Quadrillions, Quintillions and Beyond: The Vast Fossil Record Refutes the Flood Geology Hypothesis

Young earth creationists greatly underestimate the fossil record when they tell their audiences that there are “billions of dead things buried in rock layers.”  The point, that there are huge numbers of fossils, is correct but billions is such an underwhelming number compared to the reality of the fossil record.  The vastness of the fossil record was driven home to me – yet again – while standing among millions of fossils on a barren hillside in remote Wyoming this summer (see: Coming to Grips of the Absurdity of the Flood Geology Model of Fossil Origins).

Recently I read several research papers about the Sundance Formation in Wyoming. It was this very rock formation I had hiked through and witnessed huge numbers of fossils this summer.  In the discussion section of one of these papers (1) the authors made the following observation about the fossil belemnites (extinct squid-like animals) found there:

… the Redwater Shale is likewise dominated by the belemnoid Pachyteuthis densus.  The density of these is staggering: assuming a conservative density of 100 individuals per square meter, there are over one quadrillion belemnoids preserved just in the Bighorn Basin portion of the Sundance Sea, and a similar number of oysters.

General area covered by the Sundance Sea in the Middle Jurassic.
General area covered by the Sundance Sea in the Middle Jurassic.

You read that right, over 1 quadrillion – or >1,000,000,000,000,000 – of a single species of belemnite.  As they state, this is a conservative estimate and I believe it after having observed belemnites in much greater abundance at multiple locations and considering that the deposits that contain them are tens or even a hundred feet thick.  It would not be surprising if this is a 10 fold underestimate of the number of belemnites.   And there are at least as many Gryphaea oysters and as many again of other bivalves shells.  It would be safe to say that there are quadrillions upon quadrillions of fossils in the Bighorn Basin.

Significantly, this is only an estimate for the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. This region is just a small portion of the entire geographical range in which these fossils can be found.  The same belemnites are found throughout the Jurassic Sundance Formation which represents sedimentary deposits in a huge shallow sea extending from what is Alaska today all the way down into Colorado.  Beleminites are found in abundance through much of the Sundance Formation so it would not be surprising at all if the entire Sundance Formation could have 100 quadrillion (100,000,000,000,000,000)  or more belemnite fossils.

That is a lot of fossils!  Consider also what they represent.  Many of the preserved rostrums of these belemnites are two inches or longer and the rostrum was only a small portion at the distal end of the extinct squid-like creature.  Therefore quadrillions of squid from 1 to 2 feet long must have existed in the past.

I said in my last post (Wyoming Fossils: Coming to Grips with the Absurdity of the Flood Model of the Origin of Fossils)  that seeing these fossils makes the absurdity of the recent global flood model of young earth creationism very clear.  In their interpretation of the fossil record all 100 quadrillion individuals of this species of belemnite must have all been alive at the same time in the pre-flood ocean.  Somehow thousands of feet of sediments were deposited in this region via a global and chaotic flood without preserving any of these animals then suddenly within a few dozen feet of sediments they were all trapped and preserved across thousands of square miles leaving no trace of survivors in sediments laid down later in the global Flood or since the Flood.   It should be apparent that the Flood narrative is utterly void of explanatory power and finds no support in the observed fossil record.  Paleontologists can hardly be blamed for their utter disbelief when told that all these fossils were formed in the space of a few days or few weeks.

If that weren’t enough let’s think about these fossils a bit further.  The surface of the earth is approximately 5.5 Quadrillion square feet (197 million square miles).  If there were only 1 quadrillion belemnites alive in the pre-Flood oceans and the entire surface of the earth were covered with water then there would a one belemnite squid per every 5.5 square feet.  That hardly leaves room for quadrillions of small fish, millions of sea reptiles, septillions of clams and other crustaceans and surely quadrillions of additional individuals of other belemnite species not to mention the quintillions of ammonites that are in the fossil record.   Even this is an underestimate of the density of fossils since there were many more belemnites and the earth’s surface has always had a significant portion of dry land and so not available to ocean creatures.

Don't worry I left a few for everyone else. I collected just a few of the quadrillions of belemnite fossils that are contained in rocks of the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. These were collected on our hike on Sheep Mountain. (image: Joel Duff)
Don’t worry I left some behind for everyone else. I collected just a few of the quadrillions of belemnite fossils that are contained in rocks of the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. These were collected on our hike on Sheep Mountain.  I forgot to put a scale bar on this image. The longest shown here are about 4 inches long.  (image: Joel Duff)

Let’s try out 100 quadrillion belemnites in an Earth that is half covered with water.  That would be 100 quadrillion divided by 2.25 quadrillion square feet or a total of 44.4 belemnites per square foot!  Do we need to continue?  Do we need to talk about a quintillion belemnites from deposits in other places in the world!?  What about the 100s of quadrillions of clams and other bivalves from the Sundance Sea? If we spread these fossils out over the entire earth they would account for wellover 100 fossils per square foot.  These numbers necessitate that either they are conspiratorial vast overestimates or the recent global flood narrative of YECs is wrong.  Having observed masses of these fossils I wouldn’t bet on the former.

The vastness of the fossil record absolutely defies the flood geology narrative.  Ken Ham far underestimates the fossil record even as he tries to wow his audiences by telling them that billions of fossils are found buried in rock layers.  He should be saying quintillions times quintillions of fossils are found buried in rock layers.

So, is there a more reasonable way to fit quadrillions and quadrillions of belemnites into Earth’s history? Yes, and it isn’t difficult.  If this species persisted over millions of years then only a few million would need to be alive during any one year. This is a far more realistic number of organisms that would have also been living in community with dozens of other species of marine animals.  The fossil record represents the accumulation of rostrums of belemnites over time as they are eaten by predators and left on the sea floor.

Also consider that the rostrums are the only readily preserved parts of a these extinct squid under typical conditions in a shallow sea. Had these squid been suddenly trapped in a sudden global catastrophe we would expect to find remains of the other portions of the squid bodies.  Yet, tentacles and other soft-part preservation is exceedingly rare accounting for fewer than 0.00000000001% of belemnite fossils.

More strikingly, there is a second hard part of the internal skeleton of belemnites that includes the species found here.  It is called the phragmocene and sat just inside front of the rostrum. Had living belemnites been buried alive there should be one phragmocene per each rostrum in the fossil record.  However, phragmocenes in the fossil record are very rare compared to the rostrum.  One plausible explanation for this observed disparity in the fossil record is that the phragmocene would have been detached from the rostrum if eaten by a sea reptile or other predator. In addition, if it was not preserved quickly the phragmocene was more susceptible to being dissolved or decayed in the shallow sea waters than was the much harder rostrum.  So here again we find the pattern of fossil preservation favors a shallow sea with gradual accumulation of rostrums over long periods of time vs a global flood which should have preserved the entire organism.


Belemnite fragments exposed on the surface of a hill near the Red Gulch dinosaur trackway in the Bighorn Basin (Wyoming). The larger belemnites are over 2 inches long.


Here is a portion of an ant hill on a hillside where we found belemnites.  If you click on this picture and look closely you will see that most of these small pebbles that the red harvester ants have collected are tiny belemnites or fragments of them.  I count 135 belemnites in what amounts to about 1/4 of a square foot.  Considering that most of these ant mounds are several square feet in size and are at least inches deep there are potentially tens of thousands of belemnites in some of these ant mounds.  These fossils represent baby squid that either died naturally or more likely were eaten by the thousands by sea reptiles and their tiny rostrums vomited up or passed through the intestines to fall to the sea floor.

It isn’t just the sheer number of these fossils but also the very limited distribution of them in the fossil record that is so challenging to the single global flood narrative of fossil origins. Why would quadrillions of tiny squid be found deposited with squid that are much larger?  Why aren’t these fossils found throughout the geological column?  Young-earth flood geology has no reasonable answers to these questions.

(1) Mcmullen, Sharon K., Steven M. Holland, and F. ROBIN O’KEEFE. “The occurrence of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils in a sequence stratigraphic context: the Jurassic Sundance Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA.”Palaios 29, no. 6 (2014): 277-294.

15 thoughts on “Quadrillions, Quintillions and Beyond: The Vast Fossil Record Refutes the Flood Geology Hypothesis

    1. I’m pretty sure we’re just taking it all out of context, and if we look at all the fossils then we’ll see that it supports the global flood idea. But we just don’t have all the fossils yet. The evidence will come any day now. You’ll see.


  1. Excellent article. Yes, they don’t seem to catch on to those huge numbers of fossils which refute their pseudo-science nonsense.

    For years I’ve been asking Young Earth Creationists to explain to me how the 15,000 alternating shale-sandstone layers of the Haymond Formation could EACH have its own complex self-contained networks of animal tunnels and burrows when so many YECs claim that the vast majority of the “geologic column” was deposited in a single year of the Noahic Flood. Did the animals dig while wearing scuba gear as each day’s flooding brought several new strata in each 24 hour period?

    Some years ago I posted on a Young Earth Creationist forum my announcement and solicitation of nominations for an endowed chair for a first-ever academic position, “The Kruger-Dunning Professor of Young Earth Creationist Studies.” It was to be sponsored by a generous grant from The Tota Leigh & N. Tyre Lee Witt-Howett Foundation under the auspices of The Juan Bigg-Hopi Family Trust.

    Several “Hallelujah!” types of responses were posted within minutes, and I received at least a half dozen apparently serious inquiries by email before my announcement was suddenly deleted from the forum without comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “More strikingly, there is a second hard part of the internal skeleton of belemnites THAT includes the species found here.”

    I think this sentence needs the ‘THAT’ in all caps.

    Great stuff as usual Joel. I saw a book review a few days ago at the Science Based Medicine blog in which the book author used some neologisms. One, at least, deserves to be a real word, “procrustination.” It means stretching, cutting off or otherwise distorting the evidence so it fits the preconceived theory, based of course on the mythical Procrustes who either stretched his victims on the rack or cut off part of their bodies to fit into a bed. I think you see the obvious application.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How might one calculate the heat released by the simple cellular respiration of all the fossilized animals? If we just count those which are actually preserved, I suspect even then we’d have another “YECs melt the earth” scenario.


    1. Interesting thought. I’m not sure how to do it but I suspect you might be right. You also had me thinking, what about carbon sequestration. If all these organisms where alive at one moment in time how much carbon – and oxygen for that matter – would have been sequestered in living things? Would there even be enough carbon left for more organisms to grow?


      1. The calculations would be something like this:
        Total biomass of fossils as living organisms x average heat released per kilogram per year of respiring cells x 1500 years (creation until the flood) = average joules per year.


  4. And the depth of the water doesn’t count for anything? Why’d you leave that out? Multiply 5.5×10^15 square feet by 12,500 feet (avg ocean depth) and you get 69 Quintillion cubic feet. So if there were 1×10^15 belemnites, that would be 69,000 cubic feet for each.


    1. Hi, I’d leave it out because it really isn’t biologically relevant. No organism lives at all levels in the ocean. Belemnites would only live where there was prey too feed upon. But just imagine if they did live in all the oceans at all depths, there were would we expect to find them in a global flood rock record. In far more places than they are found. So even in the flood scenario the evidence suggests they lived in local communities. One would also have to consider that if the YEC proposal that coal is the product of massive floating forests that existed before the Flood and covered much of the pre-flood ocean that there wouldn’t be any Belemnites in those waters because they would have no food sources. The places that these fossils are found all suggest – via the communities of other things they are found with and the chemistry of the rock – they lived in waters in shallow inland seas not the open ocean.


    2. “And the depth of the water doesn’t count for anything?” Correct. It doesn’t count for much because you are simply taking the very limited solar energy available per square meter of the earth’s surface ( which powers biological life) and assuming that additional water depth somehow helps.

      “Why’d you leave that out?” Because it is largely irrelevant. Let’s suppose that all of the earth has been equally suited for the aquatic organisms in question (which is not the case) and that such organisms can thrive in the total darkness which exists more than a few meters below the surface of the water (which they do not.) You can figure on average about 164 watts of solar power per square meter over a 24 hour day—and a huge percentage of that energy does nothing to propel photosynthesis.

      Of course, I’ve not even broached a wide variety of metabolic and ecological factors which would further limit aquatic life. Also keep in mind that significant areas of the world’s ocean acreage is known as “aquatic desert” where only limited biological systems can flourish.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Did McMullen, Holland, & O’Keefe count all 1,000,000,000,000,000 belemnites? Or did they at least confirm that the belemnites are distributed with a more or less uniform density throughout the whole deposit so that their projection from their small sample is valid? Seems like there are some big assumptions going on.


    1. No one has counted them all. There are assumptions which is why conservative values are used. I haven’t counted all the bacteria that live on my skin or in my intestines but by taking samples from a few places and considering that all places in my body are not equally populated one can be fairly certain there are a trillion bacteria living in and on the average person. Could be a lot more but we can figure numbers to some degree of confidence. There density is certainly not uniform through the whole deposit and that so a low thickness is used to get a lower estimate. But, if someone wishes to assume that some weird distribution of fossils is at play here and even the conservative estimates are way wrong there is still the problem of the limited distribution of at least trillions of fossils to contend with.


      1. So it gets down to uncertainties in models and supposed conservatism. I don’t see a slam dunk here, eliminating the Flood Model. Also, YEC scientists are currently working on the limited distribution. My point is that there are hypotheses being worked on. Let them play out.


        1. “So it gets down to uncertainties in models and supposed conservatism.” No. You can’t side-step the problems by appealing to “uncertainties in models” and pretending that “supposed conservatism” has been applied. “Also, YEC scientists are currently working on the limited distribution.” I’d be interested in the names of those YEC scientists who are actively researching and publishing on that topic. (Writing apologetic articles for AIG and CRI does not constitute actual scientific research and peer-reviewed publication.)

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  6. Hi Joel,

    I am not a scientist, but nevertheless I have a few issues with what you are saying. Initially I thought you raised some good points in your articles, but I can see a few problems.

    Firstly, perhaps a factual error, or a simple missunderstanding. There is nothing in the biblical account that describes a flood that lasted only a few days, or a few weeks. The global flood, from start to finish, was recorded to have lasted for one year and ten days. (My guess is that you were led to believe this due to the fact that in the first stage of the flood it rained for 40 days and nights.)

    You don’t say that much that directly indicates what you believe the nature is of the flood that you think creationists believe in, and that you seem to be opposed to, so don’t take this as part of my criticism of what you are saying, but I think it should also be pointed out that there is no claim made in the Bible, or by creationists that the water provided in the flood was comprised of the 40 days of rainwater described in these passages.

    But more to the point, and what I consider to be a much greater problem, is the fact that you are making a number of fundamental assumptions and holding them out as if they were univerally agreed-apon facts. Someone doing so cannot possibly claim to “debunk” anyone else’s theory. Especially if the theory you are advocating also has its own set of difficult problems.

    I think what is missing in this debate is a little bit of old-fashioned humility, together with the recognition of the fact that we are most likely both wrong on a whole set of levels. After all, neither you nor I nor anyone else was there at the scene of the crime, and we have different forms of evidence that we evaluate differently.

    While trying hard not to play the obnoxious card that tries to pit your ability to figure things out against how litterally I interpret the Bible, we need to discuss where along the road each of our ideas are feasible. I of course have to take the unfortunate role of the idiot that interprets what we observe in nature with a Bible in his hand.

    But let’s look at what you are saying any why it lacks the explanatory power to convince me that there never was a global flood. To start off, it is interesting to note that you chose diatoms to prove your point about fossil sorting. If you had chosen any other kind of organism to prove your point, including forams, then I would have been totally stumped.

    However, rather than turning your readers atention to how low dead diatoms are found in the fossil record, perhaps we should be discussing how living diatoms could possibly be found extremely high up in the atmosphere. You assume that diatoms always existed where they are found today. Why do you assume this? Because of what we can observe today?

    Well what we do know today about diatoms, among other things, is that they provide a huge amount of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. That means that if diatoms appeared as late on the scene as you claim, then there would be a much lower content of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere before their appearance than afterwards. So why do we observe the exact opposite? Perhaps living diatoms that have been found on the walls of a space station can give us a hint.

    To much science fiction? Too far fetched? Well why not scurry back to the idea that one-celled organisms somehow became fish, amphibians, land-dwelling animals, and then turned into whales all the while we still have one-celled organisms. Sounds likely?

    But let’s move on to the subject of this particular article – the trillions and trillions of belemnites.

    Of course, for a human being trillions and trillions is an unfathomable amount. But is it as impossible as you are making it out to be?

    You claim that these quadrillions of cephalopods were devoured by predators, but you don’t seem to say that much about the billions and billions of predator fossils that you must have found in out the field. How many have you found?

    What if these belemnites were neither killed by being covered by sediments, nor by predators. Where does that leave us?

    As far as I can see, in order to produce such a high number of cephalopods all you would need is:

    a global catastrophe that disturbs the balance of the ecological system in which they live.
    the capability of producing tens of thousands of offspring at a time
    a reproduction rate can be increased by climate change.
    a creature that grows quickly and has a short life span.
    natural enemies, that under normal conditions keep the belemnite population down to a maintainable number, either dying off or evacuating the area
    and the sort of creature that turns to canabalism when finding itself in an overcrowded and confined space

    With these things in mind, the cephalopods such as these would probably be one of the few creatures of it’s kind capable of such rampant and explosive reproduction. And the fact that the fossils are lacking both above and below this huge number of fossils, actually tells me that it was one single event, as opposed to the same huge area of land being flooded continuously for millions and millions of years.

    These creatures were possibly moving to this particular area, trapped between converging flanks of the flood, and then reproducing and dying at the same time … in huge numbers. Because what we have here is a recipe for a population explosion. You have a creature possibly capable of producing up to 70,000 offspring at one single time left in an area that may have been depleted of predators.

    Eventually, it would itself die out as a result of the explosion, because with nothing left in the area to feed on but itselves, it implodes and disappears from the fossil record.

    Do we see this kind of ecological imbalance occurring today that can effect the size of a population? Actually yes. And what kind of creatures are involved? Cephalopods my friend.. cephalopods. The population of which is booming today, possibly due to two things:

    Rising sea temeratures, and
    The removal of cephalopod predators.


    And note carefully what this article says:

    “Another strange possibility is that cephalopods will become too weedy and run out of food. If that happens? “They’re highly cannibalistic—they might start eating each other if they overgrow”

    And finally, all this leaves me with is the age-old problem.

    Where, with all these “trillions and trillions” of fossils available at our disposal.. are the intermediates showing gradual changes pointing either downwards under these layers of fossils to a more “primitive” organism, or upwards toward something else? And if we look high enough in the column then what do we get? Diatoms! 🙂

    Excuse me Joel, you made some interesting points. But Darwin’s doubt is still alive and kicking to this very day.


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