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Fossil sorting by the global flood

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Rescued from the
Global Flood
Icon flood.svg
Twelve of the clean kind
As the Flood waters rose, they buried organisms in the order that they were encountered. This means the major groups found in the fossil record appear according to where they lived, not when they lived.
Andrew Snelling, Answers in Genesis[1]

How was the fossil record sorted in an order absolutely perfect for evolution if fossils were laid down in the turmoil of a single flood? Creationists have two main responses to this: "the geologic column doesn't exist and was made by evolutionists"[2] or any combination of "ecological zonation", "differential escape", and "hydrological sorting".

Ecological zonation[edit]

Scene from the Creation Museum showing how the Great Deluge supposedly created the fossil record.

Life-forms of the antedeluvian world - according to flood-sorting creationists - allegedly inhabited several separate ecosystems:

  • Stromatolith[note 1] reefs just off the edge of the continental shelf were inhabited by the pre-Cambrian's comparatively little life, including the Ediacaran biotaWikipedia[3]
  • Further inwards towards the coast, on shallow sea-floors, lived the hard-shelled animals of the Cambrian and Ordovician.
  • In order to "explain" the mid- Palaeozoic lifeforms, creationists proposed a new extinct ecosystem, a continent-sized "floating forest",[4] which existed just off the coast. This biome would have included the primitive vascular plants like Cooksonia and Archaeopteris, as well as transitional forms like Tiktaalik.
  • The borderline of the Palaeozoic and the Mesozoic eras was a Dimetrodon-inhabited coastal dune.
  • Further inland lived the dinosaurs and their related ecosystems.
  • Past the K-T boundary, creationists differ on the time when fossils lived. Some say that the Cainozoic specimens lived after the Flood during a period of super-evolution,[note 2] while others hold that fossils as late as the Pleistocene (Ice Age) were still ecosystems from the Deluge.[5]

The proposed "ecological zonation" system raises several problems:

  • The pre-Cambrian organisms remain nearly entirely unaccounted for. Some creationists would say that God made the pre-Cambrian (bacteria and all) in the Creation Week to confuse everyone for the shits and giggles while others recognise this special pleading (or just don't like God creating life before Day 3) and say that all the fossils from Primaevifilium[6] to now just had to come from the Flood,[7] without actually explaining what these ecosystems were. Stromatoliths are photosynthetic and can't survive in the abyss. Other creationists say that the massive amount of stromatoliths were produced between the Creation and the Flood, somehow being buried in the comparatively peaceful antediluvian world. Many geologic formations on Earth are of pre-Cambrian age; these factors mean that, for this hypothesis to hold, the antediluvian world would need to be nearly as chaotic as the Deluge itself.
  • The fossil record does not show just transitions from water to land. There have been found cases where the fossil record switches back and forth between terrestrial and aquatic life over 50 times.[8][9]
  • If the present has anything to do with the past, then we should find all sorts of fish throughout the "shallow sea floors" of the early Palaeozoic. This is obviously not the case: jawless fish only appear in the Cambrian,[10] and jawed fish only appear in the Silurian,[11] and even then are not very numerous until the Devonian. On a similar note, we should expect to find human fossils from the late Palaeozoic and Mesozoic. There are all sorts of incidents like these where zonation does not explain the observed reality at all.
  • Not just plants and animals are found in the fossil record. The kingdom RhizariaWikipedia maintains a very rich fossil record.[12] There's no reason why they would be in different ecosystems.
  • Since fossil layers were really constructed over millions of years, there was sufficient time to accumulate a consistent layer of corpses from many many generations of animals over wide areas. You could dig up a layer of trilobite fossils in Boise, for example, and it would have the same density of trilobite fossils as the same layer in Kansas City. Reading the Noah story back into this observation gives an antediluvian world of wall-to-wall trilobites, not to mention all the other animals in the other layers. In fact, there must have been far more animals than the biosphere could reasonably be expected to support, all because Young Earth creationists (YECs) compress at least half a billion years of fossil-building into a few weeks.

Differential escape[edit]

Some creationists, wanting to keep their image of dinosaurs in the human-inhabited Garden of Eden, include a mechanism which they call "differential escape" to explain the fossil record of animals, claiming organisms were buried in the order they were caught by the rising flood-waters as they tried and failed to escape:

  • Invertebrates are found first in the fossil record (Ediacaran to Ordovician), being slower and stupider than their back-boned counterparts and thus being buried first.
  • Fishes dominate the Silurian and Devonian periods; being more intelligent and faster, they were able to escape being buried for a longer period of time; eventually, they too were buried.
  • Herpetiles (reptiles and amphibians) lived nearer the boundary of the land and water, and were more sluggish than other land creatures, and so were buried after the fishes as the sea-levels rose.
  • Homoeotherms (birds and mammals) are the most intelligent and nimble of all the animals, and so were able to escape the flood-waters for the longest period of time before finally being trapped. Humans are the smartest and so are only seen at the very top of the geologic record.

Problems with this are also numerous:

Repeating layers of coal
White (not grey) cliffs of Dover
  • The single biggest problem is that it relies on the bizarre assumption that a creature's intelligence is universally indicative of how fast it can move, and vice versa. The facts that cheetahs and ostriches don't have smartphones and that elephants understand the concept of death further debunk this already-self-evidently-bubcus idea.
  • Entire communities of invertebrates buried in mud have been found, including the Burgess ShaleWikipedia from the Middle Cambrian. These include very manoeuvrable animals like the Anomalocaris, which should've survived longer in "the Flood".
  • Tetrapods that made their way back to the sea, including the turtles, extinct marine reptiles like the Sauropterygia,Wikipedia and the whales and dolphins, might be expected to have fared like similarly-adapted fishes, given their extremely analogous adaptations for swimming. Despite this, they don't feature at all in the Palaeozoic.[note 3]
  • Many aquatic species, when sensing danger, respond by burying themselves. They should be found low in the fossil record, but aren't. Deep-sea fishes and invertebrates in particular would be buried in the very lowest strata, but that's not where we find them.
  • In ordinary life, individual organisms become injured, old, sick, malnourished, weak, deformed, etc. This would mean we should still find the occasional human fossil in a lower stratum, but we don't.[13]
  • The theory also fails to take into account fossilised plants, which show the same type of order as animal fossils, and which are not noted for their ability to flee rising flood-waters. Repeating series of layers within coal measures indicate cycles of sedimentation rather than being laid down as part of one single event. The huge Cretaceous limestone strata, which consist of the remains of innumerable marine shells, require long periods of clean water. Any flood would have mixed the remains with silt and sand to give us grey cliffs of Dover rather than the white ones we see today. The rhizarians also don't have any ability to run from a flood. All these are major problems when we find fossil formations showing plants and animals together.
  • A model like this would propose that, among the terrestrial animals, we would expect to see a transition from slower to faster animals, with giant ground sloths on the bottom and VelociraptorWikipedia and DeinonychusWikipedia on top. This is obviously not the case.
  • New forms of life evolving from ancestral ones (such as tetrapods from fish and mammals from reptiles) don't, as a rule, completely replace the parent clade, despite misconceptions like "There shouldn't be monkeys anymore". This is reflected in the fossil record, whereby fish are found from their earliest appearance to today, mammals from their earliest appearance to today, and so on. This means many exceptions to sorting models occur only in one direction. If the flood model "predicts" a certain broad type (like fish or birds) to be found in certain strata, why can that type usually be expected in all strata above that point, as if subject to a reverse gravity? Just turning the column upside-down would save a number of headaches (except for contradicting every other flood-sorting argument, presumably). And any explanation of this problem has to also explain the exceptions (such as the absence of non-avian dinosaur fossils above a certain point) which real science attributes to extinctions.
  • Statistics for global sea-levels show relatively little significant change in the last 6000 or 7000 years.[14] But if a global flood had actually raised global sea-levels for a few months about 6000-odd years ago, one might expect "fossil sorting" mechanisms with differential escape to have left bands of similar fossil groups at comparable heights above today's sea-level - all over the world, with (say) human-like fossils found principally high in mountainous country, and not in the depths of the Great Rift ValleyWikipedia[15] (where Lucy and friends hung out). On the other hand, deep time would allow for the lifting and lowering of fossil beds over million-year time-scales - whatever height in relation to sea-level they originally formed at.

Hydrodynamic sorting[edit]

Creationists often like adding more mechanisms unnecessarily to defend their model. One of these proposed methods is hydrodynamic sorting, i.e. the denser and more streamlined fossils sank faster and so were buried sooner. This intends to explain why, say, the placoderms are only found in the Silurian and Devonian.

This mechanism also has its share of problems. The fossil record of the cephalopods, including the nautiloids and ammonoids, show all sorts of transitions as the shells became more and more intricate. This all makes sense with evolution, but not with a creationist model; the different cephalopods would've had the same hydrodynamic properties. Rhizarians again have problems in this model.[16]

Creationists' responses[edit]

In order to mitigate the above problems each mechanism faces individually, creationists will fall back on combining all the above mechanisms.[17] This is not a solution, though: we need to note that whenever an exception to one of these sorting factors is found, it does no good to point to another factor as a "backup cause". One must explain why a given factor would govern a given placement; the hypothesis must predict the evidence. For example, why would the ability to escape affect birds but never sloths, which are affected by something else "instead"? Worse yet, why would it affect certain types of microscopic foraminifera but not others-- and cause them to be sorted into a very neat sequence apparently showing evolutionary change?[18] This also leaves some more problems unsolved and adds more problems:

Distribution of several fossils of Permian to Triassic age, demonstrating plate tectonics.
  • Moles (subterranean members of the family TalpidaeWikipedia) fail all three criteria. They live on the lowest possible terrestrial ecosystem, are dense and streamlined, and are terrible at escaping rising flood-waters. By all the criteria, they should be really low in the strata. And yet they only appear in the Cainozoic, the highest layers.
  • Plate tectonics provides distributions of animals throughout deep time that make sense. How the geography of any region is supposed to look from before the Flood is confusing at best.
  • The existence of multiple mass extinctions is a problem for creationists if the fossils were laid down in a single flood. The causes of the extinctions vary; the Ordovician and Devonian extinctions were due to ice ages, the Permian and Triassic extinctions were caused by volcanism, and the Cretaceous was caused by a meteor. All these mechanisms would predict there being only gradual changes in the fossil record, and none of the actual catastrophes we see in the rock.
  • Combining multiple factors would not correct mistakes, but rather would add them. The more factors there are, the more complex the system of fossil sorting is, and therefore the more deviations there ought to be, unless all this complexity is governed by one overriding principle (the will of God?). Under palaeontology, there is just one significant factor determining placement in the geologic column: the time of fossilisation. This permits no exceptions, and none have been found.

Creationists at this level now have two more "explanations" for these, which, like the previous ones, are just as ad hoc and idiotic (and now get even more so):

  • The world was different in some really major way before the Flood. Possible examples include there being mangroves not in swamps but on mountains, humans only living on mountains, deep-sea fish not evolving yet (or even weirder, existing in big "holes" in the mountains), or pretty much anything. There is a lot of hoop-jumping and razor-breaking, to the point of humour, almost.
  • The Flood was really random, and it happened to make a Boeing 747 in a junkyard create a perfect evolutionary sequence. This throws literally everything else out the window. A basic understanding of probability quickly discredits this.
  • Goddidit!

Further reading[edit]

  1. Krumenaker, Larry, 1995. Rhythm section. The Sciences Nov/Dec. 1995, pp. 14-17.
  2. Sonett, C.P., E.P. Kvale, A. Zakharian, M.A. Chan, and T.M. Demko, 1996. Late Proterozoic and Paleozoic tides, retreat of the Moon, and rotation of the Earth. Science 273: 100-104.

External links[edit]


  1. Stromatoliths (or stromatolites) formed from alternating layers of sediment and blue-green bacteria, eroded into their characteristic shapes.
  2. Just see the Creation Museum on post-Deluge equids. You know how to use Google, right?
  3. Well, quasi-serpentine Mesosaurus appeared at the end of the Palaeozoic when reptiles went back to the sea. The point remains.


  1. Andrew Snelling, Order in the Fossil Record. Answers Magazine, 1 January 2010.
  2. Are there simple single-cell life forms in the Cambrian layers?,
  3. Odd is the fact that stromatoliths were already in a period of long decline since about 750 Ma, 120 million years before the Ediacaran period even started. The stromatoliths continued to phase out through the Ediacaran and Cambrian, and by the end of the Ordovician were almost entirely gone. A few persist even today. [1]
  4. We are not making this up
  5. "Evidence" for a Late Cainozoic Flood/post-Flood Boundary
  6. J. William Schopg, Microfossils of the Early Archean Apex Chert: New Evidence of the Antiquity of Life. Science, Vol 260, Issue 5108, 30 April 1993.
  7. Precambrian Plant Fossils and the Hakatai Shale Controversy The "plants" in question are actually bacteria.
  8. Boardman, D. R. II and P. H. Heckel, 1989. Glacial-eustatic sea-level curve for early Late Pennsylvanian sequence in north-central Texas and biostratigraphic correlation with curve for midcontinent North America. Geology 17: 802-805.
  9. Heckel, Philip H., 1986. Sea-level curve for Pennsylvanian eustatic marine transgressive-regressive depositional cycles along midcontinent outcrop belt, North America. Geology 14: 330-334.
  10. Haikouichthys, the oldest known vertebrate.
  11. So-called "spiny sharks"Wikipedia and armoured fishesWikipedia.
  12. Even New Zealand alone shows a lot of diversity.
  13. Any claims to the contrary have been refuted.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Afar Triangle.
  16. Microfossil Stratigraphy Presents Problems for the Flood
  17. The fossil record: Becoming more random all the time
  18. Archive copy at the Wayback Machine