Not So Amusing Geological Misinterpretations
Dr. Kevin R. Henke
The following material may be freely copied and distributed as long as it's not altered, edited or sold.
Dr. David Plaisted is a computer scientist and creationist critic of orthodox geology, see A Creation Perspective.
He is also the radiometric dating "expert" for the True.origin website:
Dr. Plaisted seems to be a very nice and sincere guy. However, his essays on creationism contain numerous errors; unproven speculations and accusations; "discoveries" and "observations" that geologists knew about decades or even hundreds of years ago; citations from anonymous emails, newspaper articles and other questionable sources; misinterpretations of the literature and serious misunderstandings of geology, chemistry, physics, biology, and other topics that are clearly beyond his area of expertise.
At Musings on Geology Dr. Plaisted attempts to describe the Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary record and its origin. Without using references, Dr. Plaisted makes several generalizations about the characteristics of sedimentary rocks that are mostly false. First, he claims that there's "often not much evidence of erosion" within Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks. Of course, unconformities (that is, surfaces of erosion or non-deposition) are more common than not in the geologic record. As one example, the cross-section of Nebraska at the following website shows only small amounts of Jurassic rocks in western Nebraska, whereas the rocks are entirely absent in the eastern portion of the state, seeBedrock Geologic Map of Nebraska.
Obviously, there was little deposition and/or extensive erosion of Jurassic deposits in Nebraska before the deposition of the Cretaceous Dakota Formation.
As another example from the United States, unconformities are common in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks of the Williston Basin of North Dakota as shown in Figure 7 at the Overview of the North Dakota Williston Basin site.
In response to the obvious presence of unconformities in the Paleozoic-Mesozoic geologic record, Dr. Plaisted simply suggests that the forces of "Noah's Flood" could explain any of the unconformities. However, many unconformities show strong evidence of LONG periods of weathering, including the presence of in-situ ancient soils, or paleosols. In North America alone, paleosols (ancient soils) are fairly common. Like modern soils, paleosols show evidence of a slow and subaerial origin. That is, they show no sign of being produced or disturbed by a violent "Genesis Flood" on a "young" Earth. Paleosols have been identified in the Ordovician of the Southern Appalachians (Driese and Foreman, 1992), Silurian of central Pennsylvania (Driese et al., 1992), Devonian of Pennsylvania and New York (Driese et al. 1997), Devonian to Lower Carboniferous of Nova Scotia (Martel and Gibling, 1996), Mississippian of Tennessee (Driese et al., 2000, Caudill et al., 1996; Driese et al., 1994) and Alabama (Kenny and Krinsley, 1992), Carboniferous of Arkansas (Webb, 1994), Pennsylvanian of Arizona (Nick et al., 1991), Pennsylvanian of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas (Joeckel, 1994), Pennsylvanian of Kansas and Missouri (Olszewski, 1996), Pennsylvanian of Iowa and Nebraska (Joeckel, 1995a), Pennsylvanian of Missouri (Retallack and Germanheins, 1994), Pennsylvanian of Pennsylvania (Gill and Yemane, 1996), Pennsylvanian of the Appalachians (eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and surrounding states) (Joeckel, 1995b), Pennsylvanian-Permian of Arizona (Kenny and Neet, 1993), Permian of Kansas (Miller and West, 1998), Permian of southeastern Nebraska (Joeckel, 1991), Permian of mid-USA (Miller et al., 1996), Triassic of western Canada (Davies, 1997), Triassic of Utah (Chan, 1999), the Chinle Formation (Late Triassic) of Arizona (Therrien and Fastovsky, 2000), the Triassic-Jurassic of the northeastern USA, and in many other Precambrian to Pleistocene deposits from around the world. Also see Radiometric Dating, Paleosols and the Geologic Column: Three strikes against Young Earth Creationism, and Weathering mantles and the Age of the Earth.
Again, most of these paleosols contain textures, structures, in-situ fossils and other features that utterly refute "Flood geology." For example, the Ordovician Beans Gap Claystone paleosol contains textures and structures, which indicate that the ancient soil formed in a climate with a 4-8 month/year DRY season (Driese and Foreman, 1992). Evidence of alternating wet and dry seasons are also present in the Late Silurian paleosols of the Bloomsburg Formation of central Pennsylvania (Driese et al., 1992). How can widespread paleosols with evidence of alternating wet and dry seasons occur in the middle of a geologic record that supposedly formed during a "year-long worldwide Flood"? Root and in-growth position stump casts of Devonian trees are present in the Catskill Delta Complex of Pennsylvania and New York (Driese et al., 1997). Root and intact rootlet traces also occur in an Arizona Pennsylvanian paleosol (Nick et al., 1991). How could these undisturbed trees and their delicate roots and soils form within "Flood" deposits? The properties of a Late Mississippian paleosol from central Tennessee indicate that the climate was semiarid (Caudill et al., 1996), which is also hardly consistent with "Genesis Flood" deposits. Weathering and subaerial exposure are also evident in regional paleosols associated with the Mississippian Hartselle Sandstone in central Tennessee and northern Alabama (Driese et al., 1994). These paleosols and their fossils flatly contradict Dr. Plaisted's claims that there is no evidence of plant or animal growth between "layers of sediment." Miller and West (1998) note that the Lower Permian rocks of Kansas contain a "multitude of subaerial exposure surfaces ranging from desiccation cracks [which result from the drying of sediments before burial] to well-developed paleosols." Again, how can sediments repeatedly form and dry out during the middle of "Noah's Flood"? Chan (1999) describes a 37 meter-thick layer of wind-blown silt (a loessite) in the Triassic Ankareh Formation. Silt layers commonly accumulate in dry climates, but how can wind-blown silt layers accumulate during "Noah's Flood"? Now young-Earth creationists (YECs) might suggest that these brittle soils and rocks formed in the desert and glacial climates of the "Pre-Flood" world, but how could any "Flood" neatly stack these rocks and sediments without them being overturned, mixed and destroyed?
Dr. Plaisted's further claims:
"The layers of sediment (that were obviously flat when they were deposited) often extend for hundreds of miles. These facts are visible to all, but their significance is often missed."
In the 17th century, Nicolas Steno recognized that gravity causes sediments to be more or less deposited "flat." His discovery is called the "Principle of Original Horizontality" (Boggs, 1995, p. 3). Field geologists have used this principle for centuries.
Although non-geologists may "often miss" the extensive nature of "sediment layers" (formations), geologists recognized long ago that formations may extend for hundreds of kilometers. Now, many young-Earth creationists mistakenly believe that because formations APPEAR homogeneous, they must have an essentially uniform age. However, geologists abandoned this belief decades ago (Mintz, 1977, p. 31-34, 218-220). Formations do not necessarily have uniform ages. Structures, fossils and textural evidence in many formations, such as the Ordovician St. Peter Sandstone, clearly indicate that parts of a formation may be significantly older than other areas. Specifically, migrating shorelines are recognized in the St. Peter Sandstone (Mintz, 1977, p. 31-35). For example, the youngest shoreline is located in Nebraska and the Dakotas. Another shoreline passes through Wisconsin, Iowa and to the southwest. Two more shorelines pass through different parts of Illinois and Missouri. The oldest shoreline is located in Kentucky and Arkansas (Mintz, 1977, p. 35). Field evidence indicates that the extensive coverage area of the St. Peter Sandstone resulted from the migration of near-shore environments over millions of years.
The extensive sorting and polishing of the highly pure quartz grains in the St. Peter Sandstone (Levin, 1978, p. 278) are also hardly compatible with a "quick and dirty" year-long "Genesis Flood" (Young, 1982, p. 85). Studies indicate that for several million years during the Cambrian-Ordovician, carbonates were deposited and dolomitized in North America (Dott and Batten, 1981, p. 256-257). Afterwards, the Ordovician sea RETREATED from North America, which eroded many of the earlier deposited dolostones and allowed for previously deposited Cambrian sandstones to weather and undergo extensive resorting, which further rounded the grains and purged them of softer and more weatherable non-quartz minerals (Dott and Batten, 1981, p. 257). A rapid "Genesis Flood" cannot effectively destroy non-quartz minerals, thoroughly purge their remains from the sediments, effectively round the quartz grains, and still quickly deposit the sediments. Without magic, only slow chemical reactions and physical sorting can remove non-quartz minerals and purify and polish the quartz sands. These long cycles of deposition and erosion during the Cambrian-Ordovician are also hardly compatible with a "young" Earth.
Next, Dr. Plaisted compares his beliefs on the characteristics of Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks with his knowledge of sediment properties in modern depositional environments. The purpose of the comparison is to determine whether depositional processes in modern environments can explain the origins of ancient sediments or whether a "Genesis Flood" is "required." Dr. Plaisted begins his comparison by making some statements on the deposition of sediments in river deltas. In the following statement, Dr. Plaisted unknowingly describes the slightly dipping topset, forset, and bottomset beds of deltas (Boggs, 1995, Figure 11.6, p. 362):
"Now, river deltas are affected by the current of the outflowing water, and so are not completely level. In addition, the accumulation of sediment causes the river to extend further and further out into the ocean, so that the layers would not continue to accumulate in the same location and parallel to one another for millions of years. Geologists appear to recognize this."
Certainly, geologists recognize these migrating structures in deltas (Boggs, 1995, p. 356-377), especially geologists that look for petroleum deposits in them (North, 1990, p. 166f). Beginning with G.K. Gilbert's fieldwork in the Pleistocene deposits of Lake Bonneville in 1885, geologists identified the internal structures of deltas in detail and developed explanations on how they form (Boggs, 1995, p. 361-362). Rivers certainly tend to frequently meander and shift the locations of their deltas as Dr. Plaisted claims, but they do not support his creationist views. As an example, the Mississippi River and its deltas have been migrating southward from southern Illinois for millions of years. Figure 13.28 in Press and Siever (2001) and Ritter et al. (1995, p. 265-268) show the locations of the active Mississippi River deltas during just the past 6,000 years.
Dr. Plaisted also correctly claims that lakes will fill with sediments over time. Many of the smaller lakes in Minnesota, Michigan and other areas, which were created by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, have filled in and are now bogs or farmland. Geologists recognize that lakes may only last for a few centuries to millions of years depending on their size, depth, the presence of any tectonic or volcanic activity and the amount of sediment they receive. Dr. Plaisted further states:
"In fact, the lakes existing today are for the most part filling with sediment and will not last for long. So this could not account for millions of years [worth] of sediment, either, as required by conventional geologic time scales."
Certainly, ancient lake deposits (such as the Eocene Green River Formation) are locally important in the geologic record. However, Dr. Plaisted fails to recognize that multiple Quaternary glaciations in North America and Eurasia and tectonic and volcanic activity in other areas (such as Crater Lake in Oregon) periodically produce new lakes. The existence of lakes does not imply a "young Earth" as Dr. Plaisted seems to suggest.
In making the following statement, Dr. Plaisted fails to recognize the presence of erosion and facies changes in defining the boundaries of different formations:
"In addition, lakes must have borders, but the sediment found in nature is not bordered by other rock structures. Rather, the sediments just continue on indefinitely in all directions [sic]."
No formation indefinitely extends worldwide in all directions. For example, Figure 3.3 in Mintz (1977, p. 34) shows the remaining distribution of the St. Peter Sandstone in North America. Although the highly eroded formation covers large patches of the central United States, its distribution is hardly "indefinite." Figure 14.6 in Boggs (1995, p. 500) also illustrates the facies relationships for Upper Cretaceous rocks in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. Formations may "pinch out" along ancient shorelines or grade into rocks with different lithological properties (facies changes). Specifically, the non-marine deposits (hardly compatible with Noah's Flood!) and coastal sandstones of the Judith River Formation pinch out into the Pierre Shale.
Dr. Plaisted is perplexed by how massive and supposedly flat-lying formations could ever form on continents. However, the origins of these formations is not a great mystery when one realizes that most formations do not have uniform ages and many of the more extensive formations (such as the St. Peter Sandstone) were deposited on very eroded and fairly flat areas. Shallow seas, as well as subaerial conditions, would have periodically covered these flat areas. Nevertheless, because of their depositional characteristics, compaction during diagenesis (sediment "lithification") and possible tectonism, many formations are not that flat or uniform in thickness. For example, Figure 15.14 in Boggs (1995, p. 549) shows a seismic cross-section of sediments in the Beaufort Sea, which includes many gently sloping and faulted sediment sequences. A cross-section of the Muav, Bright Angel and Tapeats Formations of the Grand Canyon region also shows that many of these rocks are not absolutely "flat." Similar sloping rock units may be seen at The Hydrocarbon Potential of Costa Rica.
Additional information on sediment deposition and facies changes can be found at Seismic Stratigraphy.
A "Genesis Flood" is also not required to bury and fossilize large numbers of organisms. Marine landslides (turbidites) are common on continental shelves and may bury numerous marine animals. Shells may be readily found in modern beach deposits. Storms, periodic shifts in ocean currents or changes in the flow directions of rivers may easily bury the shells. Organisms may also be slowly buried and well-preserved in low-oxygen bottom waters, such as the Black Sea or in many bogs and swamps. The famous Danish "bog mummies" are an excellent example of preservation in modern bog environments, as shown at Bodies of the Bogs.
Water is not always required to bury organisms, which may later become fossils. For example, slides on desert sand dunes or dust storms may bury organisms or footprints, burrows and other traces left by animals. Massive volcanic ash falls may also preserve animals and plants, such as the infamous destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79AD. Organisms are also buried and fossilized in cold marine and non-marine environments, such the Permian of South Africa (Martini and Banks, 1989; Taylor et al., 1989). Again, the burial and fossilization of Paleozoic organisms in dry and cold climates are hardly compatible with "Noah's Flood." (Also, see Ancient Ice Ages AND Submarine Landslides, but NOT Noah's Flood for a rebuttal of young-Earth creationist Oard's attempt to explain away the reality of Precambrian and Paleozoic glaciations.)
The source rocks of local or regional sediments that formed Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks are also not as mysterious as Dr. Plaisted claims:
"Finally, much of the [Paleozoic and Mesozoic] sediment is inorganic that must have had a source (a mountain or volcano) and must have been transferred to the area for millions of years. This source has disappeared from the geologic record without a trace, and the transport of inorganic matter to the layers of sediment implies processes of erosion which however are little in evidence. There are deposits, but as far as I know, no volcanic mountains."
As stated earlier, many of the highly pure sands in the St. Peter Sandstone originated from the erosion of older Cambrian sandstones. Also, for hundreds of millions of years, the Canadian Shield and the Appalachian Mountains have provided a lot of quartz-rich sediments for various formations in the central portion of the United States. To be exact, the chemistry of minerals in metamorphic and igneous rocks that now crop out in the English River Subprovince and elsewhere in the Canadian Shield of northwestern Ontario indicate that they originally formed AT LEAST 12 kilometers (3.5 kilobars) below the Earth's surface (Baumann, 1985; Winkler, 1979, p. 5). Over the past 2.5 billion years, the thick overlying materials eroded away to provide sediments to surrounding regions. In areas that lacked silicate sources, it's not surprising that limestones and other carbonates are dominant. Similarly, modern limestones are dominant in the Bahamas and parts of the Caribbean where silica-bearing volcanic rocks are absent. Because volcanoes often consist of fine-grained and easily weathered glasses, ashes and high-temperature minerals, it's not surprising that large, intact volcanoes are rare in the geologic record.
Dr. Plaisted further denies that paleovalleys are preserved in the geologic record:
"No edges to the valley are found in the sediments, either, but the sediments extend on and on in all directions."
Although widespread erosion typically destroys paleovalleys and other large-scale paleolandforms, paleovalleys have been identified in the geologic record, including in the Carboniferous of Nova Scotia (Gibling and Bird, 1994), eastern Kansas (Buatois et al., 1998) and northeastern Oklahoma (Ye and Kerr, 2000), just to name three examples. Paleosols are also associated with the Nova Scotia deposits. Clearly, paleovalleys and their associated formations are very localized and are associated with rivers and other features that are also seen in the modern world. The geologic record supports actualism and not the unusual claims of "Flood geology."
Dr. Plaisted further asks:
"Also, if there were multiple floods in a desert region, where do all the marine fossils come from?"
Of course, the presence of marine fossils near desert deposits is not unusual. Many modern deserts are commonly located near marine shorelines (California, Namibia, Chile, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, etc.). As sea levels changed over time, perhaps from the growth or destruction of massive continental glaciers in other parts of the world, desert and near-shore marine deposits would readily overlap. Again, a "Genesis Flood" is not required to explain the presence of marine deposits overlying or underlying desert deposits.
In his essay, Dr. Plaisted describes an angular unconformity. However, he does not appear to realize that there are other types of unconformities, including paraconformities, disconformities and nonconformities (Boggs, 1995, p. 495):
"Let me comment briefly on these unconformities between layers. There are places where one geologic layer is tilted relative to the next one, indicating some erosion and passage of time in between the layers."
So far, Dr. Plaisted's description of an angular unconformity is correct. Sediments are laid down, deeply buried, lithified to sedimentary rocks, folded, uplifted and partially eroded. Eventually, fresh sediment is deposited on top of the folded rocks. Everything is buried, lithified to sedimentary rocks and eventually uplifted again to crop out where geologists find them as an angular unconformity. However, Dr. Plaisted's descriptions soon divert into error:
"However, these unconformities are not cosynchronous [sic] all over the world. This means that for any two successive geological layers A and B, there is somewhere in the world where they are laid down without significant evidences [sic] of erosion between them."
It is utterly false to claim that ALL rocks above or below angular unconformities are conformable in other areas. For example, where are the conformities between the Devonian Old Red Sandstone and the underlying Silurian strata? This contact in Scotland was the first angular unconformity to be identified, which was recognized by James Hutton in 1788 (Levin, 1978, p. 202). Once more, Dr. Plaisted is making blanket statements about geology that have no support.
The following statement by Dr. Plaisted is also false:
"Assuming as geologists do that geological layers are deposited simultaneously all over the world, this would imply that the whole geological sequence was laid down rapidly at one time."
Geologists do not believe that "geological layers are deposited simultaneously all over the world." As discussed above, extensive formations often do not have uniform ages. The geologic record consists of a series of localized to regional deposits, which formed in different places at different times. Preservation of these sediments was also very selective. Even today, sediments are being deposited in the Gulf of Mexico, while at the same time erosion and non-deposition may be occurring in large portions of central Iowa. It is very rare to find geologic deposits in diverse parts of the world that formed at exactly the same time. Indeed, even with the best dating methods, we can't date rocks to within one year. Dr. Plaisted has no scientific evidence to claim that the entire geologic record formed rapidly from a year-long, worldwide "Genesis Flood." In the early 19th century, geologists correctly concluded that the geologic record refuted "Flood geology" and a "young Earth" (Young, 1982, p. 41-54).
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