Long-age thinking dealt a lethal body blow
Author(s): Tas Walker and Carl Wieland
Tas Walker is a mechanical engineer with in addition a BA in Earth sciences. AiG does not record that he has published in any academic journals.
Carl Wieland has qualifications in medicine but has not practiced in the field since 1986. There is no record on AiG of any publications by him in any academic journals.
Another typical AiG article: ill-informed, illogical and full of empty rhetoric and assertion as well as being factually incorrect on several matters.
Checking back to AIG's web site recently, it seems to have been removed - perhaps the evidence for outright lying was too strong even for AIG. However, the article can still be found here: http://creation.com/kamikaze-ichthyosaur
I've had email correspondence with Achim Reisdorf, the palaeontologist who is describing this specimen. He was interviewed for an article in "Factum", a creationist magazine, which was the source for this AiG article.
I've added a page here based on his comments.
The complete preserved skull of an ichthyosaur was found buried in a vertical, nose-down position at 90 degrees to the rock layers. Unlike most fossils, the head was preserved in three dimensions, and had not been flattened by the weight of sediment above it.
Quite so. 3-D preservation is rare.
Geologists found the fossil in 1999, in an abandoned quarry in the north of Switzerland, near Hauenstein, and took months to prise it carefully out of the enclosing rock.
I'm not sure of the phrase 'prise it out' is one with which any preparator would be happy, but in essence true. If someone described my work in preparing specimens as 'prising it out of the enclosing rock', I'd be rather offended.
The specimen is 37 cm (15 in) long, and consists of the head, its long snout with some 200 fine teeth, a few neck vertebrae and a very small part of its rib cage. It was a young animal, which would have been about two metres long, of the species Leptonectes tenuirostris, and is now displayed at the nearby Natural History Museum of Olten.
Sounds perfectly reasonable so far.
The skull was enclosed vertically within three geological layers, which have been dated according to long-age beliefs, by reference to the fossils they contain.
In the absence of any reference to the specimen or its stratigraphy, it is very hard to check out assertions such as this one. However, specimens like this which have penetrated into soft sediments are well-known from the English Lias. 'Three geological layers' gives little information. Ammonite zones in the lias are typically several meters thick, and in some cases over 100 m thick.
Curiously, the layers span an ‘age’ of about one million years, and that presents something of a problem for long-age geologists.
Again, in the absence of information on the stratigraphy of the deposit and the specimen, this figure of a million years seem unlikely, and is unsubstantiated. Studies on liassic formations in Switzerland which correlate stratigraphic data with astronomical cycles show that a million years is represented in these deposits by about 10m of shales. A depth of sediment of 37cm suggests a few tens of thousands of years.
How could anyone conceive of an ichthyosaur head being buried in a vertical position slowly over a million years, yet remaining preserved along its whole length?
A rhetorical question: the answer is 'quite easily'. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, and is found in many marine reptiles of similar age from the English lias. I've got one sitting on my mantelpiece in which the tail is preserved in the same way. In any case the assertion of a million years does not stand up to scrutiny.
Martill, David M; 1993; Soupy Substrates: A Medium for the Exceptional Preservation of Ichthyosaurs of the Posidonia Shale (Lower Jurassic) of Germany; Kaupia . Darmstädter Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte; 2 pp.77-97
The obvious implication is that the ‘millions of years’ are fanciful.
Well, yes. The million years are fanciful. 30-40 thousand years would be much more accurate.
Conclusion drawn from unsubstantiated sources
So how would a long-ager deal with this problem? The scientist who discovered it, Dr Achim Reisdorf, was interviewed in depth in a German-language publication that is sympathetic to the Bible. It is fascinating to watch him wrestle with the evidence, while trying to hold that the sediments were deposited over a million years.
We'll have to take the word of whoever wrote the article that he was 'wrestling with the evidence'. I doubt that any geologist familiar with liassic deposits would have done so. Perhaps this is a bit of ... optimistic interpretation?
Ad hominem and unsupported assertion
He proposed that soon after the creature died, before rigor mortis (stiffening of the body after death) set in, it started to sink. The increasing water pressure progressively collapsed its lungs, tipping it onto its nose, and causing it to sink faster and faster in a ‘kamikaze’ plunge. When it reached the bottom, its head thrust into the mud as far as its neck.
Pretty well the accepted view, and well-supported by evidence in the case of this and many other specimens. Note 'it's head thrust into the mud as far as its neck'.
But why would a large marine animal die suddenly unless it was attacked by a predator?
Rhetorical question: The answer is that as only the front of the carcase was found, attack by a predator seems quite likely! Unless it was scavenged, of course.
Why wasn't it scavenged?
Rhetorical question: The answer is that it was buried in mud. The parts which were sticking out of the mud could well have been scavenged. In many carcases bone which was exposed to the water column shows signs of scavenging as well as colonisation by invertebrates.
How could the rib cage remain flexible, allowing the lungs to collapse, and the snout remain rigid, allowing it to push so far into the sediment?
Rhetorical question, and an utterly ridiculous one: If the rib cage were not flexible, how could the animal have breathed? The snout is a long tube of hard bone. If it were flexible, the animal wouldn't have been able to bite!
Even if such a scenario were believable to this point, the ‘long ages’ assigned to the rock layers create extra problems. If the sediments on the bottom were a million years old, why were they still soft?
Em…because they were not mineralised yet? And because they were not a million years old?
And if they were still soft, why was the fossil preserved?
Rhetorical question: Because the soft sediments were anoxic, and didn't contain the bacteria which cause decay. This is why organisms which die in some bogs don't immediately decay. Look at Tollund Man.
Why didn’t bacteria or worms demolish the remains of the animal in a short time as they normally do?
Because the soft sediments were anoxic, and didn't contain the bacteria which cause decay. See the reference above.
According to Dr Reisdorf, the sediments remained soft, for at least one million years, allowing the ichthyosaur’s complete head to sink right in.
No. According to Dr Riesdorf, the head penetrated soft sediments, as the article itself states. In any case, the figure of a million years is not supported by the literature on the subject.
Then the material surrounding the skull hardened immediately afterwards, so quickly that the skull was beautifully preserved.
This is not the scenario proposed at all. Bone mineralises and becomes hard, not necessarily the surrounding sediments. Liassic shales are usually rather soft. There are documented processes by which bacteria present in soft sediments can accelerate the process of mineralisation. There is a huge number of references to the processes of fossilisation on the web. Here's one.
These sorts of mental gymnastics highlight the fact that there is no tension between the Bible and scientific facts—only between certain interpretations of the facts in relation to the past. Long-age beliefs lead to the idea that the layers were laid down over millions of years. It’s those beliefs that create the problem.
em…what mental gymnastics?
When we abandon the preconceived belief in long ages, we are free to understand the evidence in a straightforward manner.
Only if we ignore the contradictions such a view sets up, ignore our knowledge of most of the physical sciences, and suspend our logical processes.
The layers were laid down, and the ichthyosaur buried, as a result of rapid, catastrophic happenings.
A rapid, catastrophic flood produces a large amount of turbulence, has characteristic particle size distribution and a host of other features. The sedimentary structures in which the ichthyosaur was found show no such characters. They could not have been laid down in a flood. In any case, the astronomical tuning found in these sediments shows that they were laid down over a period of many millions of years. So if you argue that the sediments were laid down quickly by a flood, you need to explain these findings.
Moreover, the same processes that deposited the next layer of sediment probably removed the rest of the body.
This is logically inconsistent: we are asked to believe that the same process which preserved the head in three dimensions removed the rest of the body?
All this is consistent with evidence we would expect for Noah’s Flood.
No it isn't, because it completely fails to address the turbulence, particle size distribution and a host of other characters which would be created by a flood. Scientists write books on how to identify flood deposits. The authors of this might benefit from reading them.
1. An ichthyosaur is an extinct marine reptile that gave birth to live young.
2. The ages of the layers were assigned according to certain index fossils contained in the rocks, namely the kinds of marine shells (ammonites) and kinds of external skeletons of small crustaceans (ostracods).
Index fossils provide relative, not absolute ages. The Swiss lias has been dated absolutely by radiometric methods, and the dating has been fine-tuned by astronomical methods.
Factum 3:25–34, 2004.
A creationist journal, by the way