Lyell’s Geology; the longer version

The Geological Column and Lyell; a critique of a highschool textbook presentation

A typical highschool textbook states;

“Darwin and other scientists have accumulated a vast amount of evidence that proves evolution has occurred.”

We’ve already looked at some of these evidences, since the long standing horse series and Haeckel’s drawings of embryos were apparently included as part of that “vast body of evidence”, along with a very narrow explanation of homology.

Remember, in talking about evolution, we’re not talking about the sorting of prexisting information among organisms. This horizontal process which ultimately leads to information loss is a well known biological fact. However the common tactic of pointing to this very limited process and then jumping to true Darwinian evolution, [ life forming spontaneously from dead matter or eyes and legs forming randomly], is an overused and dishonest bait and switch

Another evidence offered, used to ‘prove’ the Earth is billions of years old, is Charles Lyell’s view of geology known as Uniformitarianism. In this view all the geological strata and fossil beds we see today were formed slowly over long periods of time, not by sudden catastrophes. This way of interpreting the fossil record allowed Lyell and others to interject millions of years into earth history, allowing for evolution, while the catastrophic view demanded a much younger Earth.

The text is correct in saying that this view became the ruling paradigm, but it’s wrong when it gives students the idea that Lyell’s interpretation explains the actual data better. Many leading geologists today are admitting that it was the “catastrophists” who stuck closer to the empirical evidence and the Lyellians who imposed their imagination on the data. For the same reason that Haeckel had to fake his embryo drawings and others perpetuated hoaxes like the Piltdown Man, so Lyell was forced to ignore a large body of physical evidence in order to promote his interpretation.

As Derek Ager said; “Catastrophes became a joke and no geologist would dare postulate anything that might be termed a “catastrophe” for fear of being laughed at. But I would like to suggest that, in the first half of the last century, the ‘catastrophists’ were better geologists than the uniformitarians ” (1)

Stephen J. Gould, the prominent evolutionist and a Marxist, wrote in Natural History;

“….in fact the catastrophists were much more empirically minded than Lyell. The geological record does seem to record catastrophes: rocks are fractured and contorted; whole faunas are wiped out….To circumvent this literal appearance, Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence.” (2)

And the journal ‘Science’ states;

“As is now increasingly acknowledged however, Lyell also sold geology some snake oil…that…all past processes acted at essentially their current rates…Indeed, geology appears to have at last outgrown Lyell.”(3)

Why was Lyell so eager to find millions of years that he was willing to ignore or distort the data? Perhaps it’s because he was not really a scientist, but a lawyer by profession. However, according to Darwin (his close friend) it was because Lyell was an atheist, and he wanted to shake people’s faith in the Bible. Darwin said,

“Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible than if he had acted otherwise.” Darwin went on to say, “I have read lately’ Morley’s Life of Voltaire’, he insists that direct attacks on Christianity…produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow the slow and silent attacks”(4)

So it’s important to recognize that both Darwin and Lyell, whose theories were to change the whole face of biology and geology, were not trained scientists. And they were more interested in attacking Christianity than following the evidence where it leads. Darwin’s and Lyell’s theories became the basis for the atheist creation myth so popular today and are always presented as neutral and non-religious theories.

Because of this sleight of hand, evolution now dominates the way science is taught in the public schools to the exclusion of other origins theories. This status is aided and abetted by a spurious interpretation of the Puritan idea of separation of Church and State. But make no mistake, atheism is very much a religious view and Darwin and Lyell’s theories are simply the only plausible explanation for the existence of the universe apart from supernatural creation. What kind of evidence was Lyell ignoring in his day that argued in favor of rapid, catastrophic, deposition of the rock strata?

1) Fossils are not formed under normal conditions. Animals that die in the wild don’t lay there for ages as they’re slowly covered to become part of the geological column. Try throwing a dead animal out in your back yard and see how long it lasts. As noted in American Science,

“Once an organism dies, there is usually intense competition among other organisms for the nutrients stored in its body. This combined with physical weathering and the dissolution of its hard parts soon leads to its destruction unless the remains are quickly buried. These mechanisms contrast with the popular image of burial as a slow accumulation of sediment through long periods of time.” (5)

I wonder where that popular image came from? Lyell ignored the fact that the fossil-bearing strata had to have been laid down rapidly, not over long periods of time.

2) Over the vast majority of the Earth many geological layers are missing or are in the wrong order. Its been estimated that at least seven of the ten layers comprising the textbook version of the geological column are missing over 77% of Earth’s land mass. And the picture gets worse if you include the ocean bottoms. If Lyle’s interpretation of the fossil record is correct and only slow processes are allowed for the deposition and erosion of rock strata, how can this be explained? If erosion is always slow, how could it wipe out layers that took billions of years to form by normal processes? The less the textbook version of the “geological column” fits the actual data, the less believable is the theory behind it.

3) As Science News reports;

“in many places, the oceanic sediments of which mountains are composed are inverted, with the older sediments lying on the younger.” (6)

In Mt. Yamnuska, Alberta, Canada, for example, the Cambrian lays on the Cretaceous (one of the oldest laying on one of the youngest). Many other such examples exist, and they exist in areas where no sign of erosion or over thrusting can be found.

4) Layers often lay one on the other in a knife-like plane for miles with no sign of erosion between them. How could millions of years have elapsed between these great geological ages, without any erosion having taken place?

5) Fossils found out of sequence, “scramble the timetable”; From pollen found in the world’s oldest rocks in Venezuela to horse tracks in the Devonian, the number of fossils found where evolution says they shouldn’t be is growing. In some areas, such as the Grand Canyon, it’s pervasive. Trilobites, for example, are always found below the sponges, corals and foraminifera they are supposed to be descended from. While the possibility of being disturbed and then reworked into a different bed is real for some of these fossils, it’s not a sufficient answer for most. Re-worked fossils should show evidence of weathering and exposure, and often the out of sequence fossils are in the same condition as other fossils in the bed, showing no sign of having been disturbed. The range of most fossil species are growing into more geological layers supporting the non-evolutionary idea that the majority of animal kinds co-existed.

6) Polystrate fossils, (fossils that penetrate more than one geological layer) are also common. How could trees remain upright through thousands of centuries, while two or more geological ages slowly buried them? Trees fall down and rot long before they are buried, under normal, observable, processes. This evidence implies that these formations were laid in a few years at most, not allowing the millions of years usually taught.

7) Not only is there no sign of erosion between layers, there is no sign of bio-turbation (rooting of plants, animal burrows, worm activity.etc.) within the layers themselves. Yet scientists have observed that surface or single layers laid down by any process, are riddled with signs of life in a short period of time, unless quickly buried by other layers. Formations containing many layers without bio-turbation had to have been laid within months, not slowly over millions of years.

These are just a few of the evidences Lyell chose to ignore. It is important for students to realize that many of the famous scientists of his time, from Lord Kelvin to Louis Pasteur, looked at both Lyell’s and Darwin’s theories, compared them to the existing body of evidences and said, “No”. Since that time many other discoveries have been made which cast further doubt on Lyell’s interpretation. The idea that the geological layers must be interpreted to have been formed over millions of years, thus discounting the historic reliability of the bible, is resting on shaky ground.

Any one of the above evidences gives cause to re-think Lyell’s interpretation of geology. The textbook here again seems more interested in selling evolution than giving students an understanding of all the data, theories, and biases associated with historical and modern geology.

(1) Derek V, Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record, 3rd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 1993, 67-68

(2) S. J. Gould,” Catastrophes and the Steady State Earth”, Natural History, 84, Feb. 7515-17

(3) W.D. Allmon, “Post Gradualism”, review of “The New Catastrophism”, Science, 262 Oct 1, 1993,122

(4) Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, 1967, p. 387

(5) Behrensmeyer, “Taphonomy and the Fossil Record”, American Scientist, 72, Nov. -Dec., 1984:560

(6) Mountain Building in the Mediterranean”, Science News 98, Oct 17 1970, 316

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