Diatoms: Tiny Organisms Highlight Big Inconsistencies in Young Earth Flood Geology Models

While reading literature by young earth creationists, I am frequently struck by how often authors seeking to resolve one problem are unaware of how many new problems their explanations create. I recently read an article by Dr. Snelling of Answers in Genesis in which he provides a young-earth hypothesis for the recent origin of oil and coal.  He has a big problem to solve:  how to account for the vast quantities of oil and coal found in rocks that he claims were laid down rapidly during a global flood just 4350 years ago.  What caught my attention was this section of the concluding paragraph:

Vast forests grew on land and water surfaces in the pre-Flood world, and the oceans teemed with diatoms and other tiny photosynthetic organisms. Then during the global Flood cataclysm, the forests were uprooted and swept away. Huge masses of plant debris were rapidly buried in what thus became coal beds, and organic matter generally was dispersed throughout the many catastrophically deposited sedimentary rock layers. The coal beds and fossiliferous sediment layers became deeply buried as the Flood progressed.  From: The Origin of Oil

Dr. Snelling is a geochemical geologist by training and so he may not know much about the fossil record or the ecology of aquatic photosynthetic organisms but one would hope that his article was evaluated by his peers prior to publication.

GeologicTimeScale-DiatomsWhat  are the problems here?   First, I have highlighted the phrase “oceans teemed with diatoms” for a reason.  I’ve written about the huge problem that these tiny diatoms raise for flood geology and the Young Earth paradigm (See. Life in a Glass House: Diatoms Shatter Young Earth Flood Geology).  In that article, I talked about glass-house diatoms and where they appear in the fossil record.  The key observation, or fact, that we can ascertain from the fossil record is that they don’t appear in the fossil record until the late Jurassic Period (See figure to the right).   Because they produce a glass case around their cells we would expect many of them to be well-preserved in the fossil record and thus the absence of any evidence of their existence before the Jurassic, or more than 50% of the fossil record, is very significant and cannot be ignored by any model of Earth’s history.

The Flood geology hypothesis of Earth’s history proposes that the rock of the Ordovician through the Cretaceous and maybe even all the way to Neogene were deposited all within a year or few years.  If pre-Flood oceans “teemed with diatoms” then the Flood geology model would predict that diatoms should be found throughout all the layers of rock.  Yet, we have billions of tons of coal seams that lack diatoms, we have complete ecosystem of aquatic organisms preserved from the Silurian and Devonian and in those same times there are countless trillions of single-celled organisms preserved but no diatoms.  See my post on the forams and diatoms on the fossil record  for more (Forams and Diatoms: Testing the Young Earth Flood Geology Hypothesis).

Several species of diatoms viewed under a light microscope. It is the glass housing that forms the shapes that you see here.
Several species of diatoms viewed under a light microscope. It is the glass housing that forms the shapes that you see here.

Simple observational science should have informed Dr. Snelling that an appeal to an ocean full of diatoms in the pre-Flood world directly contradicts the observed geological record.  The lack of diatoms in more than 50% of the geological column is a serious, and still unaddressed, problem for the young earth model.

The second problem here is not as obvious but just as significant for the flood geology model.  Dr. Snelling is not the only one to appeal to massive floating forests on the worlds oceans in the pre-Flood ecosystem. Many other YECs have appealed to huge floating forests covering much of the pre-flood oceans.  There is no biblical evidence of such a forest and there is not direct observation of these forests so why the assumption and even insistence that this was part of that antediluvian world?  Because of the massive deposits of coal in the geological column.   YECs accept, based on the evidence from historical science I might add, that coal really is the remains of plants and because there are trillions of tons of coal all that coal must represent plants that were alive at the time of the initiation of a global flood and then buried during that year.  It doesn’t take much more than elementary school math to figure out that all that trillions of tons of coal represents an awful lot of trees. So many in fact, that the antediluvian Earth must have been nearly covered in forests.  Thus, the young earth model must find a place to put those trees.  They couldn’t all have grown on land so YECs propose huge floating mats of vegetation covering large portions of the less-salty pre-Flood oceans.

What’s the problem here?  There are many, but sticking to the diatom story, diatoms are photosynthetic organisms.  This means they require sunlight in order to produce their own sugars for food.   Today diatoms produce as much as 25% of all the global oxygen produced by photosynthesis.   How could the oceans be “teeming with diatoms and other photosynthetic organisms” if much of the ocean was covered by a floating forest blocking the sunlight necessary for diatoms survival?  Both can’t be true to any meaningful extent since one would have excluded the other.

Today we think of the fossil record as dinosaur bones but by far most of the fossils in the fossil record are from organisms that lived in the ocean.  Where do organisms that live in the ocean get their energy? They get it from the sun?  Even if you are a shark, you eat fish that ate smaller fish that zooplankton (non-photosynthetic organisms) that ate phytoplankton which are photosynthetic.  All the energy of that supports life in the ocean came from the sun and much of the oxygen the fish need comes from photosynthesis as well.  If much of the ocean were not exposed to the sun, then the entire ecosystem of the ocean would collapse.  A floating forest above might create some detritus that would provide some food to non-photosynthetic organisms but the lack of sunlight would have far-reaching effects that YECs seem to either be ignoring or are simply ignorant of.


Addendum:  In my first article about diatoms I referenced another article about diatoms from Answers in Genesis that bears repeating here. Here, Don DeYoung in an article entitled:  Diatoms: Life in Glass Houses states:

Diatoms are said by evolutionists to have originated 180 million years ago, yet their fossils reveal the same intricate designs as living examples. In truth, they first appeared during Creation Week just thousands of years ago, and they have not improved over time.

DeYoung is aware that they are only found from the Jurassic Period to the present but doesn’t consider the implications of this.  Instead he just declares that they they first appeared “during Creation Week.”  But if there were “untold trillions” of these creatures how then did they not get preserved from the Creation Week through to the Flood and then only in the very upper portion of the presumed Flood rocks?  Quite a mystery that I have yet to hear any YEC even attempt to answer.

23 thoughts on “Diatoms: Tiny Organisms Highlight Big Inconsistencies in Young Earth Flood Geology Models

  1. Some YECs are so ignorant of science that they only start thinking there might be a ‘problem’ if a YEC website mentions the issue (or a sceptic mentions it to them). But if the YEC websites can dismiss the ‘problem’ job done. The same YECs won’t notice the new problem. Well, not at the time anyway.


  2. “Dr. Snelling is not the only one to appeal to massive floating forests on the worlds oceans in the pre-Flood ecosystem.” When I read I couldn’t believe it. No one could possibly claim that. The Natural Historian must be confused, I thought, Snelling must be talking about logs floating on the ocean after they were uprooted by the flood. But no, going back and re-reading Snelling Carefully, that is exactly what he is claiming: “Vast forests grew on land and water surfaces in the pre-Flood world.” I thought I was thoroughly familiar with Creationist literature, but I must have been editing this tidbit out every time I ran across it, unconsciously correcting it to something not quite so insane.


  3. Actually, if these diatoms are not known until the Jurassic then they are only known from about 5% of the entire fossil record


    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I was being quite conservative and using the depth of what most people see as the typical geological column but in terms of time definitely 5%. The average person will think of Jurassic rocks as being fairly deep but of course their position in the geological column varies tremendously around the world. However, I may amend my post to reflect the even more dramatic disparity of their appearance. Your comment made me realize that the typical image of the geological column like my little cartoon probably does a bad job of reflecting the true depth of the column especially in time since it cuts off a huge amount of time from the Pre-Cambrian. I should work on adding that so that the relative recentness of the more familiar periods of the general public stand in more contrast to the depth of time.


  4. Just a thought, or question, as the order of deposition seems to be the issue, do these Diatoms exist at all depths in the ocean, or at specific depths?


    1. Diatoms are photosynthetic and therefore are found alive in the upper portion of the water column. However, hundreds of trillions die each day and many will fall into the depths. Irregardless, a global flood would mix the water and diatoms would be deposited in all rocks at all levels.


      1. Not necessarily – a rapidly deposited layer of sediment from a mudslide, terrestrial erosion etc could very well contain no Diatoms.


  5. Mr Natural Historian, I also have just done some quick reading of articles on the CMI site regarding coal formation. Some original work done by Joachim Scheven studying the root structures of plants in certain coal seams very strongly indicates that they were in fact growing in an aquatic environment, which lends itself to the floating forest idea. I’m surprised you make no mention of this in your article.


    1. Not surprising really. That work is quite derivative rather than being original. Some more reading will lead you to find that coal is formed under a number of conditions. But the point of the article is not so much that a floating forest is impossible but that even if it were true, it contradicts other aspects of flood geology. Diatoms do not grown under a floating forests. I have a floating forest not more than 10 miles from were I am right now. I can walk in that forest and underneath there is a large pond with 40 or more feet of water. There are no diatoms in that water and there is little life in that water because there are few sources of energy for life there. The fossils of the geological column are mostly marine organisms and for that life to thrive there would have to be access to the sun.


      1. Okay, though you seemed to be saying that there was no basis for the idea that floating forests could have contributed in any significant way to the worlds coal deposits. Yes I’m aware that coal can form from other sources. I also read an article looking at the Latrobe Valley Coal measures. Interestingly there is an extremely distinct separation between the coal and the fine clay it sits on – no root penetration etc, like it had been washed into place. And many different tree species have been identified that for the most part still grow locally today.

        But back to the rafts, your article seems to infer that it’s an all or nothing scenario however I don’t get that. Maybe there were a significant number of forests floating around pre-flood. However the ocean is a big place (even considering the unknown state of the face of the earth pre-flood), with plenty of room for Diatom colonies etc to exist in other areas.


  6. Did anybody mention who started the “floating forest of the pre-flood world” argument? Was Snelling the very first?

    I can’t help but notice that most Young Earth Creationist arguments are handled in isolation, one at a time. When they do deal with list of arguments from the other side, they entirely ignore the enormous elephants in the room and they keep things extremely simple. It gets very hard to ignore the appearance of deliberate dishonesty, just as with Snelling. (It is hard to imagine somebody like Jason Lisle getting through a PhD program and then being unaware of the huge holes in the barn doors that he keeps driving through. I don’t see how the “billions of dead things proves the global flood” could do anything but embarrass a real scientist. It is such lame logic. It is almost as lame as “Were you there?”)

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    1. I’m not sure about the origin the floating forest. Could be Morris, I will try to find out sometime. It just occurred to me that there are two floating forests argument. One is for a pre-flood forest and another is the floating log-mat post-flood which has more recently been used to explain how animals might have been transported to Australia after the flood. Either way, I was thinking, if animals could survive on a floating log mat all the way across the ocean to Australia what would have prevented them from surviving the Flood? This is yet another case of where YECs attempt to solve a problem creates new problems.


      1. Yes, I was very familiar with the floating-log-mat conveyor belt theory explaining how post-flood animals got to Australia—but I somehow had missed the pre-flood floating forest idea. (And that amazes me. I was a YEC speaker/debater back in the 1960’s and 1970’s and had considerable dealings with Morris and Whitcomb; yet, I somehow missed this one.)

        However, my all-time favorite method of post-flood animal “dispersal” is the exploding volcano hypothesis. How somebody can manage to keep a straight face while pretending that ark-cargo animals were shot through the air like intercontinental ballistic missiles (or like clowns in giant cannons at the circus?) is TRULY a miracle in the Biblical sense.

        Sometimes I wonder: Is there a point where the ridiculous inanity becomes so overwhelming that we stop pretending that bizarre, evidence-denying, Young Earth Creationist, puerile nonsense needs endless patient engagement, and we respond instead with the stern rebuke of the Biblical proverbs—and identify the folly of a fool?

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        1. I’m very familiar with most Biblical creation models/theories, but I’ve never heard of this ‘exploding volcano’ dispersal method. Could you provide some links?


          1. “Could you provide some links?” Here’s one:

            I can’t resist this Conservapedia explanation:

            “The Post-Noachian Flood Volcano Theory comes from the example of Krakatoa, which, in 1883, erupted and destroyed most of the island, thus remaining lifeless for many years. Still the same life that was there before the eruption eventually came back. It is possible that volcanoes in the Mount Ararat region were able to transport the smaller animals over much greater distances than the animals could get just by walking.”

            You see, life recolonized the Krakatoa area. So volcanoes must have transported them off the island and then back again! How do you like that for “logic”?

            What I love most about the Conservapedia paragraph above is that it is following by the footnote notation: “Biblical Citation Needed.” Ya think?!

            I remember watching a video of some lecture where the “creation scientist” was explaining this volcano-animal-transport theory. I don’t have a link.


            1. Hi Professor Tertius – that just links to someone else saying that Young Earth Creationists have proposed this model. Could you tell me which of the major Creationist ministries support or endorse this ie CMI, AiG etc?


              1. Hi Anthony, this is definitely just a fringe YEC thing. As I written about before, even fringe movements themselves have fringe elements. I’ve seen the volcano tossing theory proposed on FB comments several times and have seen it in a YouTube video but I can’t put my finger on exactly where that was. But, I’m sure that AiG and CMI would not promote this view. I don’t know what the source is but the idea is definitely floating around but not common.


  7. Postscript: As to proponents of that Post-Noachian Flood Volcano Theory, I vaguely recall some British lecturer who described it in the same sermon (??) where he talked about how dinosaurs were, literally, fire-breathing dragons. I don’t recall if that was the same fellow who said that the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere was so very high at that time such that dinosaurs which exhaled rapidly produced so much friction in their respiratory tract that flames would result. (That speaker seemed to think that oxygen is flammable.)

    Considering that he was a Young Earth Creationist who thought dinosaurs were contemporaneous with humans, I’ve wondered if people and all other animals had the same sort of problem with “spontaneous heartburn”. And I wonder what he thought about the ability of people to survive in a super-high-oxygen atmosphere. Imagine starting a campfire to start cooking one’s Stegosaurus burger and having the firewood incinerate and explode almost instantly. (Did that lecturer ever take high school chemistry?)

    I’m amazed that Dr. Todd Wood seems to be about the only well-known Young Earth Creationist who appears to be concerned about the tendency of YECism to spawn super-looney ideas. Of course, he’s kind of pushed to the margins and ignored by his colleagues because he infuriates the rank-and-file anti-evolution traditionalists who know of him. He’s lost his institutional funding and constantly has to scramble to keep his research projects going. (He’s one of the very very few Young Earth Creationists who appears to actually pursue research and not just propaganda.) He surely must grimace at the “loon factor” in today’s YEC origins industry though he clearly avoids naming names and getting too specific about the craziest ideas.


  8. Great article! I’ve been meaning to comment on it for some time. While the arguments are valid and strong, similar and equally devastating arguments against YE/Flood Geology can be made with other microfossil groups as well, including foraminifera and pollen. Pollen does not appear in any significant numbers or varieties until the Cretaceous, even though according to the YEC paradigm, thousands of species of angiosperms (flowering plants) would have been living at the time of the Flood, and thus zillions of pollen grains should be found throughout the fossil record. Indeed, as with modern pollen, pre-Flood pollen would have been ubiquitous throughout the atmosphere, soil, and water over much of the earth. Pollen also fossilizes very readily, as evidenced by abundant pollen of thousands of different plant genera from late Mesozoic to modern times. So there is no reasonable explanation for why pollen from many angiosperm genera should not be similarly abundant n the Paleozoic and Precambrian strata, where it’s entirely absent. The few alleged Triassic specimens do not begin to solve the problem, since it would still leave countless zillions of pollen grains from many thousands of genera inexplicably missing from a huge portion of the fossil record, including the entire Paleozoic Era.
    Foram-like protists lacking tests (shells) appear as early as the Cambrian, but shelled forms do not appear until the Carboniferous. This too is very problematic for YECs, since like pollen and diatoms, formams of all types should be common throughout the fossil record if most fossils were laid down by Noah’s Flood a few thousand years ago. Indeed, modern formams live in marine, brackish, and freshwater waters, and at various depths. Zillions rain down to ocean and lake bottoms every day. A violent global flood would have spread them even more far and wide, and deposited them ‘high and low.’ Furthermore, from the time forms first occur, they show patterns of change through time. Not only do the common YEC explanations for fossil succession (ecological zonation, hydrologic sorting, and differential escape abilities) not explain this, but they only make the problem worse. By all of these criteria, we would expect countless zillions of forams, diatoms, and pollen, of thousands of genera of each, of to be abundant throughout the fossil record, rather than far different patterns we actually find.
    I encourage mainstream scientists to emphasize these multiple lines of microfossil evidence against YECism and Flood Geology, since they seem as powerful as they are readily grasped. So far, most YECs seem to have offered no plausible explanation for them, if they are even aware of the problems. Curiously (or perhaps not), the YEC-promoting site CreationWiki has entry on diatoms and foraminifera, which explain what they are, where they live, how they reproduce, etc, with no mention of their problematic geologic distributions.

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