The Geologic Column: Is That a Fact?
- Written by: Paul Taylor
It is a fact that the geologic column shows all the layers of rock, in the order that they were formed over millions of years, thus proving the Bible to be wrong. Isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. In fact, the geologic column is a construct—a composite picture compiled from data from lots of different places. If you examine rock structures found anywhere in the world, you will not find all the layers mentioned in the geologic column anywhere. There are a handful of places in the world where there seem to be representative portions from all the systems mentioned in the traditional geologic column, but even in these places, many actual layers are completely missing from the picture. In that sense, it is correct to say that the only place in the world where the complete geologic column can actually be found is in geology textbooks.
Well, it’s a fact that the rocks in the geologic column are arranged in order of age, so the composite picture must be true. Isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. If you look at an individual rocky outcrop, it is certainly usually the case that the higher-up rock is likely to be younger than the lower rock. However, this says nothing about the supposed timescale of the geologic column. For example, it is quite common to find fault lines where lots of layers of rock are bent and curved together. Yet these layers supposedly represent millions of years. But, in order for the folding and curving to occur across these layers, they must all have been still plastic when the folding occurred. Therefore, they cannot be millions of years old, and the age difference between higher and lower rocks in these structures can only be days, rather than millions of years.
Well, it’s a fact that the fossils in the geologic column are dated by carbon-dating. Isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. Carbon-dating does not date anything older than about 100,000 years, as this is more than ten times the half-life of carbon-14. Other radiometric dating methods are not used on fossil layers, because these are sedimentary rocks. We challenge the assumptions used to calculate radiometric ages, but, in any case, the radiometric methods are carried out on igneous rocks, not sedimentary rocks. Although one might suppose that sedimentary rocks could be approximately dated by their proximity to igneous rocks, in practice this does not always work, because there are occasions when “older” rocks are assumed to be above “lower” rocks. In fact, the dates of the sedimentary rocks are assigned according to the so-called “index fossils” within them. There will be more on this later. In fact, the millions of years were assigned to the geologic column before the advent of radiometric dating. Assumed timescales were suggested for the supposed evolution of certain creatures in the fossil record, and the dating assigned accordingly.
Well, it’s a fact that the fossils are arranged in evolutionary order. Isn’t it? You don’t find fossil rabbits in Jurassic rock.
No it isn’t. Of course, I am unaware of any fossil rabbit being found in Jurassic rock. That much is true. Though, if such a find were made, of a fossil out of place in the geologic column, it would not cause my worldview a problem, even though we have a legitimate explanation as to why such finds are not made. If the fossils are arranged in evolutionary order, then they cannot be offered as evidence for evolution, as this would be circular reasoning. Let me explain the logic behind this. The following set of statements would be logical. If evolution and millions of years were true, then one would expect to find a progression of gradually more complex organisms as one goes up the geologic column. However, it is illogical to reverse this and say that the existence of such a progression proves evolution. The reason why the latter is illogical is because there could be a completely legitimate alternative explanation, which would also lead to this supposed gradual progression. The logical fallacy that the evolutionists use here is known as “affirmation of the consequent.” Let’s give the alternative explanation in two parts.
The first part is to say that there are good creationist explanations as to why certain fossils are found together in the geologic column. For example, it is clear that dinosaur fossils are usually found in the same layers as gymnosperm plant fossils, and not angiosperms (flowering plants). But this does not have to be because of a timescale difference. It could simply be an environmental factor. Perhaps dinosaurs tended to live in gymnosperm forests, while mammals tended to live in angiosperm areas. This creationist model for the geologic column is more satisfying than the evolutionary model of millions of years. This is because the creationist model gives us a general rule, but easily permits out-of-place fossils, and, of course, such out-of-place fossils exist, such as mammals in the dinosaur layers, which evolutionists have to assume are “proto-mammals” on their way to evolution. In that case, rabbits simply did not live in the gymnosperm forests, and the existence of a rabbit fossil in the dinosaur layers becomes very unlikely, though not impossible. There is an old “joke” which asks, “Why do polar bears not eat penguins,” with the obvious answer being that they don’t live in the same part of the world. If this were true in a pre-Flood world, we would not expect to find fossil polar bears with fossil penguins.
But does the geologic column really start with simple marine invertebrates, and gradually progress to more complex fossils? In a way! We suggest that fossilization occurred mostly during the Flood, which would have been initiated by massive seismic activities, probably leading to early tsunamis and then initial retreat of waters, before final flooding of the continents. So, it is likely that large amounts of marine invertebrates would be washed onto the continents by the initial tsunamis, and then covered by later sedimentation. Thus, we would expect the lower levels of the geologic column to contain only marine invertebrates, with few, if any, of the so-called “higher” animals. Once again, the creationist model is superior, as it can more easily accommodate exceptions to the general rule, while easily explaining the general principles.
The pictures of creatures used in traditional geologic column diagrams are indicative of index fossils. Such fossils are thought to have first appeared in their particular strata, and to be indicative of the age of that stratum. One would expect such fossils to appear in layers higher than that, for which they are indices. This complicates the dating process. Dr. Gary Parker, for example, reports on the finding of a fossilized clam, which supposedly indexes strata which are millions of years old, yet it contains soft tissue, which cannot have survived for so long.
A great deal of creationist literature is available on the subject of the geologic column, and this article merely scratches the surface. Some less qualified creationists may have given the impression, unfortunately, that no patterns, that are used to compile the geologic column, exist in reality. This is not the case. However, we have seen that there are legitimate creationist explanations of such phenomenon, such as environmental considerations, or considerations in the Flood model of which organisms would be likely to be covered first.
For further information on these matters, please read the following:
High School students, confused by entries in their textbooks, should look at chapter 6 (“The Geologic Column”) of Exposing Evolution: Earth Science, by Roger Patterson, published by Answers in Genesis.
More general information can be obtained from chapter 31 (“Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages?”) from The New Answers Book 3, published by Master Books.
Detailed technical information for geology undergraduates and graduates can be obtained in chapters 61 and 99 of Earth’s Catastrophic Past by Dr. Andrew Snelling, published by the Institute for Creation Research.
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