Exploring Our World

What formed the Rock Layers and Fossils?

1. Uniformitarianism

The hypothesis of uniformitarianism states that current geologic processes, occurring at the same rates observed today, in the same manner, account for all of earth's geological features. As present processes are thought to explain all past events, the Uniformitarianism slogan is "the present is the key to the past." Uniformitarianism ignores the possibility of past cataclysmic activity upon the surface of the earth. Uniformitarianism has been the accepted geological explanation for over 150 years.

James Hutton first purposed the doctrine of uniformity in his publication, Theory of the Earth (1785). Sir Charles Lyell endorsed Uniformitarianism in his work, Principles of Geology (1830). Uniformitarianism is fundamental to Lyell's geologic column. Uniformitarianism and the geologic column, both of which assume uniformity. 

2. Catastrophism

Catastrophism is the hypothesis that many of Earth’s crustal features (strata layers, erosion, polystrate fossils, etc) formed as a result of past cataclysmic activity. In other words, the Earth’s surface has been scarred by catastrophic natural disasters. Prior to the introduction of Uniformitarianism, Catastrophism was the accepted geological doctrine.

"Catastrophism is the theory that the Earth has been affected in the past by sudden, short-lived, violent events, possibly worldwide in scope. This was in contrast to uniformitarianism (sometimes described as gradualism), in which slow incremental changes, such as erosion, created all the Earth's geological features.”


Test Hypotheses

If the many trillions of plant and animal fossils that have been found, were for the most part, formed by something other than slow natural processes, there should be evidence of catastrophism in the layers of the earth’s crust. 

In recent years, geologic features such as poly-strata fossils, misplaced fossils, missing layers and misplaced layers (including layers in reverse order or "ancient" layers found above "modern" layers) have caused some scientists to question a strict uniformitarian hypothesis. Should both uniform and catastrophic processes be considered in the forming of Earth’s crust?

Let's Consider the Evidence.

Sedimentary rock (sandstone, siltstone, shale, limestone, etc) is the result of moving water, laid down layer upon layer by hydrologic sorting. Animals whose fossil remains are found within those layers must have been caught in this running water to have been buried and preserved. The remains, as well as the rocks, would be sorted according to density. Otherwise, the carcasses would rot or be scavenged. 

Approximately 95% of all earth's fossil remains discovered thus far are marine invertebrates. Of the remainder, approximately 4.74% are plant fossils, 0.25% are land invertebrates (including insects), and 0.0125% are vertebrates (the majority of which are fish). Roughly 95% of all land vertebrates discovered and recorded to date consist of less than one bone.

A Textbook of Geology by Charles Schuchert, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. London p. 784

Why are all these clams fossilized closed?

When a clam dies, the shell usually begins to open-up very soon afterward.

During a question-and-answer time I did in a public-school Biology class, the head of the science department made this comment:

“Students, remember one day when I brought two clams into class and put them into our large fish tank over there? Remember one day one of you came to me and said one of our clams must have died, as it was starting to open-up and the fish were picking at it? Remember how surprised we were at the end of the day when all we had left was the shell? The clam was gone in one day.” 

If people walk along the shoreline and find a closed clamshell, they usually exclaim: “Hey, here’s one still alive!”

Rapid Deep Burial in Water a Key to Fossilization

Consider the following quotes:

1. “The rapid burial of remains beneath a blanket of sediment is critical to the process of fossilization because burial separates the remains from the biological and physical processes that would otherwise destroy them.”


2. “Preservation of body fossils usually requires presence of hard parts, rapid burial and appropriate chemical conditions in the sediments.”

Geoscience Research Institute - https://www.grisda.org/fossils

3. The animal is likely to be fossilized only if it is buried soon after it dies (or when it is buried alive!).” “Sometimes, however, the body is buried rapidly by fine mud. Water seeps through mud much more slowly than through sand, so the body does not decompose as fast.”



4. “Optimal conditions for fossilization are that an organism is buried very soon after its death and in the absence of bacterial or fungal decay, that mineral-rich waters and sediments surround the site, and the immediate environment is cool and hypoxic.”


5. In his book “Why Evolution is True,” evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne describes how fossil formation takes place: “the remains of an animal or plant must find their way into water, sink to the bottom, and get quickly covered by sediment so that they don’t decay or get scattered by scavengers.” pgs. 22-23

Many more could be given. Those are not descriptions of slow natural processes. A cataclysmic event of some kind took place.

There are two main theories on the formation of earth’s geological features:  

Catastrophism, and uniformitarianism.

Are either of these adequate to describe all of earth’s geologic features? Was it a combination of both? Is one more dominant than the other? That remains a matter for debate. Our chosen philosophical worldview will probably have much influence over our determined conclusions.