Response to Sean Pitman’s Response to Robert Johnston’s 2017 Talking …

Comment on Revisiting “Desert Dunes” in the Fossil Record by Robert Johnston.

Response to Sean Pitman’s Response to Robert Johnston’s 2017 Talking Rocks report
(comments in order of the matter’s appearance in Pitman’s response)


Thank-you for taking the time to read and respond to my article.

You produced your response quickly. I wonder if that contributed to a few instances when you wrote a response that directly ignored something I wrote that you quoted. I find it a little frustrating to respond to that, since it leads me to cover the same topic again, which I’m loath to do.

I tried to be precise in my response to your question, which was, “What about the fact that the trackways within these ‘eolian’ dunes universally go in an uphill-only direction…?” You now seem to be contending that you meant only a few of the animals, and only when they were walking on the dunes themselves. That is a point you need to emphasize for your readers, because the impression conveyed by your article (and I think Brand’s presentations as well) is that you believe the data support that all animals were fleeing uphill to avoid flood waters. If you were to define precisely what you are saying (and not saying), I think the clarification would weaken your argument.

In any case, I think in your response you still missed the distinction between several small animals and “all animals”. Clearly, not all animals produced only uphill tracks on Navajo dunes. And why are you not interested in dinosaurs or other large creatures? Do you assume they had no interest in escaping the Flood? Do you really think they swam periodically during the Flood?

Anyway, here, and also in your posted response on the AT Facebook page, I noticed you were very selective in quoting my statement about track directionality, saying that we are in agreement. If we are in agreement, then what that means is that you are agreeing that there are several species of (mostly small) animals that made predominantly uphill tracks (though with some downhill), BUT ALSO that these species made numerous traversing tracks, AND ALSO that there are other species, including large ones, that made tracks in several directions (on dunes). Note also that small creatures—arthropods—made many downhill trackways in the Coconino that are recorded near the uphill trackways of small animals, so it wasn’t just large creatures that didn’t “always” go uphill. Since I don’t think you are agreeing to this, then please don’t mislead readers by claiming that we are in agreement (much as I would like us to be!).

As for interdunes, how are they not relevant? In a model where the Navajo was rapidly deposited during the Flood, on top of thousands of feet of other rapidly deposited layers, interdune structures (and the tracks on them) cannot be waved away with a flick of the pen! Gerry Bryant has rightly focused on these structures in his research. They are important evidence for the long times involved in formation of the Navajo, and reveal much about conditions at the time. (You did discuss them later in your response, and I’ll respond to those points shortly).

There is a vast difference in track and artifact preservation in saturated sand and moist sand (as even Brand acknowledges), and this distinction must be emphasized when considering flood mechanisms vs. track preservation. Additionally, however, you seem to have missed the recent literature I cited on how tracks are preserved in dry sand on dune faces.

On the matter of trackways being found only in a minor portion of the Coconino, you seem to have disregarded the explanation I gave in the quoted sentence, that there were periods of favorable paleoenvironment. In other periods, the animals either weren’t present or their tracks weren’t preserved. This simple explanation is consistent with other evidence, in contrast to the Flood interpretation.

Regarding the discussion of pinstripe laminations, and comments regarding Mars, I might note that Gerald Bryant hosted an interplanetary geology conference at Dixie State University shortly before our Talking Rocks tour. He knows a thing or two of interest to researchers in this field! If he says that tidal environments produce laminations distinguishable from eolian deposits, wouldn’t you want to understand his viewpoint (which I stated)?

In any case, this vague “model” of massive tides sweeping entire continents does not sound like conditions associated with pinstripe laminations in tidal deposits. What precise sequence of activities and associated timings does this Flood “model” propose to have occurred, and how is that consistent with all the evidence discussed in my paper for long times, eolian conditions, animal presence, chemical transformation, etc.? As John McLarty wrote in his introduction, there is no Flood model. Even creationists have acknowledged this problem.

On your effort to rebut the multiple arguments against a Flood interpretation for interdune deposits, responding to literature I discussed on the matter, I suppose my best response is simply to encourage you (and readers) to read the original literature I cited; if one can reconcile that with a Flood interpretation, congratulations! I can’t.

Briefly on your interdune arguments: (1) Your explanation for how trees would collect in interdune areas after flood action fails to account for the many layers above these deposits, also attributed by you to the Flood; again, what is the proposed sequence and timing for formation of all these features, within a Flood interpretation? (2) My focus was on Navajo interdune deposits, not Specimen Ridge. But your comment that even conventional geologists agree with what creationists have been saying all along is not true; while a catastrophic interpretation may now prevail, it is based on recognition of multiple such events, not on a single event during a brief period about 4500 years ago. There is no agreement with creationists on such points. (3) I would think a shoot would not become waterlogged and sink in the way you proposed that trees would, hence the relevance of the conifer shoot observation (this is my own conjecture, not an expert opinion). (4) You missed the point that the trees weren’t in all interdune areas, as your explanation would suggest, but in areas with springs. Additionally, you have trees rolling downhill before they are water-logged, then after they are water-logged, floating upright in shallow pools! I find this sequence difficult to understand. (5) How do you propose that carbonate saturated floodwaters produced localized features like tufa mounds? And remember, in your “model”, the Flood wasn’t finished when these were formed. Rather, you have these quickly being buried by lots more water and earth. (6) If you attribute interleaved carbonate and sandstone and siltstone layers as readily explained by a waxing and waning flood, just how long do you propose this flood took? Recall also that silt is deposited under quiescent conditions. (7) You might want to ask Gerry Bryant how to distinguish desiccation cracks from underwater syneresis cracks (formed in clay under conditions of changing salinity). But until you do, you might consider the association of animal tracks with such features. (8) You don’t see the problem with crackfills, but the presence of mudcracks filled with sand and/or silt suggests drying or quiescent water periods when you argue that (violent) Flood events dominated. (9) Your proposed enterolithic gypsum explanation seems to ignore the association of these features with the interdune beds in the study I mentioned, i.e., the overall context is one of cyclic hydration/dehydration, not the subsurface conditions you mentioned. (10) If you think meter-scale intraclasts of laminated carbonate formed in a few days or months (or whatever your “model” prescribes), then maybe this is indeed no concern to you. I don’t yet understand how a Flood model explains these features. (11) Regarding the carbonate accretions on trunks, please note that they formed laterally, which is inconsistent with your interpretation. (I already discussed the problem with your mechanism for upright trees in a shallow pool). (12) The aligned tree trunks are consistent with local scale catastrophic events, i.e., dune avalanches or liquefaction related flows (such as caused by earthquakes). They are not consistent with your explanation of waves sweeping the continent, or trees rolling down dunes to interdune areas. (13) Your explanation of logs beneath interdune deposits and dinosaur tracks is interesting because it seems to assume a very lengthy flood process, not what I would have expected from a biblical literalist. Logs were apparently afloat long enough for thousands of feet of deposition beneath, then they were waterlogged and sank, then water deep enough to form hundred-meter scale subaqueous dunes dried up completely to expose the interdune areas and mineralize calcium carbonate and gypsum (surprisingly without sodium chloride being present at concentrations expected of marine evaporites, though halite is found in thousands of feet thick deposits elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau, which is also hard to understand by the Flood model—see H. Wesley Peirce,, animals that survived the dune-high floods returned to the interdune without leaving downhill tracks, trampled around, then the flood came again, and the cycle repeated itself many times, forming multiple vertically spaced interdunes. And all was buried by thousands of feet of additional deposits “explained” by similar mental gyrations. Sean, please think through carefully the sequence of all actions you propose to have occurred, and consider if they are truly feasible and consistent with your biblical view. I’m incredulous, to be honest, that you put forth this explanation! (14) Specimen Ridge is not relevant, regardless of what analogies you invoke. There is so much different about the context and interpretation of these sites!

Regarding your comments on color transformation: (1) You dismiss the comments on fluid flow by saying it is based on “current amounts of water flow” there vs. the massive water flows available in the Flood. But, you entirely missed the point. We are talking “reducing fluid (e.g., hydrocarbon)”, not water. And flow within rock, driven by buoyancy, would not be affected by external currents anyway. (2) Underwater dunes might be “pure”, but not deposits from turbulent, high energy floods! (3) I confess I failed to follow your argument that because features at other sites were once misunderstood, the features at Snow Canyon (for example) are too. People once thought the Earth was the center of the universe. So? (4) To be clear, your view is that lithified rock was formed during the Flood, then was broken up and deposited in surrounding sand or mud by the same Flood, which then lithified to form conglomerate, which then was broken up and deposited by yet later Flood action, all with intervening and subsequent erosion events that were not global in scale. That is what you seem to be saying. If so, I’m amazed. As for archaeology, the “father of Adventist archaeology”, Siegfried Horn, did not think archaeology fit into a 4500-year timeframe or even a 6000-year timeframe. There is an integrated record of ancient inscriptions, historical records, 14C dating, pottery dating, etc., to support this.

Regarding moqi marbles, I’m curious to know what mechanism (consistent with a global Flood in progress) you propose for their formation within a few months, so that they were ready to be exposed by erosion at the end of the Flood or soon thereafter. Your comment on clastic dikes is inconsistent with your argument against a slow bleaching process, since the rock was lithified when bleached.

Regarding trackways on a single foreset, I have not encountered any literature suggesting that Navajo foresets were regularly formed minutes apart, implying incredible rates of dune migration. But even if they were, your explanation for Navajo dune formation/migration is that this occurred underwater. So, I find it difficult to understand how you can believe that a dinosaur walked on a foreset, then under massive current flows the hundred meter scale dune shifted by a foot in just a few minutes via a subaqueous process, and then the same or another dinosaur was somehow still alive to make another track, this time coming the other direction. And then a few foresets later, more of the same.

As for your argument about repeated cycles of flooding and retreat, it seems inconsistent to argue that water would gradually retreat and not produce currents, when you have just implied that current flows were so incredibly huge that they could move a hundred-meter scale dune a foot every few minutes!

In your argument about dune moisture, you make the same omission I noted above: you missed my citation of Loope’s work (Ref. 62) showing how tracks sometimes were preserved in dry sand. Please read his paper before insisting that there are no preserved tracks made in dry sand.

Regarding “an isolated mystery…”, I don’t want to expand the scope of this discussion to an analysis of all creationist claims/evidence for a short chronology and all scientific claims/evidence for a long chronology. Even discussing just one of your questions took more than 50 pages, and whole books could easily have been written on many of those topics. I’ll simply note here that only a diehard creationist would think that the weight of scientific evidence is in the direction of a short chronology and global Flood. By far the majority of scientists, representing numerous fields and evidentiary phenomena, believe otherwise.

In any case, for this paper, I have carefully avoided Darwinian or evolutionary arguments; this paper is primarily about chronology and Flood interpretations of the Navajo sandstone, especially trackways that we observed this past summer at Moccasin Mountain. You lumped me with “other Darwinian evolutionists” without my having claimed to be one, nor did I make any claims about mankind “heading uphill”, though kudos for using what was no doubt an irresistible play on the title of my paper! (I’m neither claiming nor denying Darwinian evolution—that is an unnecessary distraction to the questions of interest to me here).

The remainder of your response seems focused on this side issue of evolution rather than on the issues raised in my paper. It is true that historically, geological and paleontological observations suggesting a long chronology and a sequence of increasingly complex lifeforms preceded and contributed to the development of Darwin’s theory. However, that isn’t the only possible interpretation, as other Christian thinkers have shown. My call was for the church to be supportive of Adventist theologians tackling this issue, to see how a long chronology impacts theology, and what theological responses might be. We might be pleasantly surprised by their insights.

You are unwilling to allow this type of theological exploration because you are convinced that your interpretation of the scientific data is correct; however, if you are wrong, and the truth is that life existed on earth for eons and there was not a recent global Flood, it amazes me that you would conclude that there is no living Christ and would discard the entire religion. Is there a Spirit at work in the church and in your life today, or is your “faith” only based on a particular reading of the Bible? I think if we trust the Spirit of Truth, we should trust Him to lead us (and the church) rather than force a predetermined outcome. (This is a subject for another day: grammatical-historical vs. spirit hermeneutics!).

Regarding the morality of getting paid but teaching/preaching differently than the “organization”: I have read extensively in historical Adventist literature from especially the 19th century, as well as several books on Adventist history. If what you say is true, then numerous pioneers of our church were immoral, and that includes Ellen White. I think you make a mistake to focus on organization instead of truth. It isn’t stealing, either, for universities to pursue their mission of “higher” education, not least including exposing students to challenging viewpoints. The mission is education, not propagandization. The Adventist mission is not identical with whatever the current version of Adventist fundamental beliefs are, and universities can be true to that mission even if not universally promoting Adventist dogma. (I don’t expect you do agree, but many of us feel this way, and if I were an Adventist pastor, which I am not, I could preach in good conscience what I feel led by the Spirit to be truth, even if the “official beliefs” are different. Even conservative pastors do this, for example, on headship and ordination of women as elders. I disagree with their theological views vs. the “organization’s”, but I don’t think they are immoral or dishonest to accept a paycheck).

Finally, in your conclusion, you summarize a number of points from your earlier articles but which were not the subject of my paper. You also expended another paragraph against evolution, though that also was not the subject of my paper. You count these omissions as a weakness, but the intent of my paper was to provide readers with enough background to understand my exploration of one particular question that you asked in response to last year’s report. I couldn’t possibly explore all these topics in sufficient detail to be meaningful. Again, I’ll leave it to your readers to decide if my presentation presented enough information to warrant their further study on this issue or not. And though I think the subject of the Navajo sandstone with the numerous aspects I discussed is at least a grove if not a forest, I agree with you that breadth is useful as well as depth. There are many fine books that discuss many of the other questions from a scientific perspective. If I have opportunity to explore some of them in detail and feel I can contribute to the discussion, I may write on those subjects.

Sean, why have you studiously avoided responding to my many invitations/challenges that you should attend a Talking Rocks tour and see/hear for yourself? If you’ll go in 2018 and bring your Flood questions, I’ll leave my post-Harvey home reconstruction project long enough to attend with you. We can compare flood stories, old and new!

If you would be kind enough to post this response to your response, I’ll leave the argument here for now and let you post the last word. If you and I participate together in a future Talking Rocks trip, we can pick up this discussion in person (much more enjoyable), and then perhaps write about another point of interest after the tour.

Thanks for the discussion! I appreciate the cordial tone of our conversation, and do hope we can meet someday soon.