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 houses in the beginning just a few thousand years ago. How did diatoms manage to escape 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?There is no known mechanism by which these tiny milimeter-sized objects could have escaped deposition only to find themselves all deposited at a later time. One highly speculative hypothesis could be proposed that most microscopic organisms could have swum during the flood and thus resisted deposition early on during the flood year only to finally expire due to fatigue at a later stage which we recognize as Jurassic rocks and younger.
Such a hypothesis would likely be proposed simply to act as if there is a possible explanation. But we need not think that proposing 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 commenter to my previous article alerted me to a possible test of this hypothesis. The question I was asked was: how far back in the fossil record to we find foraminferans which I will refer to as forams.
Forams are a group of heterotrophic amoeboid microorganisms. Heterotrophic means they must consume food rather than able to make their own food as plants and diatoms can 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 similar in size to many diatoms. Like diatoms, when the cells die and decay they leave their shells, called tests, to fall to the floor of the ocean or lake they live in. These foram tests can build up to great densities and can be significant component of beach “sand” today.
The most important thing to know about forams is that although similar in size, shape and even density to diatoms, forams are found nearly throughout 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.
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 hypothesis
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. Furthermore we would predict that forams and diatoms would 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) show 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 is plausible that diatoms were just far superior swimmers than forams and so managed to avoid being trapped in 10s 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 1000 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 separating by sorting would be impossible. The more likely explanation for the 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. A 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.