Andrew Snelling's Grand Canyon rock study

Looks like our good friend Dr Andrew Snelling, PhD, has published a report on his findings from the Grand Canyon rocks that he collected:

As I suspected, his study was indeed of the outcrop that he claimed isn’t fractured when photographs clearly show that it is.

The GeoChristian (Kevin Nelstead) isn’t impressed. He wrote this on his Facebook page earlier:

Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis has published a lengthy article on the Tapeats Sandstone of the Grand Canyon, with descriptions of the samples he was eventually able to obtain after initial rejection of his sampling application. I thought the paper was going to be about “proof that the sediments were soft when folded,” but apparently Snelling did not find such evidence. He discusses folding in the first five pages of the PDF, including ductile vs brittle deformation and the fact that previous investigators had not made thin sections, but then hardly mentions folding again for the rest of the 96-page article. There is a glaring absence of the mention of folding in the discussion section at the end. So either there is another article coming, or Snelling came up with nothing.

I have not read the entire article yet, so maybe I missed something.

Having skimmed the paper, it appears to me that he is trying to refute the claim that the formation could have undergone plastic deformation. This may be the case, but my understanding of it is that plastic deformation would only be necessary if the rock formation hadn’t been fractured, and as can be clearly seen from the photographs, it most certainly has.

A couple of other observations. On page 244, he says this:

In reality, however, these trace fossils pose an insurmountable problem for these uniformitarians. Why are only these tracks and burrows made by these invertebrates preserved and fossilized in the Tapeats Sandstone, and not the bodies of these invertebrates? For example, trilobite crawling (Cruziana) and resting (Rusophycus) traces occur almost exclusively in the Tapeats Sandstone Facies C, the transition interval to the overlying Bright Angel Formation (Hagadorn et al. 2011), and yet the bodies of the trilobites that made the traces are only found buried and fossilized much higher stratigraphically in the Bright Angel Formation, which conventionally was deposited a million or more years after the Tapeats Sandstone (Karlstrom et al. 2020). If the delicate traces of these invertebrates could be fossilized in the high-energy depositional environment of rapid deposition of the Tapeats Sandstone, then the more robust bodies of these trace-makers should likewise have been buried and fossilized along with these tracks and traces they made. This conventional, millions-of years “offset” between fossilized tracks and the body fossils of the track-makers has been documented by Brand and Florence (1982) and Brand (1997) as a ubiquitous occurrence throughout the fossil record, among both invertebrates and vertebrates. It does not make any rational sense that over the supposed millions of years the bodies of the track-makers were not even sometimes buried with or near the tracks they made. Instead, this is evidence of rapid burial and preservation of the tracks just before (hours to days) the track-makers themselves were also rapidly buried and fossilized in the ongoing rapid accumulation of the sedimentary strata during the global Flood cataclysm.

I really do not understand his logic here. Why on earth would he expect fossilised tracks to appear alongside the bodies of the track-makers in a conventional millions-of-years model? The whole point of the fossilised tracks is that they are evidence against the “high-energy depositional environment of rapid deposition” that he claims. He claims that there’s a big discrepancy in the layering here, with a gap of “a million or more years,” but what he doesn’t tell you is that the Bright Angel Shale is the layer immediately above the Tapeats Sandstone, so it seems to me that he’s greatly exaggerating the extent and significance of any discrepancy here. In describing it as “much higher,” this must be some new meaning of the word “much” of which I was not previously aware.

On page 240, he ends up appealing to accelerated nuclear decay:

However, it could be argued that the accepted radiometric ages of the various Grand Canyon strata, including the basement granites and schists, date those rocks and strata in the correct relative order, and consistently in hundreds of millions to almost two billion years, except for the recent lava flows in the western Grand Canyon (Wiens 2016). However, Vardiman, Snelling, and Chaffin (2005) have demonstrated from six lines of evidence, supported by experimental results, that the reason for this systematic consistency of radiometric ages in the Grand Canyon stratigraphic sequence is because during some catastrophic event in the past there was a systematic acceleration of nuclear decay rates, potentially by six orders of magnitude. Three of those six lines of evidence involved experimental results obtained on Grand Canyon samples, namely, discordant radiometric ages obtained from four Precambrian units (the Cardenas Basalt, the Bass Rapids diabase sill, the Elves Chasm Granodiorite and the Brahma Schist amphibolites) (Snelling 2005c), coexisting uranium and polonium radiohalos (Snelling 2005a) and fission tracks in zircons (Snelling 2005b). Critics have pointed to the enormous quantities of heat that apparently would be released by such accelerated nuclear decay (Wiens 2016), yet Vardiman, Snelling, and Chaffin (2005) had already anticipated this criticism and provided plausible possible explanations, including the experimental fact that the radiohalos (which only form below 150˚C) would have been annealed if such an enormous heat release had occurred (Snelling 2005a).

The more YEC articles I read these days, the more it seems that accelerated nuclear decay is their go-to shibboleth to hand-wave away radiometric ages that they don’t like. Note a few points in particular:

  1. He is appealing to accelerated nuclear decay to account for a “systematic consistency of radiometric ages in the Grand Canyon stratigraphic sequence.” However, that is hard on the heels of having spent the previous couple of pages insisting that there isn’t a systematic consistency of radiometric ages in the Grand Canyon stratigraphic sequence. Are radiometric ages consistent or aren’t they, Dr Snelling?
  2. The “plausible possible explanations” that he lists only demonstrate that enormous quantities of heat weren’t released. He doesn’t give a single “plausible possible explanation” as to how accelerated nuclear decay could have happened without releasing enormous quantities of heat. Without such an explanation, all his “plausible possible explanations” prove is that his accelerated nuclear decay didn’t happen.
  3. In any case, it wasn’t just “critics” who pointed to the enormous quantities of heat that “apparently would be released by such accelerated nuclear decay.” The 22,400°C heat problem was the RATE project team’s own admission.

All in all, it looks thoroughly unimpressive to me at first glance. I’m sure that the geologists among you will have a lot more to say about it than I have.

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If sedimentation rates were anything like what Dr. Snelling and other flood geology advocates claim, the trace makers should have been smothered in place and found as fossils. In contrast, under an old-earth scenario, the trackmakers could wander off somewhere else. Also, sandstone is made of sand. Sand is found where the water or wind energy is high enough to wash away the silt and clay, such as at a beach. The Tapeats is a coastal deposit, ranging from beach to shallow water. If creation science correctly claimed that the major types of plants and animals were all present before the deposition of the Tapeats Sandstone, then coastal areas should have traces of land plants and other land life, which are not found in the Tapeats. The beach is a rather hostile place for ocean life, so some of the trilobites and worms and the like leaving traces in the Tapeats were likely trying to crawl back into the water or trying to dig deep enough to stay moist and cool until the tide came back in. Sand doesn’t stick together the way mud does, so it’s a challenge to live in an area with shifting sand, even if it’s shallow subtidal. Also, sand is quite porous, allowing water and bacteria to move through. Fossils have more chance to get destroyed. The lack of body fossils supports an old earth, not a young earth.

The Bright Angel Shale is full of trace fossils, as well as plenty of body fossils. Certain environments are more conducive of preserving body fossils, certain environments promote trace fossil preservation, and some favor both (of course with major complications relating to what kind of body and what kind of trace). The supposed consistent offset is not true.

Accelerating nuclear decay rates requires changing the strong and/or weak nuclear force. As fine-tuning arguments point out, significantly changing fundamental forces severely disrupts the functioning of the universe. The RATE project’s estimate of 22,400C is rather low, but besides the heat there’s the problem that most elements (if not all, depending on just what changes are proposed) would become unstable.

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This point is a real head scratcher for me. On the one hand along with OECs and sometimes even ECs, YECs will deploy fine-tuning arguments to bolster the case for God’s “design” of the universe, at least in very broad terms. AIG has an article on this very topic on their site: “The Universe is Finely Tuned for Life

But then what the YECs give with one hand they have to take back with another. To get this finely tuned universe to work to a YEC conclusion based on the observable evidence, they have to posit that God repeatedly tinkered with absolutely fundamental features like the speed of light, the strong and weak nuclear forces, basic thermodynamic concepts, etc., sometimes to the tune of many orders of magnitude!

For YECs fine tuning seems to be a great argument for God’s hand in creation. But if He’s had to fiddle around with those finely-tuned constants to make YEC work, is it really that great an argument?

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On deformation, a basic problem with the flood geology claims can be seen by some experimenting with chocolate bars. How do they respond to bending stress? It depends. What kind of bar is it? What temperature is it? Do you apply the stress gradually, or quickly?

The same variation is true in rocks. Solid rock can bend, or even flow, if it is hot enough, under enough pressure, and allowed to respond gradually enough. For example, very deep drillholes must be propped open to prevent them from just squishing back together. The basic premise that sedimentary layers showing plastic deformation must not have been solid when the deformation occurred is untrue. In fact, deformation of unconsolidated sedimentary layers is well-studied, and features formed by that can be found in the sedimentary record. But the sedimentary record in general, and the layers in the Grand Canyon in particular, also shows evidence of significant post-lithification deformation. As a rather remarkable example of this, the drawing of layers at the Grand Canyon used by AiG to advertise the claim that there aren’t cracks in the rocks features cracks in the rocks.

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