A foolish man, which built his house upon the sand—Matthew 7: 24-27.
Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee—Job 12:8
During the Ham on Nye debate last February 4, Bill led off with a great example to throw Ken off balance. He pointed out that (ironically), the Creation “Museum” itself was built upon rocks which refuted flood geology! Bill even brought a piece of fossiliferous limestone from a road cut nearby to show that it was full of fossils, delicately preserved, and not the kind of thing a flood would produce. He explained it briefly, but I don’t know how many people got the point—and given the humorless nature of most creationists who don’t catch on to sarcasm and snark, I doubt they even noticed the irony that their entire model was refuted by the rocks beneath them at that very place.
Let’s look at the geologic background to this concept. First of all, how do limestones form? Geologists know from studying them all over the world, and looking closely at them in ancient settings, that limestones are produced by the accumulation of fragments of calcareous animals and plants (shell fragments, corals, pieces of calcareous algae) in warm, shallow, clear tropical waters, with no mud or sand from land that would clog the gills of the shelly organisms or corals, or make the water dark and muddy. Since many of these organisms (especially corals) only form big reefs in warm tropical waters, and since much of the reef community is plants (not only the calcareous algae, but also the algae symbiotically living in reef coral polyps), the water must be very shallow and clear to allow light penetration. Consequently, modern limestones are formed in shallow clear tropical waters far from the mud of land-based rivers: the Bahamas, Bermuda, Yucatan, the Atlantic Coast of Florida (but not the Gulf side, where Mississippi mud darkens the waters), the Persian Gulf, and the southwest Pacific and Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Nowhere else! Not only is this a very restricted setting, but under no circumstances do limestones (today or in the past) show any evidence of being formed in the muddy, turbulent, cold waters of a typical flood—or even a supernatural flood. If you look at them closely, they are accumulations of layer after layer of fossil communities, slowly building on top of each other in quiet waters, often with delicate organisms (such as the stick-like bryozoans and delicate corals and sponges) buried in life position, with no evidence that they had been battered and toppled by the powerful energy of flood waters. Knowing this, right away we can refute “flood geology”, because there are many places in the world with huge piles of limestone, each made of layer upon layer of delicate fossils, that cannot be made by flood energy. Heck, even the creationists’ favorite example, the Grand Canyon, is built with many limestone layers: the Muav Limestone near the base, the huge thickness of Redwall Limestone at the cliff break, and the Kaibab and Toroweap Limestones that cap the rim.
Next, let’s look more closely at the rocks of the region around the Creation “Museum.” That area of northern Kentucky, southwest Ohio, and southeast Indiana is underlain by upper Ordovician rocks (445-460 m.y. old) that are part of a structure known as the “Cincinnati Arch'; the older rocks of the region (Ordovician in this case) have been buckled upward in an arch-like feature and exposed to erosion, while younger rocks (Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous) are trapped in the basins on each side of the arch. The Cincinnati Arch is world-famous as a place to see an amazing sequence of thousands of individual beds full of delicately preserved fossils, reaching several thousand feet in thickness, and loaded in every bed with a huge diversity of fossils. It is often called the “Cradle of American Paleontology” for that reason, since many famous paleontologists started their careers in Cincinnati, working on these amazing beds and their fossils. When I took a Knox College geology class there on a field trip in 1984, I could not believe how rich every bed was with fossils, and how the ground in some places is literally paved with the shells of brachiopods that you can collect by the bagful! It’s so rich that almost ANY road cut or quarry yields great fossils, and even Bill Nye (not a paleontologist) could find some with a short stop at any random outcrop.
The key point about these beds is that there are thousands of individual layers, and each one is full of delicate fossils like branching bryozoans and stick-like corals, some delicately preserved in life position as they were buried in a gentle rain of sediment—and this repeats, over and over again. Under no circumstances could a single flood do this! Most of these rocks are limestones--under no circumstances do floods produce these! We know what real flood deposits look like by watching them happen: usually there is a huge boulder and cobble deposit at the base formed by the front of the high-energy flood waters, followed by sand and mud settling out of suspension as the flood waters slow down and drop their sediment load. There is no such universal flood deposit on earth (especially not the Grand Canyon or Cincinnati Arch). In fact, the devout creationist geologists of the early 1800s realized this as soon as they began to carefully study and map and collect rocks and fossils all over Europe. They began as “flood geologists” (a popular idea before 1795), but by the 1830s, they had all abandoned any notion of a “Genesis flood.” When you know what the rocks really look like, the idea is laughable! (For further details see my book on evolution).
But the real clincher is the many different coral fossils in the Ordovician beds around the region. I took my students to several outcrops in northern Kentucky just down the road from Ham’s monstrosity. In many cases, you can find these huge coral heads from an extinct coral group (tabulate corals), known as favositids (“honeycomb corals” to the amateurs). You will find layers in the road cuts where coral heads had grown up from one layer (once an ancient sea bottom) over many decades, since inside the corals are growth lines that often show decades of growth. Then this coral head was buried in a gentle rain of sediment, and a new coral head (which also has growth lines showing decades of life) is growing from the old sea bottom in the layer above the previous one. This goes on, layer after layer, and is widespread across a large area of ancient sea bottom. One coral after another, undisturbed and buried in quiet water, and each layer record decades of coral growth before it was buried, stifled, and a new coral grew for decades in the next ancient sea bottom layer above it. To anyone whose mind isn’t blinded and distorted by the disease of young-earth creationism, the evidence is clear: no flood of 40 days and 40 nights could have produced thousands delicate corals still sitting in their living positions, each one in a layer recording decades of growth, and this repeated layer after layer!
This is one of hundreds of lines of evidence that Bill could have mentioned to show the earth is not 6000 years old, nor is the rock record produced by the mythical Noah’s flood. To any reasonable mind, this evidence bespeaks decades to centuries to grow these corals, and to accumulate thousands of years of layers of sediment, all showing the flood myth is bunk. Yet the creationists must accomplish incredible mental gyrations to fit this mythology with the real world, by using confirmation bias and cherry-picking the few examples of rocks on earth that can be misinterpreted to support them and ignoring the 99.99% that don’t, and thus reducing their cognitive dissonance of trying to believe two contradictory things at the same time. They are indeed like the the foolish man of the Bible, building his house (or “museum”) on the sand of lies.