Are hardgrounds really a challenge to the global Flood?

From Mark A. Wilson, Department of Geology, The College of Wooster, Wooster OH 44691, USA, who raises ‘hardgrounds’ as an allegedly insoluble problem for the Bible’s account of history. Dr Tas Walker responds point-by-point interspersed as per normal email fashion, while Dr Wilson’s letter is indented black text. Dr Walker demonstrates that if we start with the axiom that the Bible is historically accurate right from Genesis, then it is possible to develop a plausible model to explain hardgrounds. Conversely, there are properties of hardgrounds that are very hard to explain from the axiom of uniformitarianism, decreed by Hutton without evidence, and promoted by Lyell who even falsified the data in support (see Niagara Falls and the Bible). Unfortunately, most people, even professing Christians, use Hutton’s axioms rather than Biblical ones to interpret the evidence, and mistakenly confuse this interpretation of the evidence with the evidence itself.

Subsequently we found out that this Wooster College lecturer has an anti-creationist website, and this would explain the recent spamming by Wooster students. Amazingly, this anti-creationist claims to be a Christian, although we could detect no resemblance of his ideas to the teachings of Christ, e.g. his view that Genesis was historical and that Adam and Eve existed ‘from the beginning of Creation’ — see discussion in Jesus and the age of the world. However, as shown below, Wilson fired his best shot, and it was easily blocked and actually bounced back and hit him. This has happened time and time again with anti-creationist arguments, which when examined carefully show that they pose major problems under uniformitarian presuppositions, but can be explained by a logical application of Biblical presuppositions. So once again, we have nothing to fear from anti-creationist websites. For more information, see Countering the Critics.

To the Editorial Team at AiG [CMI]:

The following is designed to be published in your “feedback” section. As you will see soon, it is “negative”. This letter has not been submitted elsewhere. I agree to transfer copyright to Answers in Genesis. You may use my full name and address when the letter is posted on your website.

I am a geologist at The College of Wooster in Ohio. I have long followed the creation/evolution debate, and I am very familiar with Answers in Genesis and other creationist organizations.

What have you read? You may be as familiar as you say, but in our experience, many of our critics are not actually very well read on answers to supposed problems that creationists solved long ago. See for example Geology and the young Earth.

I respect your courage and enthusiasm, …

Thank you for your compliment.

… but I believe you are very wrong about evolution, the fossil record, and the age of the Earth.

We do not ask you to believe us. We ask you to check the Word of God, the Bible, for yourself. That is the only reliable way to determine the age of the Earth, because the written record of a reliable eye-witness must outweigh all circumstantial evidence adduced by those who were not there at the time. See also The Earth: how old does it look?

Part of my geological research involves the development of carbonate hardgrounds and their associated fossil communities in the sedimentary record.

Thank you for your question about carbonate hardgrounds, which form part of your research as a geologist. You question concludes with ‘I cannot conceive of a creationist model which can account for them in the context of a single global flood.’ What creationist models have you considered? For example, Dr Andrew Snelling discussed hardgrounds in an appendix to a Journal of Creation article ‘Hardgrounds’ and Other Fossils. I have never seen my uniformitarian colleagues seriously consider how to explain geological data within a catastrophic, global Flood model. Have you? I have often seen them wrestle with geological observations that were difficult to explain. But they would always look for solutions that fitted within the paradigm of millions of years and present-day environments. No doubt, your experience at the College of Wooster is the same.

To explain carbonate hardgrounds within a Biblical framework, you use exactly the same method you currently use to develop uniformitarian models. However, you need to change your viewpoint. You must begin with a different starting assumption. You need to constrain your interpretations, not by present day processes and environments, but the Biblical record. This has already provided helpful explanations of features that were anomalies in the uniformitarian paradigm — see Q&A: Geology.

You will be familiar with the fact that the scientific method involves an iterative approach from the geological data by your interpretative model and then from the interpretative model back to the data. In this case, you will use the Bible as your interpretative model. For example, the stratigraphic setting of the hardgrounds (data) points to their being deposited during the Flood (interpretation) so they must have been deposited quickly (conclusion from model) so we should see evidence of transportation (back to the data). But make sure you are examining the geological data, and not a uniformitarian interpretation of the data. My geological friends find this very hard to ‘see’. Your question is a good illustration. What you have explained is the uniformitarian interpretation. I have annotated your question to highlight the difference.

One simple model for carbonate hardgrounds within a global Flood model explains hardgrounds as debris from the pre-Flood seafloor concentrated by moving Floodwaters. Undoubtedly boring and encrusting organisms lived on the pre-Flood seafloor. During the Flood, the partly-bored shells and lithified carbonate were eroded and transported. Many of these deposits became disseminated in Flood sediment, but others were concentrated as lag deposits. It is these lag deposits which are misinterpreted by uniformitarians as the remnants of in situ hardground communities. Interestingly, even one of the papers you cite (Geology 26:379–381, 1998) describes the hardgrounds in terms of ‘storm-derived torn-up seafloor’.

This rapidly-forming pile of unlithified sediments, deposited by large-scale flows of water, contained transported plants and animals. After burial, at various horizons, hardgrounds started forming by a mechanism that did not require a free sediment/water interface. The cementation process no doubt occurred as the rapidly-dumped sediment pile dewatered. The animals made the borings and traces either as they tried to escape or as the sediments compressed.

Bivalves and other organisms are often interpreted as being buried in situ just because they are oriented in apparent life position. However, reality is not always as it seems, because the shape and positional stability of these organisms automatically causes them to assume their normal life position.

Hardgrounds pose enormous problems for uniformitarian geology. For example, ‘several million years worth’ of ammonites are frequently found in condensed deposits only centimetres thick. How could countless episodes of fossilization, winnowing of sediment, etc. take place without all of the ammonoids being pulverized to pieces? (Studies in Flood Geology, 2nd ed., Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, pp. 188–189, 1999.). Again, plants and animals found in the hardgrounds do not represent complete ecosystems, but only fragments of such systems. They point to transportation and sorting of material before burial rather than in situ communities. And the burrows and holes in the hardgrounds have not disturbed the substrate much. The sedimentary structures are still clearly distinguishable. This is quite different from modern day marine communities where the substrate is bioturbated and the sedimentary structures are obliterated.

Hardgrounds are not a problem for the global Flood provided we remove the straightjacket of uniformitarian thinking, and provided we look carefully at the data, and not uniformitarian interpretations of the data.

Hardgrounds and their fossils show that many limestones formed over long intervals of time, at least hundreds if not thousands of years.

The time is an interpretation, not an observation.

I believe, of course, that the sedimentary rock column was formed over hundreds of millions of years, but with this letter I simply want to demonstrate that many rocks could not possibly have formed during the few days or months allocated to them in your “flood geology” model. I have supported my comments below with citations of work I have done so that there can be no confusion as to the nature of the evidence.
A carbonate hardground is a synsedimentarily-cemented carbonate seafloor (see, for examples and further references, Lethaia 25:19–34, 1992, and Geology 26:379–381, 1998). Under certain conditions on the floor of a shallow tropical sea, usually a reduction in sedimentation rate, increased circulation of seawater through pore space, and elevated carbon dioxide levels, calcium carbonate will crystallize between sedimentary grains and cement them together. In a real sense, then, this process is the lithification of the sediment on the seafloor prior to burial. Forming a hardground probably takes years, but we do not yet have any direct way to estimate the duration of the process.

The process you describe has not been observed. You are describing an interpretation based on comparison with modern day environments. The same data is easily explained in terms of a rapid-deposition Flood model. For example, rapidly dumped sediment would experience increased circulation of carbonate-rich liquid through pore space as the sediment dewatered.

After the sediment is lithified into a hardground, many animals and plants colonize this hard substrate. They have particular adaptations for living on hard surfaces. Many bryozoans, for example, produce a modular calcitic skeleton which adheres tightly to the surface and grows laterally and, often, upward into mounds or stout branches. Some crinoids attach themselves with special disks (holdfasts) which allow them to extend their long crown-topped stalks into food-bearing currents above the hardground.

According to my information, the attached crinoids are indicators for deep sea conditions (Stearn, C.W. and Carroll, R.L., Paleontology, John Wiley, New York, p. 148, 1989), whilst the hardground genesis mechanism you describe above is a ‘shallow tropical sea’. To avoid this inconsistency, some uniformitarians have proposed that the shallow-water Paleozoic crinoids subsequently evolved to become the deep-water marine they are today. It is more consistent to interpret the evidence as the animals being transportedin situ. rather than buried

Oysters cement themselves onto the substrate, as do other organisms such as cornulitids, barnacles, sponges and algae. Many of these creatures have easily-fossilized skeletons, so they are often found encrusting ancient hardgrounds (see, for examples, Palaeontology 42:887–895, 1999; Ichnos 3:79–87, 1994; Journal of Paleontology 67:1011–1016, 1993; Nature 335:809–810, 1988).
In addition to these encrusting organisms, many other animals drill holes directly into hardgrounds and other hard substrates to build dwelling spaces. These boring organisms include bivalves, sponges, barnacles and worms of various sorts. Most use a combination of chemicals (such as acids) and skeletal devices to excavate their holes. Many of these borings show the growth of the drilling animal as the hole was deepened (see Journal of Paleontology 72:769–772, 1998; Palaios 13:70–78, 1998). Bivalves, for example, drill holes which start with a small diameter for the juvenile bivalve, and then they increase in diameter with depth as the bivalve grows. The result is a hole with a bivalve in it far too large to get out the restricted opening. This is not a problem, of course, because the animal is a filter-feeder with no need to leave its rocky home. Hardgrounds and other hard substrates are often riddled with several generations of these borings (see Palaeontology 29:691–703, 1986).

This reads as if you saw it happen. Remember, you are describing an interpretationin situ model. Consider the possibility that the organisms were transported with the sediment and that the hardground grew around them. As the sediment was dewatered, the hardground squeezed the original hole, a mould rather that a burrow, and pushed the organism out like a stone from a squeezed plum. Equally, the criss-crossing can be understood as expulsion trajectories of dead or dying creatures inside a rapidly lithifying hardground. based on an

The problem for creationists comes when these carbonate hardgrounds and their faunas are forced into a “flood geology” framework where they must have formed in just a few days or months. Fossiliferous hardgrounds are found throughout the geological record, from the Cambrian through the Recent, so they are not restricted to any particular level (The Paleontological Society Special Publication 5:137–152, 1990). A hardground community is preserved in place (not transported) because the organisms either encrusted the substrate or had bored into it. The encrusters had to land as larvae on the hardground after it was lithified, and then they developed into adults. It is clear from the size and distribution of many of these fossils that this development took years and was often halted and restarted by physical disturbances (see Science 228:575–577, 1985). How could this have happened many times during the course of a massive, short-lived flood?
In addition, the boring animals also show the length of time required for these hardground communities to mature. The borings themselves were formed during the lifespans of individuals, which was usually years. The borings often cut into other borings from previous generations, many of which are filled with cemented sediment. The borings are sometimes overgrown by encrusters, again showing the depth of time available for this community development (see Palaios 13:70–78, 1988, for a good example). Again, this biological process happened dozens and dozens of times through the sedimentary rock record. Again, this cannot be explained within the flood model, but it is entirely consistent with a rock record hundreds of millions of years old.

The problem is not the hardground, but the uniformitarian interpretation. A simple Flood model has been described above. That is, hardgrounds are an accumulation of concentrated biotic debris, mostly adults, incorporated into a quickly forming, degassing (and consequently very mobile) carbonate body. It is clear from the size and distribution of these fossils that they have been mixed together—adults and juveniles, and some cemented, some pushed through a not-yet-lithified matrix.

I am anxious to see how you respond to this challenge from hardgrounds and their fossils. I cannot conceive of a creationist model which can account for them in the context of a single global flood. They are instead one of many indicators of an Earth millions of years old with a history long preceding that of humanity.

The carbonate hardgrounds are not an indicator of a million-year-old Earth. As I described above, there are many observed features which contradict such an interpretation. Rather, carbonate hardgrounds are easily understood from a Biblical perspective. The key is to remove those mind-forged manacles of uniformitarianism and do some creative thinking.

Published: 2 February 2006