How do you explain petrified trees found standing vertically in many layers of sedimentary rock? Doesn’t this call into question the idea of uniformitarianism?

Question:

Thanks a lot for your extremely informative book “Is there a God?” I have
read it several times. I totally agree with your opinion that the
Creationist’s theory about the creation of up to thousands of feet of
sediments through the flood (described in Genesis 7-9) is wrong.
Nevertheless, in a creationist book I recently saw a photograph showing a
petrified trunk lying almost vertically through several layers of
sediments. How can this be explained, as the development of these layers
should have taken ten thousands of years or so? Another photograph showed
a group of trilobites petrified as if lying in a water current. This
implies that thay must have been enclosed by the sediments in a very short
time. I would be very grateful for your comment on these photographs.

Answer:

You should be aware that it is a typical tactic of creationists to troll
the sea of available data to find isolated facts which, upon a simple
analysis, appears to support their conclusion, completely ignoring the
mound of evidence supporting the conventional belief that scientific
evidence supports an old earth. Such data sifting is not intellectually
honest. It does not hold up at all except in isolation, in which the
critics are not even given a voice. Of course creationists are not the
only ones to do this.

Having said that, it still is perfectly reasonable for you to ask for an
explanation of the examples which seem to draw into question some of the
uniformitarian assumptions. About the petrified trees, this is exactly
what one would expect. Trees become “petrified” when they are somehow
inundated with sediment over a time period shorter than the time it takes
them to be decomposed. When this happens, the material left behind when
the tree is buried can be slowly be replaced by minerals, leaving behind a
fossilized tree. The question to ask is how long can this process take?
Depending on the climate, it can take several dozen years for a tree to
decompose. If a tree is killed fairly suddenly by fire or other cause,
and if in the next fifty years or so the tree is buried under successive
flood deposits or ash from volcanic eruption, then the tree can become
fossilized–buried in dozens of layers. This is not unusual at all.
There are many situations which would allow for a tree to die suddenly,
and later to be buried over the next decade or two (or even faster) by
successive deposit of sediment. In fact, trees which die while still
standing are more likely to be fossilized than ones which fall to the
ground, as they decompose more slowly. I am not an expert on this, but I
would guess that the majority of petrified trees are formed vertically in
horizontal sediments. This does not provide evidence for a young earth.

I do not see how a creationist can imply that trilobytes being buried in
sediment is evidence for a young earth. This is ALWAYS how trilobytes
were fossilized. How else can a trilobyte fossil form except that it
becomes buried fairly rapidly in sediment? Trilobytes decomposed much
more rapidly than trees and could only form fossils if they were buried
fairly suddenly. This is an example of what I described above. Such
evidence is only supportive of a young earth if it is used in
isolation–if non-believers in creationism are not brought into the
discussion. I want to encourage you to ask questions about what you
read. I believe that if you ask careful questions you will find that the
arguments of atheists and young earth creationists do not hold up to
careful analysis of the evidence.

By the way, Is There a God just came out in a new and much-updated
edition. It is about 50% longer and is almost completely rewritten. You
can get a copy at www.ipibooks.com.

John Oakes, PhD


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