Carl R. Froede, Jr.
Within the global uniformitarian stratigraphic timescale, plant fossils
have been found in Precambrian strata dated to approximately 3.5 billion
years in age. Evolutionists have not successfully explained when or
how life formed to produce these ancient and wide-spread plant fossils.
Young-earth creationists have also investigated Precambrian plant fossils,
focusing primarily on Precambrian rocks found in the Grand Canyon. Controversy
has developed around the plant fossil content of the 1.25 billion year
old Hakatai Shale. Several studies suggest that modern and ancient fossilized
plant material might be present within the shale. Other Precambrian
stratigraphic units in the Grand Canyon contain plant fossils. Precambrian
strata of much greater age than the Hakatai Shale are known to contain
plant fossils. However, some young-earth creationists have rejected
the presence of plant fossils in the Hakatai Shale, or in abundance
in any other Precambrian strata. This position is not required by either
uniformitarian or creationist frameworks and it ignores documented evidence
of Precambrian plant material. The author proposes that Precambrian
plant fossils exist, and reflect the effects of the global Flood on
Antediluvian sediment and plant material. However, only the additional
study of plant fossils within the various Precambrian outcrops at each
locale can determine their specific position within the young-earth
Flood model stratigraphic column.
Many creationists have generally followed the framework of the global
uniformitarian timescale in attempting to define geologic history within
a biblical time frame. Weaknesses in this approach, however have led
several young-earth creationists to propose other Scriptural methods
of understanding strata (Froede, 1995, 1998; Froede and Reed, in press;
Reed and Froede, 1997; Reed, Froede, and Bennett, 1996; Walker, 1994).
This foundational change in defining Earths history offers a different
solution to many seemingly complex issues. One of these is the presence
of plant fossils within Precambrian strata. These fossils have been
a perplexing problem for some creationists, but one which can be resolved
within a new biblical framework.
Uniformitarians continue to collect evidence of fossilized plant life
further and further down their global stratigraphic column. Creationists
can and should assist in this search, but for different reasons. The
presence of Precambrian fossils has created controversy for uniformitarians
and creationists. One specific stratigraphic unit, the Hakatai Shale
of the Grand Canyon, has been a focus of investigation and controversy
among creationists. Why is identifying plant fossils within this shale
layer considered a problem by some, and what bearing does it have on
the creationist approach to understanding earth history? Some background
about these supposed ancient plant fossils is necessary.
Uniformitarian geologists divide the Precambrian into two Eons: the
Proterozoic, and the underlying Archean (Figure 1). Proterozoic strata
have yielded plant fossils which have been investigated for more than
one hundred years (Hofmann, 1971; Link et al., 1993; McMenamin and McMenamin,
1990). For some uniformitarians, life did not exist when the underlying
Archean strata were deposited because the atmosphere was not believed
to have contained sufficient oxygen to allow aerobic life to have formed
or developed (Cloud, 1968; 1976; 1983; Knoll, 1992). This concept has
recently been challenged with physical evidence of aerobic plant fossils
in Archean rocks. At present, uniformitarians have reported plant fossils
in 3.4 to 3.5 billion year old (commonly abbreviated Ga) Archean strata
in Australia and South Africa (Margulis, 1988; McNamara and Long, 1998;
Read and Watson, 1975; Schopf and Walter, 1983; Schopf, 1994; Strother,
1989; Walter, 1983). According to Schopf (1994, p. 193), evidence of
plant life in the Early Archean consists of:
megascopic microbially produced stromatolites; (2) microscopic cellularly
preserved microorganisms; and (3) particulate carbonaceous matter (kerogen),
identifiable on the basis of its carbon isotopic composition as a product
of biological activity.
The discovery of these Archean fossils has created a problem for the
paleontological community. Fossils of this age contradict models of
the origin of life on this planet1(Schopf,
1999). Whatever the requirements that evolution might dictate, plant
fossils clearly exist within these ancient rocks.
These fossils force uniformitarians to deal with the sudden appearance
of life in Earths supposed very distant past. These plant fossils
have been found in Precambrian rocks across the globe (Cooper, Jago,
MacKinnon, Shergold, and Vidal, 1982; Glaessner, 1979; Hofmann and Schopf,
1983; Iltchenko, 1972). Within the evolutionary model this suggests
that plant life was flourishing very early in Earths history,
and that it must have evolved and expanded rapidly (Schopf, 1982, 1999).
No credible explanation of these discoveries has been provided to explain
the presence of these fossils through evolution and dispersion.
The organic remains of Precambrian plant fossils are found within ancient
sedimentary and metasedimentary2 rocks
and strata found on the continents. However, extracting the organic
remains of these plant fossils remains a complicated and exacting science,
and contamination is believed to be a serious problem (Schopf, 1999;
Schopf and Walter, 1983).
Footnotes 1 and 2
1 - The Precambrian stratigraphic column (modified from Harrison
and Peterman, 1982). The lowest and oldest strata have been held
out as generally being devoid of fossils -- until recently. Uniformitarians
continue to find plant fossils in these ancient strata. Presently,
plant fossils have been found in Archean rocks dated to approximately
3.5 billion years old. Hence, even by their own evolutionary model,
life has been on earth for a very long time, and no one knows how
or where it originated.
Plant Fossils and
the Hakatai Shale
How do young-earth creationists explain the Precambrian strata that
contain plant fossils? Unfortunately, not much has been written about
these plant fossils by creationists. The Hakatai Shale, found within
the Grand Canyon, has received the most intensive investigation to date.
Several varieties of plant fossils have been identified and reported
within the Hakatai Shale (Burdick, 1966, 1972, 1974a); however, challenges
have been raised causing some to question their relevance within a biblical
framework (Rusch, 1968, 1982). Further confusion has resulted from some
creationists incorporating a compressed version of the global uniformitarian
column in their creationist model3
(Austin, 1994; Austin and Wise, 1994, and in preparation; Baumgardner,
1990; Snelling, Scheven, Garner, Ernst, Austin, Garton, Scheven, Wise,
and Tyler, 1996). One creation scientist has proposed that Precambrian
plant fossils might have been created during the creation week to fit
them within his model (Wise, 1992). Counter to this uniformitarian-column-based
approach, other young-earth creationists have proposed that Precambrian
strata containing plant fossils formed during the global Flood, and
have no link to the uniformitarian stratigraphic column (Froede, Howe,
Reed, and Meyer, 1998; Hunter, 1992; Snelling, 1991; Woodmorappe, 1983).
The most interesting and controversial creationist Precambrian plant
fossil study was conducted by Clifford Burdick (Burdick, 1966, 1972,
1974a). He examined the Hakatai Shale strata within the Grand Canyon
and reported finding a wide variety of pollen and spores. Following
this study, other scientists confirmed Burdicks work (Chadwick,
DeBord, and Fisk, 1973). In a later effort to buttress his position,
Burdick documented other areas across the planet where Precambrian and
Cambrian pollen were reported (Burdick 1974b, 1975, 1982). A subsequent
investigation of the Hakatai Shale (Chadwick, 1982), however, found
no evidence of any plant fossils, and proposed that contamination was
the cause of the earlier findings of pollen and spores. This raised
doubts about Burdicks work.
The controversy surrounding Burdicks work centered around his
finding both modern and ancient fossilized forms of plant spores
and pollen in the Hakatai Shale. Evolutionists would not have had any
problems with Burdicks work if only ancient fossilized forms were
found. Finding modern forms of spores and pollens created a serious
age issue with this shale layer. In the creationist community Burdicks
work creates controversy for those who define the Flood/pre-Flood boundary
as the contact between the Precambrian and Cambrian. They should not
find plant fossils in rocks which they define as having formed early
in the Creation Week (before plants were created). For both these groups
Burdicks findings created different problems for different reasons.
To resolve this lingering controversy over the presence or absence of
pollen grains and spores within the Hakatai Shale, members of the Creation
Research Society (CRS) collected and analyzed their own samples in an
effort to confirm or refute Burdicks earlier findings (Howe, 1986;
Howe, Williams, Matzko, and Lammerts, 1986, 1988; Lammerts and Howe,
1987). Their results supported Burdicks findings of modern
spores and pollen within the Hakatai Shale. Of course this confirmation
remains counter to the evolutionary model (Chaloner, 1967; Cloud, 1968),
and is very controversial. The uniformitarian model does not
predict or allow for the presence of modern pollen and spores within
the Hakatai Shale as it is too old to contain these advanced
types of plant fossils. The incorrect sequence contradicts the global
uniformitarian column, which may explain why certain creationists remain
skeptical of the conclusions of this latest confirmatory study. For
whatever reason, some creationists have also rejected the possibility
of modern or ancient pollen, spore, or any other plant material within
the Hakatai Shale (Austin, 1994, pp. 63, 137; Austin and Wise, 1994,
Recently, questions were raised regarding the validity and methodology
of the CRS confirmation study from an Internet post forwarded to the
Quarterly Editor. Answers to the posts issues were provided explaining
why earlier studies failed to identify the modern and/or ancient plant
pollen and spores within the Hakatai Shale (Williams, 1997). The results
of this latest study supports the belief that pollen and spores occur
within the Hakatai Shale and that they were deposited contemporaneously
with the strata.
Hakatai Shale Comparisons with Other
Uniformitarians view the Hakatai Shale as being deposited during the
Proterozoic. It is age dated at approximately 1.25 Ga. Comparison of
this Precambrian section to those of similar age found across other
sections of the globe suggests that it is not out of the question
to expect or find fossilized plant materials within the Hakatai Shale
(Figure 2). Modern pollen and spores, however, are not expected in strata
of this extreme age. In fact it is somewhat surprising that ancient
fossilized plant material has not been identified at an earlier date
by uniformitarians for this stratigraphic unit (although it should be
noted that Elston [1989, p. 264] hinted at the possibility of stromatolites
being present within the Hakatai Shale, and Horodyski [in Link et al.,
1993, p. 561] referenced a wide variety of fossils within various Precambrian
strata of the Grand Canyon). However, the confirmation of ancient fossilized
plant material per se in the Hakatai Shale would not contradict the
uniformitarian model, as far older Precambrian strata have been found
to contain plant fossils (Figure 2).
For the Young-Earth
The Precambrian Hakatai Shale has been examined four times for the presence
of plant fossils. Ancient and modern forms were found in three of those
investigations. However, some creationists still reject the presence
of any fossilized plant material within the Hakatai Shale as it disagrees
with their model (see Austin, 1994, p. 58, Figure 4.1; Austin and Wise,
1994, p. 40, Figure 1). According to Austin and Wise, the majority of
the Precambrian strata represent Creation Week deposits and should not
contain plant fossils since they formed before plants were created.
They suggest that plant fossils would only occur in abundance within
Flood deposits (i.e., above their Precambrian / Cambrianpre-Flood
/ Flood boundary). By implication their model would need to explain
the evidence of plant fossils within Precambrian strata from areas both
in and outside of the Grand Canyon (see Appendix). This point is important
because Austin and Wise have stated that they support the general framework
of the global uniformitarian timescale while denying the old age of
the earth (Austin 1994, p. 58, Figure 4.1; Austin and Wise, 1994, p.
40, Figure 1; Snelling et al., 1996). In order to defend their pre-Flood/Flood
boundary being globally chronostratigraphically equivalent to that of
the Precambrian/Cambrian boundary they should undertake palynological
studies to prove that fossilized plants do not exist within any
Precambrian strata. Their model of the stratigraphic column in the Grand
Canyon remains questionable if they continue to deny the presence of
Precambrian plant fossils.
Figure 2 - Within the global uniformitarian stratigraphic
column the Precambrian/Cambrian boundary is located at 570 million
years ago. One group of creationists has proposed that this boundary
marks the end of the Antediluvian deposits and the beginning of
the Flood deposits, and they use the lack of fossils and/or the
transition to more advanced life forms to define this boundary (Austin,
1994; Austin and Wise, 1994; Baumgardner 1990; Wise, 1992). However,
evidence of fossilized plants extend much deeper within the global
uniformitarian stratigraphic column (modified from Schopf, 1994,
Figure 1, and Schopf and Walter, 1983, Figure 1). Notice that the
occurrence of plant fossils extends to 3.5 billion years ago - the
lowest point where they have been identified and dated by uniformitarians.
Fossilized plant material within the Precambrian is in violation
of the Austin/Wise model.
The identification of plant fossils within Precambrian shales has been
documented. In fact, several uniformitarian geologists have commented
...in the light of results summarized here [for the Grand Canyon] together
with important discoveries recently reported from other Precambrian
shales, it seems reasonable to conclude that shaley facies represent
a promising, but as yet largely untapped, source of new evidence on
the diversity, evolution, and biostratigraphic usefulness of the Precambrian
biota (Bloeser, Schopf, Horodyski, and Breed, 1977, p. 679).
I urge creationists to undertake studies to find fossilized plant materials
in all Precambrian strata in an effort to help delineate the impact
which the Flood had on the Earths stratigraphic record.
A variety of Precambrian plant fossils have been documented in rocks
as ancient as the Archean (Figure 2). Presently, any specifics about
the kind of plants from which these fossilized remains were derived
cannot be ascertained. Each new discovery of ancient fossilized plant
material pushes back the timing of evolution of life on this planet.
This creates difficulties for evolutionary models of lifes origin
and early history. Young-earth creationists hopefully will keep abreast
of this interesting and relevant work. In addition to highlighting weaknesses
in the evolutionary model, it helps us to define and refine our own
framework of Flood-dominated stratigraphy.
It is important to note that proving the existence of generic plant
material in the Hakatai Shale within the Grand Canyon will not
affect the uniformitarian model of Earth history; it would only add
a new location where Proterozoic plant material has been found. It is
the evolutionary stage of Burdicks discovery that contradicts
the global uniformitarian column. With time new older Archean
outcrops containing plant fossils may be found. The problem which uniformitarian
geologists and paleontologists must address remains that of explaining
lifes point of origin and rapid dispersion across the planet.
The Austin/Wise stratigraphic model for the Grand Canyon appears questionable
as is denies the known presence of Precambrian plant life found both
within the canyon and globally. Further clarification is required in
order to reconcile these conflicts in their model. The presence of plant
fossils within the Hakatai Shale, documented on three occasions, also
casts doubt on their approach to defining the strata within the Grand
Canyon. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in the near future.
3 - Recently, several creationists have advanced a different interpretation
which proposes that Precambrian plant fossils represent Flood deposits
(Froede, Howe, Reed, and Meyer, 1998; Snelling, 1991; Woodmorappe,
1983). These plant fossils have nothing to do with evolution or
time, rather they reflect Antediluvian sediments and organic material
buried in the global Flood. The exact location of the pre-Flood/Flood
boundary would be determined at the specific outcrop based on changing
energy levels and not on paleontology.
Young-earth creationists should consider the paleontological potential
of all sedimentary and metasedimentary Precambrian strata. Finding fossilized
plant life within these ancient rock layers might be expected
within the young-earth Flood model. Several creationists have proposed
that some Precambrian strata were deposited during the global Flood
of Genesis (Figure 3).
Creationists should take an active part in paleontological studies locating
ancient Precambrian fossils across the earth. By doing so
we accomplish two objectives: 1) We extend the depth of strata likely
affected by the Flood, and 2) we push evolutionists to explain how life
arose fully-formed across the earth so rapidly, and so very
long ago. We need to aggressively pursue paleontological studies if
we wish to demonstrate the weaknesses of evolution and uniformitarian
geology in explaining the stratigraphic record. This is what the global
uniformitarian stratigraphic column is based on (evolutionary biology/paleontology
and not radiometric dating!) and this is where we need to focus
our efforts (Froede, 1994, 1997). Precambrian plant fossils provide
excellent evidence of Flood deposition within the young-earth Flood
The controversy over the paleontology and stratigraphy of the Hakatai
Shale (or any other Precambrian strata) raises a larger question than
the mere presence or absence of fossilized plant material in the Precambrian.
Rather, the core issue is whether or not young-earth creationists should
use the global uniformitarian column to define biblical history. Austin
and Wise follow the general framework of the global uniformitarian column
(Austin, 1994, p. 58, Figure 4.1; Austin and Wise, 1994, p. 40, Figure
1; Snelling et al., 1996, p. 333, Figure 1). They have also proposed
that the pre-Flood/Flood boundary should occur at the uniformitarian
Precambrian/Cambrian boundary (Figure 2). This is based on their definition
of the Paleontological Discontinuity criteria:
The slow deposition in the pre-Flood world would have made fossilization
of plant, animal and fungal remains unlikely. Also, it is very likely
that the initial erosion of the Flood destroyed or reworked virtually
all of the fossils which were present in pre-Flood sediments. Consequently,
below the pre-Flood/Flood boundary, sediments capable of preserving
fossils might, at best, contain only traces of the most abundant and
easily fossilized life formsbacterial, algal, and protist fossilsand
probably in very low abundance. Plant, animal and fungal fossils
might be expected to be found in high abundance only above the pre-Flood/Flood
boundary.(Austin and Wise, 1994, p. 40) (Italics mine)
This statement is inconsistent, however, when dealing with the evidence
of plant fossils in the uniformitarian Precambrian strata, and runs
counter to what Schopf (1994, p. 194) has stated about the presence
of plant fossils found within the Precambrian, Proterozoic Eon:
Stromatolites are virtually ubiquitous in Proterozoic carbonate terranes,
represented by hundreds of taxonomic occurrences reported from a large
number of Proterozoic basins. ...literally hundreds of microfossiliferous
formations and nearly 3,000 occurrences of bona fide microfossils have
been discovered in Proterozoic-age strata...
These creationists appear to have overlooked the record of plant fossils
taken directly from the Precambrian strata within the Grand Canyon!
They do not believe that plant fossils are abundant within the Precambrian
strata of the Grand Canyon, and yet uniformitarians have documented
them in several places and in abundance (see Bloeser, Schopf, Horodyski,
and Breed, 1977; Elston, 1989; Elston and McKee, 1982; Ford, 1990; Horodyski,
1993; Knauth, 1994; Link et al., 1993; Nations and Stump, 1996; Schopf,
Ford, and Breed, 1973). Since the Austin/Wise stratigraphic model for
the Grand Canyon is inconsistent with the physical evidence, perhaps
they should reexamine the role of the global uniformitarian column in
their model. The global uniformitarian stratigraphic column is not required
within the young-earth Flood model (Froede and Reed, 1999). I recommend
that the use of the global uniformitarian column to define Flood geology
in the Grand Canyon (or anywhere else) be rejected.
I thank Dr. George F. Howe and Dr. Emmett L. Williams for sharing their
experiences with me regarding the controversy surrounding the presence
of pollen and spore material within the Hakatai Shale. Both gentlemen
kindly provided me with review and comment on various drafts of this
document. Additionally, all of the peer-review comments were of great
help to me in further clarifying this article. However, any mistakes
which remain are my own. I thank my wife for allowing me the time to
write for the Creation Research Society Quarterly. Glory to God
in the highest (Pr 3:5-6).
CRSQ: Creation Research Society Quarterly
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