Fossils:
What is interesting about the trackways of larger dinosaurs, however, is a paper by Leonard Brand that shows that the trackways of dinosaurs are more common in layers below the layers where the body fossils of these dinosaurs are found. This feature is much more consistent with a global watery catastrophe than with the uniformitarian stories of long periods of eolian conditions (Link).
No Features of Repeated Cycles of Flooding and Retreat:
The only way these dune foresets could have been deposited subaqueously without the trackmakers being underwater would be if the area underwent repeated cycles of flooding and retreat, with animals surviving each flooding event and making tracks during the dryer cycles. However, that scenario would produce distinctive sedimentary structures, such as strand lines, lag deposits, oscillation ripples, erosional ravinement and undercutting of slopes, and current ripples in the dune corridors—none of which are observed.
Sand dunes are very porous. Gradually retreating water would not produce significant currents as the water simply seeped down through the sand in a steady manner generally devoid of strand lines, lag deposits or uneven erosional features.
However, there are features of the broad flow of water in these sandstone layers, such as parting lineation in particular (Visher, 1990). And, parting lineation “is common on bedding surfaces throughout the Navajo… This feature has not been found associated with eolian transport or avalanche surfaces. The presence of this structure on the surfaces of foresets more than 30 m long, and 10 m high hardly is possible in an ephemeral stream as suggested by Picard.” (Visher, 1977).
The same is true today. Such parting lineation seems unique to the action of water on the surface of sand. Parting lineation is most commonly found on the beach where it forms in flat, wet sediments. Parting lineation can also be created in dewatering tidal channels. It can be seen in either depositional or mildly erosive environments. However, it is not seen on desert dunes or the action of wind on sandy surfaces.
Evidence of Dune Moisture:
The sand at Moccasin Mountain at the time and areas of track formation has been considered to have been damp, but not dry or underwater…
For an entire layer to slide as a unit like this, it must have cohesion. This suggests that this foreset layer was neither dry nor saturated with water, but was sufficiently moist for cohesion without slumping or disintegrating…
Indicative of dune subsurface moisture was the presence of small fluid escape features. Figure 24 shows the location of a fluid escape pipe. When wet sand is cyclically stressed, such as by an earthquake, the grains of loosely packed sand become packed more tightly, so that the bed of sand collapses (volume reduction on the order of 10% or more). Water displaced from the sand bed is ejected upwards under pressure, fluidizing sand above it. Once the water has ejected, the column of sand through which the water escaped collapses, ultimately ending up at a lower elevation than it was originally. As the column collapses, sand compositional and morphological features may be preserved, so that characteristics of higher foresets are now at the level of matching downslope layers. Once again, this suggests a dune with groundwater nearby, but not fully saturated with water either (there was cohesion in the surrounding sand).
Again, no one is arguing here against times of exposure of the sand when the Flood waters receded on occasion. However, the very fact that this sand was so uniformly wet is quite telling. This is not like a modern eolian environment where the sand remains so consistently and uniformly damp so as to preserve footprints in such fine detail for very extended periods of time. Tell me, why are no trackways that were clearly created on dry sand preserved in these sandstone layers? – since, reasonably, these would be the most common types of trackways created in a desert? Why do all of the preserved trackways have the appearance of being created on very wet or damp sand?
Creationist arguments against eolian interpretations because certain features require water are misplaced. Mainstream geological research encompasses considerable evidence for groundwater and even surface water-related features in eolian dunes. Gerald Bryant has extensively documented fluid escape features preserved in the Navajo, along with interdune deposits where moisture played a role in trapping fine particles and forming dense interdune layers. Thus, there is no contradiction between preservation of dinosaur tracks in moist sand and the view that these were eolian dunes.
What is inconsistent here is the uniformity and persistence of the water within these dunes – not just in the interdune areas (which is far more common by itself than in equivalent modern desert regions where water is not present in almost every dune depression). In fact, given the suggested movement of the dunes at a rate of around one meter per year, it is amazing, from the eolian perspective, that trackways were preserved nearly as commonly as they are. I mean, if these dunes must be fairly heavily saturated with water in order to preserve such finely detailed footprints, such conditions would only be expected to occur very rarely in a truly desert environment – rare enough to be consistently destroyed before the sand dunes could be permanently preserved and lithified.
What one should expect, from an eolian perspective, is the common preservation of poorly defined footprints and trace fossils that are much more commonly produced on dry desert sand dunes today. Yet, even these are lacking since the footprints that are available are present on only a small minority of the exposed sandstone surfaces.
Not Enough Time for Archaeological Record:
Even if one accepts a relatively short chronology, there isn’t enough time for post-Flood geological processes and the subsequent history revealed in the archaeological record to fit within the 4500 year post-Flood timeline many biblical literalists insist the Bible describes.
I’m not aware of any significant difficulties in this regard since the archaeological record, (and even the legends of many ancient civilizations regarding the creation of humanity) is remarkably consistent with a recent arrival of human civilization on this planet. Also, the archaeological record has actually confirmed many of the historical claims of the Bible despite often contrary claims of higher critics. The historical claims of archaeologists that have contradicted the claims of the Bible have, time and again, proven to be mistaken while the claims of the Bible have proven to be correct as new information comes to light – in the face of its “higher critics”. I’m sorry, but nothing I’ve read seems to me to carry significant weight compared to the strong weight of evidence that favors the Bible as the most accurate historical record we have – as far as I’ve been able to tell anyway.
Now, the usual arguments presented for the archaeological record contradicting the Biblical record are based on some form of tree ring dating or radiocarbon dating (or occasionally amino acid racemization dating or other less common dating techniques – Link). The problem is that none of these dating techniques is truly independent or entirely reliable or consistent over time. Various forms of calibration are required, which ends up producing a form of circular reasoning – where different dating methods end up being calibrated against each other (Link). For example, the ratio of atmospheric 14C to 12C doesn’t stay the same over time, but changes. Also, there are regional variations in the ratio that must be considered. This is why carbon-14 dating isn’t an entirely independent dating method, but requires calibration against other dating methods – like various historically-derived events and tree-ring dating for instance (Link). Of course, tree ring dating is in turn calibrated by other dating techniques, primarily carbon-14 dating – which is just a bit circular. Also, attempts to use amino acid racemization rates as a dating method with efforts to help to calibrate radiocarbon dating have failed. AAR dating methods have themselves also turned out to require calibration by radiocarbon dating (Link).
As an interesting aside, note that many ancient cultures also have a similar date for creation of less than 10k years. The Anglo-Saxons, for instance, start history 5,200 years before Christ (according to the Laud and Parker Chronicles). The Nennius’s record of the ancient British history has 5,228 years from creation to Christ, the Irish chronology has a date of about 4000 B.C. for creation, the Egyptians 6081 B.C., the Chinese 6157 B.C., the Samarians 4427 B.C., and the Mayan calendar began September 6, 3114 B.C., with a “Great Flood” occurring around this time as well.
An Isolated Mystery Verses a Wide Range of Evidence:
An isolated mystery cannot successfully overturn a paradigm supported by a wide range of evidence. Faced with the extensive breadth and depth of evidence supporting a long chronology for life on Earth, most scientists find YLC, let alone YEC, untenable. Asserting that new scientific breakthroughs will eventually support the YLC view is analogous to asserting that given enough time, scientists will realize that Earth is flat after all.
It seems to me as though Johnston has the shoe on the wrong foot here. He may not be aware, but the evidence for a recent arrival of life on this planet is truly overwhelming for those who carefully consider the evidence in hand – and a few inconclusive features of some sandstone layers isn’t going to overturn the very clear nature of this conclusion or make those who take the Bible seriously start to believe the magical Darwinian story that this world is equivalent to a “Flat Earth”… and that rivers can flow uphill and everything!
For starters, the Darwinian mechanism is clearly limited in its creative potential to the very lowest levels of functional complexity. Even given a practical eternity of time, random genetic mutations and natural selection cannot move fast enough through sequence/structure space to find a novel functionally-beneficial protein-based system that requires a minimum of more than 1000 specifically arranged amino residues. It just doesn’t happen and, statistically, it is very unlikely to ever happen this side of trillions upon trillions of years of time.
Beyond this, genetic mutations are largely detrimental with a ratio of detrimental vs. potentially beneficial mutations of at least 1000 to 1. And, in each generation the a human child suffers around 100 new point mutations. Even before the recent genome projects significantly reduced the amount of “junk DNA” from the human genome, at least 3 or 4 of these mutations were thought to be functional (and therefore detrimental). In order to keep up with this rate of detrimental mutations, the average woman would have to give birth to over 20 offspring in order for two of them to survive without an increased detrimental mutation load (which implies a very high required death rate). Of course, with the percent of functional DNA moving from around 2% to at least 20%, the number of required offspring needed to avoid eventual genetic meltdown for humans is now in the thousands.
Clearly then, humanity is headed for eventual genetic meltdown and extinction – and always has been since we humans arrived on this planet (after the Fall). And, the same thing is true for all slowly reproducing creatures (like all birds and mammals for instance).
We are not heading uphill as Johnston and other Darwinian evolutionists are claiming. Rather, we are rapidly headed in a downhill direction. In fact, our genetic degeneration is so rapid that there is no rational way that we could have existed even one million years on this planet without first going extinct.
Do we even need to mention the existence of original soft tissues, antigenic proteins, fragments of DNA, and even high levels of radiocarbon in many dinosaur bones? – features that shouldn’t be present for even a million years much less many tens of millions of years?
Please, Johnston and those convinced by the Darwinian story of origins either have a lot to learn or are entirely driven by a personal form of philosophical naturalism – not science.
Enriching Christian Faith While Not Denying Physical Realities:
If theology can improve science, as creationists claim, then why can’t fresh perspectives from science improve theology? Perhaps a new understanding can be found that enriches Christian faith while not denying physical realities.
The notion of millions of years of suffering and death on this planet with God creating via an extremely painful method of random mutations and natural selection paints God in a most impotent and malevolent light. Given such a reality, Christianity is the very definition of wishful thinking and blind hope. It’s not a faith worth having given the truth of Darwinism – and most people realize this who are being honest with what the conflicting stories of origins are saying (who aren’t trying to have their cake and eat it too). Because of this, the Darwinian story of origins is “the greatest engine of atheism ever invented” (Provine, 1998).
Instead of obscurantism, the Adventist church should take a portion of the budget it currently uses for defending traditional creationism and use it to fund a “research project” whereby a few of our brightest theologians are tasked with exploring potential Adventist theological responses based on the assumption that the scientific community is correct about the age of life on earth. This seems like a reasonable way to advance “present truth”—or at least test the waters.
This would be entirely self-defeating. It would totally undermine the very purpose of Adventism and even Christianity at large – for the reasons already detailed. One might as well just leave Christianity behind and become a Buddhist or something else that isn’t so diametrically opposed to the claims and religious implications of Darwinian thinking and the modern conclusions of philosophical naturalists.
Organizations like Reasons to Believe and BioLogos are seeking to provide old life perspectives for Christians, but the Seventh-day Adventist Church insists that if it were to accept such views, there would be no reason to keep the seventh-day Sabbath—or for Christ to have died, even! Before accepting such a dire conclusion, shouldn’t we invest resources to explore, with other Christians, how to accept the scientific consensus and find meaning in our Christian faith? And, by investing resources, can we do so in a way that will preserve a meaningful place for Adventism within the wider Christian community? I believe not only that we can, but we must!
Why? What would be the point? What would be the reason for having the existence of yet another church denomination that stands for nothing beyond what everyone else is teaching? – that also accepts the naturalistic philosophies of Darwinism and the evil portrait of God that they paint? – without any rational basis for any kind of Christian hope or future? Most, at least in the younger generation, wouldn’t waist their time in such churches and would quickly join the secular community. I for one would no longer remain in any such “Christian” church or organization who started preaching along the lines that you suggest and few others who have not grown up in the church and taken on it’s social structure would remain either. There are simply too many other better social clubs…
Bloggers and leaders alike question the integrity of employees who are not “loyal to God’s Biblical truth [of a recent creation]” yet don’t resign. This is a shame! Instead of discouraging innovative theological reflection, the Adventist church should be actively supporting it. There is no question that the consensus views of the scientific community pose theological challenges to the Adventist Church. Our present official response is to conclude that therefore the scientific consensus is wrong. But, that is giving up without a fight! How can we know the theological problems are insurmountable unless we take time to seriously explore theological alternatives?
It is dishonest and morally wrong for anyone who is getting paid by an organization to promote the organization’s clearly stated goals and ideals to deliberately do otherwise. Pastors and teachers who are working for the Seventh-day Adventist Church should either teach and preach what the church stands for as an organization or resign and go and work for some other organization that is more in line with their own personal ideas and opinions.
Now, there are those, like Johnston, who believe that the church should reconsider its positions and change direction – which would be fine. An organization should be free to reconsider and change its position as new information comes to light. But, until the church actually does this it simply isn’t morally right to continue to do whatever one wants regardless of what one’s employer is actually paying one to do. That’s called stealing. There’s just no other word for it – especially when it is done through false advertising as a few of our universities have done in recent years. They publicly claim and advertise one thing, that they are entirely in line with the goals and fundamental beliefs of the church, but then go on to teach something very different in their classrooms – something very much out of line with the current clearly stated fundamental positions of the church. How deceitful can one get?
Now, it’s fine if one doesn’t agree with the fundamental goals and ideals of an organization. And, it’s perfectly fine to publicly teach and preach against these things – but not while on the dime of that very same organization. This conclusion should be self-evident…
In his article, Johnston cites many examples that seem to him to clearly represent a very long-standing desert environment lasting millions of years. However, none of the features he cites is clearly diagnostic of such an environment and numerous features he does not address strongly favor the depositions of a massive flood of truly Noachian proportions that waxed and waned with occasional exposures to the air during short periods of withdrawal.
The Lack of Downhill Trackways:
While dancing around the issue a bit, even Johnston ends up admitting that the trackways of smaller animals do in fact have a strong tendency to go in the uphill direction with very few downhill trackways – a feature that he admits has no modern parallel.
Features of Flood Deposition Described by Visher (1990):
Johnston also ignores Visher’s 1990 publication (Link) where Visher points out several features of the Navajo and Coconino Sandstones that strongly favor water deposition. These include:
- The average angle of slope of the Coconino cross beds is about 25° from the horizontal, less than the average angle of slope of sand beds within most modern desert sand dunes. Those sand beds slope at an angle of more than 25°, with some beds inclined as much as 30° to 34°, the angle of ‘rest’ of dry sand. In comparison, modern oceanic sand waves do not have ‘avalanche’ faces of sand as common as desert dunes, and therefore, have lower average dips of cross beds.
- Within the Coconino Sandstone is a feature known technically as ‘parting lineation’, which is known to be commonly formed on sand surfaces during brief erosional bursts beneath fast-flowing water. It is not known from any desert sand dunes.
- Visher also noted that the different grain sizes of sand within any sandstone are a reflection of the process that deposited the sand. Consequently, he performed sand grain size analyses of the Coconino Sandstone and modern sand waves, and found that the Coconino Sandstone does not compare as favorably to dune sands from modern deserts.
Additional Features of Flood Deposition:
Additional features favoring flood deposits mentioned in my previous article (Link) and not covered by Johnston include:
- The sand grains are not well sorted, favoring an under water origin (Whitmore)
- The presence of mica flakes within the sandstone favors an under water origin since such delicate mica flakes are quickly destroyed by eolian conditions. Both feldspars and mica were found in the marine environment, but both of them were lost once the sand left the marine environment. Mica grains were quickly destroyed and feldspars were rounded and abraded in the coastal dunes. (Whitmore, October, 2017 – GSA report). Other sandstone layers thought to be eolian in origin, such as the Lower Permian de Chelly Sandstone (with its finely detailed trackways), also contain these delicate mica flakes (Spencer Lucas, 1995, p. 256).
- The presence of dolomite, also found at a number of locations and including dolomite ooids which are generally attributed to marine or lacustrine environments and are commonly found in tidal deltas, bars, or beaches (Scholle and Ulmer-Scholle 2003), favors an under water origin. (Whitmore)
- Parabolic recumbent folds require underwater conditions. (Whitmore)
- The transport of the sand that makes up the Navajo and much of the Coconino Sandstone across the entire continent from the Appalachians favors an under water origin.
- The very widespread distribution of megasequences (like the Tapeats Sandstone and other similar sequences) cannot be explained as sediments distributed over long periods of time by river transport. (Sloss)
- Paleocurrents generally moving the same direction, from east to west, during the Paleozoic favor an under water origin. (Chadwick)
- The paucity of examples of the characteristic large dune signature angle of repose (30˚-34˚) casts reasonable doubt on the eolian origin theory. (Austin)
- Pelletal glauconite within sandstones is also consistent with water transport (Visher)
- Pitting and ‘frosting’ marks have been shown to be non-diagnostic. (Kuenen and Perdock)
- Clearly the beds were planed off below before deposition, and planed off above after deposition. Only water accounts for this. A fast current planes. A slower current deposits, and then a faster current planes before the next deposit. Was the sand a dry crossbeded desert before being planed off above? This would be impossible since any water planing it off would have sunk into the desert and eroded it, destroying the cross bedding or redepositing it as water laid crossbeds erasing all the evidence of the mythical desert.
- The solid nature of the sandstone testifies to its being a water mix. Otherwise, the cementing agents for the sandstone could not be chemically active. One cannot plead dew or light rain for this because this does not explain the relatively flat bottom or top of the formation. Or, even if such dew or light rain is invoked, the sandstone would have turned solid much too quickly for other features, such as clastic dikes, to be realized.
- Large clastic pipes and dikes more consistent with relatively rapid deposition of most of the layers of the geologic column, to include the Coconino and Navajo Sandstone layers, before cementation and consolidation could occur.
- The planer crossbedding observed can be formed by sand waves or tubidity currents.
- Large numbers of fossilized conifer trees oriented with respect to each other (Parrish, 2007), much more consistent with flood deposition than with a desert environment. Also, how are conifer trees, in large numbers over long periods of time, going to survive in the shifting hot desert sand dunes? Certain no such equivalent conifer trees are known to exist in such inhospitable desert conditions… not even close. “Modern examples of oases… are dominated by palms” (Parrish, 2007).
- The one feature that remains largely unexplained from the Flood perspective is wind-ripple laminae. This particular feature has some correlation to certain kinds of underwater ripples and additional correlations may be realized with more detailed investigations of underwater dune formation. Or, given that they are fairly rare within the Coconino and Navajo Sandstone, may represent fairly brief periods of subaerial exposure during Flood regressions following tsunamis or tidal actions – which would also explain the rare raindrops as well as the occasional uphill trackways preserved on very wet sand during a world-wide Flood. The same would also appear to be true for the numerous dinosaur nests created by very stressed dinosaurs worldwide.
Fundamental Problems for Long Ages and Darwinian Evolution on Earth:
Johnston also argues that those who take the claims of the Bible literally are often at fault for being very selective in pointing to rare examples of scientific mysteries and using these as evidence to support their position – in the face of what is otherwise overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary.
Of course, Johnston doesn’t consider the possibility that he is falling on his own sword here. He cites a handful of features for one sandstone layer within the geologic record, ignores most of the best counterarguments that speak to water deposition, and somehow concludes that this is sufficient evidence to overcome the extensive weight of evidence that clearly speaks to a recent arrival of life on this planet. He ignores the lack of a viable evolutionary mechanism (Link). He ignores the problem of the very high detrimental mutation rate that exists in all slowly reproducing creatures – a mutation rate that no known naturalistic mechanism can prevent from sending all such creatures rapidly toward eventual genetic meltdown and extinction and eliminating the possibility of the existence of higher-level life forms on this planet for even a million years much less the concept of evolutionary progress at high levels of functional complexity (Link). He ignores the finding of soft tissues, antigenic proteins, fragments of DNA (Link) and even high levels of radiocarbon in dinosaur remains (Link) – features that strongly point toward a recent existence of these animals on this planet. He ignores the very consistent problem of dinosaur eggs worldwide showing signs of maternal stress (such as double eggs shells), which seems quite difficult to explain from a uniformitarian perspective (Link). He ignores the high continental and mountain erosion rates (Link) and the lack of expected sediments in the oceans (Link) for his long-age paradigm to be feasible even by mainstream thinking. He ignores the existence of very thick and very pure coal beds (Link), which strongly favor catastrophic deposition and water sorting. He ignores the lack of expected bioturbation within the layers of the geologic column (Link) and the existence of massive worldwide paleocurrents that are consistent across entire continents, and even multiple continents (Link)… etc.
In short, Johnston is missing the forest for the trees, and yet accuses those who disagree with him of doing this very same thing. Of course, Johnston is in very good company here since the significant majority of scientists today have made the same mistake. Yet, clearly, if one sits down and carefully studies the available empirical evidence for one’s self, it is very difficult to conclude that the Darwinian story of origins actually trumps the story revealed in the Bible – a story that is also far more beautiful, majestic, and hopeful for humanity and the revelation of a God who truly loves and cares for us.