Billions of footprints are preserved in the rock record. While bones get all the attention, fossil footprints likely outnumber bones. How can we make sense of this observation? Surely, preserving a bone must be far more likely than preserving a footprint?
I have written about how paleontologists use information from footprints and bones to reconstruct past environments and I have also written about individual dinosaur track-ways (Walking the Footprints of Giants). Today, and in the follow-up post, I want to take a closer look at fossil footprints and ask the following questions: 1) Should we expect to find billions of preserved footprints in the fossil record? and 2) does conventional geology or Flood geology (young-earth creationism) provide a better framework for understanding footprint formation and distribution?
Footprint preservation happens today!
I recently spent time in Death Valley National Park. Early one morning walking among sand dunes below sea level my father noticed several bootprints in hardened ground swept clean of sand by recent high winds. Although we were not present when these prints were created it is reasonable to infer that these were made by a shoe much like the one I am wearing in the picture pressing into wet soil.
But when was this bootprint created? Days, weeks, months or years ago? It hadn’t rained here in a couple of weeks so these prints were at least that old. Even if it had rained, this ground was very hard and the prints could well have survived multiple small rain events. Furthermore, small sand dunes in this area are always moving around. These prints were probably covered in the sand dune just a few yards away not long ago. It is possible that the prints had been covered by a dune for months or years before only recently being re-exposed.
Regardless of their exact age, the point is that footprints can be preserved over long periods of time. The bottom of Death Valley is accumulating sand and sediments from the surrounding mountains. There are surely preserved footprints of Native Americans and tourists who have visited this region for thousands of years lying under layers of sand and other sediments. Sand may blow over a set of hardened tracks or a large flash flood may bring a layer of mud and stones over a trackway. Over time these preserved tracks will become more deeply buried and eventually the sediments in those layers will become cemented together to form sandstones and conglomerates. In the future, if the region if uplifted and that rock eroded, the footprints will appear on the surface just as we observed millions of them preserved in rocks today.
Rare events do not mean their outcomes are uncommon
That sounds a bit weird doesn’t it? How can something be common and yet be exceedingly rare? Both can be true because we are talking about two different things. The chances that any single footprint made by a person will be preserved for thousands or millions of years is vanishingly small. But even if only 1 out of every trillion footprints made is preserved, preserved footprints should be very common. And they are!
We could ask ourselves another question: What is the chance that no footprints would ever be preserved. The answer is that there is less of a chance that none are preserved and any single print is preserved. Why, because quintillions upon quintillions of footprints have been created over time. Think of it as being like a lottery. What are the chances that an individual wins the lottery: very small. But what are the chances that someone wins the lottery even though the chance for each individual in very small? Very high!
You have probably created hundreds of thousands of footprints in sand and mud in your lifetime. The chances that even one of them will still exist 1000 years from now is near zero percent. But there are 7 billion people on earth each of which is producing hundreds of thousands of footprints. What are the chances that some footprints of any of them will survive 1000 years: If not 100% it is something very close to it.
Young-earth creationists have a footprint problem
There are billions of footprints in the geological column. But according to young earth creationists, the majority of the geological column was formed over just a few months only 4350 years ago. Hence, all the footprints had to have been formed nearly simultaneously during a global chaotic event in which thousands of feet of sediment were being deposited in a short period of time. Footprints in this geological record are a serious challenge to this alternative geological model of earth history.
Despite this challenge, young earth creationists (YECs) have not only not been willing to say this is a problem for their model but have sought to turn the tables and claim it is the conventional geologists that have a problem.
At an Answers in Genesis conference I attended a speaker mocked the idea that footprints of dinosaurs could be preserved by any process that occurs today, pointing out that it would be silly to think that footprints on a beach or even a muddy lake edge would last long enough to harden into rock and be preserved. I understand these are over-generalizations made as a rhetorical tool to point the audience to a “better” solution to a falsely created “footprint problem,” but even the top YEC geologists, Dr. Snelling, at Answers in Genesis has made similar statements in print. Here he addresses dinosaur footprints:
Biblical geologists, on the other hand, say it is the conventional geologists who, in fact, face a dilemma. If geologic change takes place slowly, surely footprints made in mud would be obliterated by wind and rain long before the prints were covered by new sediments and hardened into rock.
He further asks:
How can today’s slow-and-gradual geologic processes over millions of years explain the preservation of delicate impressions in mud before they are washed away? Does the Flood provide a better explanation?
Dr. Snelling’s answer to the last question is yes but only because he has intentionally created a false dichotomy for his audience. In addition to painting a false picture of what geologists believe about the principle of uniformitarianism, he portrays the conventional geological understanding as unable to explain the occurrence of footprints and thus if he can provide an explanation for any footprints at all it must be better.
As shocking as it might seem, Dr. Snelling doesn’t appear to be familiar with statistics or the many ways that footprints can form. In a follow-up to this article we will examine the statistical likelihood of dinosaur footprints being preserved over millions of years versus all at one time in a global flood. But just notice for now that Dr. Snelling denies observational evidence we have before us right now in the present. Footprints are being preserved today in many different environments and the mechanisms for their preservation are known and very reasonable. I would point you to a case dozens of human footprints found recently which are 1250 year old.
YECs claim – and presumably believe – that special circumstances are required to explain footprints but since they believe that all, or nearly all, of them were produced in the span of one year during a flood, the huge number of prints contained in the rocks would require that a large percentage of all of the footprints made by animals running around trying to escape the flood had to be preserved. This is an extraordinarily unlikely scenario.
Not a paradox: Footprints can be common even if they are rarely formed
From an ancient earth perspective only a few footprints of the multitude of individuals during the lifetime of a population of millions of individuals need be preserved every thousand years or more to account for the observed footprints in the geological record. Even if only 0.000000001% of all footprints left by dinosaurs, mammals and humans were preserved, the geological record would be filled with footprints. And it is!
I have written about preserved footprints many times and discussed how they challenge the flood geology hypotheses of young earth creationists (see: A New Dinosaur Trackway Near Moab, UT; Preservation of Behavior – Fossilized Elephant Tracks from the Arabian Peninsula). The fact that fossilization of footprints can happen without a global catastrophe is obvious once you become familiar with the footprint record. After all, there are human footprints found in numerous places in the world (see my article: Human Fossil Footprints found below Ice Age Deposits) and all YECs recognize these as having been formed after a global flood. Hence, they must be aware that footprints can be preserved in local contexts rather than during singularly unique global flood.
Next we will look more closely at dinosaur footprints and ask which model of Earth’s history better predicts the preserved footprints we observe today.
PS. My collection of photography from Death Valley can be found at my photography site: http://beechnutphotography.com.
Featured image for the post is my father standing at Zabriski Point overlooking Death Valley.
Editing provided by LC
Excellent article. I still cannot grasp how YECs are able to deny the overwhelming evidence for such things.
How far can such obvious indoctrination carry the argument I wonder?
I used to be YEC. It is a kind of cognitive disconnect. The person will not accept any evidence that is against their faith system and what they have been taught. Look at the Islamic faith and the extremely small evidence for it’s foundation versus the Bible and the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is a chasm, but many of the Puritans that I have read didn’t think the age of the Earth was a big deal. Between the geology and my reading of the way the Puritans interpreted the Bible I decided that as far as the Bible was to be looked at or considered is a whole lot different than now. I do not mean many Puritans didn’t see YEC as a proper view, but they would have also looked at the evidence. Having read Nahmides from the 13th century I can see many different ways of interpretations of the first chapter of the Beginnings.
LikeLiked by 1 person
How did you handle the whole thing of
dinosaurs co-existing with humans?
I can’t speak for Jim, but for my part, I kept hoping and hoping that someone would find that one fossil that had clear evidence of dinosaur and human coexistence. But it never happened, and at some point, I realized it never would.
LikeLiked by 1 person
So how do committed YEC’s, like this bloke,
deal with it.
As you are former YECs I would be fascinated to read what you and Jim would tell him.
Arkenaten; YECs have a literal interpretation of Genesis and have been taught that it is the only way to look at it. I have shown proof over and over again to a YEC and it’s like talking to a Jehovah’s Witness. No matter how much proof I show they will hang onto their way of seeing the Bible because for them the whole edifice falls apart and they will lose their faith if the world is old and Noah’s flood wasn’t global as Peter seemed to indicate in his epistle. I tend to send people who think the world is young to Gerald Schroeder’s, a physicist and believing Jew, web site where he explains how the world could be made in six days, but with the stretching of space and time it also took billions of years as well.
I also send them to William Lane Craig’s website and have them read articles like this one I’m linking.
Now I am an Intelligent Design advocate and as for the proof for Darwinism I am not convinced as the fossil record is not as friendly to Darwinism as it is to an old Earth. Just too many ad hoc explanations for it, that’s why their are actually atheistic scientist that don’t accept the standard Darwin Dogma. See the Third Way website by Dr. Robert Shapiro.
So I am not convinced that we evolved from micro-organisms. Which are more complicated than anything man has made. There are big monkey wrenches in the Darwinist view like the Cambrian explosion and whales evolving from land mammals so quickly, the list is long.
Sorry, Jim, I have no truck with ID either. It has been shown to be nothing but Creationism in a different party frock. And I wouldn’t trust a darn thing Craig wrote or said. He believes in Divines Command Theory and is a disingenuous, disgusting individual because of this.
I find it odd that, simply because there are gaps in our knowledge there is a desperate need by some to insert their god as the answer to everything, as if a supernatural panacea for ignorance and worse … stupidity was the answer to everything.
We humans are strange.
Wow! Arkenaten, why would you cite one thing and then condemn someone who agrees with most of it; pertaining to W.L. Craig. A lot of the arguments on your orange page are the same ones he uses. To call him disingenuous is one thing, but disgusting is another. Just what is Divine Command Theory and why is it disgusting? Do you think I believe everything WLC teaches? Or even read everything he has taught? I gave a specific quote link and you condemn him and think he’s disgusting? Explain why.
Prove to me that Darwinism is true and I’ll give it some credence. I linked The Third Way website because their are plenty of scientists that do not fall for the Evolution of The Gaps theory anymore. No matter what is discovered, evolution did it with no explanation as to how. Really?
I wasn’t raised as a christian, I became one as an adult in my 20s and am now in my 60s and to call ID just another creationism con is also disingenuous. Just because a judge that ruled that in a case that some ID advocates supported doesn’t mean the Discovery Institute goes along with it. Let them speak for themselves and not their enemies. The DI doesn’t want and part of its charter says it doesn’t want ID taught in schools. That was all a part of the Dover school district in PA, not the DI. Of course you’d rather believe their enemies instead of reading what they say for themselves. Even the atheist Thomas Nagel praised their scientific arguments in his book, Mind And Cosmos. To attack academic freedom statutes without actually quoting them and saying they are teaching creationism is really disingenuous too, do you think they teach creationism through the back door as its enemies claim it does?. There isn’t a single AFS that promotes teaching creationism, not a single one, but they do teach making Darwinism stand up to open and honest scientific debate and rigor where it doesn’t fare as well as when it’s taught as dogma with no arguments against it allowed. You know like they do in the Universities.
You don’t know what Divine Command Theory is?
Are you serious? Google it and then you will understand why I consider Craig disgusting.
Intelligent Design is generally considered to be pretty much ”Creationism in disguise” by mainstream science as far as I am aware.
If it was considered legit it would be recognized as such and taught in schools and universities.
And the majority of its proponents are Christian, is this correct?
I am an atheist, so as far as I am concerned any doctrine that alludes to ”Goddidit” is simply supernatural/superstitious nonsense.
I found this quote from Larry Moran who wrote:
The main goal of the movement(Intelligent Design) is to provide scientific justification for the belief in a creator god. No amount of twisting and turning (apologetics) is going to fool us into thinking that the ID movement has nothing to do with the belief in a creator. The entire movement is just another version of creationism and all you have to do is look on the main ID blogs and websites to see that this is true. That’s why we refer, correctly, to the movement as Intelligent Design Creationism.
Once ID had the “religious” tag put onto it it will never be allowed into schools. Doesn’t mean ID scientists do not do peer reviewed science, they do despite what liars like Jerry Coyne say, who by the way doesn’t do science he just complains about whatever he disagrees with. Many are world known and some are Jewish and even some agnostics are in there such as David Berlinski who wrote the book “The Devil’s Delusion” in answer to Dawkins absurd book The God Delusion. I would expect an atheist to say all you have, but you might be better served to go to the sources instead of the detractors.
See James Tour’s challenge to any and all biologists. He asked them to explain how life could possibly arise from inanimate materials. He is a chemist who builds nano-molecules and knows precisely how hard it is to build complex micro-structures, but atheists think it “just happened”. Why? They have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that it could happen other than their a priori commitment to atheistic materialism. I like Thomas Nagel, he is at least honest about his atheism, he simply said he doesn’t want to believe in God and he doesn’t. At least he doesn’t hide behind a bunch of bogus scientific mumbo jumbo. To claim all kinds of imaginary universes and unexplained quantum events as proof of atheism is the real deceit here. So you don’t like the way man has screwed up this world and you blame God for it by claiming He doesn’t exist, but if He did it’s all His fault. How human of you.
Of course I understand Divine Command Theory, I was wondering if you do and I don’t mean Wikipedia’s version either as it’s a twisted version of it. There is more than one version of it too, did you know that? The Universe was created by Someone or something outside itself. If it was God then He knew everything that was going to happen when He did. Mankind in his wickedness can’t stand it that God is the Master and they are mere creatures and evil ones at that. That is why He sent His Son to save us, no matter how dumb or smart, no matter how weak or strong, rich or poor, male or female, all are one in Christ. Remember Jesus said that anyone who comes to Him He will certainly not cast away. As Paul put it “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” He defined what the Name of the Lord was in the following verses naming the Lord Jesus. May it bring you comfort on your deathbed.
You mention Berlinski as if trying to establish a margin of credibility then straight afterwards launch into some sort of nonsensical polemic which immediately discredits everything you have said previously as your beliefs rest on the erroneous foundation of lies and supernatural nonsense. The bible.
As for ID: As a proponent you are surely aware of the Wedge Document?
Enough said on that I think, don’t you?
I’m afraid that your credibility just got flushed down the toilet.
Larry Moran who had his hat handed to him on a platter by WLC for his Universe from nothing views that turn out to be something? Nothing is NOT ANYTHING. Non-existence. We do not know where quantum particles come from, but be be assured they did not come from “nowhere” as that is a logical impossibility. Also a quantum vacuum exists somewhere and it is in this Universe. Your metaphysical views are blinding you as much as the members of The Academy who disputed Galileo because they were as devoted to Thomistic cosmology which came from Aristotle as you are to atheistic materialism.
A physicist of Moran’s caliber should not be controlled by a predisposition to atheism, but his devotion to Lucretius is undeniable. Can you discern the difference between Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism which many christian scientists follow?
WLC is a presuppositional disingenuous, evangelical apologist who still touts the Kalam cosmological argument and has been doing so since my granddad fell of the bus. Caroll has taken him to the cleaners over it, and Harris has handed him hisbackside on a platter with regard Divine Command Theory
Craig is disgusting …. and quite likely a liar.
And just because you are not happy with the perfectly legit term;”We don’t know”, does not give you the right to assert as an absolute truth that (a) god did it, especially when this is indoctrinated into kids, and also when one considers the heinous things done in the name of this god(s)
What metaphysical views?
One does not need to be a physicist or a bio-chemist to realise this.
What next? An argument for the resurrection of the narrative construct, Jesus of Nazareth?
Or, are you gong to make a stand for the veracity of Moses and the Exodus?
Who will you haul out then? Kitchen, Hoffmeier?
I thought adults normally gave up on Make Believe when they realised it was Mummy and Daddy who bought the presents at Xmas?
I never asserted anything as to the appearance of quantum particles, you are the one who is doing that. All I said was that it is a logical impossibility for them to come from nowhere and as for name calling that is what you have continued to do since this began and it doesn’t help the veracity of your case. Now why don’t you for instance refute James Tour a chemist at Rice University who does assert that material processes cannot bring forth life? He has challenged the world’s best scientists and not a single one has tried to refute his argument as he knows precisely how hard it is to build complex molecules, let alone anything you could call life. He simply asks, how can a strictly material process build life? The simplest self sufficient bacterial cell is beyond man’s ability to replicate and you believe dirt did it. Just who lives in a fantasy now?
I think you may be going off on a tangent here, Jim as I never raised the subject of quantum particles or quantum mechanics.
So let me lay it on the line for you.
What scientists don’t currently know they don’t know – if you can get your head around this truism.
But this does not mean they will remain ignorant for ever, as history demonstrates from everything to flying a kite during a lightning storm, toothpaste with five stripes, to putting men on the moon.
My problem with your approach to any ”current” stage of such scientific ignorance is this:
First and foremost , you are a Christian.
This means that irrespective of anything else you believe to be true in the material or natural world your god , the biblical character, the narrative construct, Jesus of Nazareth, will supersede anything that alludes to a godless foundation.
Second: Any scientist who claims there is a middle ground that can ”marry” science and faith ( no matter what they wish to call it) is simply suffering from some form of religious indoctrination, although they will (naturally (sic)) vehemently deny this.
So, as far as the world of science is concerned, if when you run into a metaphorical brick wall of seemingly insurmountable proportions to assert that your god, the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is in ANY way responsible, no matter what manifestation/form you prefer is dishonest and risible, as you have no evidence to back any assertion.
However,if you have evidence then feel free to present it here, on this thread , and if you can convince me without using the word ”faith”, or ”god” then maybe you’ll win a convert.
If you are up for the challenge and don’t resort to any sort of hand-wave, snide brush-off then I will read whatever you have got.
Balls in your court, Jim.
Well first off go back and read what I was talking about when I said they don’t know where quantum particles come from. Show me where WLC is a willful liar. You haven’t refuted my challenges on anything about Darwinism or how life began, you cite Larry Moran as the definer of my position, talk about disingenuous.
Yes I know about Phillip Johnson’s wedge document, big deal. It is a necessity just look at the flat out attempt by academia to stifle anyone who disagrees with the standard dogma? Like Ball State firing a professor simply because he cited some science in a book that was also about ID. Jerry Coyne led the charge and was not at all bashful about lying. Funny how they ACLU doesn’t care about non-liberals free speech rights.
Even Dawkins dropped the atheist label as he discovered it is ultimately indefensible and you still haven’t answered why a philosopher the caliber of Thomas Nagel is an atheist because he doesn’t want there to be a God or why he praised ID scientists or why he doesn’t show philosophically how atheism can be true. To claim we’ll know some day in the future is not an argument it’s wishful thinking. By the way I did present an insurmountable wall that science hasn’t penetrated, the origin of life by natural processes, all you say is they’ll discover it sometime in the future. That is hand waving.
You are controlled by your devotion to metaphysical materialism as much or more than I am to theism. I at least have a sufficient and efficient cause for the beginning of the Universe, what do you have? Oh speculations that are based no less on your metaphysics than I, only I have good reasons to believe what I believe and I really didn’t want to, but since you will refuse a priori any arguments for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth why bother to present them, you’ve heard your sides version of it and that suffices for you, it doesn’t for me though. I heard them all in the 80s and 90s, there isn’t anything new under the sun except Lucretius writ large because of media.
You are whining about the wedge document, Jim. Not very becoming for someone who wishes to put forward a case based on scholarly merit.
Re:WLC. Rather read this excellent blog article.
It covers enough to make the case.
It is in 3 easy to digest parts.
Okay, once more:
Everything you postulate is based upon your belief in the veracity of the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth being your god and the creator deity you genuflect to.
So, before we wander down any philosophical paths let’s see how truly honest you are.
No hand-waving, please. No philosophy, and no ‘ifs’ ‘buts’ or ‘ands’ ….
Present the concrete evidence for this character as described in the Bible.
I simply believed the original “The Genesis Flood” by H. Morrison and the pictures of so called human footprints in the book with dinosaur footprints. It’s pretty convincing if you haven’t heard it’s not true.
Seeing the Grand Canyon and the Grand Staircase that begins there and goes up into Utah with desert laid down sandstones with hardly a fossil in them changed my mind. You have fossils below the sandstone and above them as well, if it was laid down by water why no fossils? The sheer amount of fossils in the world are proof enough that they were not put there in one flood simply because this planet couldn’t support life in that amount. I forget the exact number, but it’s like over several feet for every square meter of the planet. As a matter of fact there are single fossil beds that could cover the whole planet like the fossil beds of Kansas of marine organisms, they had to be laid down over, at the shortest, thousands of years for the amount that is there. A single worldwide flood of a year’s duration could not have laid down all the fossils and sedimentary layers above and below them. Especially above them.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Some people love conspiracy theories because it gives them esoteric knowledge about how the world “really” works. I wonder if some people are attracted to YEC because it is the ultimate conspiracy theory – virtually everything you can know about science and natural history is wrong because the truth has been hidden by a conspiracy of scientists! But you, because you are really “saved,” have been granted special knowledge about how the world works. You even have an alternative “science” that explains all of the facts that the conspiracy does not want you to know.
LikeLiked by 1 person
As adults, maybe, but as kids they are simply indoctrinated.
Once could also say that it is simply a form of modern gnosticism.
I grew up listening to Kent Hovind, and it took me a while but I’ve finally had to admit to myself that he was basically just a religious conspiracy theorist. But that drew me in as a child/teen, the idea that the whole world was “wrong” and we Christians who truly believed in God’s Word had “inside information” that everyone else missed out on (which really did seem biblical for other topics anyway). I really hate being wrong, and that “conspiracy theorist” view almost makes the Bible like some kind of code book that can keep you from ever being wrong if you read it the right way. But I was wrong. And as long as God’s still right, then I’m okay with being wrong (Romans 3:4).
I was raised YEC, but have since had the scales removed from eyes, so to speak. I know how difficult it was for me to accept the evidence for evolution, but does anyone have any good pointers of trying to convince others? It really does sadden me that so many people go through life without a proper appreciation for the natural world.
It’s a thorny issue, that’s for sure. I wish there were a simple set of steps one could take to reliably disabuse people of YEC ideas. Unfortunately, it’s deeply ingrained into many aspects of the believer’s worldview. There’s an intricate web of “truths” that all interconnect and “require” them to continue to believe as they believe.
LikeLiked by 1 person
So what particular evidence changed your mind?
Well, viewing the Sideling Hill roadcut (featured on this blog) as a kid convinced me that flood geology was bunk. After that, it was the slow steady accumulation of evidence that was always and only consistent with an ancient earth and evolved life that did it for me. There was no one piece of evidence per se.
I don’t think I can point to any particular piece of evidence, but looking at the arguments I saw how dishonest creationists and ID proponents could be (albeit not necessarily intentionally). The trust was broken and the house of cards fell from there. I know the starlight problem was a big problem to me, but that’s more to do with big bang cosmology than biological evolution.
In my case, though I was never a young-earth creationist (more of an old-earth), it was an article in American Scientist about the evolution of spiders in the Hawaiian islands, of all things, that made me realize evolution was real. It just made so much sense how evolution explained all the changes that happened in the spiders as the archipelago was formed one island at a time.
I applaud those of you who grew up in a YEC church, then learned enough about the world to reject YEC, but it ultimately did not destroy your faith. I imagine all of you struggled with various questions. I lucked out. The church I grew up in was moderate and did not teach YEC. My father took me to cool places like science/natural history museums and planetariums. I did not even know such a thing as YEC existed until I was almost an adult. When I hear about a church taking its children on a field trip to something like Ken Ham’s “creation science” museum it makes me sad and a bit angry. Those children will either grow up to have an unnecessary crisis of faith or else they will grow up insecure and feel like they have to somehow defend the Bible every time there is a scientific discovery.
Similar story for myself. I rarely recall ever hearing YEC from the pulpit. My Christian elementary school made some YEC noises, but even by then, my fascination with astronomy pretty much had me convinced that the Genesis narrative was something other than ‘literal’. I too had no idea of the YEC narrative that some hold until about 10 years ago when I became active on some Christian fora.
Astronomy was and is a big thing for me, also. Until some years ago, browsing different places on the Web, I did not realize how YEC is for some people a very central thing. They are taught that the Gospel cannot be true unless the 6,000 year timeline is also true.
To be fair, their reasons are more complex than just keeping to a timeline. There are issues about death before the fall and how to keep the Bible as the authority if you don’t read everything in a literalist way. These are important questions but YEC I think leads to a dead end. It closes the Bible more than it opens it.