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.
What 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).
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.