Creationist Mumbo Jumbo at Dinosaur National Monument
Kevin R. Henke, Ph.D.
23 November 2004
The following material may be freely copied and distributed as long as the author is acknowledged and the text is not altered, edited or sold.
The Jurassic Morrison Formation (also here and here) of North America is well known for its magnificent dinosaur fossils, including the beautiful exposures at Dinosaur National Monument. Because the fossils often (but not always) occur in chaotic masses (Dodson et al., 1980, p. 208, 214-215), many young-Earth creationists (YECs) have long argued that these dinosaur remains are "evidence" of "Noah's Flood" (for example, Wysong, 1981, p. 357). However, as discussed below, a detailed review of the geology of the formation conflicts with the claims of young-Earth creationism.
MORRISON FORMATION: INCOMPATIBLE WITH "FLOOD GEOLOGY"
Unlike other YECs, William A. Hoesch and Steven A. Austin of the Institute for Creation "Research" (ICR) are surprisingly silent on specifically mentioning "Noah's Flood" in their article on the Morrison Formation. Perhaps, Hoesch and Austin recognize that the formation creates too many problems for their "Flood" scenario. Instead, they might want to leave open the possibility that the formation developed through a series of what YECs might call "localized post-Flood watery catastrophes".
Among the many problems for "Flood geology" advocates are the dinosaur tracks and track ways that have been found in at least the Salt Wash and Lower Bushy Basin members of the formation (Engelmann and Hasiotis, 1999; Lockley et al., 1986; Dodson et al., 1980, p. 213). As shown in the stratigraphic record of Dinosaur National Monument, extensively thick formations occur above and below the Morrison. Now, many YECs (beginning with Whitcomb and Morris, 1961) consider all Cambrian to Tertiary (Pliocene) sedimentary rocks (in this case, the Lodore to the Browns Park formations) to be "Flood deposits". If this version of "Flood geology" is true, how did all of the dinosaurs walking (not running in a panic, Lockley et al., 1986, p. 1172) on the Morrison sediments avoid burial and death during the deposition of the Lodore, Madison, Humbug, Doughnut, Round Valley, Morgan, Weber, Park City, Moenkopi, Chinle, Glen Canyon, Carmel, Entrada, and Stump formations? Why are they still walking around during the middle of a "Flood"? Lockley et al. (1986, p. 1165) even mention the existence of multiple footprint horizons in the formation and rightly conclude that dinosaurs frequented the sites over an EXTENDED period of time. How could multiple footprint horizons form during a chaotic "Genesis Flood"? Furthermore, if the Morrison Formation is in the middle of thick "Flood deposits", why are subaerial sands located in the Junction Creek Sandstone at the base of the formation (Turner and Fishman, 1991, p. 540)? If the Brushy Basin Member, which is located at the top of the formation, is part of the "Flood" deposits, why does it contain so many features that indicate prolonged subaerial conditions, including: local paleosols (ancient soils), desiccation mud chips, burrows, root markings from plants, some polygonal desiccation cracks, casts of salt crystals, and clay pellet aggregates (Turner and Fishman, 1991, p. 543, 545, 546, 547, 557; Lockley et al., 1986, p. 1168)? How did these plants, soils, or drying sediments have time to form during the middle of a rapid Deluge? If the dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation were rapidly buried by "Noah's Flood", why do taphonomic studies indicate that many of the carcasses were exposed to subaerial conditions for significant periods of time before burial (Dodson et al., 1980, p. 228)?
When citing Turner and Fishman (1991), Hoesch and Austin fail to mention several critical details in the article, probably because they are entirely inconsistent with "Flood geology". For example, when discussing the presence of Jurassic Lake T'oo'dichi' during the deposition of the sediments of the Brushy Basin Member, Turner and Fishman (1991, p. 538) state:
Late Jurassic climate was apparently much MORE ARID than had previously been thought. In fact, sedimentologic evidence suggests that the lake basin was TYPICALLY DRY FOR EXTENDED PERIODS AND ENJOYED ONLY BRIEF WET INTERVALS. [my emphasis]
So, how could a lake periodically dry up during "Noah's Flood"? Turner and Fishman (1991, p. 556-557) also provide the following details on the arid to semi-arid conditions associated with Lake T'oo'dichi':
That Lake T'oo'dichi' was typically a shallow lake that frequently evaporated to dryness can be discerned from both clastic and tuffaceous deposits.
Discovery of a large alkaline, saline lake in the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation has interesting paleoclimatic implications. In the past, a humid, subtropical climate had been inferred for the Late Jurassic in the Colorado Plateau region because remains of large herbivorous dinosaurs are found within the Morrison. Recent work by vertebrate paleontologists (R. Bakker, 1987, oral commun.) suggests that a semiarid to arid climate is a more reasonable interpretation.
How can arid or semiarid climates exist during "Noah's Flood"?
To avoid these problems, YECs might argue that the Brushy Basin Member had a "post-Flood" origin. However, without invoking another Deluge in violation of Genesis 8:21-22, how could the overlying Cedar Mountain, Dakota, Mowry, Frontier, Mancos, Bishop, Browns Park, and Quaternary deposits form in a "post-Flood" period of 4,000 years or less? Furthermore, coal reflectance and other data indicate that after deposition the Brushy Basin Member was buried to depths of at least 1800 meters (Turner and Fishman, 1991, p. 552). Later, the sedimentary rocks were uplifted to form outcrops. How can sediments be buried to depths of 1800 meters, held there long enough for unusual diagenetic minerals to form at moderate temperatures, uplifted and finally reexposed at the surface in 4000 years or less? Where's the evidence of any rapid movement? If the Morrison is "post-Flood", how did dinosaurs migrate back into this area so quickly after the "Flood"? Why didn't mammoths or other large mammals follow the dinosaurs from "Noah's ark" back to North America?
As usual, when the claims of YECs are compared to actual field data, their "Flood" and "post-Flood" mythologies rapidly fall apart. The stratigraphy, paleontology, and diagenetic mineralogy of the Morrison Formation simply won't fit into "Flood", "post-Flood" or even "pre-Flood" fantasies. YECs might want to hide behind their old "that's just your uniformitarian interpretation" ploy, but the field evidence in Dodson et al. (1980), Engelmann and Hasiotis (1999), Lockley et al. (1986), Turner and Fishman (1991) and other references completely refutes such a tactic.
The inability of YECs to define a "Flood/post-Flood contact" in the geologic record of Dinosaur National Monument closely resembles what the famous naturalist and creationist Georges Cuvier experienced over 200 years ago. When faced with the same problem of where to place the "contact" in the rocks of the Paris Basin, Cuvier simply committed a bit of biblical heresy and concluded that there had been six worldwide "floods" over geologic time and that the last one represented "Noah's Flood" (Young, 1982, p. 50; Mintz, 1977, p. 7). Soon, however, Cuvier's ideas were dismissed as early 19th century geologists came to the realization that nothing in the geologic record supports the existence of world-wide floods (Young, 1982).
Hoesch and Austin are probably generally correct when they suggest that the dinosaur fossil assemblages of the Morrison Formation resulted from catastrophic mudflows. However, they are exaggerating when they claim that the dinosaur remains were buried by a "most extraordinary sedimentary process." Long ago geologists realized that the rapid burial of large numbers of carcasses is no evidence of "Noah's Flood". As Charles Darwin wrote on October 5, 1833 during his expedition to South America on the HMS Beagle, mass deaths and burial (that is, the formation of fossil "graveyards") are also modern phenomena and can be totally explained by natural catastrophes; such as, extensive droughts followed by severe storms:
While travelling through the country, I received several vivid descriptions of the effects of a late great drought; and the account of this may throw some light on the cases where vast numbers of animals of all kinds have been embedded together. The period included between the years 1827 and 1830 is called the "gran seco," or the great drought. During this time so little rain fell, that the vegetation, even to the thistles, failed; the brooks were dried up, and the whole country assumed the appearance of a dusty high-road. This was especially the case in the northern part of the province of Buenos Ayres and the southern part of St. Fé. Very great numbers of birds, wild animals, cattle, and horses perished from the want of food and water. A man told me that the deer used to come into his courtyard to the well, which he had been obliged to dig to supply his own family with water; and that the partridges had hardly strength to fly away when pursued. (7/8. In Captain Owen's "Surveying Voyage" volume 2 page 274, there is a curious account of the effects of a drought on the elephants, at Benguela (west coast of Africa). "A number of these animals had some time since entered the town, in a body, to possess themselves of the wells, not being able to procure any water in the country. The inhabitants mustered, when a desperate conflict ensued, which terminated in the ultimate discomfiture of the invaders, but not until they had killed one man, and wounded several others." The town is said to have a population of nearly three thousand! Dr. Malcolmson informs me, that during a great drought in India the wild animals entered the tents of some troops at Ellore, and that a hare drank out of a vessel held by the adjutant of the regiment.) The lowest estimation of the loss of cattle in the province of Buenos Ayres alone, was taken at one million head. A proprietor at San Pedro had previously to these years 20,000 cattle; at the end not one remained. San Pedro is situated in the middle of the finest country; and even now abounds again with animals; yet during the latter part of the "gran seco," live cattle were brought in vessels for the consumption of the inhabitants. The animals roamed from their estancias, and, wandering far southward, were mingled together in such multitudes, that a government commission was sent from Buenos Ayres to settle the disputes of the owners. Sir Woodbine Parish informed me of another and very curious source of dispute; the ground being so long dry, such quantities of dust were blown about, that in this open country the landmarks became obliterated, and people could not tell the limits of their estates. [new paragraph] I was informed by an eye-witness that the cattle in herds of thousands rushed into the Parana, and being exhausted by hunger they were unable to crawl up the muddy banks, and thus were drowned. The arm of the river which runs by San Pedro was so full of putrid carcasses, that the master of a vessel told me that the smell rendered it quite impassable. Without doubt several hundred thousand animals thus perished in the river: their bodies when putrid were seen floating down the stream; and many in all probability were deposited in the estuary of the Plata. All the small rivers became highly saline, and this caused the death of vast numbers in particular spots; for when an animal drinks of such water it does not recover. Azara describes the fury of the wild horses on a similar occasion, rushing into the marshes, those which arrived first being overwhelmed and crushed by those which followed. (7/9. "Travels" volume 1 page 374.) He adds that more than once he has seen the carcasses of upwards of a thousand wild horses thus destroyed. I noticed that the smaller streams in the Pampas were paved with a breccia of bones, but this probably is the effect of a gradual increase, rather than of the destruction at any one period. Subsequently to the drought of 1827 to 1832, a very rainy season followed which caused great floods. Hence it is almost certain that some thousands of the skeletons were buried by the deposits of the very next year. What would be the opinion of a geologist, viewing such an enormous collection of bones, of all kinds of animals and of all ages, thus embedded in one thick earthy mass? Would he not attribute it to a flood having swept over the surface of the land, rather than to the common order of things? (7/10. These droughts to a certain degree seem to be almost periodical; I was told the dates of several others, and the intervals were about fifteen years.)
The field data are obvious. Bone accumulations in the modern world and geologic record can be easily explained with actualism (modern uniformitarianism). In contrast, the data decisively refutes "Flood geology".
Dodson, P., A.K. Behrensmeyer, R.T. Bakker, and J.S. McIntosh, 1980, "Taphonomy and Paleoecology of the Dinosaur Beds of the Jurassic Morrison Formation", Paleobiology, v. 6, n. 2, p. 208-232.
Engelmann, G.F. and S.T. Hasiotis, 1999, "Deep Dinosaur Tracks in the Morrison Formation: Sole Marks that are Really Sole Marks", Vertebrate Paleontology in Utah, D.D. Gillette (ed.), Misc. Pub., Utah Geol. Survey, 99-1, p. 179-184.
Lockley, M., K. Houck, and N.K. Prince, 1986, "North America's Largest Dinosaur Trackway Site: Implications for Morrison Formation Paleoecology", Geol. Soc. Am. Bull., v. 97, p. 1163-1176.
Mintz, L.W., 1977, Historical Geology: The Science of a Dynamic Earth, Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., Columbus, OH.
Turner, C.E. and N.S. Fishman, 1991, "Jurassic Lake T'oo'dichi': A Large Alkaline, Saline Lake, Morrison Formation, Eastern Colorado Plateau", Geol. Soc. Am. Bull., v. 103, p. 538-558.
Whitcomb Jr., J. C., and Henry M. Morris, 1961, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications, 30th printing (1987), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.
Wysong, R.L., 1981, The Creation-Evolution Controversy, 5th printing, Inquiry Press, Midland, Michigan, USA.
Young, D.A., 1982, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.