From Dinosaurs to Ice Age Plants

Fresh from his latest article on collagen survival in dinosaur fossils, Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research is now spreading misinformation about the discovery of some exceptionally well-preserved trees in Ice Age clay in Maine.

Basically we have some wood found in 1976 in Maine in an “Ice Age clay formation in a gravel pit.” Some of the trees have leaves (well, needles – they’re spruces apparently), which are still green. The discoverer, geologist Woodrow ‘Woody’ Thompson, did some investigation at the time, but then returned to his work on the Maine Geological Survey. More recently, in 2007, work on a Hospital uncovered much more of the trees, and Thompson returned to the case. He sought carbon-dating of the trees, and this is where Brian Thomas’ article, Green Fossil Leaves Point to Recent Catastrophe, begins to depart from reality.

According to Brian Thomas, the carbon dating called the wood “approximately 12,000 years in age”. He then says that:

the dates contrasted with other natural clock indicators, including tree ring counts and varve-counting methods that were reviewed in the technical paper.

And that:

The study authors settled on an “age” for the preserved wood of about 13,520 years. But the fact that these new dates “correct previously published radiocarbon ages” shows that all the “clocks” employed in the dating process provided different ages.

Implying that Thompson effectively averaged the lot to find his date, and that radiocarbon dating is all wrong because it doesn’t agree with other “clocks”.

Assuming that Mr Thomas is accurately relaying the facts – a charitable assumption – there is already a problem with his argument. Naturally enough, BT wants the trees to have been put there in the flood, only around 4000 years ago by the chronology the Creationists like to use. And naturally he wants to sow doubt about the radiocarbon dating. However, it doesn’t exactly help him if it is shown that the dating underestimates the age of items, does it?

To return to the facts, it seems that either a) Mr Thomas is deliberately misrepresenting the situation or b) he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” (Hanlons Razor). I’m torn…

One of the most common arguments against carbon dating brought out by creationists is that it assumes that the amount of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere has remained constant over time. Scientists, however, are perfectly aware of this aspect of the situation. The “12,000 years” is a raw and uncalibrated date, which the tree rings were used to calibrate to the 13,520 age.

The “correct previously published radio carbon ages” quote is taken a bit out of context. The complete context (from the abstract) is:

Ages of shells juxtaposed with the logs are 12,850 ± 65 14C yr BP (Mytilus edulis) and 12,800 ± 55 14C yr BP (Balanus sp.), indicating a marine reservoir age of about 1000 yr. Using this value to correct previously published radiocarbon ages reduces the discrepancy between the Maine deglaciation chronology and the varve-based chronology elsewhere in New England.

This may take a little explaining. The “14C yr BP” are the raw dates for the shells, the equivalent of the “12,000 years” mentioned before (the actual dates for the 14 logs dated were “11,907 ± 31 to 11,650 ± 50 14C yr BP”). As you can see, the varves were not used to date the logs, and are instead the method used to determine the “deglaciation chronology…elsewhere in New England”, which with these new dates now seem to be matched better by that in Maine. The paper itself seems to be talking about how the marine reservoir effect that can change the dates of marine fossils, and (I think) using that to take it that the shell fossils are really about a thousand years younger (or alternatively older – I’m not sure as I can’t read past the abstract) than their carbon age.

The news article that BT also uses as a source talks about how the wood probably got there:

The trees had been growing on Bramhall Hill, which at the time was an island, surrounded by the receding waters of the Atlantic.  As the glaciers retreated from the Maine coast at the end of the last Ice Age, the water level also dropped.

Sometime all those years ago, the marine clay that composed the western slope of the hill (today’s Western Promenade) became destabilized, and a massive landslide – hundreds of feet wide – occured.  The trees became buried in the marine clay and lay perfectly preserved for thousands of years.

After quoting the latter half of the above, Brian Thomas continues:

Whether those “thousands of years” are 13,500 or only 4,000 depends on the dating method used, although one wonders if the natural decay of chlorophyll molecules, which give leaves their green coloration, could have left them intact enough to still reflect green light after 13,000 years.

The “dating methods used” thing comes from an earlier statement of his in this article:

according to biblical chronology—a dating method that relies on eyewitness accounts—Ice Age catastrophes like this one in Maine occurred on the order of 4,000 years ago.

It is interesting when Creationist go on about how they have “eyewitness accounts”. In general, eyewitnesses are considered to be less reliable than more “scientific” evidences like DNA etc. Ever heard of a play called Twelve Angry Men? Eyewitness accounts are famously unreliable.

As for the chlorophyll, I can’t find anything to tell me how long chlorophyll lasts, and BT doesn’t say anything himself. With the Collagen that was written about recently, there would have been no doubt that the molecule could have lasted a mere ten thousand years or so. Why couldn’t Chlorophyll?

He continues:

Glaciers could not have formed in this area without a hot sea surface temperature—much hotter than any slow and gradual processes could have allowed.

“Citation Needed”, as the denzions of wikipedia say. Are you sure? Slow acceleration doesn’t always translate into a low maximum speed. And in any case the flip between glacial and interglacial (or vice versa) can be pretty quick

The biblical account of the worldwide Flood offers the best explanation for these clues. First, the massive Flood washed mud and sea creatures onto the continents. Soon afterward, the continents were buoyed upward by extraordinarily powerful mountain-building forces associated with the Flood. The same Flood involved volcanic activity that heated the world’s oceans, causing the post-Flood Ice Age. After ice had built up for perhaps hundreds of years, it then began melting and some of the Flood-deposited sedimentary material slid down catastrophically to bury the poplar and white spruce trees that Thompson and his colleagues later uncovered.

I’m pretty sure that very little of that is actually in the Bible. Just saying…

So what’s the point?

These findings are not inconsistent with standard geological chronology, and, as with the Collagen stuff, if the leaves really were that young, we should find green fossils all the time. But we don’t. Why don’t we, Mr Thomas?

One thought on “From Dinosaurs to Ice Age Plants

  1. Pingback: Snelling On The Ark, Part 2 « Eye on the ICR

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