Forams and Diatoms: Testing Young Earth Flood Geology Hypotheses

Diatoms with their symmetrical highly-photogenic glass houses may get most of the attention but the foraminiferans (forams) present some formidable competition.  In my recent article (Life in a Glass House)  I revealed that the glass-house remains of diatoms are conspicuously absent from the bottom two-thirds of the geological column.  This raised a rather uncomfortable question for young earth advocates wishing to claim that diatoms were created with glass house construction abilities from the very beginning just a few thousand years ago.  If they did, how did diatoms manage to avoid being preserved in any pre-flood rock and in most of the rock laid down in the early stages of a cataclysmic world-wide flood?

Some modern shells, called tests, of foraminifera extracted from beach sand in Maymar. By Psammophile [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons Tests of foraminifera extracted sand from the beach of Ngapali (Myanmar)
Some modern shells, called tests, of foraminifera extracted from beach sand in Myanmar. By Psammophile [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
There is no known mechanism by which these tiny millimeter-sized objects could have escaped deposition only to find themselves all preserved at a later time.  One highly speculative ad-hoc hypothesis in involves a proposal that most microscopic organisms could have swum upward during the flood and thus resisted deposition early on during the flood year only to finally expire due to fatigue and thus only preserved in rocks recognize as Jurassic rocks and younger—the top of the geological column.

Such a hypothesis would likely be proposed solely as a placeholder in lieu of any other possible explanation. But the young-earth advocate should not think that proposing such a hypothesis is the end of the story. This hypothesis can be tested and therefore can be rejected.  A good hypothesis produces predictions.  Most important, it produces predictions that can be tested.  A comment on my previous article alerted me to a possible test of this hypothesis.  That test involves another group of similar organisms and the question: how far back in the fossil record to we find foraminferans which I will refer to as forams?

Forams are a group of single-celled heterotrophic amoeboid microorganisms.  Heterotrophic means they must consume food rather than able to make their own food which plants and diatoms can accomplish with the help of sunlight.  Rather than producing glass houses like the diatoms, these cells produce shells usually from calcium carbonate but sometimes by cementing tiny inorganic particles in their environment into protective cases.

The shells of forams vary in size but are generally similar to most diatoms.  Like diatoms, when the living foram cells die and decay they leave their shells, called tests, to fall to the floor of the ocean or lake.  These foram tests can accumulate to great densities and can be a significant component of “sand” found on beaches today.

The most important thing to know about forams is that although similar in size, shape and even density to diatoms, forams are found throughout nearly the entire fossil record. Fossilized tests are found from the Cambrian Period all the way through the present.  This is in stark contrast to the glass houses of diatoms which are found only from the Jurassic Period to the present day.

Scanning electron microscope micrographs of Fossil planktonic foraminifera from St. Stephens Quarry in Georgia.
Scanning electron microscope micrographs of fossil planktonic foraminifera from St. Stephens Quarry in Georgia.

Possible flood geology hypotheses

Catastrophic flood geologists could propose two hypotheses for the lack of diatoms in the bottom two-thirds of the fossil record.  First, they could hypothesize that the flood waters simply sorted out small organisms and so the diatoms just floated/sorted to the upper portions of the fossil record.   Second, diatoms have flagella and so they could hypothesize that diatoms swam for their lives during the initial stages of the flood and only much later in the flood year began to die and be deposited in flood sediment.

Testing flood geology hypotheses

Both of the hypotheses above can be put to a variety of tests and the forams provide an excellent group with which to test them.  The flood geology hypotheses above would predict that forams and diatoms should be found similarly distributed in the fossil record because they live under similar conditions, are of similar size and come in many different shapes.  Hence, we would predict that forams and diatoms should sort similarly in a water column full of sediment. Also, many forams can swim just like diatoms.  In a catastrophic flood forams and diatoms in the same waters would both try to swim for their lives to escape the flood water and the sediment raining down on them.

What does the data (our observational data) reveal to us?  Forams are found in thousands of feet of rock for which NO diatoms have ever been found.   On the other hand forams are found in all rocks that diatoms are found.  Swimming type forams are found all the way down to the Cambrian Period and are not sorted by swimming vs non-swimming in the geological column.  Is it plausible that diatoms were just far superior swimmers than forams and so managed to avoid being trapped in tens of thousands of feet of sediments?

I haven’t done the study but I would be surprised if you took billions of forams and diatoms and mixed them in a 100 foot long tube with sediment and allowed the sediments to settle that the diatoms would end up in only the top 1/3 of the sedimentary column. The overlap in size, shape and density of forams and diatoms would make such as sorting impossible by any principle of sorting that we know of today.   The forams and diatoms do exhibit patterns of species in the fossil record.  Species in one layer of rock around the world may be unknown to any other layer (see figure below). But this is not due to sorting. Species above that layer that are different are often so similar in morphology that separation by sorting would be impossible. The more likely explanation for the observed changes in the fossil record are that species have been replaced by similar species over time.

In summary, the fossil records of forams and diatoms are very different.  Forams are found by the billions of billions in rocks where no diatoms are found.  Above the Jurassic diatoms are found in uncountable numbers.  Even if there were a mechanism that could sort diatoms from forams at all that mechanism would have had to have been 100% efficient to have created the contrast in fossil patterns we observe today.  The young earth model fails miserably to account for diatom distribution and when other groups of organisms are compared to them the failures become even more evident.

Distribution of some forams through time. From: BouDagher-Fadel, Marcelle K. Evolution and geological significance of larger benthic foraminifera. Vol. 21. Elsevier, 2008.
Distribution of some forams through time. From: BouDagher-Fadel, Marcelle K. Evolution and geological significance of larger benthic foraminifera. Vol. 21. Elsevier, 2008.

17 thoughts on “Forams and Diatoms: Testing Young Earth Flood Geology Hypotheses

  1. I recall Glenn Morton reporting that there are no forams prior to the Jurassic. Maybe he was writing about some specific taxa.
    Top of columnRecent           45 extant species         0 extinct species
    Pleistocene     44 extant species         8 extinct species
    Pliocene         42 extant species        42 extinct species
    Miocene          22 extant species       143 extinct species
    Oligocene        3 extant species       114 extinct species
    Eocene           0 extant species        133 extinct species
    Paleocene       0 extant species        72 extinct species
    Cretaceous      0 extant species        152 extinct species
    Jurassic         0 extant species        14 extinct species
    Triassic         0 species                0 species
    Permian          0 species                 0 species
    Pennsylvanian    0 species                 0 species
    Mississippian    0 species                 0 species
    Devonian         0 species                0 species
    Silurian         0 species                 0 species
    Cambrian         0 species                0 species


    1. I am sure I have read that from him as well but he must have been talking about one of the two large groups of forams. Its seems that forams as index fossils are well established back into the Jurassic but forams are known back to the Cambrian though the Cambrian ones made agglutinated cases (I’m not sure about how exclusive that was). Now that I look at your list again that is only a couple hundred species but most of taxonomic sites for forams suggest on the order of 10,000 named species living and extinct so he must be looking as forams sensu stricto.

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      1. Here’s what he wrote in one essay:
        “We should find the survivors of the flood in all sedimentary layers because they were able to survive through the entire depositional/catastrophic event. Well, what do we find? Something entirely different. Planktonic foraminifera don’t even show up in the record until the Jurassic.”

        So maybe planktonic foraminifera fit his description.


        1. I’ll have to take a look at that again. Formans can be either benthic or planktonic. I thought there were also planktonic forms earlier but I’m no expert. Even if there weren’t there were benthic forms, diatoms also are not all planktonic and so there would be both throughout the fossil record had there been a single even that caused the geological column.


  2. Here’s that link:

    The pattern of where diatoms are and are not found (according to layers) appears to falsify claims made by YEC flood geologists. So why should the flood explanation still ‘work’ for forams.

    Incidentally UK YEC Paul Garner some years ago – and perhaps in a forthcoming talk on the ‘ice age’ due in March too – tried to use forams as part of his ‘evidence’ for a post-flood ‘ice age’ (partly generated by abnormally warm seas ‘post-flood’ except that the very warm seas were back in the tertiary period I think). My post here last night made additional comments on his rather unbiblical claims:


    1. Whenever they consider geological or biological matters the bloggers at Worldview Warriors (see my link yesterday) make dogmatic statements against science without properly addressing the claims made by mainstream ie not YEC scientists and how they are arrived at. And of course they do not have detailed theories or hypotheses that lead to detailed predictions that can successfully pass tests and stand the test of time.

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  3. I’ve been trying to remember where I first heard about forams vs. diatoms; it may have been from this book: “Neglect of Geologic Data…” by Daniel Wonderly. In the chapter on the “ecological zoning” hypothesis, he mentions another micro-fossil called radiolarians, which are about the same size as diatoms, have the same kind of shell, but are found throughout the fossil record.
    I’ve never seen a whole lot of engagement with Wonderly’s arguments by YECS. A search of the 3 major sites shows less than 10 references each, mostly dealing with coral growth or chalk beds.


  4. “Worldview Warriors” – and there’s the problem. Are they preaching a worldview or a savior?

    Do these critters have gas bubbles/sacs to keep them suspended? If you drop a bunch of small glass beads or grains of sand in a beaker of water, they sink like a stone.


    1. Most do not have flagella to swim but many can regulate buoyancy by production of lipids. However, they are so small that even small amounts of circulation in the water will keep them suspended. They are found in great abundance in the ocean were upwelling is occurring.


  5. Preston
    I’ll let you be the judge of what the bloggers Charlie Wolcott and Steve Risner at least at that site are mainly preaching:
    (there are 103 comments to click on underneath – many of my earlier replies to the accusations from Wolcott against myself were censored even though I have not broken any stated rules for commenting on the blogs at ‘Worldview Warriors’)

    Incidentally – to stay on-topic – the blogger GeoChristian has flagged this and the previous NH blog post at his Facebook page (accessible at the current second post at



  6. This is one of the best reasons to reject Flood geology outright. I’m really glad you covered it in detail.

    Regarding the comments above, planktonic foraminifera go back at least to the Neoproterozoic. I think that Morton should have been referring to diatoms; perhaps it was unintentional.


    1. Thanks, I knew about diatoms and had read Morton’s stuff long ago but it wasn’t until I started thinking about them for my next presentation (I as going to use them as an example of tremendous by underappreciated diversity in today’s flora much less the past flora) that their distribution in the fossil really hit me as being an exceptionally clear example of a problem for flood geology.


  7. are Foram and/or diatoms found in coconino sandstone of the Grand Canyon? Does the inclusion or lack of the above mean anything?


  8. Hi. Just wondering about who you are and your motivation for debunking young earth creationists. Asking if you have a bias is a legitimate question, incidentally. Some of your commentators are obviously hostile to YECs and the church. I stumbled upon your site researching forams and became curious. So, would you please share your qualifications and what brought you to starting this website?


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