"Polystrate" Fossils

The “polystrate” whale in the Monterey diatomite is a classic example of a creationist fable. The specimen in question was collected by my close friend and colleague Dr. Larry Barnes, now retired from the Los Angeles County Museum. It is a fable for the most obvious (to a geologist or paleontologist) way possible: the skeleton was laid down in the normal fashion, parallel to the diatomite strata, which have subsequently been upturned at a steep angle (like many other rock layers around the world). There is no need for a discussion about abnormal rates of diatomite sedimentation. There is always a need in these circumstances for the observer to closely note the orientation of the strata, along with the orientation of the fossil!


Ken Ham and most other Young Earth Creationists will heartily disagree with you on this statement.
The most basic issue they have with it is that sin is not the cause of death, leading eventually to why did Jesus have to die and what is the meaning of that death if death is really a such a good thing that it brought every life form as we know it into existence??? Then there are other issues such as Jesus is the last Adam, so what does it mean for there to have been a first Adam??

Just a twopence.

This is of course the crux of the whole matter. This is precisely why there’s such venom being thrown around on biologos.
The biologian point of view clearly differs from the YEC point of view in that biologians appear to view their “book of creation” as sacrosanct and trumping the book of scripture hence the book of scripture needs to be re-interpreted in that light.
This is contrast to the YECs who think that there isn’t a book of creation at all but rather only a book of scripture which trumps any other statements made on the origins issue.

It’s a question of authority. Biologians appear to accept the statements made by the atheistic religion as their authority whilst the YECs accept the word of God as their authority when it comes to the question of origins.
You can’t have it both ways.
JUst another twopence.

So does this solution then apply to ALL other polystrate fossils or are there exceptions which can not be explained by this one simple answer?

Was it really necessary to dig up this fossilized forum thread? :wink:


Prode, the BioLogos position is nothing to do with treating the “book of creation” as sacrosanct and “trumping the book of Scripture.” Nor is it anything to do with “accepting the statements made by the atheistic religion as their authority.” It’s about making sure that your facts are straight. You don’t have to accept the scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolution, but you do need to make sure you correctly understand why it’s the scientific consensus. Rejecting science may be faith, but misrepresenting science is lying.

The fact remains that the age of the earth is determined by measuring things. It is not based on “atheistic religion,” nor on guesswork, nor on circular reasoning, nor on “evolutionary presuppositions.” Anyone who tells you that it is, is either lying to you or doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about.

Yes, measurements have to be interpreted. But when attempting to interpret the measurements within the constraints of a six thousand year timescale repeatedly degenerates into either science fiction absurdity (for example, with the RATE project’s claims of accelerated nuclear decay on a scale that, by their own admission, would have vaporised the earth if it had any basis in reality) or flat-out lying (for example, with the YEC claims about bent rock layers in the Grand Canyon), we can quite safely conclude that the evidence simply cannot be interpreted as being consistent with a young earth, that “compromise” and “atheistic religion” have nothing whatsoever to do with it, and that to fling such accusations around is nothing more nor less than Pharisaic legalism. It is tying a heavy load up on people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help, and nullifying the Word of God with your tradition.

The fact remains that the only way that the earth can be six thousand years old is if it were created with evidence for 4.5 billion years of detailed history that never happened. The Bible clearly teaches us in 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4 that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. I realise that as a YEC you probably don’t think that that’s much to go on, but at least in terms of long ages, the Bible gives us something. In support of creation of evidence for a history of events that never happened, the Bible gives us nothing. As for any suggestion that the evidence can legitimately be reinterpreted to fit within a 6,000 year timescale — I’m sorry, but that is simply not an honest option.


Perhaps it should have been closed off after no replies were received after a year.

Talking of this — what’s the logic behind automatically closing threads on this forum? Some of them are set to auto-close six days after the last reply, but others remain open indefinitely. What determines which are which?

Since I’m not familiar with any other SIGNIFICANTLY polystrate fossils, I really can’t answer that. It’s not uncommon for small fossils to be reworked either downward in a sedimentary sequence (e.g., through animal burrows) or upward (by erosion and redeposition at a much later date). But when it’s something as large as a whale skull or other skeleton – be sure to check the present orientation of the strata!

What @Prode, or anyone else trying to make a YEC case from polystrate fossils, need to do is to come up with an example of such a fossil in which both the top of the trunk and the bottom of the trunk are embedded in strata that can be dated radiometrically, and which have actually been dated as being millions of years apart.

Until and unless they can actually do so, they can not honestly claim that polystrate fossils prove anything.


Good question. I know the homeschool forum posts stay open indefinitely. I think the threads that accompany BioLogos blog posts stay open indefinitely too. The BioLogos Facebook page often posts links to past articles, so that might be how they are sometimes resurrected.

I’m so sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for in that thread. As I recall (and this was an old closed thread from many months ago now) – it was one of our longer threads that probably meandered down quite a few rabbit trails along the way. In any long thread you would have a lot of chaff to clear away in searching for any grain. Our forums are open to anybody, so all types participate here and despite our efforts (and policy!) to keep the dialogue gracious, we often fall short.

Perhaps this actual Biologos article in which Ted Davis introduces a book on Fossils and Christianity by Davis Young might help with some information? I can’t promise that there are absolutely no references to talkorigins in the article (it does refer to wikipedia on some links, as well as to ICR friendly sites too); but it is definitely an article written from an old-earth perspective as well as in a professional manner without the acidic animus. When Ted Davis calls a book excellent, many of us here tend to sit up and listen. Hanging around here much, one begins to recognize names of folks who provide deep knowledge in a professional and kind manner and in a thoroughly Christian spirit. Ted is one of those. Would that we were all like that!

Anyway, I do hope you find something of use in your own quest.


I should add, @mike_enders, that the article is actually an excerpt from Young’s book (only being brought to our attention by Ted Davis). The mention of “polystrate fossils” is about two-thirds of the way down, and is itself a link to the wikipedia article on the same. And that is followed by a creation wiki link on the subject as well. So they certainly aren’t trying to muzzle opposing views on it.

I have read the book and I am pretty sure there wouldn’t be any references to talkorigins. Young and Stearley address polystrate fossils on page 290-291 from both perspectives. There are some references there. If you are on the fence the geology presented in this book will probably knock you off.

Joel Duff has an article at

His web site is a treasure trove of geologic information. If you contact him perhaps he can provide you a list of known sites.


And as a further piece of information, @mike_enders, this “polystrate fossils” thread is only showing a small fraction of what I think the original thread must have shown. For one thing, it goes back to an inconsequential post of my own as the “opening post” which I know isn’t right. I never started the thread, and my little reference to a talkorigins article there was already well into a very long conversation. I think you only caught the last tip of the massive polystrate iceberg which involved a lot of good converation with ‘johnZ’ prior to the first post shown here. I’m not sure why that thread got split like it did or why my post shows as the ‘OP’. Will have to look into that as a mod …

[The thread does show a real propensity to keep coming back from the grave, though! I think it has been locked down several times by now. Apparently our locks aren’t very good around here.]

@mike_enders a belated welcome to this little corner of the internet.

A search for polystrate (the magnifying glass at the top of the page) returns 15 threads where it was mentioned. One of them may well have been the father of this thread.

Well if that’s the case, then it’s simply that polystrate fossils do not provide enough data to differentiate between young-earth Flood geology models and old-earth alternatives. If it really can be interpreted either way then it is ambiguous and as such doesn’t constitute evidence for either position.

I’d actually concur that we need to be careful with Talk Origins. It does seem to me that it all too frequently goes beyond its remit of acting as a fact-checking resource for anyone discussing creation and evolution and descends into attacks on Christianity in general. Having said that, some of the information on it is quite important, so don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

(Another problem with TO is, of course, that it hasn’t been updated for several years now. It also doesn’t support HTTPS, which is a major failing for a security-conscious software developer like me…)


Thanks. If I’m not mistaken nearly all 15 of those postdate the above “Polystrate” thread in its present state, and the last couple only date back to March 2015 (same month as the first post of mine above). And according to their titles they don’t look like good prospects as the original thread. I’m wondering if some sort of Biologos “auto-trash removal” setting didn’t jettison material that reached a certain age. (not meant to be commentary on the quality of said thread, but only on its possible age!) Maybe other insights/corrections/confirmations will materialize.

@mike_enders Then contact @Joel_Duff . If such a list of sites exists he can probably provide it. My guess is there aren’t that many and it may be that what you have seen is all there is.

Here is my take. If the YEC explanation is correct then polystrate fossils should be quite common. They literally should be everywhere. And yet they are not.

Young does point out that intact root systems are quite common and have been studied extensively.

Do you have a reference to this article?

I share in your frustration over the high “heat-to-light” ratio that nearly every venue has with these issues. Those who simply would like to just learn more about reality while leaving all the animus and triumphalism behind have a hard time finding those rare corners where they can grow in knowledge instead of anger, fear, and malice. Or at least I know that’s how I have felt. It sounds like you are in a similar place.

One solution is to strive to be such a refuge yourself. Let the fruits of your already hard-won findings become patient educational fruit for others. You aren’t alone.


There are 2 major points:

  1. The Bait and Switch. YEC’s are being dishonest with their audience. They make the argument that geologists point to geologic layers that are separated by millions of years. The YEC’s then make the dishonest claim that this applies to all layers, which it doesn’t. There are geologic layers that geologists think are separated by a single year or even 6 months in the case of varves. I am unaware of a single verified polystrate tree that has been confirmed to go through multiple layers that are separated by millions of years as measured by radiometric dating, and I have yet to find a YEC who can point to one.

  2. Nature of Evidence. If a geologic feature could have been produced by local flooding millions of years ago, then it isn’t evidence for a recent global flood. We can observe polystrate fossils being formed right now from local floods and local processes. These same mechanisms would have been active in the past, even millions of years ago. Therefore, there is no reason to think that any polystrate fossil required a global flood nor a recent flood.