How the Joggins polystrate fossils falsify long ages
Published: 16 April 2020 (GMT+10)
Polystrate fossils punch vertically through multiple layers, or strata, within a geological formation. They have been a mainstay of the debates in geology going all the way back to the earliest days of the deep-time controversy arising in the 18th century. They remain relevant to the discussion today.
In the 1800s, the primary debate over geology was waged between the competing ideologies of uniformitarianism and catastrophism. The former believed in slow gradual processes and long time periods, while the latter believed in rapid processes over short time periods. For a while, uniformitarianism was the dominant view. Today, however, the preferred term by long-age geologists is ‘actualism’, as they have been forced by the overwhelming evidence to abandon strict, classical uniformitarianism (a.k.a. gradualism) and include catastrophes to explain many parts of the geological record.1
A quiet reversal
The fact that uniformitarianism (a denial of rapid catastrophes) has failed to explain much of the geological record can be seen as a great victory for creationists, but predictably the mainstream scientific community has refused to acknowledge this. And it is still heavily weighted towards ‘slow and gradual’, and strongly opposed to biblical catastrophism/diluvialism. According to Alan Cvancara,
“But a uniformity of causes does not imply a uniformity of rates, intensities, conditions, or results. … Some people consider actualism a better term than uniformitarianism. Processes that actually operate now, or those inferred to operate, can explain features and events of the past.”2
In one sense, adopting this means there is no singular explanatory framework in geology—secular geologists are free to adopt any explanation, be it rapid or gradual, for any individual formation. They might like to regard it as ‘looking for the best explanation for every situation’. But considering the long history of opposition to the overwhelming evidence for Flood geology, it tends to look a lot like special pleading, when strata in one area are viewed as being catastrophically deposited, while similar-looking strata elsewhere are said to have been deposited gradually.
Nowhere is this phenomenon perhaps better illustrated than in the case of polystrate fossils. Since polystrate fossils protrude through multiple layers of sediment, even secular geologists are forced to admit these layers had to be deposited rapidly. This is even more striking when we are dealing with fossils of considerable height (e.g. polystrate trees and giant tree-like reeds called lycopods). For example, Dr. Derek Ager, former president of the British Geological Association, wrote, “Obviously sedimentation had to be very rapid to bury a tree in a standing position before it rotted and fell down.”3
In Joggins, Nova Scotia, we see beds of exposed strata, equivalent to three times the depth of Grand Canyon, that contain copious polystrate lycopod trunks.4 This undermines the general assumption that such huge swathes of strata were laid down gradually over millions of years. If this much sediment can be deposited rapidly, then where is the need to assume any deep time at all?
The fossils which must not be named
That these features are problematic for the secularist worldview is highlighted by the fact that they refuse to admit there is even a legitimate term for these types of fossils! If you search ‘polystrate fossils’ on Wikipedia, for example, you will be greeted with a subheading: “Creationist term for a fossil that extends through more than one geological stratum.”5 Interestingly, though, the article provides no alternative ‘secular term’ for them. So, apparently, they are the ‘fossils which must not be named’ as far as secular geologists are concerned.
Many floods are better than one?
Just as they do with countless other features of the fossil record, long-age geologists resort to invoking local catastrophes to explain these features, rather than admitting to one global flood. However, we should be quick to remind them that it is not enough to show that a series of floods (or catastrophes in general) works as well as one global flood to explain what we see. Rather, they should be held to the proper intellectual standard: they should be able to show evidence for multiple local floods and explain why that is a better explanation than a global flood. Otherwise, they are running afoul of the principle of good reasoning known as Ockham’s Razor: that one should never multiply explanations beyond what is required. If one flood will explain the evidence, then invoking multiple floods is superfluous.
Ockham’s Razor is sometimes misunderstood or oversimplified to mean that ‘the simplest explanation is right’. But more accurately, this principle simply means that one should not propose a needlessly complicated explanation for an effect whose cause is unknown. For example, if you find a red chair, it would be unnecessary to say, “This chair was painted green, then sanded down, and repainted red,” in the absence of any reason to think it was not simply painted red to begin with. In a similar way, if the evidence we find in geology can be explained by one flood, global in scope, then to suggest instead that it was produced by many thousands of smaller floods would be unwarranted.
Addressing the ‘multiple flood’ claims
Canadian Ian Juby, who has extensively researched the cliffs at Joggins through personal fieldwork, has done much to bolster the case for a global Flood and critique the ‘plurality of local floods’ hypothesis as an explanatory framework for polystrate fossils. He lists many reasons why this hypothesis doesn’t work to explain the evidence at Joggins in his chapter of the excellent book, Rock Solid Answers.4
Paleosols—‘ancient’ soil layers missing
One of the responses that deep-time apologists tend to use against the creationist interpretation of polystrate fossils is the claim that paleosols (ancient soil beds) have allegedly been found in layers containing polystrate fossils.6 This is supposed to demonstrate that they were buried in situ (where they grew). However, as Klevberg et al. argue, the identification of paleosols is actually rather subjective.7
While this fact alone should give pause to those attempting to use this argument against creationists, we need not chase that rabbit, because in the case of Joggins, even long-age geologists freely admit that there is an absence of mature paleosols at the site. Davies et al. wrote, “The absence of highly mature palaeosols from the Joggins Formation is an accordance with near-continuous accumulation.”8
This is in stark contrast to the current explanation for these polystrate lycopods—that short bursts of rapid flood sedimentation punctuated much longer periods of inactivity. Ager, in his attempt to explain polystrate fossils at a different site in England, wrote, “… we cannot escape the conclusion that sedimentation was at times very rapid indeed and that at other times there were long breaks in sedimentation, though it looks both uniform and continuous.”3 That sort of thinking is not supported by the evidence at Joggins, however, even by the standards employed by secular geologists themselves. If these polystrate fossils were buried right where they grew in a series of flash floods, then why don’t we find evidence of mature soil, especially when there is good reason to think that soil layers don’t take long periods of time to develop?9
Both Ian Juby and Harold Coffin10 have personally investigated the cliffs at Joggins and have documented the existence of upside-down stumps in the layers alongside the upright polystrate lycopods. If the stratum containing the base of the upright chutes is supposed to be an original, in situ soil bed, how can there be inverted stumps mixed in? We all know that plants don’t grow upside down! Critics have not contested the presence of these stumps,6,11 suggesting instead that local floods could have emplaced them. But if that were the case, we would expect to find them above the level of the buried (alleged) soil bed, not mixed in at the same level as the roots of the upright ones. Juby even documents one example of an inverted stump lying directly below an upright polystrate lycopod in the same stratum, with their roots intertwined.12 We should never expect to see that sort of thing under the deep-time interpretation. Could that possibly be why we do not find any mention of these inverted stumps in the secular literature?13
Dr. Stephen Godfrey, Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland, even addressed this on his website, but got it wrong:
“… all the trees are preserved right side up. In addition to which, the vast majority preserve their root system within the sediments in which they were growing. If the single flood hypothesis were correct, then I would expect some of the trees to have been entombed upside down. To my knowledge, no fossilized tree at Joggins has ever been found upside down!”14
Clearly Dr. Godfrey, who wrote this in 2017, long after both Coffin and Juby had published their findings, was ignoring the creationist sources on Joggins. If he had consulted them, it would have been hard to miss this important but mostly unreported fact.
Roots ‘growing’ upward
Another interesting feature of the lycopods at Joggins is ‘negative geotropism’ (the roots of some of the lycopods are turned upward and their tips extend above the supposed soil horizon).12 Roots don’t tend to grow upward, as we all know, so why do we see this? Roots growing up above the level of the ‘soil’ doesn’t seem right at all. This would be better explained by the fact that these stumps were not buried in place, but rather were floating in muddy sediment and were rapidly buried. The layers are not ‘soil horizons’, but more likely represent the bands of sediment that we naturally see as a result of mechanical sorting in a flood scenario. Flume sedimentation experiments by creationist researcher Guy Berthault demonstrated this mechanical sorting effect clearly,15 and have since been recreated by secular researchers as well.16
Heavy pressures—and lizards?
There is another couple of interesting observations made at Joggins that support the single Flood hypothesis. Many of the fossil specimens there (the trees and lycopods and their preserved roots) have been crushed flat by extreme pressures. The amount of pressure needed to achieve this would have been immense. As Juby rhetorically asks, “How much pressure does it take to crush a log to half its original thickness?”17 But if the weight of overlying sediment only accumulated long after these polystrate specimens had fossilized (turned to stone), the pressure would not crush them. They had to be deformed while they were still relatively soft. Thus, these flattened fossils do not comport with smaller local flash floods, but they certainly do comport with a global flood.
And what of all the lizards? Many lizard fossil remains have been found inside some of the stumps, but these lizard bones are disarticulated (broken apart) and have also been flattened by immense pressure.17 Obviously, all this flattening (both of the lizards and the plants) had to happen before they were fossilized, because rocks do not bend; they break.
A clear overall picture of massive catastrophe
The case has never been stronger for a global Flood, and the cliffs at Joggins, Nova Scotia, reveal some of the most striking fossil finds in the world which support the Bible’s account of history. There will always be unanswered questions at Joggins—that is the nature of historical science. We cannot directly test the past, and our theories about what may have happened are always going to be limited to what we are able to conceive based upon what we have witnessed ourselves.18 Why are the giant reeds (lycopods) generally preserved upright, while nearly all of the actual trees are lying on their sides? Nobody can say for sure, but as Juby put it, “Not only are polystrate fossils found throughout the formation (indicating rapid, ongoing sedimentation), but the plants are giant hollow reeds which were undoubtedly more fragile than the fossil prostrate trees found also in the formation. Clearly, the hoary hypothesis of [long-agers Charles] Lyell and [William] Dawson cannot explain the Joggins fossils.”19
References and notes
- Walker, T. and Carter, R. (Ed.), Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels (Chapter 5, The Geologic Record), Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, pp 159–160, 2014. Return to text.
- Definition of actualism (sense 3), merriam-webster.com/dictionary/actualism Return to text.
- Ager, D., The New Catastrophism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 49, 1993. Return to text.
- Juby, I., The Joggins Polystrate Fossils, in: Oard, M. & Reed, J., eds., Rock Solid Answers, ch. 13, p. 217, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2009. Return to text.
- Wikipedia search box subheading, ‘Polystrate Fossil’, Wikipedia.org, accessed 9 October 2019. Return to text.
- Birkeland, B., Message 7 on Evolution vs Creation Forum “Soracilla defends the Flood” evcforum.net/cgi_bin/dm.cgi?action=msg&f=7&f=7&t=116&m=7, (Cited in Ref. 4). Return to text.
- Klevberg, P., Bandy, R., and Oard, M., Rock Solid Answers: Do Paleosols Indicate Long Ages? (Ch. 6), Master Books, Green Forest, AR, pp. 93–110, 2009. Return to text.
- Davies, S.J., & Gibling, M.R., Architecture of coastal and alluvial deposits in an extensional basin: the Carboniferous Joggins Formation of eastern Canada, Sedimentology 50(3):436, 2003. doi:10.1046/j.1365-3091.2003.00553.x Return to text.
- Klevberg, et al., ref. 7, pp. 100–101. Return to text.
- Coffin, H., Origin by design (Revised Ed.), Review and Herald Publishing, Rocky Hill, p. 202, 2005. Return to text.
- Neyman, G., Creation science exposed—Joggins Fossil Cliffs, answersincreation.org/joggins.htm, 2003. (Now defunct, accessible via web archive only.) Return to text.
- Juby, ref. 4, p. 222. Return to text.
- Ian Juby wrote, “I am not aware of any secular geologists discussing or mentioning such observations anywhere.” Comment posted at ianjuby.org/about-polystrate-fossils, accessed 10 Sept 2019. Return to text.
- Godfrey, S., 12 The Gloves Come Off, https://paradigmsonpilgrimage.com/2017/07/25/12-the-gloves-come-off/, accessed 10 October 2019. Return to text.
- Berthault, G., See: Sedimentation of a heterogranular mixture: experimental lamination in still and running water J. Creation, 4:95–102, 1990. Return to text.
- Snelling, A., Sedimentation experiments: Nature finally catches up! J. Creation 11(2):125–126, 1997. Return to text.
- Ref. 3, pp. 224–225. Return to text.
- Price, P., Examining the usage and scope of historical science—a response to Dr Carol Cleland and a defence of terminology, J. Creation 33(2):121–127, 2019. Return to text.
- Juby, ref. 4, p. 229. Return to text.