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Framework makes a difference to interpretations of geological evidence

From Roy Thearle of Whitstable, UK, who gave permission for his full name to be used. His letter is followed by a response) by Dr Tas Walker, Answers in Genesis, also of Queensland, Australia (in dark green).

“In your article for today [The ‘Evidence’ for a Biblical Worldview] , you state, in reference to Leonardo Da Vinci:

But could it not be true that the mountains were lifted up and the valleys sank lower (as Psalm 104:6–9 indicates) after the Biblical Flood deposited those shells, as many creation scientists believe? Why would he not at least admit to that possibility?

“Why don’t you provide his answer to that last question? His works (as referenced in “Leonardo’s mountain of clams & the Diet of Worms”, S.J.Gould, among others) show that the reason he would not admit that possibility is that

  • the shells were found in multiple layers
  • shells in separate layers were closed, showing that they had been buried where they grew, and not transported
  • the shells were accompanied in these layers by trace fossils such as burrows and movement tracks
  • there were no traces of faults or deformations between the layers

“Therefore the shells must have been deposited by multiple events separated by enough time for the shells in the upper level to grow; hence they were not deposited as part of a single global flood.

“By presenting the question in the way that you do, you imply that Leonardo gave no reasons for rejecting the flood scenario, which is not true.


“P.S. No profanities, abuse, unsupported allegations, adverts or fake addresses [indeed, a rarity for a negative feeback, and a pleasant change — Ed.] — so no excuse for not publishing.”

Reply by Dr Tas Walker

Roy Thearle reinforces our point, that evidence does not speak for itself. Check the format of his argument because this approach leads to unbelief in the Word of God. According to Roy, Da Vinci followed the same approach.

In this approach the evidence is examined first (in this case geological layers with fossil shells). The evidence is then interpreted in a particular way which, because it presupposes that the Bible is not an accurate record of history, conflicts with the teaching of the Bible (the shells grew in place and were not deposited by a global Flood). Finally, the conflict is resolved by rejecting the Bible.

This is the wrong approach. As Christians, we know that one should hold firmly to the Word of God because we know it is true (see Q&A: Bible). This comment may make it appear that we close our eyes to the obvious, holding to the Bible despite all contra-indications. But we need to understand that neither facts nor evidence speak for themselves. We are all biased and will view evidence through our biases, no matter whether we are atheist or Christian. The atheist says there is no God so logically any evidence for God/ Biblical Flood must be ignored or reinterpreted. Likewise a Christian starts with the bias that there is a God and He is the Creator. For atheist or Christian, evidence is interpreted through a belief system.

Since the Bible is true, a conflict means something must be wrong with our observations or our interpretation or both. Remember our knowledge and experience are very limited. It should not be surprising that when this approach is adopted, the evidence suddenly makes far more sense in a Biblical framework, rather than being a problem for it.

Far from our trying to hide anything as Roy implies, a detailed analysis would have strengthened our case, but it was outside the scope of the article. Let’s deal with his points one by one:

  • the shells were found in multiple layers
  • shells in separate layers were closed, showing that they had been buried where they grew, and not transported

The closed shells are consistent with being washed into position quickly. Each shell must have been transported and buried rapidly before the animal inside had died and decomposed. And in particular, before the muscle holding the shell closed had deteriorated enough to release its hold. Otherwise the shell would be open like the shells we find on the beach. Lots of shells mean the disturbance to the marine ecosystem was very large.

  • the shells were accompanied in these layers by trace fossils such as burrows and movement tracks

The presence of burrows also suggests rapid deposition because there was insufficient time for the marine animals to recycle the sediment (bioturbation) and destroy the layering. The tracks tell the same story—they must have been covered quickly or else they would not have been preserved.

  • there were no traces of faults or deformations between the layers

The fossil layers that Da Vinci saw are consistent with sediment being deposited sideways from a large area of flowing water. They fit with rapid deposition, and not a succession of marine environments over a long period of time, because the alleged eons of time would surely show evidence of vast erosion. Rather, the layers were deposited rapidly before the preceding layer had a chance to erode. Unfortunately Da Vinci did not have the benefit of modern experiments that show how sediment deposits from flowing water, which show that many layers can form quickly by a self-sorting process. See the articles in Q&A: Geology under ‘How can many fine layers of rock be formed very quickly?’

Da Vinci’s interpretation conflicted with the Bible. But, as we see, the evidence is better interpreted as a very large watery catastrophe, which is consistent with the Bible. We must always judge man’s fallible opinion with the infallible Word of God, not the other way around.

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