The Stratigraphic Record and the Fossil Record
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21-09-2011, 09:37 AM
The Stratigraphic Record and the Fossil Record
A common interpretation was brought up in another thread on the forum about what the stratigraphic record and the fossil record actually tell us. Creationist/intelligent design enthusiasts suggest that each record is evidence for Noah's Flood. Whereas scientists (geologists, paleontologists, physicists, biologists, etc) suggest that both are in fact records of billions of years of time and a record of the evolutionary history of life on Earth. So, who is correct? You can probably guess which side I am one, but let's make some general assumptions about each hypothesis and then look at the record itself and see which it supports (and if you have any additional evidence I would love to see it).

If, the stratigraphic record is evidence of a single flooding event, that would suggest that every bit of sediment (we will consider only the stratigraphic section from the Cambrian to present) was deposited during the 40 days and 40 nights of the flood, plus any remaining number of months it took for the water to recede back to its normal levels. If this is the case, then we should see a clear succession of deepening water throughout the section and then a subsequent lowering of sea level towards the upper sections. The raising of sea level is known as a transgression and the dropping of sea level would be a regression. Areas at high elevation would show essentially none of either. Mainly because they are at such high elevation they would have experienced the least amount of time underwater, and erosion after the sediment was exposed from the regression would have removed most of the evidence. Hypothesis 1) Higher elevations should record little to no information, and would record much shallower depths. Hypothesis 2) The rock record at lower elevations should show 2 clear trends. A massive transgression, followed by a massive regression. The second part of this hypothesis is reliant upon the fossil record. The hypothesis is that the succession of fossils throughout the geologic record is evidence of the animals on Earth fleeing from the rising waters. The implication is that the slower, dumber organisms are concentrated in the lower sections because they were unable to outrun it or not intelligent enough to run away. The upper sections would therefore be hypothesized to have more of the terrestrial vertebrates and more intelligent organisms. Hypothesis 3) Slow and dumb organisms should be concentrated in lower sections and at lower elevations. Hypothesis 4) Since the fossil record is evidence of the mass migration of organisms we can also assume that the old and/or sick would have been as slow as some of the lower organisms, so we should see the occasional higher organism in lower portions of the section.

The other side of the coin would be the interpretation that the scientific community is on. That is, if the stratigraphic record is the accumulation of sediments through time and the fossil record is evidence for evolution, then we should be able to make similar hypotheses as to what we should see. Hypothesis 1) Higher elevations have been uplifted through orogenic (mountain-building) events, and could therefore be much older than the surrounding low-lying sediments. Hypothesis 2) We should not see evidence of only 1 major transgression and regression but evidence for multiple events as well as multiple times of exposure to subaerial processes. Hypothesis 3) Organisms lower in the section should represent early forms of life and as organisms go extinct they will disappear from the rock record and never show up again. Hypothesis 4) Organisms who have not yet originated will not appear in the fossil record until they originate and are populace enough to become buried. Therefore we should not see any organisms from the Eocene in any stratigraphic layers older than that.

Now, let's evaluate the evidence for hypotheses 1-4.
Hypothesis 1 (YEC) Higher elevations should record little to no information, and would record much shallower depths.
Hypothesis 1 (Sci) Higher elevations have been uplifted through orogenic (mountain-building) events, and could therefore be much older than the surrounding low-lying sediments.

Let's take Mt. Everest. What is the rock at the very top? Limestone. In particular it seems to be a deeper water sedimentary rock and is Ordovician in age. This means that the crinoids (VERY slow organisms), trilobites and ostracods within it should be at a much lower elevation in the creationist opinion, because they correspond to lower organisms in other sections around the world. In the Science side, these rocks were once between India and Asia on the seafloor, until India collided with Asia bringing these marine sedimentary rocks from below sea level to the highest point on Earth. Hypothesis 1 goes to the Scientific community.

Hypothesis 2 (YEC) The rock record at lower elevations should show 2 clear trends. A massive transgression, followed by a massive regression.
Hypothesis 2 (Sci) We should not see evidence of only 1 major transgression and regression but evidence for multiple events as well as multiple times of exposure to subaerial processes

What do we see in the stratigraphic record? Evidence of multiple major transgressions and regressions. We also see periods of no sedimentation at all. These are points in time where the rocks became exposed and erosion removed some of the material, erasing that portion of time. So, we see multiple periods of elevated sea level, multiple Ice ages, and periods of time where the rocks were exposed to the air, eroded, and then covered with new sediments after they were covered again with water. Hypothesis 2 goes to the Scientific community.

Hypothesis 3 (YEC) Slow and dumb organisms should be concentrated in lower sections and at lower elevations.
Hypothesis 4 (Sci) Organisms lower in the section should represent early forms of life and as organisms go extinct they will disappear from the rock record and never show up again.

And the verdict is...we see the progression of more complex organisms through time , but the persistence of some organisms throughout geologic time. For instance, I do not believe anyone would call a clam fast, and since they have no brain they are not smart either, yet we find them throughout the fossil record, from bottom to top. And organisms who disappear early in the fossil record never return. Hypothesis 3 goes to the scientific community.

Hypothesis 4 (YEC) Since the fossil record is evidence of the mass migration of organisms we can also assume that the old and/or sick would have been as slow as some of the lower organisms, so we should see the occasional higher organism in lower portions of the section.
Hypothesis 4 (Sci) Organisms who have not yet originated will not appear in the fossil record until they originate and are populace enough to become buried. Therefore we should not see any organisms from the Eocene in any stratigraphic layers older than that.

Guess what? There are no Cambrian T-rex fossils, nor any mammal earlier than the Mesozoic. Some organisms alive today are very primitive, but they have changed compared to their fossil counterparts. Even the horseshoe crab, long called a living fossil is morphologically different today from his fossil ancestors. Hypothesis 4 goes to the Scientific community.

By my tally that is YEC:0 and Scientific community: 4. In closing allow me to say this, any idea or hypothesis should be testable and falsifiable in order to be demonstrated as plausible. The YEC concept of the stratigraphic record and fossil record recording the flood is erroneous, in multiple ways that I have hopefully demonstrated. I assume most of my atheist colleagues here will look at this and not read it, but perhaps anyone who comes to this forum trying to say that it is all flood evidence, can be directed here for why it is incorrect.

“Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.”
—Thomas Henry Huxley
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