November 22, 2017

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (6)

Grand Canyon Sunset. Photo by Joe Jiang

Grand Canyon Sunset. Photo by Joe Jiang

Previous posts in the series:

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.

In Part 2 the book addressed fossils in general terms as a dating tool.  In Part 3 fossils get center stage with attention paid to the particular story revealed by ancient organisms in the Grand Canyon.  According to the YEC view, almost all fossils must be from Noah’s flood, since there was no death before Adam’s fall.  I suppose there could be some fossils that date from the fall but prior to Noah’s flood, but I don’t recall that idea being very developed in YEC literature.  To the flood geologists fossils represent the “all flesh” of Genesis 7:19-20 that perished in the year-long global flood.  But do fossils support that view?  Modern geology says fossils represent the remains of plant and animals that lived many millions of years ago and lived and died and were buried in close proximity to the environment where they lived.

So, Chapter 13 –Fossils of the Grand Canyon and Grand Staircase addresses primarily animal fossils and Chapter 14 considers plant fossils.

It was eventually recognized that the oldest fossil-bearing rocks contain the remains of the simplest organisms- bacteria and algae- and younger rocks contain fossils of increasingly more complex body plans.  This is known as the Law of Faunal Succession.


Here is Figure 13-1 from the book, a great summary figure of the fossil life represented in the Grand Canyon. The most important aspects of this table/figure are:

  1. This tale of fossils is not hypothetical; it’s what is simply there.  Anyone can go and observe the fossils in these rock formations.  Proponents of either viewpoint (flood geology or modern geology) must explain this sequence of fossils in order for their claims to be considered valid.
  2. The increase in complexity and diversity from the lowest (oldest) to the highest (youngest) rocks is readily apparent.  In Precambrian rocks only simple algae are found, but as one goes up the entire sequence, the age and character of the fossils change from dominance by invertebrates (Paleozoic), to the appearance and proliferation of dinosaurs (Mesozoic), to the appearance and proliferation of mammals and birds (Cenozoic).
  3. This table also denotes the major extinctions that have occurred over the history of life on planet Earth.  After each extinction, fossils from the major taxonomic groups appear or disappear in the Grand Canyon-Grand Staircase sequence with the same order and timing as observed globally.  This is a conspicuous trend in the history of life, and, in fact, boundaries between several geologic eras or periods are defined by the disappearance of one or more types of life forms.

The other major thing to realize is that if you follow the Colorado to the sea today you will find all types of modern life: tuna, grouper, swordfish, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, etc.  And shell-forming creatures as well such as diatoms, forams, and cocolithophorid algae.  If we look for fossil examples of these creatures in the Grand Canyon, how many do we find?  The answer is not just a low number – it is ZERO.  Because they did not exist when the Grand Canyon rocks were formed- period- end of argument (Mike drops the mic), Fi-ne’, Auf Wiedersehen, Sayonara, 再见.

From the perspective of flood geology, all major categories of organisms living today were present prior to the flood, so the pre-flood deposits, which according to flood advocates are all the Supergroup layers below the Great Unconformity, should contain all major categories of organisms.  Yet the only evidence of fossil life- in thousands of feet of accumulated sediment- is colonial algae and plankton.  Now think about it, plankton is floating algae. How is it that only plankton, but no other floating organism or multicellular organisms at all, are there- when Genesis1 states that there were multicellular plants and animals including fish that existed in pre flood days.  This not only violates a literal reading of the Bible, it violates common sense.

Many of the Mesozoic layers in the Grand Staircase contain ONLY terrestrial fossils (land and freshwater organisms).  In the Chinle Formations there are insects, scorpions, freshwater fish, tetrapods, and early dinosaurs.  There are no marine organisms of any kind in the Chinle.  That is baffling if one holds to a scenario of these rocks having been deposited in a worldwide oceanic flood.

Flood geologists have called upon some sort of hydrodynamic sorting due to earthquakes or currents or something to separate deceased organisms based on size or density.  However, abundant microfossils are well mixed both above and below layers with larger fossil bones.  What would be the pattern of fossil organisms emplace in a single, violent catastrophic flood that ripped them out of their life environment and were carried vast distances by powerful tsunami-like currents and dumped into layers of sand and mud that were rapidly being deposited?  Shouldn’t we expect that all kinds of living communities would be jumbled together?  Instead what we see are samples of discreet ancient living communities or ecosystems.  Deep water marine to shallow marine, near shore bays and estuaries, beaches, deltas, freshwater lakes, and even deserts succeeding one another.  They succeed one another because during the immense time it took to deposit the layers the environment changed.


The next chapter, Chapter 14-Tiny Plants-Big Impacts: Pollen, Spores, and Plant Fossils, is even more devastating to the YEC positions because plants, unlike big animals, couldn’t run to higher ground during the flood which is the typical argument for the Faunal Succession that is witnessed in the animal fossil record.  For example, pollen and spores (and our ability to identify what plants they came from), by their very small size, are broadly distributed by even gentle wind and currents.  In a violent global flood, we should expect a thorough mixing of all types of these tiny particles in all the different flood layers and we should expect to have mismatches between the pollen and spores and the macroscopic plant fossils.  So what do we see?


We see the same principles of succession in the Grand Canyon and the Grand Staircase that the animals follow.  Cambrian and Devonian rocks (Tapeats Sandstone to Temple Butte Formation) contain only simple three-lobed spores from now extinct simple spore-bearing plants and algae.  Spores from lycopods (club mosses, horsetails, scale trees like Lepidodendron) and ferns are plentiful in rocks above the Temple Butte Formation.


Lepidodendron — the “Scale Tree”

Conifers are the dominant plants in the Triassic and Jurassic rocks of the Grand Staircase and their pollen is readily distinguishable from flowering-plant pollen.  Significantly, the absence of any macroscopic fossils of flowering plants in Grand Canyon rock layers is matched by a complete absence of fossil flowering-plant pollen.  Flowering plants don’t appear in the fossil record before the Cretaceous age (about 140 million years ago).  Flowering plants make up 80% of all plants today.  The flood model would predict that plant remains, especially pollen, that were present prior to the global flood would be distributed throughout the geologic column.  As the book says (page 151):

Yet such remains are conspicuously absent from all rocks older than Cretaceous age.  Said another way, in spite of hundreds of square miles of exposed surfaces throughout the Grand Canyon, not a single unambiguous pollen grain from a flowering plant has ever been discovered in any unaltered rock layer below the rim.  This alone should be enough to categorically reject a global flood explanation for the Grand Canyon.

Footprints in the Coconino Sandstone

Footprints in the Coconino Sandstone

Chapter 15- Trace Fossils; Footprints and Imprints of Past Life covers a third category of fossils found in the Grand Canyon.  Trace fossils are tracks, trails, burrows, borings and other structures made by ancient organisms that are preserved in the fossil record.  Trace fossils differ from body fossils in that they are a record of the animal’s behavior rather than part of the organism itself.  Go to the ocean beach (I would like to go right now), walk down by the water in the zone where the waves are gently washing up and receding.  Make some footprints.  Watch the waves gently wash over the footprints.  How long until the footprints are gone?  How long would the footprints last in a RAGING TORRENT?  Exactly.

The Coconino Sandstone is a thick sequence of sandstone that is well exposed in the Grand Canyon.  The Coconino is evidence of an enormous desert sand sea (called an erg) like the Sahara, the Sonoran in northwest Mexico, and the Arabian Peninsula. No remains of animals have been found in the Coconino, which is typical in desert environments where scavengers, wind, and hot sun remove flesh and bones rather quickly.  The Coconino Sandstone also contains no evidence of aquatic organisms of any kind that might support an argument for deposition in a deep-water, flood environment as has been proposed by flood geologists.  The trace fossils consist of large to small vertebrate tracks and also include tracks and burrows very similar to those left by spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and other arthropods in modern desert environments.

Some flood geologists have claimed that vertebrate tracks in the Coconino were made by amphibians walking or running underwater in an attempt to escape advancing flood waters.  Studies were performed in tanks of water and sand to prove that the tracks can be made underwater.  Of course, they do not replicate the presence of running and galloping gaits that are only possible on dry land.  Ironically, the experiments were performed in gentle currents of 0.25 feet per second- hardly the raging torrents required by flood geology.  Maybe this is because the experimenters knew that even mild currents of 1.0 feet per second would wipe out the footprints.  Go to the beach… Oh nevermind.

As the book says (page 159):

Although flood geologists claim that this sandstone was deposited in rapidly flowing water that was hundreds of feet deep, the presence of raindrop impressions, desiccation cracks, and well sorted frosted sand grains, along with the angle of the slope in cross-beds, the absence or scarcity of body fossils, and preservation of footprints, are all clear indicators of a sand desert.  Asserting an aquatic environment for the Coconino Sandstone requires ignoring nearly all the geological and paleontological evidence.  Truly, as one flood geologist has said, I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.


• • •

Photo by Joe Jiang at Flickr. Creative Commons License


  1. I can’t access the archived posts. The website asks for a WordPress name and password. Can anyone help me out? Thanks!

  2. I can see now I’m going to have to buy this book especially for the cool looking charts and diagrams. Of course I could get a copy as a Christmas present for my hyper-fundamentalist cousin Larry back in Georgia. When I was down visiting over Thanksgiving I noticed the reading material in his bathroom was one of those “44 reasons why Evolution is False” kind of books.

    The funny (and kind of sad) part is that we share a life-long interest in astronomy. As kids we would take our little telescopes out and spend hours looking at the night sky. (We grew up in a rural area and back then you could still get some seriously clear dark nights.) Larry is now the president of his local astronomy club which is not church affiliated so you meet all types there. Several years ago on a visit I went with him to one of the regular observings and the conversation came up about the distances to the stars and the age of the universe.

    Larry didn’t preach but he did say because of his religious beliefs he thought the universe couldn’t be more than 10,000 years old. Someone pointed out that many of the stars and galaxies we observe are millions of light years away and since scientists can measure the speed of light very accurately we know that the universe must be considerably older than that. Larry didn’t question our measurements or our ability to determine cosmic distances. No, he came out with the thing about God creating the universe where the light had already reached us from these enormous distances at the moment of creation.

    I was utterly flabbergasted by this attitude. What is it that makes someone so willing to cling tenaciously to a view that is contradicted in every way by experience and observation? Larry and the folks who think like him will go get a flu shot every year and never make the connection with evolution. They will look at the Andromeda galaxy on a winter night knowing that it is 2.5 million light years away and think that God would intentionally design the universe so that observation would cause us to be deceived.

    All the cumulative evidence from geology and astronomy and biology testify to an old earth and staggeringly old universe. No, we don’t have all the answers but why would we think we ever would? If our spirituality can’t reconcile us to our real world then what’ the point if it?

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Stephen, your observations are accurate and sad.

    • I would say it’s some kind of weird form of Maslow-like “hierarchy of needs” where the “need” to have ones literalistic interpretation of the Bible be satisfied so one can be saved from hell and be a “true” Chrisitian is higher than the need to resolve the cognitive dissonance of the fundamentalist position vis a vis actual science. A lot has to do with the pressure to conform to ones peer group as well.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        I would agree that your statement is likely true. On another note, I’m on high alert for ‘poes.’ 😉

      • I mean, you might be asking somebody to give up their church they’ve gone to for years, most or all of their friends, possible ostracism from family- that’s a tall order to request from anyone. It is why I try to be as patient and irenic as I can. It is a HUGE emotional investment you are asking for. Plus the FEAR that one is offending or being dis-loyal to their Savior, who has done so much for them. Few people are Vulcan/Spock-like logicians.

        • “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” Spock, *Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country*

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Another corollary of a Gospel of Personal Salvation/Fire Insurance and ONLY Personal Salvation/Fire Insurance.

  3. Wayne Essel (kurmujjin) says:

    Jumping into the deep end… I like this series. And my background is pretty scientific, I’ve been at various times a biologist, engineer, nuke operator, flight navigator, computer programmer. So, logic is a friend. I’m generally in the billions of years old universe camp. And I’m generally not in the literal biblical interpretation camp.

    But, you know, it’s a miracle that anything exists at all… no matter HOW you talk about it. And our understanding of how it works is as “through a veil”. For all I know, it could be a giant hologram where the fossil and paleolithic record was created as-is for our entertainment and as part of our story. And it might be different for different creatures and universes.

    What the scientists have discovered, I generally accept. And I need to remind myself not to get too condescending towards someone who feels strongly about a young earth. It seems there could be an outside chance that they have at least some truth.

    • As much as I appreciate your humility and the courtesy you show to YEC brethren, I don’t think it wise to allow even a crack of credence to their position. It’s not only unscientific, it’s bad Bible interpretation and theology. The fundamentalism it represents will not countenance any deviation from biblicism, under threat of hellfire. No sane perspective can have a voice in the same room with that.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        We’re Talking True Believers with a Zero Sum Game.
        They HAVE to WIN, and WIN by MAKING YOU LOSE.
        Think “North Korea or Taliban in negotiations.”

      • I give the unscientific crowd who say I don’t understand it but I feel God did it via a miracle something of a limited pass.

        But I refuse to give any ground to anyone who claims to make science backup up YEC.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Flood geologists have called upon some sort of hydrodynamic sorting due to earthquakes or currents or something to separate deceased organisms based on size or density.

    Or their ultimate fallback position:

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And second-to-ultimate fallback:
      “It’s No More Fantastic than a crucified man Rising From The Dead After Three Days in the tomb…”

  5. Robert rogland says:

    Buy the book! I bought two, and plan to buy a couple more. It is well done and compelling