Two blogs in one month, eh? I’ve got a treat for you today. Back in 1983 creationist John Woodmorappe came up with a hypothetical flood sorting mechanism known as Tectonically-Associated Bioprovidences. It was set to explain problems with original ecological zonation hypothesis. In 1998, Geologist Kevin Henke tackled the paper. It reveals better than anything else how incompetent creation “geologists” are. However, it was hidden away in the archive of the Talkorigins newsgroup. After cleaning it up to better fit the format of this forum, I gained permission from Kevin to repost it here. Thanks, Kevin!
It’s a little hard to read without Woodmorappe’s figures in front of you, but there’s still plenty of Gold in it. Enjoy the read!
Response to Woodmorappe’s Claims in his Paper: “A Diluviological Treatise on the Stratigraphic Separation of Fossils”
Kevin R. Henke, August 8, 1998
Note to reader: To fully understand my critique, you will have to obtain a copy of Woodmorappe’s paper and refer to the figures and tables in it.
John Woodmorappe (not his real name) first presented his TAB (Tectonically Associated Biological Provinces) concept in “A Diluviological Treatise on the Stratigraphic Separation of Fossils,” which appeared in the December, 1983 issue of the Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ). The article was reprinted in his 1993 book, “Studies in Flood Geology.” Woodmorappe attempts to disprove the reliability of index fossils and explain away the geologic time table by evaluating the relationships between 34 groups of index fossils.
First of all, he can’t even get the time ranges of many of the index fossils correct. I randomly checked some of them in his Table 2 and found many errors and improper uses of index fossils: For example, he lists Monograptus with the Ordovician graptolites. However, Monograptus never lived during the Ordovician. It’s a Silurian index fossil! See Shimer and Shrock’s “Index Fossils of North America” (1987, 13th printing) p. 75, 77 or Moore, Lalicker and Fischer’s “Invertebrate Fossils,” McGraw-Hill, 1952, p. 731. As another example, Xenodiscus is a lower Triassic ammonoid(Shimer and Shrock, p. 569). Yet, Woodmorappe lists this fossil with the Permian ammonoids in Table 2. Also Dictyonema is not a suitable index fossil for the Ordovician, because it lived from the Upper Cambrian to the Lower Mississippian (Shimer and Shrock, p. 65).
I could go on.
Everyone makes mistakes, but Woodmorappe’s errors in Table 2 and elsewhere in this paper are too common for him to be a competent geologist. When I pointed this out to Woodmorappe in January 1998, all he could do was to say that he would recheck his references. It’s a little late. This rechecking should have been done in 1983, as part of “peer review” process of CRSQ. Woodmorappe also inappropriately uses rare vertebrate index fossils, such as Dimetrodon and dinosaurs, like Stegosaurus. These vertebrate fossils are very valuable and WHEN they’re found, they are useful. However, Woodmorappe must realize that two of the properties of a truly useful and relevant index fossil are widespread occurrence and frequent preservation.
It’s obvious that he did not consult tables, like the one in Mintz, Leigh W., 1977, “Historical Geology: The Science of a Dynamic Earth”, 2nd ed., Charles E. Merrill Publishing, Columbus, OH, p. 212, before he selected his 34 groups of index fossils. This table does not even recommend using vertebrates, since vertebrates are so rarely preserved. Forams, radiolarians, and other microfossils are much more useful than a large dinosaur that has little chance of being preserved and becoming a fossil. Also forams are found in more diverse aquatic environments than dinosaurs. Forams and other microfossils have a relatively good chance of being preserved, because of their diversity and small size. Dinosaurs are clearly inferior index fossils. Geologists learn all of this in second semester freshman Historical Geology 102 or related intro classes. It’s a wonder that Woodmorappe can draw any conclusions at all from his work because Table 2 indicates that he can’t read the contents of a simple paleontology book.
Woodmorappe responded to this paragraph through private email to Karl Crawford and me by simply stating:
“His [Henke’s] claim that I use ‘bad’ index fossils such as dinosaurs shows that he [Henke] does not know what he is talking about, or else he is deliberately trying to snow-job you. Everyone knows that dinosaurs can be used as index fossils if they are found.”
As shown above, I NEVER said that dinosaurs were “bad” index fossils. I called them inferior to invertebrates because they are not as well preserved. They are very good index fossils, WHEN they’re found. Also, Woodmorappe largely ignores ocean sediments and continental well cores in this study. Why does he do this? He emailed Karl and me and told us that ocean and well core (borehole) data were largely unavailable when he wrote this article in the early 1980’s. However, continental well core data for the Williston Basin and most other petroleum-producing areas have been available since at least the 1950’s or 1960’s. Useful information on ocean sediments has been available since at least the late 1960’s. Woodmorappe could have updated his article with ocean and continental well core data before it was reprinted in 1993. Ocean sediments are relatively complete back through the Cretaceous and better support evolution and the geologic time table than the largely eroded and nonpreserved continental rocks and sediments for the same time span. If Woodmorappe really wanted to study the validity of the geologic time scale, he should have looked at ocean sediments. Chapter 7 “Fossil Distribution and the ‘Ecological Zonation’ Hypothesis” in “Neglect of Geologic Data: Sedimentary Strata Compared with Young-Earth Creationist Writings” by old-Earth creationist Daniel E. Wonderly (Interdisciplinary Biblical Institute, 1987) talks about the problems that forams and radiolaria in ocean sediments present for advocates of “Flood Geology.” Wonderly’s chapter not only demolishes creationist claims about “ecological zonations,” but it also would put to death Woodmorappe’s TAB concept.
Well cores and fence diagrams are essential to obtain a 3-D view of the geology of an area. By largely ignoring these data and only looking at surface outcrops, Woodmorappe is certainly not going to find very many cases of index fossils from different periods in one locality, especially since he is only working with 34 groups and many of them are rare vertebrates. Woodmorappe is correct when he says that it is rare to have outcrops in one location that contain more than two geologic periods. This is because most rocks from a given period are very thick, often thousands of feet thick. Except for the Grand Canyon and relatively few other places, you have to drill deep within a site to reach the rocks of another period beneath the one or two on the surface. This is not surprising since the rocks of each geologic period often represent millions of years of net accumulation. In the oil-producing Williston Basin of western North Dakota, for example, it is not uncommon to go to a site with dinosaur fossils, index mollusk fossils, or turtle fossils on the surface ARRANGED IN THEIR EXPECTED GEOLOGICAL ORDER and drill down through hundreds or thousands of feet of rock containing numerous index fossils of different mollusks, brachiopods, etc. from at least SEVEN different geologic periods.
As an example, there are outcrops near the border between Slope and Bowman counties in western North Dakota (Township 135N, Range 106W). In that area, Champsosaurus is located in the Huff Member. Both just above (in the Tullock Formation) and below (in the Pretty Butte Member) are specimens of the index fossil, Viviparus, a snail. (For details, see: Frye, Charles I., 1967, “The Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.) So how did the Champsosaurus get sandwiched between layers with these snails? The outcrops include well-layered bentonite beds, which are weathered volcanic ash deposits. Also, the Huff Member typically contains very water soluble gypsum crystals. How did the ash beds settle and form extensively lateral layers during a violent Flood? Why weren’t the gypsum crystals dissolved and washed away by the Flood waters? Oil wells throughout the two counties go down into the Paleozoic, where brachiopods, trilobites and other marine invertebrates, many of them as index fossils, are present. You can see the intact fossils in the miles of drill cores from the Basin that are stored in Grand Forks, ND. It’s easy for Woodmorappe to draw false conclusions when he’s only working in one or two dimensions by studying outcrops (i.e., the surface) rather than working in three dimensions by studying well cores or using fence diagrams. If he was thinking in 3-D and using a larger number of index fossils with the correct time ranges, he wouldn’t be drawing such bad conclusions, such as: “index fossils shun each other geographically” (p. 154).
There’s no shunning in at least the Upper Midwest. I browsed through Shimer and Shrock’s list of gastropod index fossils and I easily found EIGHT index fossil species that are useful in the Fort Union and Lance Formations of western North Dakota and Montana. AGAIN, I was ONLY looking at GASTROPOD (“snail”) index fossils from ONE book and I was able to find: Viviparus raynoldsianus, Lunatia subcrassa, Campelona multistriatum, Valvata subumbilicata, Drepanochilus americanum, Pleurolimnaea tenuicostata, Planorbis planoconvexus, and Cylichna scitula. Woodmorappe incorrectly suggests in his article that index fossils are too spread out from each other to be reliable. Well, that might be true IF you’re only looking at a few of them and many of them are poorly preserved (i.e., rare) vertebrates! But, if you use common sense, as many INVERTEBRATES as possible (including down to the species level), and ocean and continental well cores, Woodmorappe’s assault on the geologic column crumbles.
Figure 1 on p. 135 is a bar graph that shows the percentages of fossil families and genera that are found in only one geologic period, just two periods and so on all the way up to the percentage of families and genera found in all 11 Phanerozoic periods. The bar graph shows that about 80% of some 19,805 fossil genera evaluated by Woodmorappe and over 30% of some 2,617 fossil families evaluated by Woodmorappe are restricted to one geologic period. That’s a lot of potential index fossils! Less than 7% of the genera and about 30% have life spans that include three or more periods. The immediate question that I have is how such a violent world-wide Flood could manage to so segregate or keep the fossils segregated. Why aren’t the vast majority of fossil families and genus found in 8 or more geologic periods? Woodmorappe attempts to deal with this creationist problem in this paper, but fails in my opinion through special pleading and the use of straw people arguments.
Woodmorappe also warns his readers that the genera and family results in Figure 1 may be biased because of subjective and inconsistent genera and family classifications and “circular reasoning” (p. 135-136). Even if minor adjustments are needed in taxonomic classifications or if the often touted and rarely supported creationist claims of “circular reasoning” are real in a few cases, the data in Figure 1 are clearly consistent with the geologic column. The fossil groups are segregated because they lived and died at different times, and they EVOLVED!
Woodmorappe notes that further exploration sometimes leads to the expansion of the life span of an index fossil. An example may be found in Mintz, 1977, p. 211, which states that the bryozoan Archimedes was once thought to only have lived during the Mississippian period. However, it’s now known to occasionally occur in Pennsylvanian and Permian rocks. Therefore, Woodmorappe (p. 136) argues that the results in Figure 1 may not be final.
Paleontologists are very familiar with this problem. This is why they look for fossil assemblages in previously unexplored regions rather than just relying on single index fossils. Geologists argue that using just one index fossil for a previously unexplored outcrop is unwise because there is a chance that the fossil may have lived earlier or later in this area than in other areas of the world. This could result in the improper dating of newly discovered sedimentary rocks (see Mintz, 1977, p. 210-217). This is why geologists use fossil assemblages of 5, 10, 24 or even more fossils. The chances that ALL 10, 24 or whatever number of members of a fossil assemblage lived in an unexplored area before or after they lived everywhere else in the world are remote. It does not surprise me that Woodmorappe doesn’t talk extensively about REAL WORLD fossil assemblages in this paper, because in the hands of early 19th century geologists, fossil assemblages were important in killing Flood Geology.
On Map 36, Woodmorappe plots “localized occurrences” of Jurassic ammonoids, Lower Carboniferous corals, Silurian brachiopods and graptolites and Cambrian trilobites on maps of Nevada, Utah, and Great Britain. He states (p. 150) that there are very few localities in these areas where three out of the four fossil groups occur within a few 10’s of miles of each other. But, why would any geologist expect to find locations that have three or four of these groups, since they don’t even have consecutive ages?!
For map 36, Woodmorappe includes Cambrian trilobites, skips the Ordovician, includes Silurian brachiopods and graptolites, skips the Devonian, includes Lower Carboniferous corals, skips the Upper Carboniferous, Permian and Triassic and includes Jurassic ammonoids. Why all the skipping? Woodmorappe’s larger maps (p. 140-146) indicate that Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, and Triassic index fossils are at least present in parts of Great Britain. What would these maps have looked like if Woodmorappe had included a thorough representation of index fossils from four consecutive periods, such as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian? For creationists, would the results have been too good in illustrating the reliability and usefulness of index fossils?
Woodmorappe constructs some hypothetical examples of his TAB concept in Figure 4. Immediately, I wonder why he is using a hypothetical example rather than a reconstruction of an actual field location, like the Michigan Basin or the Williston Basin. Geologists have derived reliable paleogeographic maps that are useful in oil exploration. Creationists could try reconstructions as well. By not using a real world example, Woodmorappe is not allowing scientists to really evaluate his TAB concept and his claims against orthodox geology. He is being like William Morris Davis, who sat at a desk rather in the field and derived a “cycle of erosion” for landscapes. The “cycle of erosion” proved to have no extensive field support.
Initially, Woodmorappe (p. 158) divides the Phanerozoic into four divisions, I, II, III, and IV, (where, I = Lower Paleozoic, II = Upper Paleozoic, III = Mesozoic, and IV= Cenozoic). The Precambrian is included in I (p. 160). For Woodmorappe’s TAB concept to work, biogeographic zones must be strongly associated with certain tectonic provinces, thus the name: Tectonically Associated Biological [TAB] Provinces. Specifically, he argues (p. 158) that Lower Paleozoic strata would be associated with the most tectonically active areas. The Cenozoic deposits would be least affected by tectonic forces (e.g., Figure 5). Of course, there is no geologic evidence to support such a link. He attempts to argue for a link from information in Table 3 (p. 152-153, 158), but this “link”, if it really exists, could be explained as nothing more than erosional effects.
To argue that Cenozoic-Mesozoic deposits experienced less tectonic activity than Paleozoic deposits, Woodmorappe (p.158) claims that 57.4% of the total volume of Phanerozoic platform sediments are Cenozoic-Mesozoic and only 41.3% of the more tectonically influenced geosynclinal sediments belong to these two Eras. However, these percentages may have no statistical significance for Woodmorappe, since the Paleozoic lasted for about 375 million years and the combined Cenozoic-Mesozoic Eras represent only 225 million years.
Woodmorappe (p. 158) talks about how submarine topography and volcanic activity could affect biogeography. However, according to Woodmorappe’s claims, the Lower Paleozoic strata of Indiana or Iowa should have experienced more tectonic activity than the Cenozoic deposits of California, Oregon and Washington State. No way. For Woodmorappe’s TAB concept to stand even a slight chance of working, areas with rocks containing Lower Paleozoic fossils MUST ALWAYS have sunk further into the Earth’s crust than adjacent areas with rocks with Upper Paleozoic or younger fossils (see Woodmorappe’s paper, p. 155 and following). But, there is no basis to believe that this occurred.
Woodmorappe finally states (p. 158): “It should be emphasized that TAB’s did not arise from trial-and-error migrations [of organisms from one biogeographic province to another] but were present since the Creation and were based on teleological design.” When there’s inadequate scientific evidence, Woodmorappe invokes miracles to prop up his TABs. By comparing Woodmorappe’s Figure 6 with Figure 4, numerous contradictions become apparent. Notice that in Figure 6, Woodmorappe claims that IV/III/II/I is the most abundant TAB with about 28% of the Earth’s land surface. IV/III/II/I in Figure 6 is represented by TAB 3 in Figure 4.
However, his maps in Figure 4 show that this TAB would be relatively rare when compared with TABs 7 (I only), 10 (II only), 14 (IV only), or 5 (III only), since TAB 3 only occurs at the junction where IV, III, II, and I (TABs 7, 10, 5 and 14) meet (Woodmorappe admits that TABs like 3 form at junctions, see p. 162). Geometry 101 dictates that the intersection point of I, II, III, and IV polygons in Figure 4 will be smaller (i.e., a point) than the areas of each of the polygons that are part of the intersection. Therefore, Figure 4 or any other TAB maps that Woodmorappe could cook up dictate that TABs 7, 10, 14, and 5 should cover larger areas than their intersection point 3 or IV/III/II/I. However, Figure 6 indicates that 3 actually has a higher percent of the Earth’s land surface area than 7, 10, 14, or 5. By trying to expand TAB 3 and shrink TABs 7, 10, 14 and 5 to try to make Figures 4 and 6 consistent, Woodmorappe risks producing abundant false TABs like IV/II/III/I, which he admits are nonexistent to rare.
Look carefully at the cross sections in Figure 5 and you will see how currents could easily produce a false TAB of III/IV II in the center of basin II by depositing IV from the left before III from the right. It is only by special pleading and doctoring of the diagram could Woodmorappe eliminate this problem. But, all things are possible when you use imaginary cross sections instead of real ones. In Figure 5, Woodmorappe claims that rocks II and III are separated by a few 10’s of kilometers. Such distances are too short to be effective barriers to many organisms. If erosion did not purge the barriers, the migration of sea birds and terrestrial animals between the two marine environments could easily carry invertebrate eggs, forams, seeds, and other organisms that would cause Permian forams to noticeably mix with Cretaceous clams, like Inoceramus, for example. Thus, the migration of organisms in Figure 5 could also create many false TABs. (See Raup and Stanley, 1978, “Principles of Paleontology,” p. 404f, for discussions on the creative ways in which organisms may cross geographic barriers.)
As a real world example, I have asked Woodmorappe and/or Karl Crawford to apply the TAB concept to the Williston Basin of North Dakota. The Williston Basin contains abundant Late Paleozoic evaporites, which indicate dry climates that are completely incompatible with a raging Flood. Some creationists, like Nutting in his ICR,”Graduate School Thesis,” have,attempted to argue that the evaporites had a hydrothermal origin that was related to volcanism. But, except may be for wind-blown volcanic ash beds, there is no evidence of igneous or metamorphic deposits in the Late Paleozoic rocks of the Williston Basin. Woodmorappe makes more errors with his fictional examples in Figures 7 and 8, which deal with biostratigraphic distributions. In Figure 8, Woodmorappe attempts to show that index fossils are “incompatible” or, in other words, index fossils don’t tend to overlap at field sites. Since he is not basing his arguments on any real world examples in Figures 7 and 8, his arguments are nothing more than invalid straw people. But what makes the situation even worse for him is that he can’t even read his own figures. For example, in Figure 8, Woodmorappe claims that E1, I20; E3, I18; and E20, J14 are “compatible” or overlap stratigraphically. But Figure 7 shows that they don’t!
The conclusions in Woodmorappe’s article are based on the improper use of index fossils, too few fossil groups, other fundamental errors and numerous contradictions between his imaginary figures. Because of these errors and a lack of real world examples in Figure 4, his TAB concept is geologically worthless. Woodmorappe needs to read some Geology 101 and 102 textbooks before he tries to apply his ideas to real geological features, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota. If he does, he will probably discover, as geologists did 150-200 years ago, that Flood Geology is crap.