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Salter’s trilobite, a national fossil of Wales, is evidence for a young earth and biblical history

©Sam Gon III 9509-trilobite
Paradoxides davidis.
First published: 12 July 2014 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 21 April 2021 (GMT+10)

The following question from a correspondent is about a fossil described on a TV program they were watching. It’s answered by geologist .

Last night I was watching a British programme “Coast” on SBS–TV. The presenter showed Salter’s fossil, a great trilobite, which was discovered around 150 years ago on the west coast of Wales.

Apparently the discovery of this fossil changed the view of the age of the earth. I cannot find a reference to it in your search engine, so I am asking whether this fossil is indeed as old as it is claimed to be. Can you give reasons for your answer please with particular reference to this fossil?

Thank you very much.

CMI’s Dr Tas Walker replies:

Hi there,

I Googled “Salters fossil Wales” and came up with an article about it on the website for National Museum Wales.1 From its description it is a remarkable fossil, being a very large trilobite over 50 cm long and incredibly well preserved. It was found by J.W. Salter in the rocks of Pembrokeshire, and called Paradoxides davidis.

The find of a fossil trilobite in itself would give no clue for the age of the earth. But the find could be used to convince people the world is old depending on the way the people of the day reported the find. For example, it would likely have been presented as a curiosity from a bygone era, a creature now extinct that existed eons of ages ago when the world was very different from ours. However, many, many fossils are the same as creatures alive today. These are often called ‘living fossils’, and they have the reverse effect, giving the impression that the past was not that different from today. (See Living fossils: a powerful argument for creation.)

The strata in Wales, in which the fossil was found, had been named Cambrian by Adam Sedgwick in 1835. So, if the fossil was described as belonging to the Cambrian era, people would have got the impression that it was eons of time ago. In other words, just the language used to report the find could have influenced people to imagine an old age for the earth.

The fossil was found in 1862, and the idea of an old earth had been increasingly popular since it was widely promoted in the writings of Charles Lyell some 30 years before. However, most people of that time still believed the biblical account of earth history, that the earth was only 6,000 years old, as do many people today. Lyell’s claim that the earth was eons old was not a discovery he had made but an assumption, and he was very persuasive in his writings. Lyell deliberately denied that Noah’s Flood had ever occurred in history as the Bible describes, and so he ignored the event and its catastrophic effects on the geology of the earth.

The trilobite fossil is actually stunning evidence for the catastrophe of Noah’s Flood because of its excellent preservation. Its intricate detail indicates that it was buried quickly before it was scavenged by other animals, as occurs so quickly today. In fact, the fossil is a problem for those who believe in long ages, because they have to postulate special conditions for how it was preserved so beautifully while it was waiting to be covered slowly by sediment.

When we interpret the fossil from a biblical perspective, it makes a lot of sense of the evidence. The Cambrian strata in Wales were deposited as the waters of Noah’s Flood were rising, about the middle of the first half of the Flood. That means the fossil is actually about 4,500 years old—one of the creatures that was alive before the Flood, and which perished in the cataclysm.

The fossil was found just three years after Charles Darwin published his Origin. Over the next 30 years there was considerable debate about the age of the earth with physicist Lord Kelvin saying it was about 20 to 40 million years old at the most. (His calculated result was far too old because he made wrong assumptions about what the earth was like when God first created it. See Western culture and the age of the earth.)

©Robin Lucas, geograph.org.uk, CC BY-SA 2.0 9509-porth-y-rhaw
Porth-y-rhaw where W.J. Salter found the trilobite fossil.

Charles Darwin was distressed at Kelvin’s number because it was too small! Darwin said he needed a vast period of time before the Cambrian for his theory of evolution to work. In other words, an almost unimaginably huge age of the earth is something that the evolutionary scientists have been looking for in order for evolution to be at all plausible.

Apart from being evidence for rapid burial in the global Flood, the trilobite fossil is also remarkable evidence for design, which points to the Designer. Its body plan is especially suited for it to live, grow, and reproduce in the environment where it lived. The trilobite eye particularly is a masterpiece of precision optical design.

Trilobites are thought to be extinct, which is why they are of such interest. People are well aware today of the threats and causes of extinction because there are so many animals that are threatened or endangered. So, this trilobite fossil is also evidence that we live in a ‘fallen’ world, where death, suffering, disease and extinction are part of the landscape. The Bible explains how all that came about and it gives us the remedy for that problem, together with hope for the future, in the gospel of Christ.

In summary, there is nothing in Salter’s trilobite or where it was found that points to an old earth. However, this fossil provides stunning evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Its design demonstrates the power and wisdom of the Creator, its death and extinction the terrible consequence of sin, its preservation the reality of global judgment, and the provision of salvation as evidenced by Noah and his family, from whom we are all descended.

All the best,

Tas Walker

References and notes

  1. International fame for Wales's 'National Fossil', museum.wales, accessed 2014. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Nathan G.
Dear Chris W.
The "numerous small catastrophes" argument (just like the "localized" flood argument to discount Noah's worldwide flood) falls apart immediately.

1) We do not observe millions, billions or trillions of fossils forming anywhere under such conditions today. This utterly kills uniformitarianism and an unsubstantiated belief in long, slow fossilization. The only saving mechanism becomes either pure saltation (unobservable jumps in evolution with no fossils in the gaps) or an untestable "numerous small catastrophe" idea.

2) Even if numerous, small cataclysms had taken place, the big picture still kills this idea. How would such numerous catastrophes explain geologic layers that extend unbroken across 2-3 continents? How would it explain the jumbled bonebeds with airborne, terrestrial and marine fossils all buried together, if a catastrophe is small and local? That traceable gelogic layers over thousands or tens of thousands of square miles contain the same fossils as separate layers of the same rock in other places?

3) The exisitence of soft tissues, DNA, collagen and other ephemeral substances found in fossils allegedly hundreds of millions of years old stretches the credibility of evolution past the breaking point. But multiple catastrophes all leading to perfect preservation conditions each time is truly dubvious.

4) Such multiple catatrophes also cannot explain why clams are the most frequent macrofossils and can be found on top of all the mountain chains on earth. Wouldn't small catastrophes only effect certain areas and be devoid of creatures foreign to that locale? So why are marine fossils found on land when even evolutionists posit that the area was above sea level when the fossils formed?
Chris W.
Dear Dr Walker, you say 'In fact, the fossil is a problem for those who believe in long ages, because they have to postulate special conditions for how it was preserved so beautifully while it was waiting to be covered slowly by sediment.'

What would your response be if an evolutionist said that he believed in millions of small cataclysms, over millions of years, which did indeed bury quickly, the animals we now see in fossilized form?
Tas Walker
The idea of millions of years comes from the philosophy of uniformitarianism—that everything formed slowly. However, the geologic evidence points to catastrophe, which destroys the idea of millions of years. So, to hold onto their philosophy, they do exactly as you have suggested, postulate smaller catastrophes separated by millions of years. As geologist Ager said, "It is like the life of a soldier—long periods of boredom separated by short periods of terror." However, evidence for long periods of time is lacking. It is an arbitrary rescue device. Also, we don't see fossils forming like this today, which contradicts the philosophy of uniformitarianism. This video Neo-catastrophism vs uniformitarianism deals with the issue.
Trev K.
"In fact, the fossil is a problem for those who believe in long ages, because they have to postulate special conditions for how it was preserved so beautifully while it was waiting to be covered slowly by sediment"

You need to stop pushing this strawman. Not every fossil had to have been slowly covered in sediment according to mainstream science. It may have been the view of Charles Lyell 200 years ago but so what ? Of course the vast majority of fossils are indeed fragmented (a fact you conveniently never point out) but well preserved ones may have been quickly covered by sediment slumps or some local catastrophic event. In anoxic conditions where scavenging is unlikely slow sedimentation may be good enough such as in the lagerstatten limestones. And another thing, strange how you never find any modern fish types in the same layers as trilobites huh ? These are the sort of facts that should awaken you but your bias keeps your eyes firmly closed.
Tas Walker
Hi Trev, It is not a strawman. It is solid evidence against the uniformitarian long age philosophy. We never say that every fossil has to be covered slowly. But we do highlight some of the innumerable examples where the evidence points to rapid burial that impacted large areas. This is a far cry from the local catastrophes that you are offering as a rescue device. And the anoxic conditions you propose is another rescue device that has lots of problems that are discussed on this site. Check this article Dead crocodiles down under to appreciate how much sediments is needed to bury and preserve fossils.
Dan M.
If there were just a handful of fossils found here and there around the world, (a rare event) with no living relatives, I might be inclined to listen to the Evo's. But there are trillions of fossils in every single layer and mega sequence of strata that signals the conditions were worldwide and catastrophic, (just like the bible says it happened). The contact surfaces of the mega sequences are too planar for any missing time in between, (no ecosystems) which is essential to Evolution's, (assumptions) religious beliefs. Their argument is extremely weak indeed and in these last days, it has been disproven, especially when genetics is considered. I, on the other hand, just have to accept the actual historical narrative written in my bible that makes perfect sense of what I observe in the world both physical and spiritual, (fallen man). To me, the evolutionary paradigm is a childish attempt to ignore God Almighty in lew of a seared conscience in which they can do whatever they want no matter how evil or corrupt, (I am my own god). We are accountable whether we like it or not and no amount of evolutionary storytelling is going to change that! They have no idea the fire, (Hell) they are playing with. I will accept evolution when pigs build rockets and land on the moon and Chimpanzees build skyscrapers! Until then, (Rom 3:4)
P.S. No one needs a PhD. to understand the basic tenants of the creation and its history. With a little study and a broken heart, the picture becomes clear.
Cowboy Bob S.
Just a bit of wishful thinking on my part: I would very much like trilobites to be found alive and well.

Scientists use the principle that because they have not found an aquatic creature, it *must* be extinct. Sure, like the coelacanth. The Wollemi pine is another example. Imagine the excitement (and the fun) of this was added to the Darwin-defying list of living fossils!
Alf F.
Looking at the problem from another angle, where are the bulk of mammal remains found, such as cave bears, giant sloths and hogs etc? Are dinosaurs NEVER found in association with them? What about the "boneyards" where masses of animal bones are found together? Perhaps climate and competition caused large mammals to live in different areas from large dinosaurs.
Tas Walker
There are actually many examples of modern animals, including modern birds, being found with dinosaurs. Interesting also that it seems to be mostly aquatic birds, which would fit with ecological zonation (water birds living around swampy areas, which were the preferred habitat of dinosaurs). See Modern birds with dinosaurs.
Richard G.
God has done it again through dear Bro Dr Tas Walker, whose reply is a masterpiece, beautifully brief but adequate. My own case shows how important it is for us all to be grounding ourselves in knowledge and personal experience of the Word of God. This requires effort, conviction, and time, less time on TV and comics and car-romping etc.. I am 88 and didn't have access to CMI and its 8000 articles. But I was drilled in the truth and that was sufficient. We were a farming family of 8 children but our parents made time to gather us twice a day for Bible reading. Common comment and communication from our parents reinforced our Bible reading. Thank God for the luxury of all our PHD and other brethren in CMI who make our witnessing so easy. Let us concentrate on getting the gospel out widely using all mass and minor communications available. Our ultimate harvest of souls will be uncountable according to Revelation chapter 7 verse nine:- "A multitude which no man could number ...out of every tribe." It's over to us!
Jeremy S.
Could not the horseshoe crab (commonly found here in the Atlantic off North America and other places be a so called "living fossil" and closely related to/in the same kind as the "trilobite"? Just asking your professional opinion.
Tas Walker
The horseshoe crab is a living fossil, but it's quite different from a trilobite.

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