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Challenging chalk-talk

Published: 2 April 2022 (GMT+10)

Trev K. from the UK challenges CMI’s Gavin Cox’s article “Chalk challenges deep-time dogma” Trev’s challenge is below in full, then Gavin responds to each point in turn.

pexels.comyes-no

“Thick, worldwide beds of 98% pure calcium carbonate testify that they could not have been deposited over millions of years—otherwise, the chalk would be contaminated with sediments from continental erosion.”

Have you not heard of Grey Chalk? As the name implies, this is not pure chalk but is contaminated with clays because it was closer to land. It lies beneath the White Chalk units which were laid down later under deeper water after sea levels rose further, therefore further from land.

You claim that coccolith matter would have proliferated in a scenario of fast moving global flood waters. Do you not think that there might be rather a lot of suspended material other than coccoliths that would contaminate the chalk under these conditions?

Not to mention that coccolithophores are photosynthetic, you speak of all the chalk being deposited in “a few days”, such dense blooms would block all light beneath the water surface.

Plus, any bloom is limited once the dissolved calcium carbonate is removed from the water.

You speak of the chalk deposits being swept up into basins such as the North Sea, if that happened how is biostratigraphy of the chalk possible?

You should know that vertical sections within the chalk are recognized by the unique fossils they contain—different species of sea urchins, clams etc. How is that possible if it was all swept up and dumped?

Seems to me that the obvious conclusion is that this record is representative of a very long period of time with a succession of bottom dwelling organisms being preserved in the sediment.

Finally, you mention experiments demonstrating deposition of laminated mud layers under fast flow conditions, and that this is relevant to coccolith deposition also. How can that be so, since chalk is not laminated?

Thanks Trev for your very involved and multi-faceted objection to my article Chalk challenges deep-time dogma which refuted the idea that chalk took millions of years to form. This was a brief article written for CMI’s Creation magazine, and is by no means the last word, or exhaustive treatment on chalk geology from a creationist perspective; you needed to look elsewhere on creation.com for that. Nevertheless, I will respond to each of your points in turn, which will take some effort, so here goes. You start by quoting me:

“Thick, worldwide beds of 98% pure calcium carbonate testify that they could not have been deposited over millions of years—otherwise, the chalk would be contaminated with sediments from continental erosion.”

An excellent summary of the major point in favour of chalk’s speedy deposition. And as we shall see, it will stand scrutiny.

Have you not heard of Grey Chalk?

Yes, and so have the geologists who have studied chalk formations from the UK and around the world.

As the name implies, this is not pure chalk but is contaminated with clays because it was closer to land.

Ok, but my article was about the pure White Chalk, so we cannot immediately side-step this issue. I will take this opportunity to insert a pertinent quote by the late-great Derek V. Ager (former President of the British Geological Society) and no friend of creationism. He recognized the difficulty of explaining the purity of the White Chalk within a uniformitarian time-frame and model. He stated:

“The problem of the chalk [typical of the White Cliffs of Dover] today is not so much where the material came from, as how other material was kept out. The remarkably pure organic chalk is almost completely without any trace of land-derived sediment.”1

Ager does not give a satisfactory answer to this conundrum, but merely throws out a few guesses, which on closer inspection are completely illogical and fall apart. He states:

“The land surrounding the chalk must have been very low-lying and not undergoing erosion.”1

Firstly, there is no evidence of this ‘low-lying land’. Secondly, and most importantly, Ager requires land to not erode for millions of years, so that it doesn’t add appreciable amounts of sediment. This is physically impossible! If the chalk formed over millions of years, then the surrounding land would also have been eroded for millions of years, thus contributing much contaminating sediments to the chalk, so that it would not be pure and white! Ager then vaguely suggests: “It may have been a hot desert, and reddish material found at the base of the chalk at various places supports this idea” [emphasis added].1

But where is the red material found? As Ager states, at the base of the chalk! What mechanism does Ager suggest to account for this conundrum? How could red material arrive only at the base, and not also contaminate the whole sequence from top to bottom, when it took millions of years (supposedly) to form the chalk on top? This is nonsense, and completely impossible! The evidence suggests, the Grey Chalk and the White Chalk were laid down consecutively, with little time in-between. Ager also recognizes that in places in England the White Chalk sequence is over 1,500 feet thick. That cannot be side-stepped, and does need to be explained in terms of its purity and how it was formed, which is what my magazine article focussed on.

However, you want to talk about the Grey Chalk, but you do recognize this is not “pure chalk”, compared to the typical White Chalk we see forming the Dover cliffs. I partly agree with the first half of your sentence, Grey Chalk is contaminated with “clays”, but the second half is pure speculation. You weren’t there to observe from where these contaminations came from (i.e. the close-by land hypothesis). However, we need to recognize that the Grey Chalk gets its colouration from two main mineral sources: glauconite and chlorite.

Glauconite is from the mica group of minerals and is an iron potassium phyllosilicate with a characteristic green colour. It forms by three principal processes: 1) alteration of fecal pellets (this is very pertinent to my article); 2) modification of particles of clays by seawater; and 3) direct precipitation from seawater.2 However, geologists recognize glauconite to be ‘authigenic’, which means it formed exclusively in marine settings. Authigenic sedimentary minerals form by precipitation or recrystallization rather than being transported from elsewhere (allogenic) by water or wind.3

Chlorite is found in igneous rocks as an alteration product of mafic minerals (igneous silicate minerals, rich in magnesium and iron) such as pyroxene, amphibole, and biotite. Your idea that these ‘clay’ minerals were blown into place is not borne out by the facts of chemistry as already mentioned above. However, the Flood as a tectonic event would have caused such alteration of minerals via hydrothermal reactions (hot water mixing). I actually mention such in my article, for instance the closely related smectite clay mineral plays an important role in flocculation (clumping together):

“Chalk coccoliths have a fine covering of smectite, a type of clay mineral. Smectite is a hydrothermal product (from the action of hot water, generally in a volcanic setting), likely injected into the ocean by the fountains of the Great Deep (Genesis 7:11). Interestingly, smectite makes coccoliths settle out of suspension quickly.”4

Ager’s mention of a “reddish material” found within the Grey Chalk base underlying the White Chalk can also be easily explained in terms of hydrothermal alteration of iron bearing sediments. But the point is, there isn’t any “reddish material” in the overlying White Chalk, which from a uniformitarian perspective, is virtually miraculous.

[Grey Chalk] lies beneath the White Chalk units…

Yes, the Grey Chalk lies beneath the White Chalk units. It averages around 60 m, whereas the White Chalk can reach 2,000 m in North Sea basins.

… which were laid down later under deeper water after sea levels rose further, therefore further from land.

I agree partly with this statement. I would say the Grey Chalk was laid down first, before the White Chalk. I would also say that this happened concurrently, and in a tight time-frame of maybe hours or days. This happened during Noah’s Flood, and not over millions of years, which is what the White Chalk testifies too, as it is very pure (little contaminants). Your statement that the White Chalk was laid down further from the land is ad hoc and simply speculation, there is no evidence of this land (which somehow didn’t erode for millions of years according to Ager).

You claim that coccolith matter would have proliferated in a scenario of fast moving global flood waters.

Yes.

Do you not think that there might be rather a lot of suspended material other than coccoliths that would contaminate the chalk under these conditions?

Yes, I think there would have been a lot of suspended material other than coccoliths; we would expect the Floodwaters would have caused such mixing. If that material is biological in nature it would have served as nutrients for bacteria (which completely broke the biological material down) and also food for pelagic creatures that produced the fecal pellets (zooplankton, jellyfish, and fish). This is a key argument; we need lots of suspended biological material (see diagram). If it wasn’t suspended, it would sink, and by differential sorting, would have been swept into layers, which probably ended up in the Grey Chalk beneath the White Chalk. In a uniformitarian model, you don’t have this mechanism of differential sorting to explain how Grey Chalk can underlie White Chalk, and for the White Chalk to remain white for supposedly millions of years!

After Hüneke H. and Mulderfig-3-coccoliths-sink-2
Within fecal pellets, coccoliths sink dramatically faster, and reach the floor of even the deepest oceans.

Not to mention that coccolithophores are photosynthetic, you speak of all the chalk being deposited in “a few days”, such dense blooms would block all light beneath the water surface.

You assume too much sir. Although all coccolithophores are indeed photosynthetic, not all species are purely so, in other words they can and do metabolize other food sources (all that suspended biological material we just discussed above, broken down by bacteria), but, independently of sunlight. Thankfully, greater minds than mine have already tackled this problem. Had you checked out creation.com you would see that, for instance, Dr Andrew Snelling addressed this very question back in 1994. In his Journal article: Can Flood geology explain thick chalk layers? Snelling puts some numbers to the volume of potential coccoliths in the water column, and how this may or may not be affected by available sunlight. He states:

“The situation has been known where pollution in coastal areas has contributed to the explosive multiplication of microorganisms in the ocean waters to peak concentrations of more than 10 billion per liter (Roth, 1985, p. 54). Woodmorappe has calculated that in chalk there could be as many as 3 × 1013 coccoliths per cubic meter if densely packed (which usually isn’t the case), yet in the known bloom just mentioned, 10 billion microorganisms per liter of ocean water equates to 1013 microorganisms per cubic meter. Adapting some of Woodmorappe’s calculations, if the 10% of the earth’s surface that now contains chalk beds was covered in water, as it still was near the end of the Flood, and if that water explosively bloomed with coccolithophores and foraminifera with up to 1013 microorganisms per cubic meter of water down to a depth of less than 500 m from the surface, then it would have only taken two or three such blooms to produce the required quantity of microorganisms to be fossilized in the chalk beds. Lest it be argued that a concentration of 1013 microorganisms per cubic meter would extinguish all light within a few meters of the surface, it should be noted that phytoflagellates such as these are able to feed on bacteria, that is, planktonic species are capable of heterotrophism (they are “mixotrophic”) (Encyclopædia Britannica, 1992, p. 283). Such bacteria would have been in abundance, breaking down the masses of floating and submerged organic debris (dead fish, plants, animals, etc.) generated by the Flood. Thus production of coccolithophores and foraminifera is not dependent on sunlight, the supply of organic material potentially supporting a dense concentration.”5

In summary, lots of suspended biological material is broken down by bacteria, which in turn is consumed by the coccolithophores, which in turn are eaten by pelagic grazers, which in turn are excreted as fast sinking fecal pellets, which reach the shallow ocean bed quickly, to form the White Chalk.

In case you can’t take the word of a creationist regarding coccolithophores multiplying in dark waters, take this article published last year in ScienceDaily: “‘Photosynthetic’ algae can survive the dark.”6 It reports on a paper published in the New Phytologist.7 It speculates on the extinction of the dinosaurs by a meteorite 66 million years ago (we at CMI don’t accept this). However, the article does rightly recognize that if such an event happened, then certain species of coccolithophores would survive and metabolize happily in the dark for months on end. The article states:

“Coccolithophores, like most algae, are photosynthetic and utilize the sun’s energy to make food. However, the aftermath of the asteroid impact was thought to have blanketed the planet with several months of darkness, a death sentence for most of the world’s photosynthetic organisms. In combination with other fallout effects, this caused the extinction of more than 90 percent of all coccolithophore species, some of the most influential organisms in the ocean. However, others endured.”6

The comparison between an extinction-level event like the asteroid impact that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs and the Global Flood is instructive. However, the article does assume which coccolithophore species may or may not have been around at the time to reproduce. The article goes on to say:

“As part of the new study, the team conducted laboratory experiments that showed some coccolithophores could survive without light. This revealed that the organisms must have another way to produce the energy and carbon that they need.”6

The article continues:

“The study revealed how some coccolithophore species could use previously unrecognized organic compounds as carbon sources instead of carbon dioxide, which is what plants usually use. They can process dissolved organic compounds and immediately utilize them in a process called osmotrophy. The findings may explain how these organisms survive in dark conditions, such as after the asteroid impact, or deep in the ocean beneath where sunlight can reach.”6

In other words, even in today’s oceans, coccolithophores are happily metabolizing their food in the dark, as the research admits:

“This research really changes my [Research Scientist William Balch] thinking about food webs in dark regions where photosynthesis clearly isn’t happening. It changes the paradigm.”6

The article concludes:

“The researchers next want to perform ocean experiments to observe how coccolithophores take in nutrients in their natural environment, especially in the dark.”6

So, no, a water column densely packed with coccolithophores during the Flood would not be inhibited in their growth by lack of sunlight.

Plus, any bloom is limited once the dissolved calcium carbonate is removed from the water.

Oops, I think you mean dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) rather than calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the water! In today’s environment, the coccolithophores remove the gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into calcium carbonate for their coccolith plate exoskeletons. However, during the Flood, we would expect a further source of CO2, namely from volcanoes, as the Flood was a tectonically driven event (cf. Genesis 7:11; 8:2). I will again defer to Snelling, who discussed this:

“…volcanic activity would have potentially released copious quantities of nutrients into the ocean waters, as well as prodigious amounts of the CO2 that is so necessary for the production of the calcium carbonate by these microorganisms. Even today the volcanic output of CO2 has been estimated at about 6.6 million tonnes per year, while calculations based on past eruptions and the most recent volcanic deposits in the rock record suggest as much as a staggering 44 billion tonnes of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere and oceans in the recent past (that is, in the most recent part of the post-Flood era) (Leavitt, 1982).”5

So, I think the entire planet’s atmosphere and its volcanoes were more than enough to produce the carbon dioxide (not calcium carbonate) required for the coccolithophores to produce the earth’s chalk deposits. In addition to volcanoes, we would expect much vertical overturning of the ocean during the Flood, so that the bloom occurred over an area of massive upwelling with carbon dioxide either in the water from below or from the atmosphere. In today’s oceans, there is a balance between carbon dioxide in the surface ocean layer and the atmosphere, and as carbon dioxide is depleted in the ocean surface layer, more is absorbed from the atmosphere.

You speak of the chalk deposits being swept up into basins such as the North Sea. If that happened how is biostratigraphy of the chalk possible?

We need to think about the differential sorting mechanism of flowing water (during the Flood), I mentioned earlier. The Flood would have swept the chalk into the newly formed ocean basins during isostatic re-adjustment (cf. Psalm 104:5–9 ), and hydrodynamically sorted creatures due to their buoyancy and mass. See the following articles on the way the understanding of stratigraphy is changing: Changing paradigms in stratigraphy—“a quite different way of analyzing the record” and —another ‘new uniformitarianism’? and Sedimentation experiments: is extrapolation appropriate? A reply. However, the very minor variations seen within shells is simply not evidence of millions of years of evolution, but rather minor variation within the created Kind, which is something the Creation model predicts. The idea of biostratigraphy has assumptions built into the foundations, it is circular in reasoning, and is a method we do not accept. CMI has written on the dark-art of biostratigraphy and found it wanting. See: Taxonomic manipulations likely common, even creationists who use it come un-stuck, see: Post-Flood boundary—a robust analysis flawed by hidden assumptions.

You should know that vertical sections within the chalk are recognized by the unique fossils they contain—different species of sea urchins, clams etc. How is that possible if it was all swept up and dumped?

This is a huge generalisation. The vertical section with its different marine organisms can be interpreted equally as an order of burial within the Flood.

Seems to me that the obvious conclusion is that this record is representative of a very long period of time with a succession of bottom dwelling organisms being preserved in the sediment.

The conclusion of millions of years of deposition is not born out by the geologic evidence of extreme purity of the White Chalk. Modern discoveries in coccolithophore biology provides evidence that support huge blooms of fast forming and fast sinking organisms that could account for the huge quantities of pure chalk seen in the rock record. The chalk also contains many pelagic (open ocean living) ammonites as well as bottom dwelling sea urchins, etc.

Finally, you mention experiments demonstrating deposition of laminated mud layers under fast flow conditions,

Yes, you can view an excellent video of Guy Berthault’s experiments in stratigraphy, he is a French Sedimentologist. It is available on YouTube in various places for free, see for example here.8 You can observe differential sorting and fine lamination building up in real time in his flume tank experiments.

and that this is relevant to coccolith deposition also.

It is relevant because fast flowing currents will differentially sort particles into layers, and sort larger objects due to their buoyancy and mass.

How can that be so since chalk is not laminated?

You’ve made a huge blunder. The White Chalk is highly laminated, see for instance the very photo, used in my article, note also the layers of black flint, which are very distinctive. This is all excellent evidence that fast flowing water currents were involved in laying down the chalk. If you do a search for Beachy Head on Wikimedia you will see many photos (see below) of highly laminated chalk, the cliffs here are 162 metres (531 ft) above sea level.

commons.wikimedia.org, Graham HornBeachy-Head-lighthouse
Beachy Head Cliff 162 metres (531 ft) made of highly laminated White Chalk.

Why it matters

At the end of the day, why does it matter whether the chalk was produced quickly, or over millions of years? If we are really only evolved pond scum, how can we be certain of reality if our brains are evolving by random mutations? Also, why should the concept of truth (morality) matter anyway? The reason this all matters is because if the chalk was formed quickly, then the ‘millions of years’ collapse to a short time interval that cannot account for the supposed evolution of life. If that is the case, there is only one other explanation—that life was created by an all-powerful and all-knowing God. Furthermore, if the chalk shows evidence of sudden watery deposition, (as does nearly all the rock record and its fossils), then the only reasonable explanation is the global Flood, described in the Bible. That being the case, God judges sin, and God sets the rules, because He is the Creator. The real challenge of chalk is that it speaks to us of divine intervention within history, consistent with what we read in Scripture.

References and notes

  1. Ager, D.V., Introducing Geology, Second edition, Faber and Faber, London, p. 174, 1975. Return to text.
  2. Rafferty, J.P., britannica.com/science/glauconite Return to text.
  3. See for example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glauconite. Return to text.
  4. Cox, G., Chalk challenges deep-time dogma, Creation 43(1):36–39, January 2021, creation.com/chalk-challenges-deep-time-dogma. Return to text.
  5. Snelling, A.A., Can Flood geology explain thick chalk layers? J. Creation, 8(1):11 ̶ 15, 1994. Return to text.
  6. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, ‘Photosynthetic’ algae can survive the dark. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2021, sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/12/211220131311.htm. Return to text.
  7. Jelena Godrijan, David T. Drapeau, William M. Balch, Osmotrophy of dissolved organic carbon by coccolithophores in darkness, New Phytologist, 233(2): 81, 2021 | DOI: 10.1111/nph.17819. Return to text.
  8. CSW Channel, Experiment in Stratification, 5 Feb 2016, youtu.be/okJzgEZbdVg. Return to text.

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