How the Joggins polystrate fossils falsify long ages

by

Published: 16 April 2020 (GMT+10)
Tas Walkerfig-1-a
Figure 1. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs of tilted Pennsylvanian sediments in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.

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
Ian Juby: ianjuby.orgFig_2_-_1NDKAWT
Figure 2. Polystrate lycopod tree trunk extending through multiple sedimentary strata at Joggins Fossil Cliffs.

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

Inverted stumps

Ian Juby: ianjuby.orgFig_3_-_FO9CFmq
Figure 3. Inverted tree trunk with roots.

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

Ian Juby: ianjuby.orgFig_4_-_jcjXYkX
Figure 4. Inverted tree trunk impression with ripples.

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

Ian Juby: ianjuby.orgFig_5_-_taTJoGY
Figure 5. Lycopod roots turned upward with their tips extending above the supposed soil horizon.

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?

Ian Juby: ianjuby.orgFig_6_-_iGzUSm6
Figure 6. Compressed fossil log.

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

  1. 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.
  2. Definition of actualism (sense 3), merriam-webster.com/dictionary/actualism Return to text.
  3. Ager, D., The New Catastrophism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 49, 1993. Return to text.
  4. 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.
  5. Wikipedia search box subheading, ‘Polystrate Fossil’, Wikipedia.org, accessed 9 October 2019. Return to text.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Klevberg, et al., ref. 7, pp. 100–101. Return to text.
  10. Coffin, H., Origin by design (Revised Ed.), Review and Herald Publishing, Rocky Hill, p. 202, 2005. Return to text.
  11. Neyman, G., Creation science exposed—Joggins Fossil Cliffs, answersincreation.org/joggins.htm, 2003. (Now defunct, accessible via web archive only.) Return to text.
  12. Juby, ref. 4, p. 222. Return to text.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Berthault, G., See: Sedimentation of a heterogranular mixture: experimental lamination in still and running water J. Creation, 4:95–102, 1990. Return to text.
  16. Snelling, A., Sedimentation experiments: Nature finally catches up! J. Creation 11(2):125–126, 1997. Return to text.
  17. Ref. 3, pp. 224–225. Return to text.
  18. 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.
  19. Juby, ref. 4, p. 229. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Rock Solid Answers
by Michael J Oard, John K Reed
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How Noah's Flood Shaped Our Earth
by Michael J Oard, John K Reed
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Geology by Design
by Carl R Froede Jr
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Exploring Geology with Mr Hibb
by Michael Oard, Tara Wolfe, Chris Turbuck
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Readers’ comments

Andrew P.
Thanks for publishing this. I’ve been researching this formation and how it fits into a biblical framework, and this is very helpful.
Paul Price
I'm very glad to be of service!
Chloe G.
But a mudslide would explain this more than a flood?
A flood it would have dismantled the root system and ripped the trees away, as its well documented the root systems are in tact and many fossilised with their original clay.
Also if it was from one single flood, why don't these trees exist all over the world, this effect be visable all during the same place in the sediment history?
Some good thought provoking points. These fossilised trees are amazing pieces of history to see.
Paul Price
The only force powerful enough to create a 'mudslide' big enough to produce this kind of effect would probably be the Flood itself! There are actually logs that are crushed to half their original thickness by the weight of the sediment on top of them.

The root systems are demonstrably not fossilized with the original clay, and the article actually addresses this claim. Did you read it?
Steve W.
You can't just pick and choose something that makes the earth look young when in fact it is not. God has no beginning and the earth is old. Genesis 1:1 is 4.5 billion years ago. Genesis 1:2 is only 6000 years ago. Noah's flood was 4,400 years ago but there was a much older flood in 2 Peter 3:5-6. The dinosaurs lived and died well before we came along. Even the Neanderthals are much older than we are. The Grand Canyon, fossil fuels and limestone deposits date back millions of years. The young earth theory just doesn't work. Young earthers make the huge assumption that God made Adam at the same time He created the earth. That's not in the Bible.
Paul Price
You haven't been reading your bible:

"For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Exodus 20:11

It's interesting that you are actually denying that 2 Peter 3 refers to Noah's flood. Weird how Peter just threw in that one cryptic reference to something that is totally unmentioned in the whole rest of the Bible, isn't it? No way he could have been talking about Noahs' flood, of course ... :)

All of your many erroneous claims are addressed in various articles right here on this website--such as Did God create over billions of years?
Scot R.
And the rocks cry out.
Gerry T.
I have often wondered at what point secular geologists might to come to the realization that all the massive local floods to which they refer was actually one worldwide flood? Probably never, as it simply does not fit their narrative.
Paul Price
Actually, 2 Peter 3 says that the scoffers "deliberately overlook" this evidence. It's not that it is simply not occurring to them--it's that they don't want to come to the conclusion that the Bible's history is true.
Jeffrey C.
It seems Deluge-deniers do not want a standard geological term for anything that they must explain away!
Iain F.
Hi, had a try at the wikipedia search and it comes up with an article headed "Polystrate fossil" and has a history going back to 2014, it does mention it's not a geological term but does offer how they are referred to. I couldn't get a sub-heading as described so maybe worth clarifying for the sake of completeness - maybe bit pedantic, but if a reference doesn't come back as expected then something doesn't add up and can be a distraction.
Paul Price
The "subheading" I was referring to is visible on the main (front) page at wikipedia.org if you just type in the search term 'polystrate fossil'. When you say it "does offer how they are referred to", you must be talking about where it says they are called 'upright trunks'. But that is obviously only a description of certain specimens. The term "polystrate" is based on Greek and Latin base words just like a great many other scientific terms. There is no legitimate reason to label this a "creationist term" as Wikipedia does. If creationists tend to talk about this more than evolutionists, I would suggest it is because they are embarrassing for evolutionists and serve as good evidence against gradualism.
Mark S.
I'm a little ashamed to admit - I live slightly less than a 3-hour drive from Joggins, Nova Scotia. I've driven past the billboard advertising the cliffs many times - and it would've been less than 25km away :-( I'll have to rectify that situation.
I read the polystrate-fossil page on wikipedia and you're correct: definitely no love lost between them and us creationists!
Even after reading the wiki page, and after reading this (excellent, by the way) article, I am struck by the "grasping at straws" sensation I get from the wiki page.
Question: Since the public is allowed to edit wikipedia pages, would you at CMI find it acceptable for me to edit the wiki page, incorporating some of the above information and references? I don't want to "step on toes" but it's just wrong that both sides of that topic are not represented... y'know?
I realize CMI has little faith in wikipedia, and justifiably so, based on what I've read here (and on their site). It could be a short-lived edit, but if even some few inquiring minds could be directed here, and even at the secular references that belie the article's claims - that would be a worthwhile thing.
Blessings, all!
Paul Price
Thanks! Anybody is free to edit Wikipedia, but as I wrote about in this article, your edits are extremely likely to be reverted and shouted down.
Jacob P.
Silly Paul rocks do bend here's some reading material for you
[link deleted per feedback rules]

P.S its me Jumboseafood from reddit
Paul Price
Jacob,

Your link is about something completely unrelated to anything in this article that you're commenting on. The debate about whether sedimentary layers will bend is a totally different debate; the author you cited is saying that the layers were under high pressure- just enough to cause them to bend, but not enough to cause them to metamorphose. He's not talking about fossils, he's talking about layers of rock. Feel free to do your own experiment on a fossil. Take any permineralized fossil you choose and place a great weight on top. See if you can get it to squash without shattering. Except for under very specialized conditions (high pressure and heat), rocks never bend, they break. That is the nature of rocks. In the case of Joggins, if you invoke great pressures then you have just proved my point. Only a global flood would suffice to explain the amount of pressure that would be required to squash a log to half its original thickness. A local flash flood could never produce such an effect as that.
Jeffrey C.
I wonder if anybody has come up with terminology for that pre-fossilisation crushing seen with the horizontal tree trunk. Are there not many fossils of animals and plants evincing that phenomenon? Anybody done experiments to determine how much pressure it takes to flatten a large animal or such a tree trunk--and perhaps estimate the depth of wet sediment it would take at a given site to cause the observed outcome? I am remembering that crushing machine that put 'The Terminator' (1984) robot out of action in the old Arnold Swarzenegger movie--use something like that on unfossilized logs and see what it takes ....
Chris M.
I still question how the explosion of Mt. St. Helens not re-write Geology books? How can observable science be demonstrated right in front of our eyes and people still hold on to these “millions of years”? I don’t get it. When that volcano erupted back in the 80’s canyons were carved out, hundreds of feet of sedimentary layers were formed and multiple other geological events that we were told took millions of years. Even polystrate trees were being demonstrated in the lake close to Mt. St. Helens.

Observable science, a naturalists worst nightmare.
Covert C.
Paul,

Do you have any photos of overturned stumps and roots growing upwards that are not cropped at the margins of what you're showing. Photos of this nature also need a scale. Photos of rocks can be difficult to judge without a scale. The photos also do not have indication of the orientation. Finally where in the stratigraphic column were these phots taken? All of this information is critical when taking photos in a geological context.

The earliest written record of the Polystrate trees was done by Richard Brown a mine engineer working for the general mining engineer in 1829. With nearly two hundred years of work to pull form what I'm asking for should be easy to find.
Paul Price
The photos in my article are mainly provided as a visual reference for the reader, and in no way form the basis of my argument. The basis is the published written work that I cited. If you want to see more photos of Joggins, I can suggest you look at Ian Juby's website (in the endnotes), where he has more photos on display than what I had room to include here. I do believe the orientation is very clear and is not a cause for concern. Regarding scale: one of the photos I included has a scale reference marker (the crushed log), and Juby does have some other photos on his website that more clearly indicate scale. I didn't have room to include everything here, but I believe the photos do a good job of illustrating the points being made. I don't know where in relation to the overall stratigraphic column of Joggins all of these photos were taken, but that is not really relevant to the points they are intended to illustrate in any case.
Caleb W.
Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. The evidence at Joggins is really powerful, but it is, for the most part, being ignored both by secular geologists. Someone commented accusing creationists of "picking and choosing" the evidence that fits their side, but it seems to me that's exactly what secular scientists are doing. Mr. Price did an excellent job of presenting all the evidence from this site that confirms a global, catastrophic Flood. It's really wonderful to see science confirming God's Word!
Steve W.
I guess you accuse people of not reading their Bibles for lack of a rebuttal. The six days in Genesis 1 and Exodus 20 are a restoration of an old earth. The much older flood in 2 Peter 3:5-6 doesn't mention anything about Noah and the Ark. It says there were no survivors in this flood. The world that then was, perished. You said this first flood is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Take a look at Genesis 1:2. Why do you think there is darkness and deep water everywhere? Why do you think God has to move the water out of the way in Genesis 1:9? This sounds more like God's judgment than creation. Genesis 1:1 is creation. After two floods God promised to never flood the earth again. God told both Adam and Noah to go REFILL the earth. This indicates there was life before them. Lucifer was in Eden way before Adam was in Ezekiel 28:13. Iniquity was found in Lucifer Ezekiel 28:15. Lucifer brought sin and death into the world way before Adam did Isaiah 14:12-17. Adam brought sin and death back into the world after the six day restoration in Genesis 1. You guys are trying to cram 4.5 billion years of the earth's history in the last 6000 years. Your erroneous claims just don't fit. Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.
Paul Price
I did provide a rebuttal: your idea of a much older flood (a.k.a. Lucifer's Flood) is an extra-biblical concept invented to try to cram millions of years into Scripture where it clearly isn't there. Saying that the "world that then was, perished", clearly refers to the fact that Noah's flood destroyed the whole world, just as God said it would in Genesis 6; obviously Noah and his family were the only exceptions. These ideas are refuted in our Creation Answers Book chapter 3, "What about gap theories?".

You are referencing "ruin reconstruction" theory, which is dealt with also in this article from all the way back to 1980: The Gap Theory Part B

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