Biological Evolution: What Makes it Good Science? Part 1

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April 15, 2013 Tags: History of Life

Today's entry was written by Michael Buratovich. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Biological Evolution: What Makes it Good Science? Part 1

Is the contemporary theory of evolution an example of good science?  The answer to this question completely depends on how you define “science,” and what you think makes science “good.” 

Good science has an addiction to theories,1 and for science to be good science, it must deal with good scientific theories.  What constitutes a good scientific theory?  That is a very involved question, but a user’s view of good scientific theories looks something like this:

  1.  A scientific theory is not a guess or suspicion.  For example, “I have a theory about who shot President Kennedy,” reflects the colloquial meaning of the word “theory,” and not the meaning conveyed by scientists when they use the word “theory.”  
  2. Scientific theories are convincing explanatory frameworks that efficiently integrate a large body of evidence about the world.  Good scientific theories have the capacity to make sense of a wide range of data that made less sense before the introduction of the theory. 
  3. In order to be called a scientific theory, it must have been successfully tested and re-tested many times.2
  4. A scientific theory must be falsifiable in order to be truly scientific.  The theory has to live constantly at risk from new data.
  5. A theory must have predictive power.4  Good theories allow scientists to make predictions based on the theory that, when tested, turn out to be at least roughly correct. 

These are not the only characteristics of a scientific theory, but they probably represent the most important features for practitioners of science. 

If we hold contemporary evolutionary theory to these standards, how well does it do?  Since the inception of evolutionary theory by Charles Darwin in 1859 with the publication of On the Origin of Species, there are four characteristics of evolutionary theory that have endured 150 years of further research:

  1. Living species are descendants of other species that lived in the past.
  2. These past species lived in populations that underwent gradual transformation so that the individuals in these populations changed their appearance, behaviors, metabolisms, and life histories over long spans of time.5
  3. New forms of life arose by means of a process called speciation in which one lineage splits into two distinct lineages.  This continual splitting of organismal lineages leads to a nested genealogy of species.  This nested genealogy forms a veritable tree of life, whose root represents the first species to arise and whose twigs represent the millions of species living today.  If you trace back any pair of twigs from the modern species you will find that their histories merge at some node on the tree where the two species share a common ancestor.6 
  4. This process of biological change that takes place throughout the advance of geologic time, or evolution, occurs by means of variation in organisms (which we know today is due to genetic mutations) that is acted on by either random genetic drift or natural selection. Those individuals with variations better suited to the current environment leave more offspring, thus changing the average appearance of the population over time and making it a better fit to the environment. This improving fit between organisms and their environment gives the appearance of organisms having been well designed for their milieu.7 

What is the evidence for these aspects of evolutionary theory?  The evidence is actually immense, but I will restrict this discussion to just a few items. 

First there is the fossil record. If life results from a natural process such as biological evolution, then we should observe a progression of fossil organisms that proceed from relatively simple, single-celled organisms in the oldest rocks to more complex, multicellular organisms in younger rocks. When paleontologists examine the geologic column, they perceive that some of the oldest and deepest layers of the geologic column contain fossils of microorganisms, and then marine invertebrates in younger layers above those,8 and then much later and higher up in the geologic column fish appear, followed later and higher still by amphibians, and then by reptiles, mammals, and birds.9  Thus, the general presentation of the fossil record in the rock record comports exactly with what the theory of evolution predicts. 

However, the fossil story gets even better, because scientists can trace evolutionary trends throughout the fossil record.  For example, horses get bigger, fuse their leg bones and toes into a single bone with a thick hoof and grow the thickness of their tooth enamel;10 Cenozoic brachiopod shells get narrower, decrease their rib numbers and beak angle;11 diatoms get bigger;12 and primate fossils reduce the size of their teeth and expand the size of their brains.13 

Additionally, Darwin predicted that there should be organisms preserved in the fossil record that possess features found in two different types of creatures. Such organisms are “transitional forms” that bridge the gap between different types of organisms.14 However, the fossil record of Darwin’s time provided little evidence of such transitional forms.15 Therefore, Darwin gambled that future paleontological research would provide sufficient evidence to corroborate his theory. How did this gamble turn out? Since Darwin’s time, paleontologists have discovered transitional fossils that are part fish and tetrapod,16 part amphibian and part reptile,17 part dinosaur and part bird,18 and part reptile and part mammal.19 Once again, we would predict such paleontological trends and the existence of such transitional fossils if life came about through a process of organic evolution. Clearly paleontological research since Darwin’s time has powerfully vindicated his theory. 

Please join us for part two of this post tomorrow, where we will discuss how signs of evolution can be detected in organisms living today, and how evidence from multifarious scientific fields—not just biology and paleontology—have bolstered the theory of evolution and added to our understanding of how natural selection works.


1. Ratzsch, Del. The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side Is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. Downer’s Grove, WI: Intervarsity Press, 1996. pp. 104–119. 
2. Kitcher, Philip. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983. pp. 45–54.
3. Ibid, 42–48.  .
4. Ratzsch, Del. Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective. Downer’s Grove, WI: Intervarsity Press, 2000. pp. 21–24. 
5. Hall, Brian K., and Benedikt Hallgrimsson. Strickberger’s Evolution. 5th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2013. pp. 19–68. 
6. Kitcher, Philip. Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. pp. 43–71. 
7. Futuyma, Douglas J. Evolution. 3rd ed. Sundbury, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2013. pp. 281–343. 
8. Valentine, James W. On the Origin of Phyla. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. pp. 429–464. 
9. Carroll, Robert L. Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1990. 
10. MacFadden, “Horses, the Fossil Record, and Evolution,” 131–158; McFadden, Bruce J. “Fossil Horses from “Eohippus” (Hyracotherium) to Equus: Scaling, Cope’s Law, and the Evolution of Body Size.” Paleobiology 12, no. 4 (1986): 355–69.; Prothero, Donald R., and R.M. Schoch, eds. The Evolution of Perissodactyls. New York: Clarendon Press, 1989. ; McFadden, Bruce J. Fossil Horses. Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family Equidae. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993. 
11. McNamara, Kenneth J. “Evolutionary Trends.” In Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (New York: Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 2001), pp. 1–7. 
12. Litchman, E., C. A. Klausmeier, and K. Yoshiyama. “Contrasting Size Evolution in Marine and Freshwater Diatoms.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106, no. 8 (2009): 2665–2670.
13. Tattersall, Ian. The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know About Human Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. pp. 89–198. 
14. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Penguin Books, 1985. p. 292.
15. Hunt, Gene. “Evolution in Fossil Lineages: Paleontology and The Origin of Species.” Supplement American Naturalist 176 (2010): S61–S76. 
16. Clack, Jennifer A. Gaining Ground: The Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2002; Daeschler, Edward B., Neil H. Shubin, and Farish A. Jenkins, Jr. “A Devonian Tetrapod-Like Fish and the Evolution of the Tetrapod Body Plan,” Nature 440, no. 7085 (2006): 757–63; Shubin, Neil H., Edward B. Daeschler, and Farish A. Jenkins, Jr. “The Pectoral Fin of Tiktaalik roasae and the Origin of the Tetrapod Limb.” Nature 440, no. 7085 (2006).): 764–71; Downs, Jason P., Edward B. Daeschler, Farish A. Jenkins, and Neil H. Shubin. “The Cranial Endoskeleton of Tiktaalik roseae.” Nature 455, no. 7215 (2008): 925–9. 
17. Carroll, Robert L. Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1990. pp. 156–216. 
18. Shipman, Pat. Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight. New York: Touchstone, 1998. pp. 169–244.  
19. Prothero, Donald R. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. pp. 271–297. 


Michael Buratovich is an assistant professor of biology at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Mich. He has taught biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, genes and speciation, human physiology, senior seminar and pharmacology. He has also directed student research projects in fruit fly development, antimicrobial agents, and fruit fly repellents and attractants. He has published articles in numerous encyclopedias, Developmental Biology, Drosophila Information Service, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Genetics, Stem Cells and Development, Recent Patents on Anti-Cancer Discovery, and Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith.

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lancelot10 - #78745

April 19th 2013

Michael there are no simple living organisms - a trilobyte at the bottom of the geologic column is not simpler than a sheep - neither is a deep sea  fish with its complex systems to manage pressure and illumination in the dark any simpler than a bird.

Dinos are often found at the bottom of the column - does this mean they are ancestors of the fish ?   Since we also get trylobytes on the top of mountains and dinos at the bottom about the only conformity of the geologic column is its non conformity - and this is the evidence for a catastrophic flood.

Darwin said that the species appear suddenly with no antecedents - fish just appear in their billions - all killed and fossilised suddenly  - the Noachin flood as described ?

Plus what did the single cell evolve into if it had ever overcome the theory of probability.

How did it work out how to reproduce - an incredibly complex process which could only have been designed by a creator God.

Michael Buratovich - #79048

April 24th 2013


a)  I never said in this article that fish and are less complex than birds or that trilobites are necessarily less complex than sheep.  However I did say that single-celled microorganisms are less complex than multicellular metazoans.  If you disagree with than accessment, then I would really like to know how the intricate division and labor and specialization of various cell types in multicellular organisms and the developmental pathways necessary to bring them about are not more complex than single-celled organisms.  The fossil record shows that single-celled organisms are found in the oldest layers of the geologic column, followed by more complex single-celled organisms (presumptive eukaryotes), and followed still by more complex multicellular organisms and so on.  Thus, generally speaking, we go from the older and simpler to the younger and more complex.  This is was we would predict from the theory of evolution .

b)  “Dinos are found at the bottom of the column”  This is factually incorrect.  Dinosaurs are restricted to the Mesozoic era, which spans from around 252 to 66/65 millino years ago.  There are many geologic strata that are older than Mesozoic rocks and are therefore not at the bottom of the column.  Furthermore, “fish” or primitive precursors to fish appear in the fossil record long before dinosaurs.  Acanthodians, which first appear in the lower Silurian, are good candidates for the ancestors of moden bony fish.

c)  Trilobites appear at the tops of mountains because the strata containing the trilobite fossils was uplifted and the overlying material was eroded away, exposing the trilobite-containing rocks.  This is neither difficult to explain nor understand, and any geology testbook that explains orogeny should clairfy this further.  

d)  If there is such chaos in the fossil record, then why are index fossils used by oil company geologists all over the world to identify specific strata?  Why was WIlliam Smith, who dug canals all over England in the late 18th and early 19th century able to identify the stra from which the fossil had come based on the simple observation of geologic succession?  This was known before Darwin even wrote his works.  There is no evidence for a world-wide flood and it was the lack of evidence that led 19th century geologists, who were largely Christians to abandon diluvialism.

e)  I do not know what you are quoting from Darwin, but I do not recognize it.  Darwin did say, that it was difficult, with the data in hand during his day, to identify ancestors for many groups of plants and animals.  However, as I said in the article, he gambled that further research would vindicate his theory, and it largely has.  

f)  “single cell evolve into if it had ever overcome the theory of probability.”  I’m sorry, I have no idea what you mean.  Please explain further.  

g)  Single cell reproduction by fragmention or binary fission is not as complex a process as you might think.  Deamer has made protocell-like structures with alkyl alcohols and fatty acids that surround ribozymes.  These structures compete and the faster replicating structures grow and gobble up the slower ones.  This is a prebiotic system and yet it shows the signs of natural selection and competition.  They reproduce by simple budding.  This probably represents the first, primitive mechanism of cell division.  

lancelot10 - #79055

April 25th 2013

Michael - it is obvious that a single celled creature is simpler than say a bird - but these single cell creatures are still around - they are needed and produce their own kind.  There is no reason why they should not be at the bottom of a sedimentary flood column and at the top as well - which they are.

But you assume that the single cell developed by a random process into fish and trilobytes - just because it is at the bottom of the sediments etc.

However the single cell is not simple - “The complexity of the simplest known type of cell is so great that it is impossible to accept that such an object could have been thrown together suddenly by some kind of freakish, vastly improbable, event. Such an occurrence would be indistinguishable from a miracle” (Dr. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis). 

“In the Cambrian strata - fossils of all creature types are found

The lowest strata containing fossils is the Cambrian. (Below that is the Precambrian, with no fossils other than an occasional algae.) Called the “Cambrian explosion” by scientists, it is a sudden appearance of billions of fossils of over a thousand different life forms.”

Dinos supposedly roamed the earth for about 200 million years which if added to the 70 million supposed years they have been extinct then this gives us 270 million years of sediments - since they evolved from something but no one knows what.  They just suddenly appear . Dino fossils are found at the top of the sediments as well - so they should be in a worldwide flood.   Since TE uses the fossils to explain the column and the fossils are so mixed up - such as feathered birds found below the archeopterix - it is not science since there is no conformity - except in the use of circular reasoning.

I am aware that trilobytes are at the top of mt everest due to uplift and also at the bottom of the sediments as well - so you must agree that to use the sediments to date simple to complex life forms is not logical.  But as I said there are no simple life forms.

In a flood the sediments “mainly” sort out - so sea creatures should sort into layers depending on weight or weight and habitat .   So I would expect Mr Smith to be able to do this.

The latest observations on oil is that it is not biologically created. It would not be a surprise in a worldwide flood to find sea creatures mixed in with the oil but this does not necessarily mean that sea creatures made the oil.

If you gave me a fossil trilobyte I could say it comes from the bottom of the sediments or from the top of mt everest - not very accurate.

The evidence for the Noachin flood is in the water laid sediments containing billions of fossils on nearly all of the earth’s surface.   The only alternative is that the earth has been continually covered with water to slowly and uniformly create the sediements - but this would be absurd since where would mammals live.

Polystrate fossils disprove the gradualism of the sediments - there’s a 40ft fossil tree cutting through millions of supposed years in Edinburgh.


“The living cell is a fantastically complex thing, more complex than a modern city. It’s a living body with organs called organelles. It has blueprints, decoders, error checkers, quality control systems, power plants (mitochondria), power storage units, manufacturing plants (cytoplasm, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus), chemical plants, assembly lines, disposal units (proteasome), trash compactors, a complex communication system, recycling centers (lysosomes), detoxification plants (peroxisomes), transportation highways and tracks and tunnels, transportation vehicles (dynein), living walls with many types of one-way and two-way guarded, gated portals to the outside world, an external matrix to connect with other cells, and a host of other things. It is living and reproducing and not only makes its own machinery but also its own raw materials. “

Can the laws of chance and seawater evolve this 

(g) Have not looked at this but did he not use living material for this expirement ?

Michael Buratovich - #79263

April 29th 2013


I am only allowed 10,000 words so I will respond in two installments. 

“There is no reason why they should not be at the bottom of a sedimentary flood column and at the top as well - which they are.”  This is not what I would predict if the majority of the geologic column was due to a single, global inundation.  The portion of the geologic column that was deposited by the global flood should show sediments deposited in order of decreasing specific gravity.  This was predicted by diluvialist John Woodward, and the ink on his “An Essay towards a Natural History of the Globe” (1695) has hardly dry when F. Hauksbee showed that geologic strata were not arranged in any discernible specific gravity.  We would expect the densest and largest creatures to have been buried earlier and deeper in the geologic column and the smaller, less dense creatures to not sink as rapidly and be buried higher in the geologic column.  However, this is not what is found in the geologic columns around the world.  In many places smaller, less dense creatures are found below larger creatures.  If you argue that the larger creatures were able to flee the flood waters more effectively than the smaller creatures, then why are there no flowering plants in the geologic record until the late Jurassic/early Cenozoic?  Plants were not able to flee the waters at all.  The entire flood geology scheme seems rather unworkable. 

“The lowest strata containing fossils is the Cambrian. (Below that is the Precambrian, with no fossils other than an occasional algae.) Called the “Cambrian explosion” by scientists, it is a sudden appearance of billions of fossils of over a thousand different life forms.”

This is factually incorrect.  There is an entire faunal system that is older than the Cambrian and that is the Ediacaran fauna, which is from the Vendian (Pre-Cambrian).  Also, the late Precambrian shows extensive fossil burrows and even though the creatures were not preserved (probably made by soft bodied creatures and the conditions were not right to preserve them), these burrows must have been made by some kind of multicellular invertebrate. 

Also, the Cambrian explosion is not as you describe it.  There are clear precursors to many of the creatures observed in the Cambrian explosion in the Late Vendian and early Cambrian rocks.  The fossil finds at Sirius Passet and Chenjiang have revealed creatures that are almost certainly ancestral to Burgess Shale creatures, and before that, the small, shelly fauna of the Tommotian stage of the Cambrian, while small and not as well preserved as the later fauna, are ancestral to these later forms.  Also, several Vendian creatures show definite anatomical affinities to the later Cambrian creatures.  The Cambrian creatures did not come from nowhere; they had earlier ancestors. 

Dinosaurs do not “just suddenly appear” in the fossil record.  They are clearly descended from the diapsids that first appeared in the Carboniferous period, and from the archosaurs that are first seen in the Permian.  A creature like the 231 million-year old Eoraptor is probably similar to the creature from which all dinosaurs descended.  The discovery of primitive dinosaur-like creatures (ornithodirans) such as Marasuchus and Lagerpeton from Argentinian Middle Triassic strata supports this view. 

Also, if dinosaurs were deposited in the flood, then why are the early dinosaurian creatures so small and buried under the larger creatures found in the Jurassic strata?  Hydrological sorting makes no sense and is completely contrary to the data. 

“I am aware that trilobytes are at the top of mt Everest” – Here again the explanatory sterility of flood geology is observed.  The summit of Mount Everest is capped by the Qomolangma Formation, which consists of Ordovician limestone.  The creatures entombed at the summit of Mount Everest are Ordovician trilobites, crinoids, and ostracods.  Why aren’t these ever creatures mixed with the Cambrian creatures found below them?  Furthermore, globally speaking, why are these Cambrian creatures always underneath Ordovician creatures?  Hydrological sorting does not work.  Isotelus is an Ordovician trilobite that is 10 inches long, yet it is consistently above Olenoides, a Cambrian trilobite that is smaller.  Nowhere in the world, unless there is a clear indication of a geologic inversion, is the geologic order of these creatures reversed, yet by hydrological sorting we would expect the larger species to be lower in the column.  Mixing also does not occur anywhere in the world. 

“In a flood the sediments “mainly” sort out - so sea creatures should sort into layers depending on weight or weight and habitat.”  I do not think you understood my point.  These creatures are reproducibly observed in particular fossil strata around the world because they lived at that time and in those ancient habitats.  The fossil record does not merely preserve fossil creatures, but fossil ecosystems.  The Green River system in western Colorado, eastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming preserves an Eocene fossil lake ecosystem with fresh water creatures and geochemistry.  The Burgess Shale from Yoho National Park in The Canadian Rockies, British Columbia preserves creatures in a shallow marine environment.  These fossil systems are not thrown together, missed about and jumbled around.  Instead they are preserved where they lived.  Flood geology cannot explain this and for this and many other reasons it was abandoned by practicing geologists hundreds of years ago and most Christians in geology have abandoned it as well.  This has nothing to do with unbelief; it has to do with evidence and lots of it. 

lancelot10 - #79272

April 29th 2013

Michael - a quick reply just now - both evolutionists and creationists agree that floods caused the fossils and sediments ie water - so if you are finding contradictions in the way the sediments were laid down then you must be contradicting your own evolutionary evidence.  The whole point you are missing is that Lyellism is flood geology as well.  If flood geology is abandoned then out goes the geologic column which is also flood geology.

A catastrophic flood caused by rain and underground floodgates would cover by sediment creatures on land and in sea very quickly - entombing them regardless of weight. Weight would only come into play where the floodwaters were fairly settled.  It would be more the position of the creature that would matter when it was covered by the sediments.  A drowning without sediment does not lead to a fossil.  It was mainly the sediments that kill and fossilise the creature and vegetation.   This is where coal seams came into existence.  

This is why in only 1% of the world the whole column is seen and with always inconsistent thicknesses.

You are trying to see a pattern in the height in the column of fossils involving the date of their evolution but although you say that a lab expert could tell the trylobyte came from mt everest - this is not where it evolved or lived - if you get my point.

In the sea creatures live at various depths so when the sediments hit them at great speed they would be encased at different depths as per habitat mainly.  

Along comes the evolutionist thinking this different depth is caused by long periods of time.   Plus since land creatures can swim their fossil remains would only be found if they were hit and covered by the sediments.

Lyell’s flood would not cause so much sediment or fossils since a drowned creature just rots.  It was a catastrophic one year flood not a 600 million year flood.

Tsunamis and avalanches of water for a month or two created massive fossil beds allover the world with all sorts of creatures mixed together - there is no uniformity in most areas.

Michael Buratovich - #79308

April 30th 2013


Lyell did not believe in a global flood. I am not a Lyell expert, but from what I have read of him (a few books), he did not invoke a global flood, but only localized events. Also, contemporary geology has learned from Lyell, but has abandoned his substantive uniformitarian for actualism. Yes, past forces helped shaped the present geography of the earth, but these forces do not act with the same magnitude throughout time, but episodically. For example, I am from California and in the San Joaquin Valley on December 22, 1977, a 24-hour windstorm removed nearly 100 million tons of topsoil from a 2000-square-kilometer area. It severely damages crops, buildings, and automobiles. I remember it well, but this shows how a phenomenon such as erosion can occur very rapidly over short periods of time.

Therefore, to speak of Lyell’s flood is simply inaccurate. If the Biologos fellow Ted Davis ever reads this, maybe he can comment, since he knows this field quite well.

You seem to have abandoned the hydrological sorting hypothesis for the ecological zonation hypothesis, but this doesn not work either. The geologic column is filled with the signs of subaerial deposition. For example, desiccation cracks are found in rocks from the Proterozoic Eon, and the Silurian, Devonian, Permian, Jurassic, and Triassic periods and the Eocene epoch. Desiccation cracks form when mud dries and under goes hexagonal cracking. These do not form underwater and are a sign of subaerial deposition. Likewise, fossil raindrop impressions are found in rocks from the Proterozoic Eon, and Cambrian, Devonian, Permian and Triassic periods. These also do not form if the rocks are generated underwater. Dinosaur nest sites are found in Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous period rocks, which also do not form underwater.

There’s more. Fluvial deposits, which come from rivers, streams, or creeks also do not form underwater, but are found in rocks from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and from the Paleocene and Eocene epochs. Marine communities are also found in situ (in place) in rocks from almost every geologic strata, except for the Precambrian supereon, and the Silurian and Cambrian periods. How did these marine communities form in place if they were uprooted from their homes and deposited elsewhere. Plant fossils are also found in situ in paleosols (fossil soils) in the Devonian, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. This shows that these fossils were formed in place as they lived and where they lived. Also these are found at multiple levels of the geologic column. This is an eloquent testimony against a single world-wide flood depositing the majority of the geologic column. The geologic column was deposited bit by bit over billions of years over different conditions and at different times. That’s what the weight of the evidence argues.

Ted Davis - #79577

May 6th 2013

Mike is correct: Lyell denied the global “flood” as it was then understood. I’m quite puzzled by Lance’s statement that Lyell’s view was also a flood view.

Michael Buratovich - #79734

May 8th 2013

Ted, this is for my own education.  Lyell was in the tradition of Hutton who came before him, but if I read these guys right, Hutton seemed to think that the geologic record was more of the same over and over again, for years and years and years.  He saw time as cyclical.  Is that right?

Lyell, if I understand him correctly, did not view time as cyclical, but as local episodes that molded and then, sometimes destroyed landscapes in a relentless march of change that was recorded in the rocks, but was not predictable and could not be obviously assigned to some sort of greater plan or purpose.  Do I have that right?

Ted Davis - #79812

May 10th 2013

As far as I can tell, Mike, both Hutton and Lyell took a “steady state” view of earth history, in which there is no overall directionality. Hutton famously said that there is “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end,” by which he meant (partly) that we can’t see evidence that the earth is heading anywhere. This was consistent with Hutton’s (and Lyell’s) unitarian view of God, according to which God got it right in the original creation, so there was no need for God to change the way nature works once it had been created. God made the best possible world and let it be.

Lyell believed that all major kinds of animals, save humans, were always present on the earth. There was no time when there were no mammals, e.g., and indeed there have always been cat-like animals in his view, even though the specific types differ a bit from age to age. This is what “uniformitarianism” meant as it was originally understood. And, that type of uniformitarianism was rejected by Darwin in favor of progression in the fossil record—something Lyell thought was only a false impression, created by our great ignorance of the fossil record in its entirety. When we discover more and more fossils, Lyell believed, we’d start to see that progression was not true.

Ted Davis - #79813

May 10th 2013

Readers who want to explore Lyell and the flood are invited to read this: The author, James Moore, wrote this originally (I believe) as an undergraduate essay, but he was no mean undergradute. Moore has subsequently become one of the leading experts on Victorian science, especially on Darwin:

Michael Buratovich - #80129

May 15th 2013

Wow Ted. That’s a really helpful essay.  Thanks for the link.  

Michael Buratovich - #79264

April 29th 2013

Installment two

The bit about oil is off the beaten path.  You seem to be depending on the ideas of a chap named Gold who thinks that oil is still being made in the crust of the earth.  It’s certainly an interesting idea, but it is not accepted by everyone in the oil industry or most petrochemists. 

“If you gave me a fossil trilobyte I could say it comes from the bottom of the sediments or from the top of mt everest - not very accurate.”  No, but if I gave it to a trilobite expert, she could tell you the geologic stratum from which it probably came.  She could also certainly tell an Ordovician trilobite from a Cambrian trilobite from a Devonian trilobite and so on. 

“The evidence for the Noachin flood is in the water laid sediments containing billions of fossils on nearly all of the earth’s surface.”  You are assuming that aquatic environments are the only environments that create fossils.  This is incorrect.  Deserts can mummify organisms in the sand and bury them in the sand.  The beautiful dinosaur finds from the Gobi desert in China are a grand testimony to this.  Some fossil finds are terrestrial and others are marine and others are freshwater environments.  Also, your statement “The only alternative is that the earth has been continually covered with water to slowly and uniformly create the sediements” seems strange to me.  If we consider the Grand Canyon in the Colorado plateau, the Tapeats Sandstone through the Muav Limestone represents marine deposits.  The overlying Redwall Limestone is separated from the Muav by a distinct line of erosion.  This erosion line consists of small channels that were scoured into upper surface of the Muav.  These channels were then filled by Redwall sediments that contained small pebbles of eroded Muav.  This indicates that before the deposition of the Redwall, the Muav sediments had hardened into rock, risen above sea-level, and then were weathered into small pebbles that could be reincorporated into the rock once the sea returned to the area.  Thus there was a time when the area was covered with water and marine sediments were deposited, and a time when the waters receded and the sediments were eroded.  This is not uncommon in the geologic record because different locations experience different environmental conditions throughout geologic time; some of those conditions favor deposition and others do not. 

“Polystrate fossils disprove the gradualism of the sediments - there’s a 40ft fossil tree cutting through millions of supposed years in Edinburgh.”  Polystrate fossils are not a problem for contemporary geology.  There are several mechanisms that can explain these fossils quite well.  Upright fossils are typically found in rocks layers that are associated with an actively subsiding coastal plain or a rift basin, and also usually show the accumulation of volcanic material around a periodically erupting volcano.  A period of rapid sedimentation is typically followed by a period of very slow or no accumulation of sediments.  In river deltas and other coastal plain settings, rapid sedimentation is results from a brief period of accelerated subsidence of an area of coastal plain (below sea level).  The reasons for this subsidence vary, but salt tectonics, global sea level rise, growth faulting, continental margin collapse, or some combination of these factors can account for it.  These have been studied and explained. 

Your description of a single is of a single eukaryotic cell.  What if the original cell was a prokaryotic cell – a bacterial cell?  What if it was a highly stripped-down version like Deamer’s protocells?  To answer your last question, the akyl alcohols Deamer used were made from non-living molecules.  The phospholipids were isolated from microorganisms, but where chemically clean.  He could have just as easily made them from nonliving substances and they would have had the same properties.  The ribozymes used in Deamer’s experiments were made from Selex experiments, which are completely outside-the-cell experiments.  These structures show that you do not need to start with a modern cell.  Instead you can start with a simpler entity and them work up to (dare I say, evolve into) the more complex entities. 

lancelot10 - #79590

May 6th 2013

Michael - the curved sediments at up to 180 degrees - they had to be soft like plasticene to do this so it had to curve so quickly before the layers hardened.

There are thousands of polystrates all over - but they are not all volcanic but they would be waterborne - near the sea.   The volcanic fossil trees can be seen at mt st helens - only 30 years old .

Michael Buratovich - #79732

May 8th 2013

Uh Lance - Doesn’t that kind of make my point.  These buried trees were at Mount St. Helens were formed through vulcanism and without a world-wide flood.  The kinds of processes we see today can cause the formation of features in the geologic record.  That’s one of my main points.  

Secondly, the curved sediments can result from regional metamorphism of buried sedimentary of igenous rocks.  When sujected to high pressure and heat beneath the earth’s crust, rocks change their chemical properties and also fold them.  Foliation results in rocks when shear forces shortened them along one axis during recrystallization.  The long axes of the mineral crystals are rotated and the rock is segmented into foliated and nonfoliated regions, which gives it a banded pattern with highly curved bands.  See for picture of these.  The bending occurred without the sediments being soft.  

Also, if the sediments were soft and deformed, why do we see marine hardgrounds with fossil burrows made by creatures.  These were not quickly made and then deformed and deposited over.  No, creatures lived and died in these sediments for some time and the evidence of bioerosion is extensive in these rocks, which are found throughout the geological record.  If a flood was depositing sediment over these rocks as soon as they were formed, how on earth did they form what looks like thick layers of a thriving marine ecosystem?  It makes little sense to invoke a world-wide flood for the formation of these rocks.    

lancelot10 - #79747

May 8th 2013

The fossilised trees were formed by water from the volcano and spirit lake combined with lava sediments which became sedimetary layers .   The kind of fossils from a volcano only are like pompeii - we can tell the difference from sedimentary water laid fossils. Nearly all the earth’s surface is water laid sediment as you would expect from Noah’s flood not from a billion volcanos .  Siince Lyell always looked for uniformity in the layers he has to be talking about water floods.

If  sedimentary rock is heated enough to bend it is not sedimentary any more but igneous lava.   It is impossible to bend sedimentary rock to even a few degrees without it cracking - rock has little tensile strength.   

Michael Buratovich - #80057

May 14th 2013

Lance - “If  sedimentary rock is heated enough to bend it is not sedimentary any more but igneous lava.”  No, that’s not right.  When rocks undergo metamorphosis, they remain in a solid state and their unstable minerals either recrystallize into new and more stable minerals, or they react with other unstable minerals to form new minerals.  Metamorphosis does not break all the bonds in a rock - at that point it becomes molten - but the heat and pressure rocks are subjected to when buried rearranges their bonds so that they form new structures.  This is how slate forms from shale or mudstone, quartzite forms from quartz, marble from limestone or dolostone, or how granite is metamorphosed into gneiss. 

The Mt Saint Helens sediments are, if I am not mistaken, turbidites.  Turbidites form from sediments transported and deposited by density flows.  There are turbidites in the Ross Standstone Formation, which preserves Carboniferous rocks, as an example.  Thus, we have a modern-day example of the formation of a turbidite without a world-wide flood. How does this not demonstrate my point?

lancelot10 - #80058

May 14th 2013


I know from simple observation that rock will not bend unless it is soft .  The longer the “metamorphosis” the harder this will become since the rock will get harder.  Concrete forms in minutes and gets harder and harder - never able to curve like the soft sediments all over the world some with barely a crack.  At Mt St Helen’s it was water from the volcano and spirit lake as well as lava flows which hardened into ancient looking rock layers - with some curving as well.

This modern day smaller example of sediment creation would in no way undermine the world wide sediments that Noah’s flood created - why would it ?

Michael Buratovich - #80127

May 15th 2013

I know from simple observation that rock will not bend unless it is soft.”  Well I doubt that either of us have been able to observe rock metamorphosis deep within the earth’s crust, but geophysical experiments have shown that the chemical transformations that produce metamorphic rocks do occur and the conditions under which they occur are rather well characterized.  

Concrete is not a very good example of rock metamorphosis, and therefore, I am not sure how to respond to that.  

This modern day smaller example of sediment creation would in no way undermine the world wide sediments that Noah’s flood created - why would it?”  My point was that you seem to argue that a world-wide flood is necessary to explain the geologic column, but I am assertingthat Mt. St. Helens shows that you decidely do not.  A turbidite formation, like the kind found in Carboniferous rocks, was formed rather quickly from a volcanic explosion.  This was a local event.  If a local event like this could form a formation like a turbidite, then why could not ancient local events form turbidites during the Carboniferous?  

Also, geologists do not think that the tubidites of Mt St Helens “looks ancient.”  It also does not look metamorphic like parts of the Blue Mountains.  Rocks like the greenschist of the Blue Mountains had to be buried, undergo metamorphosis, and then experience uplift and erosion of overlying material.  This had to have taken enormous lengths of time and a world-wide flood could not have accomplished this.  

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