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Rock of Ages and the Age of Rocks
Like preachers generally, professional creationists make a living saying things that are not true. As with their erstwhile standard-bearer, William Jennings Bryan, their assessment of the age of rocks is predetermined by their uncritical belief in the "Rock of Ages." Since such a belief is not reconcilable with the world of reality, creationists again and again must pile prevarication upon imposture in order to trick out their system as a would-be science.
It is a favorite pass-time of persons who have debated creationists to discuss whether or not the untruths told by creationists are deliberate lies, the result of stupidity and ignorance, or the product of some hitherto unclassified psychopathological process. While most are willing to attribute the creationist babblings of local preachers to ignorance compounded by stupidity, most cannot believe that professional creationists - i.e., the ones who make money from the enterprise - can really be as ignorant as the ideas they publish. Can it be believed that a man is honest who claims that Connecticut dinosaurs died in a flood - and cites as proof an obscure monograph which, upon investigation, is found to argue that the beasts in question died of drought? Can persons be thought honest if they repeatedly take quotations out of context, leaving out critically important facts while reaching conclusions utterly at variance with the views of the author cited? It is often hard to avoid the conclusion that there are liars, damned liars, and creationists.
Nevertheless, the possibility that dishonest creationist utterances derive from some sort of psychopathological process cannot be ruled out. As an illustration of a case that looked a hell of a lot like bald-faced lying when it occurred, but which, upon reflection and receipt of additional information now seems to be nothing more sinister than disordered thought, I can mention an incident that arose early in 1989, while debating John Morris, the Noah's Ark "expert."
In this subject, I have never said that those fossils were on top of Mt. Ararat. Those fossils arein sight of Mt. Ararat.…I reported that in 1969 a glaciologist claimed he found a fossil layer about the 14,000-foot level. The fossil layers that I've studied are some ten miles away.
In point of fact, although Morris had mentioned sedimentary rocks in the vicinity of Mt. Ararat (hence the partial agreement in my last line), he had made no mention of any glaciologist, and he hadwritten that fossiliferous rocks were to be found on the volcano. If he had not made so absurd a claim, I would not have written to him the year before!
On pages 10 and 11 of The Ark on Ararat, a book co-authored with Tim F. LaHaye, we find the following claim:
A great deal of evidence exists indicating that not only was Mt. Ararat once covered by water, but it even erupted while submerged under great depths of water. In common with many mountains around the world, Mt. Ararat exhibits fossil-bearing strata. Sedimentary rock (by definition laid down by flood waters) containing the fossilized remains of ocean creatures has been found as high as the snow line, approximately a 14,000-foot elevation. Furthermore, on the exposed northeastern face, layers of lava are intermingled with layers of sediments.
Readers will note that although LaHaye and Morris do not know how to define 'sedimentary rock' correctly, they do claim that such is to be found on Mt. Ararat! Nowhere in the vicinity of the passage quoted above is there any mention of a glaciologist or the year 1969, nor is there any hint that the claim of fossiliferous rocks on Ararat is in any way discordant with the views of the authors.
The annoying part of all this is the fact that Morris' denial of his fossiliferous rock claim was part of an attempt to show that it was I who was dishonest - that I was misrepresenting creationist claims and arguments:
Frank, let me say that if you're going to be critiquing my book, or if you're going to be critiquing the Bible, which I do believe, what you need to do is handle that [sic] data honestly. Now what you just have said is not what I wrote in that book!
The final result of this attempt to make me look like a liar was a report in the April, 1989, issue ofActs and Facts, a propaganda organ of the San Diego-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR). In that scrupulously subjective journal it was reported that
Morris was able to provide answers to all his [Zindler's] substantive charges, while exposing his use of unfair caricatures and "strawmen arguments."
One of the "strawman arguments" of which I was guilty was, without doubt, my correct claim that Morris had written about fossils on Ararat!
After the debate, I photocopied pages 10 and 11 of Ark on Ararat and sent them to Morris, to let him know that I had seen through his denials during the debate - even if no one else would ever know that what he had said on television was untrue. A short time later, Morris sent me a letter in reply. By then, he seemed to have forgotten just what it was that had been in dispute: whether or not he had ever written that there were fossiliferous rocks on Mt. Ararat. Instead, he tacitly admitted that such a claim was in his book, but tried to get off the hook by attributing the "discovery" to a fellow creationist, Clifford Burdick:
You will notice that in this whole section I am summarizing, in particular, the work of Dr. Burdick, who conducted a rather extensive geologic survey over the space of several summers. He not only has written that he discovered fossil-bearing strata, on the west flank of Mt. Ararat, but he has told me so personally, as have Dr. Lawrence Hewitt and Eryl Cummings...
As you should well know, it is most proper for one scientist to quote from or refer to the work of others, refuting it or challenging it only when there is clear evidence of a mistake. I have no such clear evidence, and knowing most of the men referred to above, I am inclined to believe their evaluation...
Again, the question was not who claimed to have found the rocks, but rather, did Morris' book claim that there were sedimentary rocks on Mt. Ararat? Although most people would simply chalk up this episode as but one more instance of a creationist lying through his teeth on television, Morris' behavior probably is better explained as the result of disordered processes of moral and logical reasoning. Since he knew - even though no one else could know it - that Burdick was the original author of the sedimentary rock claim, Morris apparently felt he could deny having claimed it himself: his published claim was really Clifford Burdick's claim!
Varves: the Nemesis of Genesis
Most creationists try to follow the biblical scenario of creation, fall, flood, etc., as literally as possible. This means that they must do everything possible to discredit the notion that the earth is millions, nay, billions of years old. This is so because the chronologies recorded in the Bible imply that the world was zapped into existence around the year 4004 BCE - give or take a few months. To save the biblical chronology, it has been necessary for creationists to attempt a reconstruction of the entire science of geology.
The facts of nature, however, are quite insistent: they tell us the earth is old. Some of the evidence is so clear and unequivocal that even persons untrained in the sciences can understand it as soon as it is presented, and they can see at once that it deals a fatal blow to the biblical chronology.
One such evidence derives from rocks which exhibit unusual structures called varves. Varves are thin, laminar structures that, when seen edge-on, resemble the growth-rings of trees. Typically, each varve is comprised of a couplet of light- and dark-colored layers of material. In true varves, each couplet of layers represents material laid down under water in a single year. Like the growth rings of trees, the laminations in varved rocks record an annual climatic rhythm. In northern lakes during the spring and summer, because of wave action, only large particles can settle to the bottom to form a layer of sediment. In winter, however, when the lakes freeze over, even very fine particles (including much of the organic material) can settle below wave-base and form a second, darker layer.
The proof that varves represent annual deposits can be quite compelling. N. J. Berrill, in his bookMan's Emerging Mind, tells of a varved shale from the Miocene Epoch of Switzerland:
Certain shales of Miocene age in Switzerland bring that ancient world as vividly to life as any poster advertising the glories of a Swiss canton. For layer upon layer repeat the following sequence: compressed in the bottom of each layer are the blossoms of poplar and camphor trees, symbols of spring; immediately above is a thin region containing winged ants and the seeds of elm and poplar, all of summertime; and this in turn is overlaid by the autumn fruits of camphor, date-plum and wild grape. The whole progression of the seasons, year after year, are there in the earth like an enchantment. Time past was as real as time present.
It should not be thought that Berrill's example is a unique or isolated example. Richard Foster Flint, in his famous textbook, Glacial and Pleistocene Geology, describes more modern varves ("rhythmites") that have been studied in Switzerland:
Rhythmites deposited in a lake near Interlaken in Switzerland are thin couplets, each consisting of a light-colored layer rich in calcium carbonate and a dark layer rich in organic matter. Proof that these rhythmites are annual and are therefore varves is established on organic evidence. The sediment contains pollen grains, whose number per unit volume of sediment varies cyclically, being greatest in the upper parts of the dark layers. The pollen grains of various genera are stratified systematically according to the season of blooming. Finally, diatoms are twice as abundant in the light-colored layers as in the dark. From this evidence it is concluded that the light layers represent summer seasons and the dark ones fall, winter, and spring. Counts of the layers indicate a record extending back to 9,500 yr B.P. ["years before present"].
Since the latter set of varves are at least 3500 years older than the earth itself, according to the biblical chronology, they must surely be a work of the devil, and it would behoove all profit-making prophets in the Land of Creationdumdum to do everything possible to explain them away.
One of the first to attempt this Everest of biblical apologetics was John Morris' father, Henry M. Morris. In my opinion, Morris père is the person most to be blamed for the recrudescence of creationist pseudoscience in the space-age. In 1961, along with coauthor John C. Whitcomb, Jr., Morris published the creationist "classic," The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. That was the volume of tomfoolery that formed the basis for what is wishfully called "creation science," an attempt to make biblical myths look and sound scientific.
In that never-revised book, Morris and Whitcomb devote eight full pages to the explaining away of varves. Citing genuine scientific authorities on peripheral issues, they attempted to cast doubt on the thesis that the pairs of layers in varved sediments are annual in nature. But do Morris and Whitcomb have an explanation for Flint's pollen data? Do they even mention it? Of course not - even though it is certain that they have read Flint's book, since they cite it in their critique. The Interlaken deposits are ignored totally. And well might they ignore them, since they could not possibly explain them away. Still less could they end their general discussion of varves with the conclusion:
Thus, it is concluded that the varved clays of the Pleistocene glacial lakes offer no problem to the chronology of Biblical geology. The varves were deposited, either annually or at shorter intervals, within the post-Deluge period.
This would not compute if they had to include the 9,500-year record of the Interlaken varves. According to the Hebrew chronology, Noah's flood occurred in the year 2,348 BCE. Since Morris claims varves to be post-deluge, we have a serious contradiction here. The flood would have had to have been much earlier than the biblical chronology implies. Furthermore, since the Hebrew chronology dates the creation at 1656 years before the flood, if we combined the varves with the pre-flood biblical chronology we would have creation at around 11,000 BCE. - fully a thousand years earlier than the most daring of the seers at ICR would allow!
In what would appear to be a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the varve evidence, Morris and Whitcomb quote from my old geomorphology professor, William D. Thornbury:
There has been criticism of this method of arriving at estimates of Pleistocene chronology. In the first place, it involves a great deal of interpolation and extrapolation, which introduce possible errors. Secondly, there is some question as to whether varves actually are annual deposits. Deane (1950) from his study of the varves in the Lake Simcoe region of Ontario was led to doubt seriously that varves represent yearly deposits and was more inclined to think that they represent deposits of shorter lengths of time.
From personal experience, I know that Professor Thornbury accepted the Swiss varves mentioned earlier as being true annual deposits. In the passage quoted, he was dealing mostly with the problem of correlating varve deposits in one part of the world with those somewhere else. As for the idea that varves in general represent deposits of less-than-annual periodicity, we note again that our Christian authors have left out the conclusion of the passage quoted. Thornbury ended the above passage with the statement that
Results from radiocarbon dating of late Wisconsin deposits are not in complete agreement with ages arrived at by varve counting but are similar enough to suggest that varves are probably annual deposits.
It was necessary to leave out Thornbury's conclusion mentioning radiocarbon, because on page 423 they would make one further attack on varve chronology:
The highly doubtful significance of any varve chronology has been demonstrated plainly in recent years by its general rejection by geologists when the newer radiocarbon method was found to be contradictory to it.
Further insights into the methodology of Christian geology as practiced by Morris and Whitcomb can be gained by noting the fact that on the page preceding the above conclusion they quote from Flint's Pleistocene Geology (as we have noted, without mentioning Flint's dramatic description of the Swiss pollen sequences) appearing to cast even more doubt on the annual nature of varves and to imply that Scandinavian varve studies are in disarray. Left out of the quotation, however, is a part saying that the varve chronology is widely accepted in Europe, and that there is radiocarbon support for it!
Can it be an accident that this line was omitted?
While it is true that back in the 1950s when Flint's text was written, there were some disputes among Scandinavian varve chronologists concerning the number of years elapsed since the retreat of the Pleistocene glaciers from various locations, these problems have now been resolved, and very little uncertainty remains in the varve chronology constructed for the last 10,000-12,000 years. Indeed, varve chronologies are now so well established, they are being used to correct radiocarbon dates for the period 10,000-12,000 yr B.P., just as dendrochronology (tree ring dating) has been used to correct radiocarbon dates for the period 2000-7000 yr B.P.!
All doubt as to the annual nature of at least the Swedish varves has recently been dispelled by work done by Ingemar Cato, of the Swedish Geological Survey. Cato has studied varves forming at the present time in the estuary of the Ångermanälven river in northern Sweden. He has proved by direct observation that varves do indeed form as annual deposits and that their thickness is directly related to the amount of material carried in suspension by the river. Now that we know for certain that the Swedish varves are indeed yearly records of the postglacial world, creationists have to decide what to do with the fact that the varve record at Döviken in Sweden began in 7288 BCE (i.e., 4940 years before the date implied by the Bible for Noah's flood). This means that the biblical chronologies spanning the period from the flood to the supposed birth of Christ are in error by more than 310%! This is very hard to reconcile with biblical inerrancy.
Worse yet, the beginning of the varve-count does not signal the end of Noah's flood (of course!), but rather the end of the Ice Age (Pleistocene Epoch) - which epoch most creationists claim is also post-flood. Allowing sufficient time for numerous advances and retreats of continental glaciers, with deep weathering of soils and growth of long-lived forests in between, we see that the date of Noah's flood is pushed back to far before 10,000 BCE, i.e., to long before the beginning of the universe according to the opinion of creationist savants!
The Green River Shale: A Rock That Killed God
While ICR creationists probably get a headache from the contemplation of postglacial varves, the problems presented by preglacial varves ought to squeeze their brains out their hair follicles. Quite a few creationists claim that all the preglacial sedimentary rocks of the world were laid down during the single year of Noah's flood. This would seem to be preposterous enough to make anybody laugh creationism off the stage; but the absurdity grows even greater when one considers the problem creationists face when they have to account for preglacial varved deposits such as the Eocene Green River Shale, a rock deposit found in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
The Green River Shale is a deposit of soft rocks (including so-called oil-shales) averaging about 2000 feet in thickness and covering an area of 25,000 square miles. A large part of the formation consists of laminated deposits that appear to be varves - apparently over six million of them! The first detailed description of the varved deposits was published back in 1929 by Wilmot H. Bradley, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Unlike most modern varved deposits, the Green River varves are very thin, averaging only 0.18 millimeters. In each pair of laminations, one layer is darker in color and much richer in organic material than the other, which often is made of very fine-grained carbonate minerals. Bradley concluded that the varves were annual deposits on the basis of their close resemblance to varves being formed today in certain modern lakes and on the basis of the astronomical rhythms they appear to reflect:
Three cycles of greater length than the varve cycle are suggested by fairly regular recurrent variations in the thickness of the varves and in the thickness and character of certain beds and by the fairly regular spacing of certain salt-mold layers. The first of these cycles averaged a little less than 12 years in length and appears to correspond to the cycle of sunspot numbers. The second cycle had an average length of about 21,600 years and suggests the average period of about 21,000 years which is the resultant of the cyclic changes of eccentricity of the earth's orbit and the cycle of the precession of the equinoxes. The third cycle, which was about 50 years long, agrees with no well-established rhythm.
How does Henry Morris deal with this evidence? The presence of astronomical rhythms in the shale being the most impressive argument for a generally annual character of the laminations, we are not surprised to find that Morris makes no mention of the evidence and thus avoids the embarrassment of having to explain it away. Instead, he attacks Bradley's use of the principle of uniformitarianism in comparing the Green River Varves with the annual deposits being formed in certain modern lakes, and he attacks Bradley's calculations showing that the amount of material composing each varve was consistent with the amount of material that could be brought into the lake each year by rivers.
Nowhere does Morris explain how varves reflecting sun-spot and higher astronomical rhythms could have been laid down during the single year of Noah's Flood. Nowhere does he let his readers know the problem even exists. Although he cites various geological treatises that contain greatly detailed information about the Green River Formation, Most of this is ignored. He mentions
the extensive deposits of volcanic ash mingled with the shales and the almost complete absence of any graded bedding in the oil-rich shales such as would be normally encountered in any lake-bottom sediment. Also, there is evidence of brecciated conditions in many parts of the formation.
Not only does Morris not explain why it is implausible to suppose that volcanic ash occasionally fell into the lake in which the varves were forming, he neglects to discuss the impossibility of such ash layers forming if the volcanoes producing them were submerged by the waters of Noah's flood! With respect to the supposed lack of graded bedding, he not only neglects to discuss the limy sandstones which Bradley reported did display graded bedding, he neglects to mention that his ownhypothesis of how the deposit was formed during Noah's flood absolutely requires all the layers to display graded bedding!
The only certain conclusion, from the very nature of the deposits, would seem to be that they could not have been formed as cyclic varves as claimed. A possible plausible explanation might be in terms of a vast sedimentary basin formed by the gradual uplift of the land surrounding it, in the later stages of the Deluge period. A complex of shallow turbidity currents, carrying the still soft surface sediments and organic slime from the surface of the rising lands would then enter the basin, mingle, and deposit their loads..."