Review by Greg Neyman
© 2008, Old Earth Ministries
The daily feature from Creation Ministries International for 14 April 2009 concerned a claim that a dinosaur herd was buried by Noah's Flood.1 It is not surprising that they would claim this, as they have no choice but to force the evidence into a fit with a worldwide flood. In order to make this information fit, most of it was discarded, and only the pieces that support their viewpoint were reported in their article. Unfortunately, the geologic depositional environment is a wee bit more complicated than the author, Tas Walker, leads his readers to believe. So, just like Paul Harvey, I am here to let you know "the rest of the story."
In the opening paragraph, Walker states the dinosaurs were buried "by the rising waters of Noah's Flood." However, young earth creationists typically believe that rocks of Cretaceous age, like the ones we will be looking at, are part of the receding water phase, or late phase of the Flood.2 As pointed out numerous times on this website, this problem has not stopped YEC theorists from claiming the flood killed the dinosaurs. Apparently, they have adopted a position of willful ignorance of this issue. Walker, at least, notes that it had to be during the rising water phase. Although this is still not correct, at least he recognized the problems of a late-flood deposition. After all, you cannot bury dinosaurs during the recessive phase of the flood (after 150 days), if they all supposedly died by day 40 as the Bible says.
The dinosaurs are from a species called Sinornithomimus. The full grown dinosaur is about 7 feet long. Of the 13 skeletons recently excavated, none are complete, yet enough remain to determine that they are juvenile dinosaurs.3 This is based on femoral length, which ranges from 18 to 24 cm in length, with the exception of one specimen of 36 cm. The largest known individual for the species has a femoral length of 48 cm.4
The Source Material
Although the main source for Walker's report is the simplistic report from eurekalert.org, he does reference the source when discussing details of the find. This source is a journal article titled Mud-Trapped Herd Captures Evidence of Distinctive Dinosaur Sociality.3 Fortunately, this article is available online, and can be accessed from the link below in reference three.
The authors note in the introduction that "Sites dominated by a single dinosaur species have commonly been used to support hypotheses of herding, sociality and population structure and growth." I can add to this that they have also been used to support a young earth theory. Fortunately for us, one of the main purposes of the journal article was to examine the geologic setting, and examine what caused these animals to become trapped. We know the young earth conclusion (the Flood). Now, let's see if the geologic evidence can support the idea that it was caused by a global flood only 6,000 years ago.
The Young Earth Explanation
Walker states that the animals were trapped within the same layer of mudstone. However, he makes unfounded statements concerning the mud. He states several times that the layer was recently deposited, but presents no proof to back up this claim. Walker has not done any scientific dating of the rock layer in question to back up his claim. He is merely making this statement based on his "assumption" that the earth is young, and that Noah's Flood deposited the mud. However, without presenting scientific proof, he is merely stating an unsubstantiated belief from his imagination.
He also claims that paleontologists "struggled to explain what they found." In reading the information from the source material, I see no struggle whatsoever. The scientists note that originally, no explanation was given for the geologic setting for this find, and they noted that this study provided that explanation. So, what we have is true science at work. The initial discovery brought questions, and then additional study provided the answer. But in typical fashion, young earth creationists like to picture secular scientists as "struggling."
Walker criticizes the finding of the scientists that it was a low energy lake environment. He quotes the scientists who mention the low energy condition, and then states, "However, recent laboratory experiments have shown that such an automatic interpretation almost certainly incorrect because mud readily deposits from flowing water." Did he miss the part where it was said that it was a low energy condition? The scientists are talking about a stagnant, drying lake with little to no water flow, and Walker is talking about deposits from "flowing water." There is no flowing water!
Walker also mentions it is hard to imagine how so many animals could have become trapped in a small area. Modern scientific studies, however, show that this does indeed happen, and not just in ancient times.5
The next complaint that Walker has is about the absence of bioturbation in the mud. He does not accept the claim that the absence was due to deeper water. However, this claim does not appear anywhere in the published report, so it appears Walker is assuming this is what they believe.
There are two issues here. First, it is necessary to explain the "deeper water" issue. Walker, if he read the research article, would understand that the scientists are not claiming that the dinosaurs were mired in sediments in deep water. He wants the reader to get the idea that the dinosaurs were scuba diving in water 40, 80, or even hundreds of feet deep. This is not what the scientists say in their report. Note that the scientists believe this is a lake that is drying up. If the lake were 10 miles across, then the sediments deposited in the middle of the lake would be considered deep water deposits. As the lake dries, let's say down to one mile across, then the lake shore would be where there was previously deep water, thus the dinosaurs would be stuck in this mud, at the shoreline, which looks like deep water deposits. As a geologist, Tas knows this, but he carefully spins his tale to avoid this critical bit of data...very deceptive on his part. However, any geologist worth his weight in coprolites would easily understand this "deep water" issue...and I suspect Tas understands it, but he doesn't' inform his readers of it, and instead misrepresents this bit of data.
Second, the lack of bioturbation is probably due to the anaerobic conditions of the deep water deposits. The scientists mention this, and claim that this indicates "the frequent and repeated stagnation of the water body." This brings up another subject. Several times Walker questions how such a deep sequence of mud could be deposited. For example, he says "how could such a thick deposit have been laid down at the edge of a lake?" The "frequent and repeated stagnation" is our clue. The lake level fluctuated, yielding the changes in stagnation. Repeat this many times, and you have many periods of increased and decreased deposition. (This also leads to the alternating white and red banding of the mudstone).
The next issue raised is the presence of mudcracks, indicating drought conditions. Walker tries to question it with the "deeper water" trick. He saysHow could the mudcracks form on the mud surface if it was in deeper water?" One must carefully examine cracks to determine if they are dessication cracks (mudcracks from drought) or syneresis cracks. In this case, the other evidence, such as the ostracod assemblages, and the presence of dinosaur footprint tracks, indicate that this is not underwater syneresis cracks.
The "Desert Conspiracy"
Finally, Walker attacks the idea that the area was a desert environment. The quote from the research article states,
“Through this period the region experienced an increase in overall aridity and a shift from lacustrine [lake] and fluvial [river] Lower Cretaceous facies [rocks] to predominantly aeolian [desert] dune and associated interdune facies in the Upper Cretaceous.”
However, Walker is not considering this in context. The authors are giving an overall summary of the environment "throughout this period," meaning the period of deposition of the Ulansuhai Formation. This statement does not apply as a whole to the 1.3 meters of sediment in question. The sediment where the dinosaurs are found is merely one small slice of this "period." At the time the dinosaurs were trapped in the mud, there was water, although the lake at the time had apparently dried significantly enough to expose what had previously been deep water sediments. Tas asks, "What were these herds of dinosaurs doing in a desert?" It may not have been a desert yet, as it was transitioning to a desert environment.
Walker says "They say it was a desert to hold onto their uniformitarian philosophy." He makes it sound like there is a conspiracy within academic circles to cover up the evidence that a great flood did it. It sounds like a good point for YECs to snicker at, but it is far from the truth. Having corresponded with scientists whose work has been criticized by young earth creationists, I can say that there is no grand conspiracy to cover the evidence for Noah's Flood. They find it amusing, and a little annoying, that their work is twisted and distorted to no end to support a young earth, but that is about it. I've seen no evidence of any grand conspiracy by the scientific community.
Scientists are led to their conclusion by the scientific evidence, not by some hidden anti-Flood agenda. This agenda exists only in the minds of young earth creationists.
Young Earth "Blinkers"
His mentioning of horse blinkers is extremely relevant. While he accuses uniformitarianists of seeing things from an old earth viewpoint, young earth creationists are even worse off than us old earthers, for they have to totally ignore, and then re-write evidences, while omitting key facts, in order to support their failed ideas. How do they do this? A former young earth creationist, Glenn Morton, tells how in the highly-insightful article titled Morton's Demon.
In addition to the above issues, two other problems exist. The scientists note that the bones of the dinosaurs show evidence of scavanging by other animals. If this really happened during a flood, and they were quickly buried, other animals would not have had time, nor would they be particularly interested in scavenging the carcasses. They would be more interested in swimming!
The other problem has to do with roots. The upper 12 cm of this dinosaur rock sequence contains vertical root traces. Thus, the flood would have had to subside long enough for a growing season to produce well-developed plants with roots, and then the flood would have to begin again and completely bury these sediments with their plants. How is it that plants had several months to grow right in the middle of Noah's Flood?
As is typical of other young earth works, when you look at the scientific work that they are criticizing, there is so much more there that they fail to mention. When you consider all the evidence, their story falls apart. In the end, Walker has presented no evidence whatsoever of his theory that these dinosaurs met their end during Noah's worldwide flood.
2 Austin, Steven A., ed, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, 1994. Pages 57-58. Figure 4.1 shows the Mesozoic rocks to be Late Flood, deposited during the retreat of the water. Also called the 'fourth division" of rocks.
3 Varricchio, D.J., Sereno, P.C., Xijin, Z., Lin, T., Wilson, J.A. and Lyon, G.H., Mud-trapped herd captures evidence of distinctive dinosaur sociality, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 53(4):567–578, 2008.
4 Kobayashi, Y. and Lü, J.−C. 2003. A new ornithomimid dinosaur with gregarious habits from the Late Cretaceous of China. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 48: 235–259.
5 Berger, J., Dulamtseren, S., Cain, S., Enkkhbileg, D., Lichtman, P., Namshir, Z., Wingard, G., and Reading, R. 2001. Back−casting sociality in extinct species: new perspectives using mass death assemblages and sex ratios. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 268: 131–139.
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