Pterosaurs of the Triassic


There are only three known groups of volant vertebrates. Two are extant: birds and bats. The third group is completely extinct and known only from fossils: pterosaurs. Often referred to colloquially as “pterodactyls”, pterosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles totally foreign to our modern minds, yet in some ways they are incredibly familiar, resembling the dragons of folklore. These prehistoric dragons came in all different sizes, from the tiny 25 cm wingspan of Nemicolopterus crypticus (although not fully grown, it is thought to have been a subadult (Wang et al, 2008)) to the enormous 10-11 m wingspan of azhdarchids like Quetzalcoatlus northropi (Witton et al, 2010), making these azhdarchids the largest known flying animals of all time. Size was not the only significant diversity factor among pterosaurs; rather, some had long necks and short tails, while others had short necks and long tails. Some had elaborate and bizarre cranial crests, some had toothless jaws, some had filter-feeding habits, and some had multicuspid teeth. The great variety of pterosaurs is astounding, and their fossils are known from all seven continents (Barrett et al, 2008), as well as Greenland (Jenkins et al, 2001) and New Zealand (Wiffen and Molnar, 1988). Pterosaur fossils are found in Mesozoic rocks from the Norian of the Upper Triassic to the Maastrichtian of the Upper Cretaceous (Butler et al., 2009; Unwin, 2006; Wellnhofer, 1991). This range is almost identical with that of dinosaurs, however, pterosaurs are not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs have a perforated acetabulum (hole in the hip where the femur articulates), among other features, which pterosaurs do not possess. Although we refer to pterosaurs as reptiles, they would not resemble any of our reptiles we find today. Certainly there are no flying reptiles around us (although there are gliding snakes and lizards), but pterosaurs also possessed a kind of integument consisting of hair-like structures termed pycnofibres (Kellner et al, 2009). These certainly would have been marvelous creatures to behold, majestically soaring far overhead or flapping along golden beaches in search of morsels washing in on crashing waves.

Recognition of the uniqueness of the pterosaur design is inescapable. In fact, Kellner (1996) described 33 features shared by all pterosaurs that no other animal possessed. Even a cursory glance at a pterosaur skeleton will lead to the determination that there is really no other animal like it. Although there have been three vertebrate groups that possessed flight, all three had radically different constructions for their wings. In pterosaurs, the wing is made up of a membrane that stretches from the body to the arm bones (Figure 1). Peculiar to pterosaurs, the fourth digit is greatly elongated, which allows the wing to stretch out much farther than the reach of the arm alone. Also peculiar to pterosaurs is a bone called the pteroid, which allows for a membrane (called the propatagium) to stretch from the wrist back to the shoulder anterior (in front of) the main portion of the wing. Based on fossil evidence, pterosaurs also seemed to have a portion of skin that stretched from the back legs to the tail called the uropatagium.

Figure 1: A diagram of many of the major features of the pterosaur wing. "Pterosaur wing BW2" by Pterosaur_wing_BW.jpg: ArthurWeasley derivative work: Dinoguy2 (talk) 18:45, 12 March 2009 (UTC) - Pterosaur_wing_BW.jpg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Figure 1: A diagram of many of the major features of the pterosaur wing. “Pterosaur wing BW2″ by Pterosaur_wing_BW.jpg: ArthurWeasley derivative work: Dinoguy2 (talk) 18:45, 12 March 2009 (UTC) – Pterosaur_wing_BW.jpg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The question that is raised in paleontological circles when such a unique group is discovered is, “Where did these creatures come from?” Conventional paleontologists, relying solely on naturalistic evolution, have intensely sought for the answer to this question, searching the Triassic pterosaur fossil record for answers. Despite the >200 years of searching, the picture has only become more complicated.

The Discovery of Pterosaurs in the Triassic

Although the first pterosaur fossil was found in 1784, no Triassic specimens were known until the year 1973, when Rocco Zambelli described the pterosaur Eudimorphodon ranzii (Wellnhofer, 1991) from marine rocks in Italy. The holotype (type specimen) of E. ranzii (Figure 2) was well-preserved, but also very unique for pterosaurs. E. ranzii possessed multicuspid teeth, unlike later pterosaurs which often possessed unicuspid pointed teeth. Remember that in mammals, it is conventionally thought that multicuspid teeth evolved from simple pointed reptilian teeth. The body of Eudimorphodon was not particularly unusual for a “rhamphorhynchoid” (“primitive”, typically long-tailed forms), although later discoveries would show that some Triassic pterosaurs did not possess stiffening rods in their tails as the Jurassic long-tailed pterosaurs do (Dalla Vecchia, 2002).

Figure 2:MCSNB 2888, the holotype of Eudimorphodon ranzii. "Eudimorphodon" by Tommy from Arad - EudimorphodonUploaded by FunkMonk. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 2:MCSNB 2888, the holotype of Eudimorphodon ranzii. “Eudimorphodon” by Tommy from Arad – EudimorphodonUploaded by FunkMonk. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Eudimorphodon was certainly peculiar, but it did not appear to be the missing link that paleontologists were hoping for. In fact, many researchers consider Eudimorphodon to be a relative of Campylognathoides, which is thought to be one of the more advanced “rhamphorhynchoids”. Further discoveries in Italy turned up two other Triassic pterosaurs: Peteinosaurus and Preondactylus. Peteinosaurus is thought to be a member of Dimorphodontidae, whereas Preondactylus appears to defy assignment to a particular group. Unwin (2003) considered Preondactylus the most primitive pterosaur, whereas Kellner (2003) considered Anurognathidae to be the most primitive group of pterosaurs (despite the fact that anurognathids do not appear until the Middle Jurassic). Preondactylus does have some unique features, but once again, it has all the necessary features of a pterosaur.

Further Triassic pterosaurs were discovered over the years. A new species of Eudimorphodon was found in Italy: E. rosenfeldi, which was later placed in a new genus (Carniadactylus rosenfeldi) (Dalla Vecchia, 2009a). Another species of Eudimorphodon (‘E.’ cromptonellus) was found in Triassic lacustrine deposits of Greenland (Jenkins et al, 2001); however, it is thought that ‘E.’ cromptonellus does not belong in the genus Eudimorphodon either (Dalla Vecchia, 2009a). Also discovered was Austriadactylus, a crested form from Austria (Dalla Vecchia et al, 2002) and later also found in Italy (Dalla Vecchia, 2009b). Switzerland has yielded two more Triassic pterosaurs: Raeticodactylus and Caviramus, although Dalla Vecchia (2009a) concluded that Caviramus is actually Raeticodactylus. There are several specimens from the Alps that most likely represent new species (Dalla Vecchia, 2009a), such as BSP 1994 I 51, which was originally described as a specimen of E. ranzii (Wellnhofer, 2003). A recently discovered form from Brazil, Faxinalipterus, was hailed as the most primitive pterosaur known (Bonaparate et al, 2010), but Dalla Vecchia (2013) concluded that the remains are most likely not even pterosaurian. A recently discovered jaw from the Chinle Formation of Petrified National Forest, Arizona, U.S.A. is thought to be from a pterosaur (Whatley et al, 2013). There are several discoveries of multicuspid teeth attributed to pterosaurs from the Norian and Rhaetian of Europe and North America, but Dalla Vecchia (2013) noted that unrelated and contemporaneous synapsid chiniquodonts and “dromatheriids” have very similar teeth, so this casts doubt on the pterosaurian nature of these teeth.

Discussion of the Triassic Pterosaur Fossil Record

One thing is apparent from this list: at the initial onset of pterosaurs in the fossil record, there are already several species, and they span across a good portion of the globe (especially when including a currently undescribed specimen from Argentina). There are at least 4 families of pterosaurs represented in the Triassic: “Preondactylidae”, Campylognathoididae, Dimorphodontidae, and Raeticodactylidae (Andres et al, 2014). Thus, the earliest appearance of pterosaurs is anything but simple. In fact, the diversity is even more complex as Dalla Vecchia (2009a) determined that ‘E.’ cromptonellus and specimen BSP 1994 I 51 appear to be outside of Campylognathoididae (although he found the raeticodactylids to be within Campylognathoididae). Interestingly, this is a similar situation to other groups in the fossil record. “Pelycosaurs”, therapsids, dinosaurs, and many other groups all show up in the fossil record with great diversity already in place. This also matches the pattern seen in the Cambrian Explosion, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Despite the great diversity, Triassic pterosaur specimens are incredibly rare. The number of known fossil specimens of definite Triassic pterosaurs is 32 or less (McLain et al, 2014). This differs greatly from much of the rest of the pterosaur fossil record where individual pterosaur species can be known from 30 or even over 1000 specimens (Kellner, 2010). Almost all of the known unquestionable pterosaur specimens are from marine deposits, the only exclusions being ‘E.’ cromptonellus from a presumed lacustrine deposit, and the newly found jaw from the terrestrial Chinle Formation. In fact, Dalla Vecchia (2013) noted that all unequivocal Norian pterosaur specimens are from the tropical margins of the Pangean gulf of Tethys. The general lack of pterosaurs in Triassic terrestrial deposits is puzzling, especially since there are Triassic sites with exquisite preservation of vertebrates such as Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, U.S.A. and the Karoo Basin of South Africa. This is also puzzling as pterosaurs presumably evolved from terrestrial ancestors. The complete lack of any “proto-pterosaurs” in the Triassic terrestrial deposits is problematic for naturalistic evolutionary theory. A possible solution suggested by Dalla Vecchia (2013) is that the “proto-pterosaurs” were non-volant and were living far away from sites where excellent preservation would occur. A similar suggestion has been made for the lack of ancestral forms to hard-bodied Cambrian taxa. Although preservational bias does appear to have a noticeable effect among pterosaurs (Butler et al, 2013), it seems like it would be easier to fossilize the non-flying ancestors of pterosaurs, with their less fragile bones, than their flying descendants.

Interestingly, there are no known Triassic pterosaur footprints. In fact, the pterosaur footprint record starts in the Upper Jurassic, although there may be a few examples of Middle Jurassic pterosaur tracks (Lockley et al, 2008). The sudden appearance of pterosaur tracks in the Upper Jurassic – Lower Cretaceous coincides well with the explosion of pterosaur taxic diversity and paleoenvironmental diversity in the same interval (McLain, 2012).

Might the Flood provide a better explanation for the pterosaur fossil record? It is possible. Since pterosaurs are so incredibly distinct (i.e., they are discontinuous from all other organisms), it seems unlikely that they evolved from terrestrial reptiles. Thus, creationists would not expect to find any “proto-pterosaur” fossils. Additionally, pterosaurs might be buried based on habitat preference or flight ability rather than evolutionary stage. This might explain why more “advanced rhamphorhynchoids” such as Eudimorphodon would be buried alongside more “primitive rhamphorhynchoids” such as Peteinosaurus and Preondactylus. Rather than finding a trunk to the pterosaur tree at the bottom of the pterosaur fossil record, which the naturalistic evolutionist paleontologist might expect to see, the evidence suggests the lowest pterosaurs in the fossil record are already very diverse in the number of species, as well as the number of families.


Even just a quick glimpse at a small subset of pterosaurs provides a fascinating view at a bizarre and beautiful world that we are only beginning to grasp. Triassic pterosaurs seem to defy the expectations of many researchers just as the initial discovery of the first pterosaur specimen in 1784 did for those who had never even imagined such a creature. Pterosaurs – Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous forms – present for us an excellent lesson in science: when what we expect to see does not match reality, it is necessary for us to go back and challenge the things we thought we knew, for in them there is much assumption, and not all assumption is well-placed.


M. Aaron

August 16, 2014



Andres, B., Clark, J., and Xu, X., 2014, The earliest pterodactyloid and the origin of the group: Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.030.

Barrett, P.M., Butler, R.J., Edwards, N.P., and Milner, A.R., 2008, Pterosaur distribution in time and space: an atlas: Zitteliana, v. B28, p. 61–107.

Bonaparte, J.F., Schultz, C.L., and Soares, M.B., 2010, Pterosauria from the Late Triassic of Southern Brazil, in Bandyopadhyay, S. ed., New Aspects of Mesozoic Biodiversity Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences, v. 132, p. 63-71.

Butler, R.J., Barrett, P.M., Nowbath, S., and Upchurch, P., 2009, Estimating the effects of sampling biases on pterosaur diversity patterns: implications for hypotheses of bird/pterosaur competitive replacement: Paleobiology, v. 35, no. 3, p. 432–446.

Butler, R.J., Benson, R.B.J., and Barrett, P.M., 2013, Pterosaur diversity: untangling the influence of sampling biases, Lagerstätten, and genuine biodiversity signals: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 372, p. 78–87.

Dalla Vecchia, F.M., 2002, A caudal segment of a Late Triassic pterosaur (Diapsida, Pterosauria) from North-eastern Italy: Gortania, v. 23, p. 31-58.

Dalla Vecchia, F.M., 2009a, Anatomy and systematics of the pterosaur Carniadactylus gen. n. rosenfeldi (Dalla Vecchia, 1995), Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia, v. 115, no. 2, p. 159-186.

Dalla Vecchia, F.M., 2009b, The first Italian specimen of Austriadactylus cristatus (Diapsida, Pterosauria) from the Norian (Upper Triassic) of the Carnic Prealps, Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia, v. 115, n. 3, p. 291-304.

Dalla Vecchia, F.M., 2013., Triassic pterosaurs, in Nesbitt, S.J., Desojo, J.B., and Irmis, R.B. eds., Anatomy, Phylogeny, and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and their Kin, 379, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 119-155.

Dalla Vecchia, F.M., Wild, R., Hopf, H., and Reitner, J., 2002, A crested rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur from the Late Triassic of Austria: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 22, n. 1, p. 196-199.

Jenkins, F.A., Jr., Shubin, N.H., Gatesy, S.M., and Padian, K., 2001, A diminutive pterosaur (Pterosauria: Eudimorphodontidae) from the Greenlandic Triassic: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, v. 156, no. 1, p. 151–170.

Kellner, A.W.A., 1996, Description of new material of Tapejaridae and Anhangueridae (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) and discussion of pterosaur phylogeny, PhD thesis, Columbia University, [Published by University Microfilms International/ProQuest].

Kellner, A.W.A., 2003, Pterosaur phylogeny and comments on the evolutionary history of the group, in Buffetaut, E. and Mazin, J.-M. eds., Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs, 217, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 105–137.

Kellner, A.W.A., 2010, Comments on the Pteranodontidae (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) with the description of two new species: Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, v. 82, no. 4, p. 1063–1084.

Lockley, M., Harris, J.D., and Mitchell, L., 2008, A global overview of pterosaur ichnology: tracksite distribution in space and time: Zitteliana, v. B28, p. 185–198.

McLain, M. A., 2012, Pterosaur diversity parallels changes in paleoenvironment, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 44, no. 7, p. 401.

McLain, M.A., Chase, B., and Bryant, E., 2014, PteroTerra: a searchable pterosaur database web application that interfaces with Google Earth: Historical Biology, doi: 10.1080/08912963.2014.929671.

Unwin, D.M., 2003, On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs, in Buffetaut, E. and Mazin, J.-M. eds., Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs, 217, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 139-190.

Unwin, D.M., 2006, The Pterosaurs from Deep Time: Pi Press, New York, New York.

Wellnhofer, P., 1991, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs: Salamander Books Ltd, London, United Kingdom.

Wellnhofer, P., 2003, A Late Triassic pterosaur from the Northern Calcareous Alps (Tyrol, Austria), in Buffetaut, E. and Mazin, J.-M. eds., Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs, 217, Geological Society of London, Special Publications, p. 5-22.

Whatley, R.L., Behrensmeyer, A.K., McIntire, S.B., Ramezani, J., and Parker, W.G., 2013, First pterosaur dentary and postcrania from the Upper Triassic Owl Rock Member, Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Conference Program and Abstracts,, p. 237.

Wiffen, J., and Molnar, R.E., 1988, First pterosaur from New Zealand: Alcheringa, v. 12, p. 53–59.

Posted in Fossils, Pterosaurs | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lazarus Species

Since at least the time of William Smith – around the turn of the 19th century – as data have accrued, it has become progressively clearer that geologic strata contain an ordered arrangement of fossils. Trilobites are found in Paleozoic rocks, dinosaurs in Mesozoic rocks and humans in Cenozoic rocks.[i] Different mechanisms have been proposed to explain this order in the fossil record. The prevalent view today imposes a Darwinian understanding on the data. In this framework, the ordered sequence of fossils is commonly viewed as a record of life over immense periods of time. In reality, the data taken as a whole are unsupportive of this thesis. Here I explore “Lazarus species,” which illustrate the tenuous relationship between the data and the Darwinian view that order in the geologic column records an immense timespan during which organisms evolved and went extinct.

There are a number of assumptions inherent in the view that order in the fossil record supports Darwinism; some of these are not logical, are inconsistent with data, or possibly both. One of these is the assumption that the fossil record provides a record of life over time. Most would agree that fossils represent life that lived in the past, however, even if the fossil record formed over hundreds of millions or billions of years, this does not make it necessarily a complete record of when specific life forms were present or if certain life forms existed at all. Charles Darwin appears to have agreed with this view to at least some degree when he invoked “the extreme imperfection of the geological record”[ii] to explain the lack of intermediate links (missing links) in the fossil record.

While the fossil record preserves an amazing number and variety of organisms, it seems impossible that it could preserve a snapshot of all the life that existed at every moment throughout history. Normally a record of organisms, with the possible exception of some reef forming organisms and others of a similar nature, is not preserved when they die. If every organism that has lived over the course of history left a fossil, it seems that the Earth’s surface would be made of up nothing other than fossils. This raises the question of whether the fossil record is a representative sample of what was living at various times throughout history. How could this be tested for? If fossils of an organism were not being made, for whatever reason, in geologic strata below where fossils of an organism are first found, and the fossil record is the only record that we have, we cannot be certain whether or not an organism existed when lower strata were formed.

But there are methods that may hint at whether or not an organism existed before there are fossils of it. One method involves the use of molecular clocks. If molecular clocks tell time at all accurately, something that is very open to debate, then just about everything seems to have been alive long before it starts to show up in the fossil record.[iii] Determining the actual age of any particular kind of organism may be difficult to accurately estimate by any method, but there is a quite definitive way of testing whether the fossil record contains a reasonable sample of organisms living over the time it is commonly thought to have made a record of.

This is where Lazarus taxa come in. Lazarus taxa are organisms that – like the Lazarus of the Bible who Jesus brought back to life – appear in the fossil record to have gone extinct, but are found living today. If the fossil record is a representative record of taxa that were living over time, Lazarus taxa should not exist, but they do and this calls into question the assumption that the fossil record actually records the span of time over which organisms lived.

Possibly the best known Lazarus taxon are coelacanths. Coelacanth fish were thought to be missing links between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods. They disappear from the fossil record in Upper Cretaceous strata – around the same geologic level as the dinosaurs – which is thought to have been made something more than 60 million years ago.[iv] This disappearance was interpreted as an extinction event recorded in the fossil record until coelacanths were found living in waters off the east coast of Africa and in Indonesia. Clearly they were alive over the putative tens of millions of years they are thought to have been extinct; if those tens of millions of years existed at all. The only reasonable interpretation, however long the gap is between fossil and living coelacanths, is that the fossil record did not record their presence over a substantial period after they disappeared. Why assume that they did not exist before they appear as fossils in the first place?

Coelacanths were an averagely successful group of fish with easily recognized distinctive features. They first appear in Devonian strata, supposedly about 400 million years old, and are not particularly uncommon as fossils. Coelacanths’ absence in upper parts of the fossil record, in which other fish fossils are plentiful, is enigmatic. The fossil record had no trouble recording the presence of coelacanths for what is commonly thought to be roughly 340 million years, why stop making coelacanth fossils 60 million years ago? How would sediments formed over the last 60 something million years have so perfectly excluded coelacanths?

There are possible explanations. Maybe coelacanths evolved, without changing much in their morphology, into a different niche where nothing gets fossilized. Maybe the coelacanth population crashed for some reason due to changing environmental conditions and they have hung on over tens of millions of years as a very small population, unlikely to get recorded as fossils. Whatever the explanation, they illustrate the ease with which immense gaps in the record of organisms can be explained away within a Darwinian framework. Why believe coelacanths only evolved during Devonian time rather than several hundred million years before, but were not fossilized until Devonian rocks were formed? Why believe that humans or rabbits were not present when Cambrian rocks were formed just because there is no record of them? Why believe that the fossil record is a record of life over time at all?

Another example of a Lazarus species is the Wollemi pine. These towering trees, first discovered as fossils, were thought to be extinct until a small stand was found during 1994 in the Wollemi National Park near Sydney, Australia.[v] The Wollemi pine fossil record is commonly reported as spanning from 90 million to about 2 million years ago. This means these trees must have lived during the putative 2 million years fossils are absent and they appeared to be extinct. Could this possibly be a correct interpretation of the evidence? Lazarus taxa clearly illustrate the fallacy of confusing absence of evidence with evidence of absence.

Possibly the most spectacular example of a Lazarus species are modest-looking mollusks called monoplacophorans. According to common interpretations of the fossil record, monoplacophorans went extinct some 320 million years ago, yet they are living deep in today’s oceans, producing the same kind of shells found in the fossil record. These organisms are particularly problematic, as they should produce a good consistent fossil record. They apparently live in the same niche as their fossil relatives, although some fossil species may have inhabited shallower habitats. Most importantly, they produce hard shells that are more likely than soft parts to be fossilized. They are not particularly uncommon fossils in Paleozoic rocks, how could they possibly have not been recorded in 320 million years worth of sediment? It is worth noting that some fossil taxa, such as the brachiopod Lingula, appear in the fossil record in about the same geologic strata as monoplacophorans and have a fossil record that goes all the way through to the top. We find them living today. Lingula has a shell, but not a hard shell like monoplacophorans.

Lazarus species raise questions about how the geologic column formed. If organisms can disappear from the fossil record and yet still be living, how can we be sure that they were not alive long before fossils of them first formed? As Bible-believers, we don’t embrace the idea that life has been suffering and dying for millions of years. Lazarus species are one good reason that we should be thinking about mechanisms other than deep time to account for the order we observe in the fossil record. It is true; some data are well explained by invoking deep time. Of course, just about any theory explains SOME data; the trick is to elegantly explain ALL the data. It is also true that, while evidence requiring heroic explanations to maintain interpretations based on “deep time” accrues, Bible-believers also lack glib explanations for some data. However, we do have faith in a logically sufficient cause for what is observed in the creation and a historical record of the Creator’s action in nature.


Timothy G. Standish

Geoscience Research Institute


[i] Where exceptions are noted, they can generally be well explained in terms of transport of some kind in which fossils from one layer are eroded out and become constituents of layers that are formed subsequently.

[ii] Darwin CR. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life. 1st Edition. John Murray, London. Pg 280.

[iii] Obviously, molecular clocks are unlikely to underestimate the age of a taxon given the fact that they are calibrated based, at least in part, on fossils and it would be very hard to get a paper published claiming a taxon is younger than its oldest discovered fossil. For a discussion of this phenomenon relating to placental mammals, see and

[iv] Note that fossil coelacanths are not identical to those living today. In fact the fossil record of coelacanths is like many other groups with greater diversity in the past than at present.

[v] Currently three small Wollemi pine stands are known in the same general area.

Posted in Fossils, Pterosaurs | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was There A Great Genesis Flood?

The first book of the Bible states that following a recent creation by God, there was an astonishing worldwide Flood. In that context, the Flood would have been responsible for most of the great fossil bearing layers of the earth. However, current scientific interpretations propose that these layers slowly accumulated over billions of years thus allocating more time for the slow gradual evolution of life. The difference between these two models could hardly be greater. Figure 1 illustrates the contrastTWO MODELS copy copy in interpretations. The main divisions of the stack of rock layers covering our earth, called the geologic column, is shown to the left; the evolutionary interpretation of those layers in the middle, and the creation model to the right. Note especially that the evolutionary model is about one million times slower than the biblical model. Which model is true? They cannot both be right!

Interestingly, one does not at all have to go to the Bible in order to find the concept of a worldwide Flood.[i] That idea is overwhelmingly dominant in the folk literature of the world. The number of references from that literature for different kinds of worldwide past calamities is listed in Table 1, and shows that flood stories are six times as common as any other kind of past worldwide catastrophes. The most likely explanation for such pervasiveness is that the Flood actually occurred.

While the scientific community overwhelmingly rejects the biblical account of a worldwide Flood, a significant amount of scientific data fits better with that account than with a model of slow development over billions of years. In considering the scientific data, we are especially interested in sedimentary rocks. They are the dominant ones and water is usually involved in their deposition into sedimentary layers that often harbor fossils. Geologists usually group these layers into larger units called formations. Many of the formations on our continents are incredibly widespread and tend to be of somewhat even thickness. The contrast between these huge unique flat sedimentary deposits and the dominantly irregular topography of the surface of our present continents is striking. There is no way, under present conditions, to spread such sedimentary deposits, which are relatively thin, over major parts of our present continents. Very flat surfaces are required to start out with, and major forces are needed to spreFive Formationsad the sediments over such huge areas. Some of these deposits are conglomerates[ii] that required very high energy transport over very wide areas. The arrows in Figure 2 point to five formations in the western United States. The surface area of each formation in square kilometers is: Frontier 300,000; Mowry 250,000; Dakota: 815,000; CedMorrison Mapar Mountain-Burrow Canyon 130,000; and Morrison 1,000,000. This latter formation extends from New Mexico into Canada (Figure 3). This is data that is very much more like what would be expected from a worldwide catastrophic Flood, as layer after layer of sediments were quite rapidly and extensively deposited on top of the other. It is not what would be expected for deposits formed slowly by ordinary localized geological processes over billions of years, as now generally postulated by the geological community.

It is not just the geologic formations that are widespread, but within these formations you have smaller units, called beds, that also represent extremely flat anBook Cliffs Castle Gd widespread depositional forces as expected for the Flood. The arrow in Figure 4 points to the flat layer called the Castlegate Sandstone of the Price River Formation. As you travel east from Price Utah, near where it originated, into Colorado, you can follow that sandstone unit for 160 kilometers. Another example is seen in coal seams where thin layers of grainy sediments called partings  can be found (Figure 5). These are in the centimeters range in thickness but can be incredibly widespread. Coal Parting, Castle Gate originalSix partings that extend over 1,500 km2 are reported from coal mines in Kentucky.[iii] In the Grand Canyon, 17 characteristic horizontal key marker layers are reported in the 100 meter thick Muav Limestone (Figure 6, just below the lowest arrow). These marker layers are dominantly a meter or less thickness, and all but one spreads over 50 GC South Rim, red arrows, white legend sp okto 150 kilometers.[iv] Some geologists recognize the incongruity between present limited depositional patterns of local floods and what is actually seen in the rock record. Sedimentologist Carlton Brett, who does not endorse the Flood, comments:

“… beds may persist over areas of many hundreds to thousands of square kilometers precisely because they are the record of truly, oversized events.”

“The accumulation of the permanent stratigraphic [rock layers] record in many cases involves processes that have not been, or cannot be observed in modern environments. … there are the extreme events … with magnitudes so large and devastating that they have not, and probably could not, be observed scientifically.”

“I would also argue that many successions show far more lateral continuity and similarity at a far finer scale than would be anticipated by most geologists.”[v]

When you start studying the incredibly widespread distribution of the geologic layers, you soon begin to realize that the conditions for their deposition are often strikingly different from what occurs for present local geological activity, and that widespread distribution is as would be expected from the catastrophic Flood described in the Bible.

Adding further evidence for rapid deposition, as expected for the Flood, is that where significant parts of the geologic column are missing between layers, the evidence for the deep erosion expected over millions of years of no deposition postulated by geologists is missing. [Flat Gaps Challenge Long Geologic Ages] For instance, between the Morrison and the Cedar Mountain Formations  (Figure 2), layers representing a postulated 20 million years of evolutionary time are missing at this locality. During that time, an average of 600 meters of erosion of the surface of that gap would be expected.[vi] Erosion as seen in modern environments is dominantly irregular, however, the contacts between the two formations mentioned above are incredibly flat permitting one thin formation to be laid on top of the other. These flat gaps, which are found in numerous localities around the world, provide rather convincing evidence that the long geological ages never occurred.[vii] Figure 6 (above) illustrates three examples of flat gaps (called paraconformities or disconformities) between the layers of the Grand Canyon. At the lowest arrow, the Ordovician and Silurian periods of the geologic column are missing, yet the contact line is incredibly flat in most of the Grand Canyon. During the 100 million years assumed for that flat gap, one would expect an average of 3 kilometers of erosion. For comparison, note that the Grand Canyon is only 1.5 kilometers deep.

There are other major features of the geologic layers that favor the Flood. Our continents literally float on top of heavier rocks, and this keep them above sea level so we have dry land to live on. However, when you look at the rock layers (sediments) on the continents, more than half of them come from a marine environment.[viii] For example, two thirds of the layers in the Grand Canyon (Figure 6, above) are limestones and shales of marine origin. What is so much material of ocean origin doing on the continents? This is as would be expected from a worldwide Flood as the oceans flooded the continents and deposited marine sediments well onto the interior of the continents. Furthermore, study of the Paleozoic sediments over the North American continent indicates that their direction of transport was almost consistently orientated towards the southwest on a continental scale.[ix] This coherent large-scale direction is as would be expected for a major worldwide catastrophic event such as the Flood, but not at all for slow deposition over the long geologic ages, as rivers, streams and currents would deposit sediments in all directions.

Geologists recognize the anomaly of abundant marine sediment deposition on the continents and explain it simply by postulating that in the past, the oceans were higher or the continents were lower thus facilitating inundation from the sea resulting in immense flat limestone layers. In proposing this, they are inadvertently suggesting what we would expect from the great Flood described in the Bible; the continents were under water! The noted paleontologist Norman Newell who endorses the long geologic ages also recognizes the difference between the sedimentary record of the present and the past and references three other supporting geologists when he states:

“Search for present day analogues of paraconformities in limestone sequences is complicated by the fact that most present configurations (topography, chemistry, circulation, climate) are strikingly unlike those that must have prevailed when the Paleozoic and Mesozoic limestone seas spread over immense and incredibly flat areas of the world (Shaw, 1964; Currav, 1964; Irwin 1965; McGugan, 1965b).”[x]

These “immense and incredibly flat” areas of the world are what would be expected from the great catastrophic Flood, but not from slow local deposition of sediments as the continents slowly moved around and up and down over billions of years as postulated by geologists who do not conceptualize the biblical Flood.


There are many interpretations about the amount of time involved with the formation of various parts of the geologic record of the earth. A long list of local interpretations on both sides of the Bible-science controversy could be presented.[xi] Unfortunately, at present, the scientific community does not accommodate the biblical model of the Flood in its journals and textbooks. Instead these publications have many endorsements for the long geological ages but not for the biblical model. The Flood question is not approached from the perspective of a level playing field. However, one does not have to abandon science in order to believe the Bible. The incredibly widespread flat sedimentary formations and the layers within them, the lack of evidence for long ages at the flat gaps between sedimentary layers, and the abundance of material from oceans on the continents are powerful worldwide factors that very much favor the Flood model of the Bible. This is data that is difficult to explain outside the biblical model of origins.


Figure Legends

TABLE 1. Number of references to various kinds of past worldwide calamities from the folk literature of the world. FLOOD STORIES (WORD)

FIGURE 1. Two leading interpretations of the geologic layers. The geologic column (sequence) is given at the left, the long ages geologic interpretation in the middle and the recent creation interpretation at the right. Note the very different time scales for the two interpretations.

FIGURE 2. Five formations from the Mesozoic as seen just north of Vernal, Utah.

FIGURE 3. Map of the western United States showing the distribution of the Morrison Formation.

FIGURE 4. View of the Book Cliffs east of Price, Utah. The arrow points to the flat tan Castlegate Sandstone that extends for 160 kilometers.

FIGURE 5. Coal seam in the Blackhawk Formation north of Helper, Utah. The arrow points to a sedimentary parting within a coal seam. The thickness of the seam is around 40 centimeters.

FIGURE 6. View of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River from the South Rim. Arrows point to major gaps. Putative duration of gaps designated in millions of years (Ma), and expected erosion given in meters. Note the flat contacts across the layers, indicating little erosion and little time.   ________________________________________________________________

Ariel A. Roth

July 2, 2014


[i] For examples and references see: Roth AA. 1998. Origins: Linking Science and Scriptures. Review and Herald Publishing Association, p 303-307.

[ii] For examples of some widespread conglomerates see: Stokes WL. 1950. Pediment concept applied to Shinarump and similar conglomerates. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 61:91-98.

[iii] Austin S. 1979. Evidence for marine origin of widespread carbonaceous shale partings in the Kentucky No. 12 Coal Bed (Middle Pennsylvanian) of Western Kentucky. Geological Society of America, Abstracts With Programs 11(7):381-382.

[iv] McKee ED, Resser CE. 1945. Cambrian History of the Grand Canyon Region. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 563:26-28.

[v] Brett, CE. 2000. A slice of the “Layer Cake”: The paradox of “Frosting Continuity.” PALAIOS 15:495-498.

[vi] For calculations and references on rates of erosion see: Roth AA. 1998. Origins:Linking Science and Scripture. Review and Herald Publishing Association, p 263-267.

[vii] For further explanation and more examples see DISCUSSION 16 and or VIDEO 13 on the authors webpage, Also: Roth A. A. 1988 “Those Gaps in the Sedimentary Layers”, Origins 15:75-92 ( For a briefer version and more discussion points see A. A. Roth. 2009. “Flat gaps” in sedimentary rock layers challenge long geologic ages. Journal of Creation 23(2):76-81. The topic is also discussed in Roth AA. 1998. Origins: Linking Science and Scripture. Review and Herald Publishing Association, p 222-229.

[viii] Shelton J. S. 1966. Geology illustrated. W. H. Freeman and Company, p 28.

[ix] Chadwick AV. 1993. Megatrends in North American paleocurrents. Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists Abstracts With Programs 8:58.

[x] Newell ND. 1967. Paraconformities. In Tichert C, Yochelson L, editors. Essays in paleontology and stratigraphy. Department of Geology, University of Kansas Special Publication 2, p 355.

[xi] For some examples, see DISCUSSIONS No. 8 and 9, Questions About a Recent Creation, and Scientific Data that Favors a Recent Creation, on the authors’ webpage: [link?]; Roth AA. 2012. The Genesis Flood and the geological record. In Ball BW, editor, In the Beginning: Science and Scripture Confirm Creation. Pacific Press, p 220-237; Roth AA. 2011. Can I Believe in a worldwide Flood? In Gibson LJ, Rasi HM, editors, Understanding Creation: Answers to Questions on Faith and Science. Pacific Press, p 123-132; Chapters 12-15 in Roth AA. 1998. Origins: Linking Science and Scripture. Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Posted in Catastrophism, Genesis Flood, Geology | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Glaciations and the Geologic Record

Glaciations are defined as periods of temperature reduction in the Earth’s climate which result in the onset or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers.

Does the geologic record preserve evidence for the occurrence and extent of former ice ages? What kind of information is used to make these inferences? The answer to these questions has the potential for influencing our models of the Earth’s climate through time and can surely offer insight in formulating creationist interpretations of the rock record.

The Cenozoic glaciation

The Earth as we see it today is characterized by the presence of large ice caps and extensive alpine glaciers. However, there is widespread evidence that the volume of ice has considerably decreased in the relatively recent past.

Conventional climate reconstructions suggest that the Cenozoic interval, from the Oligocene upwards, was punctuated by periodic oscillations of alternating glacial and interglacial[1] stages (Zachos et al., 2001). The last of these glacial culminations (called Last Glacial Maximum, LGM) is thought to have occurred (in standard conventional geology) at 19 ka[2] before present (Yokoyama et al., 2000). During the LGM, large ice sheets covered northern Europe, Canada, and the northern part of the United States and Russia (CLIPMAP, 1981; Peltier, 1994) and the increase in ice volume resulted in the lowering of sea level down to about 130 m below present sea level (Lambeck et al., 2002).

Evidence of glacial activity

The LGM produced the more accessible and better preserved traces of glacial activity, offering fresh examples of geological features indicative of glacial environments. These include:

a) Glacigenic deposits

During glacial advance, sediment accumulates at the glacier edges or is deposited at the base of the flowing ice mass. Sediment is also deposited during glacial retreat, when melting ice drops its sedimentary load, which can be further reworked by meltwater discharge. Overall, glacigenic deposits are characterized by a chaotic mixture of fine and coarse sediment, which is called till or, when lithified, tillite.
An interesting type of glacigenic deposit is represented by erratic boulders. They consist of large fragments of rocks (up to several meters in diameter) transported by glaciers along remarkable distances (up to several hundreds of kilometers) and subsequently abandoned after melting of the supporting ice.

When an ice-sheet extends beyond the limit of continental land, it forms an ice shelf floating on the surface of the water. Melting of the ice shelf causes disruption into numerous individual icebergs which can then travel many hundreds of kilometers before melting or capsizing. These icebergs may contain large-sized rocks that are dropped on the sea bottom as the ice melts, thus their name dropstones.

b) Glacigenic landforms

Erosive and depositional processes related to glacial activity can create very distinctive landforms. In mountain areas, for example, the effects of erosion related to multiple advances and retreats of alpine glaciers can create valleys with a characteristic U-shaped profile. There are other typical glacigenic landforms less familiar to the general public but known with their own specific name, such as drumlins, eskers, kettle holes, and kames.

c) Glacigenic abrasion structures

Rock fragments enclosed at the base of a flowing glacier can generate linear grooves on the bedrock, often parallel, which can be used to reconstruct the flow direction of a glacier. Not only the bedrock but also the rock fragments sliding on it can bear marks of abrasion. Ice flowing over an irregular hard substrate usually rounds the irregularities forming asymmetric undulations called roches moutonnées. Over time, intensive abrasion will further level the irregularities and create a roughly planar striated pavement.

d) Indirect evidence of glaciation

Glaciations determine changes in the Earth’s system (such as sea level drop for storage of water in ice caps) likely to leave a trace in the geologic record. Therefore, reconstructions of past ice ages can be based on indirect evidence of climate change (Stokstad, 2001). This evidence includes variations in abundances of chemical elements in ice cores and lacustrine and marine sediments, markers of drop and rise in sea level, and changes in fossil content.

Ancient glaciations and the geologic record

Most of the above-described features related to glacial activity have been identified in different positions of the stratigraphic column, in successions preserved over the five continents. Although dating of these successions is not always easy, glacigenic-like features seem to cluster over four intervals (besides the Cenozoic). Therefore, it is usually concluded that the Earth experienced at least four major periods of glaciation in addition to the Cenozic one (Fig. 1).

However, it should be noted that unlike the record of the Cenozoic glaciation, the evidence for older ice-ages is less definitive and relies on more assumptions. This is partly due to the fact that geological processes (such as plate tectonics) have disrupted and altered the record of past events, and partly to the existence of alternative mechanisms that can produce features analogous to those described from glacial environments. With older successions, where data are more limited and fragmentary, dismissing the role of these alternative mechanisms in favor of a glacigenic scenario may prove to be problematic. For example, till-like deposits are also known to be produced from sedimentation of submarine mass flows (Oard, 1997) and this mechanism has indeed been proposed to reassess the origin of deposits formerly interpreted as glacigenic (Arnaud & Eyles, 2002; Rice, 2004; Eyles & Januszczak, 2007). Even dropstones, which are often considered one of the most reliable indicators of glacial processes, can be emplaced by mechanisms different than ice rafting, such as vegetational rafting and submarine mass flows (Bennet et al., 1996; Donovan & Pickerill, 1997).

Deposits of the two oldest glaciations, especially the Neoproterozoic glaciation (Fig. 1),intervals of glaciation pose an additional problem in their climatic interpretation. Paleogeographic reconstructions based on paleomagnetic data (e.g., Kilner et al., 2005) indicate that part of these deposits were located at tropical latitudes at the time of their formation. This has led some researchers to hypothesize a Neoproterozoic “Snowball Earth” entirely covered with ice (Hoffman et al., 1998; Bodiselitsch et al., 2005), a scenario which is not completely accepted by other researchers (McCall, 2006; Allen & Etienne, 2008).

Implications for creationist models

Although at least some of the evidence for past glaciations could be explained by invoking alternative processes, Precambrian ice ages (i.e., the Paleoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic ice ages, Fig. 1) are potentially not in conflict with creationist views of Earth history. It is possible that before the creation of life the planet was at least partially covered by ice. Similar conditions are observed on Mars, a planet of the solar systems with polar ice caps (Picardi et al., 2005). On the other hand, deposits attributed to the Ordovician and Permo-Carboniferous glaciations (Fig. 1) are enclosed within the Paleozoic rock record, where fossil-bearing sediments document coeval existence of many forms of life on Earth. Therefore, these two ice-ages are more difficult to accept in short-chronology creationist models, especially if the Paleozoic rock record is viewed as deposited during the Genesis flood.

The chronology of past ice-ages is also an aspect where creationists differ with geologic models based on radiometric ages of millions or hundreds of thousands of years. Some attempts have been made at framing at least the Cenozoic glaciation in a short-chronology model (Oard, 1990).

Independently of the dating and preferred interpretation of Paleozoic glacigenic-like deposits, both creationist and non-creationist geologists agree that the Mesozoic is a portion of the stratigraphic column with no indications of glacigenic features (Fig. 1) whereas the Cenozoic preserves convincing evidence of glacial activity. This stratigraphic distribution of glacial deposits is consistent with creationist models that associate Mesozoic deposits with the peak of the flood and consider Cenozoic deposits as mostly post-flood. Glacial activity would not be expected in an advanced stage of the flood, whereas a climate deterioration leading to glaciation could be triggered in the recovery phase subsequent to the flood and extending into the present.

The Cenozoic glaciation is thought to have been characterized by cyclic fluctuations that can be globally correlated (e.g., Zachos et al., 2001). These fluctuations between glacial and interglacial conditions have been explained as resulting from variations in orbital parameters of the Earth (e.g., Maslin et al., 1998; Huybers & Wunsch, 2005; Roe, 2006), happening over time scales of 100 ka (eccentricity), 40 ka (obliquity) and 20 ka (precession). These time ranges are problematic from a short-chronology perspective, and creationists have motivation to search for alternative processes that could account for this global cyclical signal within a much shorter time scale.

In conclusion, careful study of modern glacigenic deposits and structures is important for the interpretation of past glacigenic-like deposits. At the same time, creationists approach evidence for glaciation in the geological record with an eye open to explore alternative interpretative hypotheses compatible with short-chronology models of the history of the Earth.

[1] The term “interglacial” is used to indicate a warm period with reduced ice caps between two cold periods with extensive ice cover.

[2] ka = 1,000 years


Ronny Nalin, PhD

Geoscience Research Institute

May 29, 2014



Allen, P.A., Etienne, J.L., 2008. Sedimentary challenge to Snowball Earth. Nature Geoscience, v. 1/12, p. 817-825.

Arnaud, E., Eyles, C.H., 2002. Glacial influence on Neoproterozoic sedimentation: the Smalfjord Formation, northern Norway. Sedimentology, v. 49, p. 765-788.

Bennett, M.R., Doyle, P., Mather, A.E., 1996. Dropstones: their origin and significance. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol., v. 121, p. 331-339.

Bodiselitsch, B., Koeberl, C., Master, S., Reimold, W.U., 2005. Estimating duration and intensity of Neoproterozoic snowball glaciations from Ir anomalies. Science, v. 308, p. 239-242.

CLIPMAP Project Members, 1981. Geol. Soc. Am. Map Ser. MC-36.

Donovan, S.K., Pickerill, R.K., 1997. Dropstones: their origin and significance: a comment. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol., v. 131, p. 175-178.

Eyles, N., Januszczak, N., 2007. Syntectonic subacqueous mass flows of the Neoproterozoic Otavi Group, Namibia: where is the evidence of global glaciation? Basin Research, v. 19, p. 179-198.

Hoffman, P.F., Kaufman, A.J., Halverson, G.P., Schrag, D.P., 1998. A Neoproterozoic snowball Earth. Science, v. 281, p.1342- 1346.

Huybers, P., Wunsch, C., 2005. Obliquity pacing of the late Pleistocene glacial terminations. Nature, v. 434, p. 491-494.

Kilner, B., Mac Niocaill, C., Brasier, M., 2005. Low-latitude glaciation in the Neoproterozoic of Oman. Geology, v. 33/5, p. 413-416.

Lambeck, K., Esat, T.M., Potter, E.-K., 2002. Links between climate and sea levels for the past three million years. Nature, v. 419, p. 199-206.

Maslin, M.A., Li, X.S., Loutre, M.F., Berger, A., 1998. The contribution of orbital forcing to the progressive intensification of northern hemisphere glaciation. Quat. Sci. Rev., v. 17, p. 411-426.

McCall, G.J.H., 2006. The Vendian (Ediacaran) in the geological record: Enigmas in geology’s prelude to the Cambrian explosion. Eart-Sci. Rev., v. 77, p. 1-229.

Oard, M.J., 1990. An Ice Age Caused by The Genesis Flood. Institute for Creation Research, San Diego. 244 pp.

Oard, M.J., 1997. Ancient Ice Ages or Gigantic Submarine Landslides? Creation Research Society, Chino Valley, Arizona. 130 pp.

Peltier, W.R., 1994. Ice age paleotopography. Science, v. 265, p. 195-201.

Picardi G., Plaut, J.J., Biccari, D., Bombaci, O., Calabrese, D., Cartacci, M., Cicchetti, A., Clifford, S.M., Edenhofer, P., Farrell, W.M., Federico, C., Frigeri, A., Gurnett, D.A., Hagfors, T., Heggy, E., Herique, A., Huff, R.L., Ivanov, A.B., Johnson, W.T.K., Jordan, R.L., Kirchner, D.L., Kofman, W., Leuschen, C.J., Nielsen, E., Orosei, R., Pettinelli, E., Phillips, R.J., Plettemeier, D., Safaeinili, A., Seu, R., Stofan, E.R., Vannaroni, G., Watters, T.R., Zampolini, E., 2005. Radar soundings of the subsurface of Mars. Science, v. 310, p. 1925-1928.

Rice, A.H.N., 2004. Glacial influence on Neoproterozoic sedimentation: the Smalfjord Formation, northern Norway – discussion. Sedimentology, v. 51, p. 1419-1422.

Roe, G., 2006. In defense of Milankovitch. Geophys. Res. Lett., v. 33, L24703, doi:10.1029/2006GL027817.

Stokstad, E., 2001. Myriad Ways to Reconstruct Past Climate. Science, v. 292, p. 658-659.

Yokoyama, Y., Lambeck, K., De Deckker, P., Johnston, P., Filfield, L.K., 2000. Timing of the Last Glacial Maximum from observed sea-level minima. Nature, v. 406, p. 713-716.

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K., 2001. Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science, v. 292, p. 686-693.

Posted in Geology, Ice Age | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sociobiology and Creation

Picture a ground squirrel who spots a predator and gives an alarm call.  The call alerts other squirrels who run for cover, but the call attracts the predator to the one giving the alarm.  This unfortunate squirrel may give its life to protect its neighbors.  How could this altruistic behavior, assisting other individuals at the expense of the calling squirrel, result from evolution?  This seems contrary to natural selection, which will select for genes that advance the interests of each individual with no regard for taking care of other individuals.  It is expected that the most successful squirrel will listen to other individual’s alarm calls, but not give any of its own calls.

When I was in graduate school at Cornell there was a lot of discussion of how evolution can explain altruistic behavior.  The evolution process of natural selection should eliminate altruistic behavior, and yet it appeared that we do see altruistic behavior in nature.  A few years later an answer was proposed by E. O. Wilson1.  Sociobiology was evolution theory applied to behavior.  Sociobiology answers the squirrel’s dilemma with the process of kin selection.  This theory expects that, for example, ground squirrels are most likely to give alarm calls if they are living close to relatives who carry many of the same genes as the individual who gives the alarm call.  That way even if the calling squirrel dies it has protected those who share many of its genes, including the genes favoring giving alarm calls to protect relatives.  The result appears altruistic, but the “altruistic” behavior only persists in situations in which the behavior is really not altruistic, but is selfish.  It protects, on the average, those others who share its genes, but not unrelated individuals.

This theory became the dominant explanation for behavior of humans as well as other animals.  It has been used to explain rape (not necessarily evil, but just an alternate way to pass on one’s genes), adultery (maximizing the passing on of a successful male’s genes), why babies don’t resemble too closely their parents (to make adultery easier to get away with), and many other behaviors.  It explained why some animals, like male African lions, sometimes kill all the young lions in their pride.  This happens when a new male takes over the leadership of the pride.  It kills the offspring of its rival, so that it can more quickly father its own young.  This theory has been quite successful in explaining the behavior of animals.

How can we fit this together with belief in a wise Creator?  This may seem like a dilemma, but it actually fits quite well with the Bible story of a world created very good, without evil and suffering, that is later victim of the results of sin.  The sin was believing Satan instead of God, which essentially gave Satan permission to spread his destructive influence across the earth.  The result was suffering, death, and the beginning of mutation and natural selection.  We don’t know what change brought about genetic mutations and the resulting natural selection, but these influences have been seen in nature through history.  Geneticists tell us that the human genome is degrading at the rate of one to several percent each generation2.  There is evidence that behavior is partly influenced by genes, so mutations could cause behavioral change.  No wonder the apostle Paul groaned because what he didn’t want to do, he did, and what he wanted to do, he did not do.  I suggest that human behavior has been affected by mutation and selection, and that is one reason why we tend to be selfish and behave badly.

Think of what that means for a Christian believer in creation.  The theory that all life is the result of evolution attempts to explain the origin of all animal behavior by mutation and natural selection, and this has prevented the origin of genuine altruistic behavior.  In either naturalistic evolution or theistic evolution rape and other selfish behaviors were part of God’s plan; part of His process of creation.  But the Bible describes life forms, including humans, being created perfect and they later became subject to destructive changes, apparently including mutation and natural selection.  In this view God is not responsible for the suffering and selfishness so prevalent in this world.

In both of these concepts, evolution and creation, life has been subject to mutation and selection through thousands of years, but they have very different beginning and ending points.  The conventional evolution theory begins and ends in a selfish, brutal competition for life.  In this process natural selection usually prevents the rise of unselfish, altruistic behavior.  In the biblical creation account, altruistic behavior was probably very common in other animals as well as humans, but mutations through the ages have resulted in much loss of altruistic tendencies.  We humans are damaged as well as the rest of the creation, but we can seek God’s gracious help in moving farther toward the unselfish, altruistic life that He intends for us.  The ultimate solution is the restoration of God’s plan that we can look forward to in a world recreated as it was in the beginning.


Leonard Brand

Loma Linda University

11 April, 2014



1 Wilson, E. O.  1975.  Sociobiology:  The New Synthesis.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

2 Sanford, J. C.  2005.  Genetic Entropy and & The Mystery of the Genome.  Lima, New York: Elim Publishing.

Posted in Biology | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fossil evolutionary intermediates

Creationists and evolutionists have disagreed over intermediate fossils for decades.  An intermediate fossil is one that seems to be an evolutionary transition between two groups of organisms.  If all life was the result of evolution, there must have been innumerable intermediates that existed, and many of these should still exist as fossils.  If this were true, and if we could view a video of the history of life we would see a continuous series of life forms, gradually changing from one type to another.

According to the biblical description of creation, within a week all the major types of life were created.  Then perhaps evolutionary changes (microevolution and speciation) occurred within each of these created groups, but major groups, like worms, crabs, reptiles, birds, and humans did not evolve from common ancestors, and evolutionary intermediates between the major types never existed.  Notice that in this creation concept there are two categories of evolution: some evolution (adaptation) did occur, at least within groups of species.  However, larger scale evolution, e.g. evolution of reptiles from amphibians or pterosaurs from other reptiles, did not occur.  Which of these two options does the evidence support?  I won’t try to answer this in detail (this is a blog, not a book), but will consider some reasons why I think the fossil record leaves considerable room for debate over the nature of the fossil record of presumed intermediates.

First of all, there is abundant reason why creationists do accept microevolution and adaptation of organisms to changing environments as very real processes.  It would be no surprise if fossil intermediates at this level were common.  The odd thing is that they are not numerous as fossils.  In the fossil record the most common picture is that one fossil species disappears from the record and another appears, without evidence of evolution from one to the other.

The bigger issues arise when we consider intermediates between the higher categories, such as orders, classes, and phyla (loosely described as body plans) of organisms.  There is generally a lack of fossil intermediates between most of these groups.  But there are a few cases in which there are fossils described in the literature as intermediates.  This is where most of the controversy arises.  The most prominent of these presumed intermediates are between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, therapsid reptiles and mammals, dinosaurs and birds, and between terrestrial mammals and whales.  I will suggest reasons why it may be difficult to determine with any finality whether these really are transitional forms or not.  The first reason is the evidence that the earth once had a much wider variety of creatures than those that survived to the present day.  In addition to those groups that are extinct, other groups have many fossil forms but few living representatives.  The Creator was not stingy with variety of life forms.  This may be a reason why some presumed intermediates, like Archeopteryx and others may not be evolutionary intermediates, but simply evidence of a greater diversity of original organisms.

For some groups there is no discussion of intermediate forms, because there are none.  The first fossil bats and pterosaurs (flying reptiles) are fully developed flying animals, and there are no intermediates.  Perhaps this is because flight requires a whole suite of integrated structures, so they will either be fully flying or not flying at all.  Thus it is all or nothing – there were no forms that were partly flying and thus no intermediate fossils.  Other body forms, like amphibians and reptiles are not radically different in their structural requirements, and there can be a variety of types, not so different from each other.

In other cases there are fossils that seemed to be good intermediates, but new fossils changed the picture.  For example there are a number of forms considered to be transitional forms between fish and amphibians.  Then good fossil amphibian tracks were found lower in the geologic record, dating by radiometric methods at about ten million years older than any of the intermediates.  Whether or not it is assumed that the radiometric dates are valid, this leaves the interpretation of the intermediate fossils in question.

One more thing I have observed is that creationists and non-creationists emphasize the observations that fit their views best.  If a few fossils can be interpreted as evolutionary intermediates the creationists emphasize how little evidence there is for intermediates.  Meanwhile the non-creationists emphasize the presence of these intermediates and how important they are.  Neither of these conclusions is significant unless there is some type of quantitative evaluation of the abundance of intermediates.

The fossil record of presumed intermediates has puzzles and unanswered questions for everyone.  They don’t provide good reasons to change one’s views of the history of life.  The best approach is to wait and see what new evidence will turn up in time.


Leonard Brand

Loma Linda University

April 2, 2014

Posted in Fossils | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Change in Species – Biblical or Not?

Many kinds of animals appear designed for predation and violence, in contrast to what one would expect based on the biblical description of Edenic peace. It seems that animal species must have changed in major ways since the creation, but is this idea compatible with biblical teachings? Many people have asked this question, wondering whether changes in species point to evolution rather than creation. I will show here that change in species is a part of the biblical story and does not imply the general theory of evolution.

When God completed His work of creation at the end of the sixth day of that first week,[1] He declared that everything was very good. Plants were provided as food for the animals, so there was no need for predation, violence and suffering. This picture of an original peaceful kingdom contrasts sharply with what we observe in our world today, where every kind of animal seems engaged in a struggle for existence, resulting in conflict, injury, starvation, disease and death. Creationists have discussed this question for hundreds of years, and have proposed a reasonable general explanation.

As scientists have studied the mechanisms of inheritance in organisms, they have discovered that the genome seems designed to allow genetic variation. Biologists have tended to focus on mistakes in copying of genetic information, called mutations, to explain genetic variation. There is no question that mutations occur. However, calculations of the frequency of mutation, the proportion of beneficial mutations, and the probabilities of a beneficial mutation being preserved strongly suggest that mutations are an entirely inadequate explanation for the variation seen among organisms.[2] Some other mechanisms must be involved.

In recent decades, molecular biologists have discovered that genes are not, as was once believed, merely a simple sequence of nucleotides in a strand of DNA. Instead, genes are made up of subunits, called exons, that can be combined in different ways to produce different genes –  a process known as exon shuffling. A DNA sequence may interact with other sequences on the same or different chromosome. Reserve copies of genetic information may be used to correct errors when they do arise. Some evidence suggests that environmental signals may trigger gene interactions that result in beneficial genetic  changes. While some genetic changes appear to be random, others appear to be designed to be helpful to the survival of the species.

These advances in science have enabled creationists to come to a better understanding of how creatures that were originally designed for a peaceful environment could adjust and survive in a world where violence and predation are ubiquitous. Mechanisms for non-random, beneficial genetic changes suggest pre-planning and intelligent design, consistent with the biblical record of earth history. Such changes have enabled species to survive through environmental changes, but the mechanisms that enable helpful changes also make possible changes that result in violence and suffering.

Some creationists have objected to the idea that species might have changed significantly since the creation. One objection is that the Bible speaks of different “kinds” of animals, each of which should “reproduce after their own kind.” Indeed, the Bible does speak of different kinds of plants and animals. The account of creation day three indicates that different kinds of plants were created on that day. Likewise, the accounts of creation days five and six indicate that numerous kinds of organisms were created – filling the seas and sky with diverse kinds of creatures on the fifth day, and filling the land with diversity on the sixth day. However, the phrase “after their kind” is not referring to reproduction at all, but to creation – indicating a diversity of kinds that were created together. For example, the creation statement for the land animals is “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind” (Genesis 1:24). This is a statement about creation, not reproduction. The statement says nothing about whether the animals would or would not change. The point that is important in this discussion is that diversity was already present from the beginning of creation. It did not derive from long ages of cumulative changes in species.

People have always known that individuals of a species differ from each other, and can infer that this variation reflects differences based on changes from the parents of the individuals. However, the idea that such changes are not significant comes from Greek philosophy, not from the Bible. The Bible states that significant changes occurred as a result of sin. Among these changes are production of thorns and thistles and loss of limbs in snakes (Genesis 3). According to Romans 8,[3] the entire creation groans under the curse and is subject to decay, waiting for restoration.

Although some changes in species have resulted in violence and suffering, other changes have been beneficial. As animals dispersed across the surface of the earth after the flood, they would unavoidably encounter diverse habitats. In order to spread out across the earth’s surface, they must necessarily be able to adapt to different environmental conditions. Changes that facilitated such dispersal and adaptation to local environments would be beneficial changes. We see the results of this type of change in the different species of dogs, bears, cattle, mice and other types of creatures that are clearly closely related but live in different habitats. The process of change is beneficial in general, despite the distortion that sometimes resulted in violence.

There is nothing unbiblical about the idea that species have changed in significant ways. What is unbiblical is the notion that such changes are responsible for creating all the various kinds of plants and animals that populate our world. It seems clear that the major groups of organisms have separate origins, and have not evolved from a common ancestor. However, this does not mean that species have not changed significantly since the creation. We should re-examine the phrase “after its kind” and recognize that it refers to the creation of many different kinds of organisms during creation week, but does not address the question of whether they change or not. This biblical teaching of created diversity, followed by corruption due to sin, is incompatible with the general theory of evolution, but it does help explain how the diverse kinds of creatures that God created for a world without predation, violence and suffering could survive and provide the diversity of living organisms we all observe in our present world of violence and death.


Jim Gibson

Geoscience Research Institute

March 17, 2014

[1] Genesis 1:31-2:1.

[2] Sanford, J. Genetic Entropy. Lima, NY: Elim Publishing, 2005.

[3] Romans 8:20-22.

Posted in Biology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment