Re: Walter Brown Jr. Video

Steven Schimmrich (
Tue, 24 Mar 1998 17:46:05 -0500

At 09:57 PM 3/23/98 -0600, Bill Payne wrote:
>Steven Schimmrich wrote:
>> The term "polystrate fossils" is not a standard geological term but one
>> creationists coined to refer to fossils apparently cutting through several
>> layers of strata.
> I don't understand your use of the word "apparently", vertical tree
> trunks really do penetrate multiple layers of horizontal sand, shale,
> and underclay (beneath coal seams). I've never seen one of these
> "polystrates" in Alabama with the roots still attached, though. In the
> South, at least, they apparently were ripped up from their growth site,
> transported in water, and settled vertically out of water, floating to
> the bottom similar to the process observed in Spirit Lake at Mt. St.
> Helens.

I meant nothing judgemental by the term "apparently" -- I was simply
stating that this is what they appeared to do. I was just trying to be
careful to distinguish between an observation and the interpretation of
that observation.

>> One place that such fossils are common is in Joggins, Nova Scotia where
>> Carboniferous-age trees are preserved in an upright position. The famous
>> 19th century geologist Charles Lyell (a contemporary of Darwin) even wrote
>> about these fossils. As Andrew McRae points out in a Talk Origins essay
>> (, the method by which
>> these fossils formed was understood back in 1868 (Dawson, J.W., 1868. Acadian
>> Geology. The Geological Structure, Organic Remains, and Mineral Resources of
>> Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, 2nd edition. MacMillan
>> and Co.: London, 694pp). Dawson described over a dozen horizons of in situ
>> trees with paleosols (fossil soil horizons) and roots extending downward from
>> the trees into the soil horizons. He also found numerous reptile fossils
>> in the hollow trunks of many of the trees.
> If a YEC were to use a quote more than 15 years old to support his
> position, you'd likely say that he has ignored the vast body of research
> published during the last X number of years since his outdated reference
> was published.

I never pretended that Dawson's 150 year old study was the most up-to-date
research in this area and I doubt anyone could read that into my post. I'd
like to make two points about why I quoted him:

1. It shows that this phenomenon was studied as much as 150 years ago and
satisfactory explanations were found for it. Many recent papers on this
area, such as those I quote from below, acknowledge the fine work done
there by Dawson.

2. There's a difference, that many young-earth creationists seem to miss,
between old work and obsolete work. Many older studies, especially
descriptive studies, are fine examples of science to the present day.
Other studies have become obsolete due to the discovery of new data,
techniques, etc. Young-earth creationists are often criticized, not
for referring to old research as you imply, but for referring to
obsolete research. I refer to my critique of John Woodmorappe's work
at for
specific examples of the latter practice.

> The in situ interpretation of the Joggins polystrates is debatable:
> 229 Rupke, N. A., 1969, Sedimentary evidence for the
> allochthonous origin of Stigmaria, Carboniferous, Nova Scotia:
> Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 80, pp. 2109-2114.
> Stigmaria, the rootlike organ of lycopod trees, has often been
> cited by geologists as unambiguous proof of growth-in-place of
> trees within sedimentary strata sequences. Rupke challenges the
> in situ interpretation of Stigmaria and offers four evidences for
> transportation prior to burial:
> (1) preferred orientation of the long axes,
> (2) fragmentation, not attachment to stumps,
> (3) filling with sediment unlike the enveloping rock, and
> (4) rapid accumulation of sedimentary beds containing Stigmaria.
> (From Catastrophe Reference Database ["CatastroRef"]
> General editor is:
> Steven A. Austin, Ph.D.
> Chairman, Geology Department
> Institute for Creation Research
> 10946 Woodside Avenue North
> Santee, California 92071 USA

Whenever a young-earth creationists cites a paper in the geologic
literature as supporting their position, I always read the paper and
then look at the next few issues because, almost invariably, there's
a Discussion and Reply in a couple of months. Here they are:

Ferguson, L. 1970. Sedimentary evidence for the Allochthonous origin of
Stigmaria, Carboniferous, Nova Scotia: Discussion. Geological Society
of America Bulletin 81, 2531-2534.

Rupke, N.A. 1970. Sedimentary evidence for the Allochthonous origin of
Stigmaria, Carboniferous, Nova Scotia: Reply. Geological Society
of America Bulletin 81, 2535-2538.

I'm not sure who to blame, Austin for not having this reference in his
database, or you for not reporting this reference in his database. Either
way shows someone is trying to present a biased case for allochthonous

It's clear from examining these papers that Rupke's conclusions were very
controversial and are, in fact, not accepted by a majority of geologists
familiar with this area. Ferguson disputed all four pieces of evidence
cited by Rupke and concluded that Rupke's case for allochthony is weak.
Ferguson wrote (p. 2531):

"The writer is of the opinion that the sedimentary evidence presented
by Rupke is insufficient to prove allochthony - or perhaps even to
suggest it."

I refer you to more recent papers like the following:

Gibling, M.R. 1987. A classic Carboniferous section; Joggins, Nova
Scotia. In: Geological Society of America Centennial Field Guide
- Northeastern Section. 409-414.

This paper also refers to the work done by Dawson and describes Sigillaria
as being preserved in situ. This is still the prevailing view of the fossils
found here and this interpretation is not as hotly debated as you would like
people to believe. Can you cite workers other than Rupke who hold to an
allochthonous origin for these fossils?

>> It's clear that this deposit represents a river floodplain during the
>> Carboniferous Period that was subjected to periodic large flooding
>> events which buried the bases of many tree trunks.
> I respectfully disagree with you. The evidence I have seen associated
> with polystrate fossils in Alabama and coal deposits in Alabama and
> Kentucky fits more comfortably with a transported (allochthonous) origin
> for both.

Just because polystrate fossils in one area are allochthonous, it doesn't
mean that all polystrate fossils are allochthonous. That's faulty reasoning.
Every site has to be examined closely. I am not familiar with the fossils
you're referring to in Alabama so I'm not going to comment on their origin.

The interpretation I cited is not only due to the presence of the fossils
but other pieces of evidence including terrestrial vertebrate body and trace
fossils, invertebrate body and trace fossils, anastomosing channel sandstones,
sheet sandstone crevasse splay deposits, coals, etc (I refer the reader to
Gibling, 1987 cited above). One must consider all of the paleontological
and lithological evidence when interpreting an area. You mentioned Spirit Lake
and Mt. St. Helens earlier as a locality where polystrate fossils might be
forming. I'd like everyone to keep in mind that this area in Joggins, Nova
Scotia during the Carboniferous was nothing at all like Spirit Lake is today
and anyone who claims it was (Austin?) is presenting a faulty analogy.

>> These types of fossils do NOT show any evidence of having been deposited in
>> a single global flood and simply haven't been a problem for geologists for
>> over 100 years!
> Maybe not a single global flood, but possibly not in situ either.
> Perhaps you could be a little more open-minded, Steven?

Sure, these Sigillaria might not be in situ. So what? It's the same argument
I use when arguing with Art Chadwick. Even if the argument you're making is true,
it doesn't help you in your support of the idea of a global flood.

The difference between allochthonous (transported) or autochthonous (in situ)
is small. Rupke wasn't disputing the paleoenvironmental interpretations of this
area as a whole (that the deposit represents a river floodplain during the
Carboniferous Period that was subjected to periodic large flooding events which
buried trees), he was simply arguing that these trees may have been carried
downstream a bit before being buried.

I would also like to note that, if anything, this little piece or real estate
in Nova Scotia argues very forcefully against a single global flood since it
records not one, but many flooding events burying several generations of trees
within a relatively small slice of geologic time (the Carboniferous Period).
In between the strata here, one also finds evidence of plants and animals living
and dying perfectly compatible with the standard geologic interpretation of this

A final note, whenever people want you to believe in something for which
evidence is lacking (UFOs, astrology, bigfoot, young-earth creationism), they
always ask you to have an open mind. My mind is open enough to investigate
these claims Bill, but I believe one also needs a critical mind because we
always need to try and determine if something is true or not. I examine the
claims of young-earth creationism and have, thus far, always been disappointed.

- Steve.

   Steven H. Schimmrich
   Physical Sciences Department (office)
   Kutztown University      (home)
   217 Grim Science Building         610-683-4437, 610-683-1352 (fax)
   Kutztown, Pennsylvania 19530