"Polystrate" Fossils

(Merv Bitikofer) #1


You may want to read more on some of the arguments you are leaning on about polystrate fossils, ice cores, etc.

These talk origins articles on polystrate fossils would be a good place to start. While you may write off the site as “anti-creationist” (and that is true to some extent), the articles are nevertheless well written, and informative. It would help you see why others may find these particular creationist arguments less than convincing. And being aware of the rebuttals to you own arguments is usually a good thing, no?

Is There a War on Science? Reflecting on National Geographic’s Cover Story | The BioLogos Forum

Being aware of the rebuttals is very good yes. The example in the talk origins rebuttal shows a drawing, not a photo of a tree stump only 3 feet high. This is convenient, but polystrate fossils 10 m high have been found… this is thirty-three feet. Furthermore, they transect several coal layers in some cases. The argument is made that large sediment deposits can be made in a short period of time, which creationists agree with of course. But these layers are not homogenous but are distinguishable and significantly different within the 10 meter depth. Some of the layers are cross-bedded. In some cases, the fossil transects not just one, but several layers of coal. It is also apparent that the trees are buried by waterborne sediment, not by windborne sediment, yet the trees did not grow in the water, but were buried by water while standing, or before or after being placed in the water. The article leaves the impression that most upright tree fossils had roots attached, but this is highly debatable. Some stumps were obviously buried upside down. While the rebuttal given may answer a few situations, it does not answer the great majority, nor does it verify that there is never discord between the sediments around the fossil in terms of age, and the reasonable assumption that all of the sediment should have been deposited in a relatively short period of time, years or decades, not millions of years.


I also found it odd that the article writer seemed to barely be aware of the term polystrate fossil. Polystrate fossils are commonly found all over the world, and they can range from relatively small in size to quite large, transecting a number of layers, and have been examined and identified by evolutionists and creationists alike.

(Merv Bitikofer) #4

The term “polystrate” (according to MacRae) is more of creationist coinage than from professional geologists. “Microevolution” and “macroevolution” also are in that category, by the way.

MacRae wasn’t disagreeing in his article that rapid deposition is indicated in some places --and that geologists have long known of these geologically episodic occurrences.

But even so, there would appear to be a disparity between your assessment that the “great majority” of cases are problematic for geologists vs. MacRae’s assessment that “extensive root systems” that could not have drifted into place are evidence enough of “in situ” formation --and not in volcanic deposits.

If there are sites that have remained inexplicably problematic for geologists, I am curious to hear more about any of those. I’m not a geologist myself, but would be happy to consult with one as time allows.


Polystrate merely means a fossil that transects more than one strata, more than one distinct layer of sediment. No serious geologist should have objections to using such an innocuous term. They either exist or they don’t.

Many YEC creationists also do not like using the terms micro and macro evolution, because they do not believe that micro evolution should be called evolution at all. It is merely a way of referring to what we actually see happening, such as mutations, diversity within species, selection of lines and genotypes within species, ie. various lines of dogs or cattle, etc., compared to what we do not see happening, such as formation of new organs or appendages, or change of one species into another significantly different species.

Mac Rae’s assessment that extensive root systems could not have drifted into place makes sense. However, even his drawing indicates the tree was not buried slowly but quickly, since root systems only derived from under the tree, and then from the top layer which correspondends to the top of the buried tree. Yet there are numerous layers of sediment indicated. This illustrates the point that numerous layers can be laid down at one time, and each layer does not represent a significant distinction in years of time. While I have no definitive percentage in terms of trees buried in situ vs trees buried after being uprooted, it is clear that both cases exist. It is significant and good, that geologists acknowledge that the great volume of sediment is more likely to have been laid down quickly under water, rather than slowly under wind, especially the sediment containing fossils.

I doubt that evolutionists would have difficulty with sites indicating rapid burial of uprooted trees, since they would simply attribute this to a localized event such as Mount St. Helens. The real question is whether all of the transected layers have in the past have been dated at different ages in the past under other assumptions, and have now had their “dating” revised.


I’ve done extensive research on “polystrate fossils” and found them imaginary in most cases and misunderstood in others. The ones which truly exist do NOT represent strata of radically different ages. Not all adjacent “layers” are of radically different ages.

Great topic, though. The myths surrounding polystrate fossils was one of the jolts which led me out of my Young Earth Creationist church background to a better understanding of God’s creation…

(Mazrocon) #7

I’m not a YEC, but the topic of Polystrate Fossils intrigue me. Can you point me too, or elaborate further, on your extensive research regarding these fossils?




It’s not published yet and was originally solicited by the General Editor as a single chapter of a larger work on Young Earth Creationist pseudo-science arguments. However, it has been in limbo for a while due to some changes in priorities with the publishing house, and because I’m now focused on finishing a massive Bible reference volume, I’ve had no reason to see about securing “dual rights” on the polystrate chapter. (In fact, because it was tied to a guest lecture series I did some years ago, in a legal sense I’ve already received an advance on the royalties form it, so I’ve not been pushy about using it elsewhere.)

Nevertheless, I’ve been seeing a lot of excellent analysis of the"polystrate fossils" argument used by the various creation science ministries to where I would hardly say that my overview of the topic is all that original some eight or nine years later. Indeed, there is so little one needs to know about the subject to see through their polystrate argument—although the history of the topic is quite interesting in terms of the deceptive quote-mining and even a famous illustration-drawing from a geology book from the 1870’s (or somewhere around that time) which got used in a humorous way. Kent Hovind had “borrowed” the “Polystrate fossil found in a Canadian coal mine” artist’s rendering to tell his audience that “This polystrate fossil totally debunks millions-of-years evolutionist geology!” while ignoring the fact that the geologist who created the illustration accompanied it with a very detailed explanation of how it was found and how it was original buried—and totally contradicted the young earth argument which Hovind was trying to make from it! (Hovind probably didn’t bother reading the text which explained the illustration.) Of course, in reality, polystrate fossils do NOTHING to overturn or contradict the old-earth geology taught by geologists at universities all over the world. Polystrate fossils are not all that unusual or surprising and they rank among the lamest of “young earth” arguments. I assure you, even with just a few minutes of research on Google, you will get more than a few chuckles as you see how the pseudo-scientists have used them.

Various Young Earth Creationist websites would like to believe that polystrate fossils link adjacent strata which are dated millions of years apart and therefore represent some sort of amazing embarrassment to geologists. In reality, it’s just another misrepresentation that fools the general public but which they’ve never been able to substantiate with credible evidence from the peer-reviewed literature. It’s another case where they assert that the science academy has conspired against them and has “hidden” what one Young Earth Creationist friend of mine likes to call “the smoking gun of young earth evidence!” (Of course, he has no substantive geology training but he makes a nice living saying such things on his speaking circuit. I’ll not embarrass him by name but you’ve probably heard of him if you are an American Evangelical.)

Thus, polystrate fossils are not at all that surprising and geologists have no difficulty explaining them. I understand that they are especially common in some coal mines where there are multiple strata with fossilized tree trunks penetrating them exactly as the geology would predict.

By the way, ever since the Mt. St. Helens explosion there have been some creation science speakers who try to give their audiences the impression that the tree trunks spanning various debris strata from the eruption somehow undermine geology textbooks. (I’m amazed how often they try to compare Mt.St.Helens and the Grand Canyon in the most bizarre ways just because each contains layers/strata…and then claim “Therefore, both geological formations are young.” Yes, believe it or not. It is as if they think, “Some geologic strata are produced in a matter of weeks, therefore, all geologic strata were produced in a relatively short time.” Really!)

(Mazrocon) #9

Thanks Mr. Molinist. It seems that some pretty old 19th century geologist literature already explained , in good detail, the existence of “Polystrate” fossils … And yet a 100 hundred years later there’s still the argument on the major YEC organizations like ICR and CMI.



Yes indeed. The lame claims and arguments my Young Earth Creationist colleagues and I used to use in our “creation science conferences” of the 1960’s continue to appear on Young Earth Creationist ministry websites today. Very little has changed.

That’s the difference between science and propaganda. Science learns from new evidence and continually revises. Propaganda rarely learns. It repeats and repeats and ignores all evidence. And because we as humans generally tend to assume that our heroes are telling us the truth, we are very reluctant to come to the realization that we are being mislead. So when I say “we” I am including me, as an idealistic and very dedicated “creation science” advocate, speaker, and debater of those early years of the movement when we were all inspired by THE GENESIS FLOOD (1962, Henry Morris & John Whitcomb Jr.) We all assumed that Morris and Whitcomb had done their homework, were being careful and responsible with the data, and knew what they were talking about. They hadn’t, they weren’t, and they never did.

Several years ago a group of us–all with very similar backgrounds as former Young Earth Creationist “creation science” fans of the 1960’s and 1970’s, met at a Denny’s restaurant after the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting (just before the Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion meeting.) As we compared histories, the concordance of our stories were absolutely amazing. No doubt there are many other evangelical academics who could have joined us and shared exactly the same anecdotes.

So I think that we are all vulnerable to pseudo-science when we allow religious traditionalism and strict literalism to blind us to the scientific evidence. Therefore, we must always be gracious and patient with our brethren. It is not an easy process to “re-examine” one’s spiritual heroes.


Despite the truth of what you are saying—that “polystrate fossils” have never been a problem for geologists and were explained long ago—I’ve also learned that no matter how many times I address them with Young Earth Creationists on various forums, a few weeks later the same young earth defenders will post “But what about polystrate fossils? They totally debunk old earth geology!” The cycle is endless.

(Mazrocon) #12

Molinist, you perhaps know more about it than I. While I’ve been a Young Earth Creationist all my life (only in the last year have I dwindled from that) I’ve been never written articles promoting YEC, or was ever apart of the Creation Science team. I was a fan of Kent Hovind at one point in time … Looking back at it now I’m somewhat embarrassed about it.

The quote-mining (both from the Bible and scientific literature), the million-miles-an-hour style talking debates (which only served to produce a shallow understanding of dozens of topics rather than a deep understanding on any specific topic), the barrage of heresy-claims used against anyone who would dare question the perfectness of creation before Adam’s sin … Despite the fact that 1500 years worth of Church History work against that notion of corrupted creation…

… And the list goes on.

I don’t know what to say about it all now … it’s rather bizarre thinking of the person I once was. It amazes me to think that not very long ago I would roll my eyes at anyone that believed in an old earth …



Tim, how quickly did your mind change? Looking back, was it sudden or gradual? Was it like exiting a fog?

And do you think it was a rejection of traditionalism or authoritarianism, or both?


I have not been reading this site for a while. comment threads such as between you and Mazrocon are part of the reason, because of the ad hominems, irrelevant personality comments, and lack of actual veracity. I have never heard :

One particular problem does not debunk an entire theory. But what it does do is point out that layers of sediment were not laid down slowly and gradually. It does point out that most layers were more likely laid down by water quickly than slowly by wind (or slowly by water). If some of these layers have been dated in the past as having vastly different geological ages, then polystrate fossils shows that this reasoning was mistaken. Keep in mind that sedimentary layers cannot be dated radiometrically, but only by making assumptions about position. In addition, the assumption that all of these tree fossils were formed in place has also been shown to be erroneous.


Foul. flag on the field

I’m sorry but this can only be true if you are rooting for a particular position. I believe it’s perfectly reasonable to say that articles found on talk origins are written with the specific point of view as to debunk creationist arguments and not as scholarly informative articles. The articles you cited are prime examples of the same.

As pointed out with great clarity by johnZ, the talk origins articles do little to refute the “problem” of polystrate fossils. The rhetoric begins with disparaging the term polystrate as a “creationist” term and not really scientific anyway. The rhetoric is even heavier when “this problem was solved over 100 years ago” is used to dismiss the issue such that a single example could be used to substantiate the dismissal.

I’m not a geologist, thought I did opt for geology over health in college, I’m a web developer. When working with code it’s imperative to maintain a logical order or things just don’t turn out. True science is like code, the results are irrespective of what you desire, they are the result of what is. The Problem of polystrata fossils (which this forum’s auto-correct won’t even recognize as a word) is real as evidenced by reliance on rhetoric to refute.

I’m not proposing I know the answer to that problem, merely stating that the dismissal should be dismissed.

I can absolutely agree that Christians will engage in propaganda to support their positions and long held doctrines. It should be equally obvious that evolutionists, and yes theological evolutionists, will as well.

I think I would start by being less dismissive. Explanations from long ago didn’t work long ago so calling on them today is a bit condescending. Point to a better source than talk origins and engage in the discourse offered by johnZ.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

Regarding my endorsement of the talk-origins article (that it is a well-written, informative response) on the polystrate issue, you wrote:

I’m sorry but this can only be true if you are rooting for a particular position.

Actually, (speaking of maintaining logic), the article is either as I described it or it isn’t. What/who I root for is irrelevant to that assessment. And in fact even what/who the talk origins authors root for is also irrelevant to whether their response is sound. I do agree with you that there is an agenda (an unfriendly one to your way of thinking apparently) and that it does show through, in dismissive or condescending tones at places, which is unfortunate for their delivery, but still irrelevant while assessing whether or not they are accurately illuminating the issues at hand. In fact none of us are likely to find any such thing as an “agendaless” site on such things, so; non-experts that we are we peruse the writings of various sides and evaluate as best we can who is engaging the data (and counter-arguments) most comprehensively.

At this point, I have yet to see/hear any persuasive rebuttal to the talk-origins references to the many earlier responses from professional (and Christian) geologists, and from more recent ones (like Glenn Morton). But if you have sources/links I haven’t seen that you would like me to read I will read them with interest (within reasonable time and extent limits, of course). I haven’t seen as much YEC response to such things (which is part of the problem – are there any specific responses that do more than just rehearse what was just refuted?). I do agree that there is little to gain from ad-homonym dismissal. I think tentative dismissal/acceptance ought to rest more on the patient assessment of both the arguments/counter arguments.


Whether or not retired seminary professors, web developers, and the general public happen to agree with the science does not change the fact that the science was settled a long time ago.

In a democracy it is easy to imagine that everyone’s opinion is important—and in terms of politics and free speech that is quite true. All opinions do matter. But when it comes to science, science doesn’t work that way. (As the old saying goes, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” In science, the data are facts. And when a scientific theory survives 150-plus years of falsification attempts, science textbooks will teach that theory as the foundation of modern biology.)

Peer reviewed science is published in science textbooks because of the consilience of the overwhelming evidence. Science textbooks are written not to reflect all possible opinions held by the general public but to reflect what the data tells us about the many millions of years of earth history and the evolution of life on this planet. That’s why it is called science and not “town hall debates” or a daytime talk show where everybody gets their say. Anyone is free to believe that entire fields of science— especially biology, geology, paleontology, astronomy, and physics—are hopelessly unreliable and based upon mere opinion. But don’t expect the international science academy to agree. There will always be those who claim that it is a vast and evil conspiracy and that everything is a matter of “same data, different interpretations.” Yet when they don’t hold PhD’s in the relevant fields of science, their opinions simply do not matter to the science academy and university science curricula.

Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent anyone who thinks the published science is all wrong to submit their scholarship for peer-review. That’s how Einstein exposed the shortcomings of Newtonian physics. So any scientist who publishes the grand debunking of the Theory of Evolution and/or deep time will surely land on the cover of TIME magazine and win a Nobel Prize for sure. There’s nothing to stop him or her—except the reality of the earth’s history and the consilience of evidence. Thus, as my faculty advisor used to put crudely it but accurately: “Put up or shut up.” (He wasn’t very diplomatic. That’s why they made him department chair.)

Some find it fun to pretend that the science academy is about to crumble and the evolutionary biology textbooks will be burned with a grand sigh of embarrassment. Yet every now and then a reality check is in order. Like…daily.


Karl Giberson has pointed out that only nature gets to vote.


Seems we disagree again. I hold that preconceptions will invariably influence conclusions and the preconception that polystrate fossils are not a problem is highly evident in the articles you cited. Again, as johnZ pointed out, the articles don’t acknowledge the scope of influence these fossils should have on dating the strata they penetrate. I’ve read many talk origins articles an in each case find the same issue with preconceptions and confirmation bias.

As for agreeing with scientists…

And how much science of long ago has been updated, altered, debunked, found just plain wrong? What about the caverns I went to as a kid where I was told “careful, it took 100,000 years to make that stalagmite”. We know that those caves could have been formed in as little as 1 year, not the 300 million the literature claimed at the time. Those same rock formations are known to grow in months, have you never seen the stalactites forming on a refrigerator? Did any academy of science acknowledge the mistake on their own? no, it took a protest to force an acknowledgement.

This is a tired argument “publish your objection or shut up”. If I were telling the international science academy they need to agree with me I could understand the demand for more evidence. However, I take biologos to be a Christian organization that invites these discussions. Demanding the discussion only take place with extensive (and expensive) research which is peer reviewed by a group known to be hostile to any challenge to the status quo is effectively saying “go away, we don’t want your kind around here”.

My opinion only matters if it’s persuasive. That also goes for the opinions of science IMHO. Yes, scientists have opinions and those opinions are reflected in their work. In some cases they can be well founded and prove valid and true, but in other cases they can be weak and founded on preconceptions and tainted by confirmation bias.

My opinion in this thread is that questions such as this one are dismissed out of hand rather than given a persuasive answer. There’s and old saying, if you can’t dazzle 'em with brilliance - baffle 'em with BS. Instead of a straight forward answer to this simple, straightforward question I have read nothing but condescension and ridicule and an illusion of supporting evidence.

(Mazrocon) #20


I responded to you via Private Message, so as not to go off-topic with this thread.