In my opinion, one of the most challenging arenas of science for a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) is geology. Both sides of the debate have the same data to work with- the geologic column. Likewise, they share the same goal- reconstructing a plausible theory to explain the earth’s history. The very deepest layers in this geological column, the Precambrian and lower Cambrian, pose quite a mystery for us to solve since they contain the very first signs of life.
Of particular interest within these lowest levels, is the presence of a clear order of organisms increasing in complexity along the vertically ascending layers of sediment. The questions are: how do we explain the method by which these layers came to be deposited historically and what is the significance of the increasing complexity in the fossil record? Creationists and Evolutionists have two vastly different answers largely due to the presuppositions underlying their respective world views. These presuppositions unavoidably affect interpretation.
Evolutionary theory sees the layers as being deposited over millions of years, containing the record of the evolution of life from simple to complex. This view traditionally enjoys the “edge” in modern thought for two reasons. First, it’s the only view most people are aware of since it is the only one approved in public education systems; and second, it is certainly a simple/obvious explanation if one agrees with evolutionary presuppositions.
YEC theory sees the deposition of these deepest layers as the result of one catastrophic event- the global flood recorded in Genesis chapters 6-9 which devastated the entire earth. Since YEC’s maintain that life didn’t evolve, but came into existence simultaneously according to the Biblical 6 day Creation narrative, the difficulty has been arriving at an explanation of the increasing complexity demonstrated in the fossil record. However, Dr. Kurt Wise (Ph.D. in Paleontology and M.A in Geology from Harvard) described a theory during his presentation at the 2017 “Is Genesis History?” Conference proving that the evolutionary reconstruction is not the only one data supports. Wise admits that “Creationist palaeontology is an immature field” and that their “resources… are severely limited.” However, Wise believes his theory is the one aligning most closely with the evidence.
Early in Dr. Wise’s presentation, he sets the stage by documenting the data both evolutionists and creationists have to interpret:
At the base of the geologic column, the lowest level is referred to as the “Precambrian.”
Dr. Wise notes that there are only 12 geographical locations where geologists can access the complete Precambrian series of sediments exhibiting the order of increasing complexity (stratomorphic series). In fact, he explains, it has only been within approximately the last 30 years that these rocks have been recognized as what they are- Precambrian sediments that did not erode away. Within this series, there is a clear and consistent sequence of sediments containing organisms increasing in complexity beginning with simple bacteria. This same order of increasing complexity in the fossil record is observed throughout the geological column. For example, the order is present even throughout the Great Unconformity (which exists on almost all continents) despite the fact that some of the layers present in the Precambrian series of sediments are missing altogether.
Dr. Wise supplies the following examples of this ascending complexity. In the deepest layer of sediment, the only fossils present are bacteria or bacteria related. Rising up into younger sediments, in addition to the bacteria, you begin to find single celled algae. Continuing upward, protists appear (single celled, non-photosynthetic organisms- not an animal, plant, or fungus). Next, appear a group called “Ediacaran Fauna” which are large (1-2′), flat macrofossils (fossils observable with the naked eye).
Following this group is “Tommotian Fauna” (or “small shelly fauna”) which are small (around 1 inch at most) cone-shaped fossils.
Next, come the “Atdabanian Fauna.” This is the lowest level in which Trilobites are found.
Evolutionist Interpretation of the Data
Traditional evolutionary theory presupposes both uniformitarianism and naturalism. The former can be defined as the “concept that ‘the present is the key to the past’ (that events occur at the same rate now as they have always done)…Today, Earth’s history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process, punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events.” Therefore, each layer of sediment in the geologic column (some of which are tens of thousands of feet thick) represents millions of years of history. This “deep time” is crucial to support the latter presupposition which can be summarized as the “idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.” Barring the possibility of a Creator God existing outside of His Creation, evolutionists conclude that the ascending complexity of organisms can only be explained by slow evolutionary processes requiring millions of years.
No one would disagree that given the presuppositions above, these conclusions are reasonable. Wise notes an additional factor supporting evolutionary theory while being problematic for YEC. Essentially, if the lowest levels of sediment can preserve bacteria, it should be able to preserve more complex organisms if they existed simultaneously. The simplest and most logical deduction is that only bacteria are preserved because they were the only thing in existence. This is the problem Wise’s theory addresses.
At this juncture it must be noted that the assumption of uniformitarianism underlying evolutionary theory is not scientifically provable. As influential 20th century paleontologist G.G Simpson famously stated, “Uniformity is an unprovable postulate justified, or indeed required, on two grounds. First, nothing in our incomplete but extensive knowledge of history disagrees with it. Second, only with this postulate is a rational interpretation of history possible, and we are justified in seeking—as scientists we must seek—such a rational interpretation.” This is imperative due to modern day rhetoric claiming that creation science is “pseudoscience.” The entire foundation of evolutionary theory is underscored by an “unprovable postulate” rendering its resulting conclusions no more or less scientific than the conclusions of creation science.
YEC Interpretation of the Data
YEC’s operate under their own set of presuppositions. While agreeing that relatively recent geological history can be reconstructed with the assumption of the slow, gradual processes that we witness today, they reject that uniformitarianism can be projected infinitely backward in antiquity to arrive at an accurate historical reconstruction of earth’s ancient history due to the global Flood. YEC’s also presuppose a Creator who created life supernaturally as described in Scripture rather than via naturalistic means. Wise submits that the evidence indicates that “the uppermost Precambrian are the very beginning of the Flood deposits and they are preserving a Pre-Flood ecological sequence of some sort.”
Interestingly, this alternative interpretation of the data wasn’t arrived at by a group of YEC scientists. Instead, the theory that follows was developed during the course of a Harvard University graduate class under renowned paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould, studying the Cambrian explosion. Although Wise doesn’t reveal if any of the other class participants besides himself were YEC’s, he does note that the conclusions being drawn were (understandably) disconcerting to the evolutionists working on the project.
It all began when the group made an interesting observation: within the stratomorphic series,
each type of fauna is specific to a particular type of rock. For example: the Ediacaran Fauna is almost always found in sand; the Tommotian Fauna is always in carbonates; and the Atdabanian Fauna is always in shale. Therefore, the faunal sequence is dependent on the type of rock (facies dependant).
The group recognized this phenomenon to be in keeping with “Walther’s Law” which Wise summarizes as, “a principle in geology stating that if you have a series of lithosomes (types of rock) stacked vertically in a particular order, it could be that the order is due to a transgression event or a regression event, where the first thing is formed in shallow water, the next thing is formed in deeper water, and the next thing is formed in even deeper water. It could be that what you see vertically, is what the world was like horizontally at the time of deposition… So, you’re not actually looking at three different aged things. You’re looking at three different things at different positions.”
Wise clarifies with the following scenario: you have sand at the shore, mud off shore, and reefs out beyond that. This would result in layers of sandstone, mud shale, then carbonate. So, if you see a sequence of sandstone/shale/carbonate in a vertical sequence, you could conclude that rather than life evolving into greater complexity over millions of years, you merely have three separate facies existing side by side that became buried on top of each other because water came in over the land. Therefore, these three faunas may not be separated in time, but are separated horizontally. Three different fauna, living at the same time, getting buried in a sequence only because water is either coming in or going out. Subsequently, the shallow water organisms are buried on bottom, followed by those inhabiting medium depth water, followed by deep water organisms.
This essentially reveals that millions of years of time is not a necessary factor in the formation of these 12 areas in which geologists have a clear cross-section of the Precambrian.
Adding Radiometric Dating into the Mix
It is beyond the scope of this article to address the numerous and very valid problems with the accuracy of ages of rocks assigned by radiometric dating. Interested readers can refer to Dr. Andrew Snelling’s treatment of that topic in his article Radiometric Dating: Problems with the Assumptions. To greatly simplify, I will merely state that the science behind the dating models is sound. However, the scientifically unprovable assumptions plugged in as constants in the equations render the results unrealiable at best and completely invalid at worst.
For our purposes, the only relevant issue is the range of time that these radiometric dating models indicate regarding the successive layers of rock which cumulatively result in the millions of years evolutionists assign to the geologic column in the form of the geologic time scale. When it comes to these ancient date ranges assigned to each layer of sediment, Wise explains that the smallest increment of measurement is the “radiometric pixel” which is a unit of 5 million years. Essentially, this means that radiometric dating methods employed in this context cannot discern periods of time between sediments in increments less than 5 million years.
This becomes of paramount importance when Wise notes that the graduate team examining the radiometric dating data pertaining to these layers of sediment discovered that the evidence revealed the time period separating these layers was not, in fact, hundreds of millions of years, but something less than a radiometric pixel! Here, Wise points out, that when you are at the Cambrian level (dated by the evolutionary time scale to be 5 million years ago), 5 million years is 1%- you can’t see anything less than 1%. Foundationally, you can’t distinguish the different age of things less than 1% apart.
How do these facts alter the interpretation of the data? Wise states, “The radiometric data suggests that there is less than a radiometric pixel between these three faunas. Add that to the facies issues of the faunas and we concluded these faunas don’t represent successive faunas, they represent three faunas at the same time. Buried in that order, but not living in that order.”
Wise continues by explaining that this finding is magnified when one realizes that whatever process has buried these fauna in this same pattern, it is represented identically in 12 different geographical locations all over the earth! So, the next step becomes figuring out how closely the age of these 12 different deposits can be determined. Wise says, “Again, we concluded that we cannot discern differences in their age at the level of the radiometric pixel. So, they could all be at exactly the same moment in time, and that the same event, a global event, buried them in the same sequence for that reason.” Therefore, the data contained in the Precambrian and lower Cambrian layers can very well be interpreted in support of the Genesis global flood event, documenting life existing simultaneously, and ordered in horizontal proximity to one another.
At the end of the day, evolutionists will never consider the YEC theory to be valid. Not because the data contained in the Precambrian and lower Cambrian sediments preclude it, but because it violates the two foundational presuppositions of uniformitarianism and naturalism- neither of which are scientifically provable.