I recently received an email from someone who claimed to be the author of the article I rebutted on Polystrate Trees found on Talk Origins website. Given the detail of the email, I don’t doubt that it is from the author, but I don’t have any way to verify the email address. I get countless critical emails that dispute various pages on my website. This one was particularly interesting, so I am going to post the letter and rebut it here. My response will be boxed in to avoid confusion. For the sake of readability, I am posting Andrew MacRae’s response at the point where he begins to address the three questions I posed.
I don’t care if critics “comply”, I would like them to
research the question more thoroughly before assuming (wrongly)
that conventional scientists “can’t come up with a reasonable
explanation”. Such a claim has been so wrong for so long, it is
amazing that it can be made so frequently as if it were true.
That scientists did provide good explanations, more than 100 years
ago, is a demonstration of how poorly the
question was researched before some people came to the erroneous
conclusion or speculation that such explanations do not exist.
(My article quoted) “Dawson goes on to explain that polystrate trees begin by a rapid
deposit of sediment (from a flood) and continue to build up
over thousands of years.”
Yes, a major river flood, like you might see on the Mississippi River
every few years. There is nothing more dramatic implied by the
evidence at Joggins.
(My article quoted these questions)
How did the tree survive during multiple catastrophes
without rotting or being knocked down?
How can anyone reasonably believe that a tree could
stand for the length of time it takes to build up the
How can a tree representing a short life span
(on evolution’s geological time scale) stand erect
through geological layers representing millions and
often hundreds of millions of years?”
It does explain the basic point of confusion in many “young Earth”
creationist claims about polystrate trees and other types of fossils,
but it does so rather tersely. In the FAQ, I need to
explain the source of the confusion better, and why the
supposed problem does not apply.
I will do so here, by addressing your 3 questions:
1) How did the tree survive during multiple catastrophes without
rotting or being knocked down?
Trees commonly remain upright during multiple river floods,
season after season, year after year. Some trees (such as the
modern bald cypress) are tolerant of immersion in water, and
will survive floods commonly. Even if trees are killed by immersion
during the period of a river flood (weeks or months), the tree does
not rot away or fall over as promptly as is commonly thought. Trees
often survive upright, after death, for years or decades. Some
are known to have remained upright for at least a century after death.
For example, there are trees standing upright in Reelfoot Lake
in Tennessee that were submerged by an earthquake that happened in
the 1800s. Some were killed by the water, others have survived.
There is also ample evidence in the fossil record that trees
did rot and fall down, and these are often more common than the
ones that remained upright.
|The problem is that a thousand years is not enough time for these trees to be covered and fossilize. Being covered with debris is not enough. How the tree is covered is only half of the problem. The tree must be covered by multiple layers of sediment and survive through many flood events in order to fit the evolution belief. Even if you can satisfy this problem (which you cannot), you still must fossilize the fossil before it rots. Burying a tree upright or horizontally does not prevent it from rotting. The conditions for fossilization must also be present. A buried tree will rot.
I will give Andrew the argument that on rare conditions, a tree may miraculously stand 100 years after death, but that does not help the evolution position. But consider the double talk of this argument. For a dead tree to survive for 100 years without rotting, it must be a non-eventful century. Water increases decay and a flood would highly increase the chances of the tree collapsing. However, if there is not major flooding, the tree can’t be buried. In this argument is an illusion of facts. The fact that a tree can survive for 100 years after death if conditions are right is presented to prove the trees survival is possible. Then gradual sedimentation is given to show that a gradual build up is possible. Both are presented as evidence, however, only one or the other can apply. Even so, a hundred years does not fit evolution or creation arguments.
Any walk in the woods brings this argument into question. Polystrate trees have roots in place and fossilized with the tree. The top of the tree rots over a short period of time even if it stands upright. The base of the tree and roots quickly decay. Even when we find trees slowly being covered in sediment, we don’t see fossilization, but we do see decay.
2) How can anyone reasonably believe that a tree could stand for
the length of time it takes to build up the additional layers?
There are two components to this question: a) how long a
tree can stand upright while being buried (whether dead or alive),
and b) how long sedimentary layers take to build up.
A tree that remains standing for decades to centuries (whether
dead for that whole period or alive) would have ample time for meters
of sediment to accumulate on a river floodplain or a coastline, if
sedimentation conditions are suitable. A single river flood
can deposit tens of centimeters to meters of sediment. Granted,
only selected environments have sufficiently high depositional
rates to realistically bury trees to meters depth in under a
few centuries, but they are not rare, and trees are commonly found
there (e.g., river deltas and floodplains are). As mentioned above,
trees can remain upright for longer than people commonly think.
|I have to disagree with the ‘rewording’ of the question. It would be better to ask if science can observe buried trees that slowly fossilize?
Do we see trees buried in flooding that do not rot?
Keep in mind that fossils in the geological column date the layers. If we shorten the time frame that these trees are buried, we also must shorten the ages of the fossils found in the layers. The crux of the argument is that the layers represent hundreds of thousands of years and up to millions of years depending on the fossils found. The trees growing through the layers disrupts the neat package that evolutionist are trying to present.
I will be more than happy to agree with Andrew that these trees survived for a thousand years while sediment built up if he and other evolutionists will be consistent and date the fossils in the same age range as the trees. If the tree is 1,000 years old, the fossils on the bottom layers can only be 1,000 years older or less than the fossils in the top layer. We know for a fact that evolutionists cannot agree with this assumption. This leaves a problem. Either the tree is millions of years old and miraculously stood through millions of years of flooding, or the fossils are not millions of years old. As you can see, both disagree with evolution. Therefore, it is necessary to craft any argument to avoid either of these to conclusions. Even so, one or the other must be true.
3) How can a tree representing a short life span (on evolution’s
geological time scale) stand erect through geological layers
representing millions and often hundreds of millions of years?”
Most commonly, the misconception develops because
it is assumed that if geologists claim a formation 1000 meters
thick took 100 million years to deposit, therefore every
meter of it (such as the meters that may be piled up around a tree)
took 100000 years to form, and every centimeter took a thousand
years. Such an assumption will be spectacularly wrong in any
environment where the depositional rate varies greatly. In the
deep ocean, it might be reasonable, but on a river floodplain,
it is wrong in the extreme. A soil horizon a few centimeters
thick may have taken thousands of years to form, a river
channel sandstone meters thick might have been deposited in a
few weeks at that spot, and the bottom of the river channel
commonly erodes away sediments that were deposited previously
(creating a gap).
|I consider this to be evolutionary double-talk. When it supports evolution, they claim that each layer takes (x) number of years to form. When it contradicts evolution, then what is observed is not necessarily accurate. However, the real problem is not in how long it takes for layers of sediment to form. The problem is the ages that evolution places on the fossils in the layers of sediment. If the fossils in the lower layers are millions of years older than the fossils in the upper layers and the tree stands through each of these layers, there is no reasonable explanation. Evolutionists claim this is a ‘non-problem’, but in reality it is a big problem. The only safe position to take is to ignore the facts. Just write it off as a misunderstanding and claim the issue is resolved.|
“This is not a problem for evolution? Regardless of how you slice
it, the tree had to stand erect without rotting, falling or being
knocked down for millions of years.”
Yes, it is not a “problem for evolution”. It is a “young Earth”
creationist problem to understand what normally happens in
areas of river sedimentation in modern times, and how conventional
geologists really apply that to the ancient record. As it turns out,
the 19th-century explanations are much more readable than the
present-day technical literature, which is the other reason I
“The article claims that we see examples of polystrate trees today.”
Yes. For example, there are the upright trees being buried in Reelfoot
Lake, Tennessee, that I mentioned above. There are some really nice
examples from Washington State and Alaska that are being buried in
tidal marshes. Near Joggins, at a place called Amherst, Nova Scotia,
there are trees, several meters tall, that have been standing upright
and dead for decades to centuries, and which are currently buried
by at least 30cm of tidal muds (refer to:
Practically everywhere that trees occur and there
is significant, ongoing deposition of sediments, it is possible to
find examples of them being buried. It is harder to find the data/
necessary to figure out how long the process is taking, but there
are examples where periods of decades or centuries of burial can
|This is misleading at best. A polystrate tree is a tree that is fossilized through multiple geological layers of strata. This is a solid fossil in solid layers of rock. We do not see this today. We see living trees that have sediment built up around them, but they are not fossils. Nor will they fossilize. As I stated earlier, there is more to creating a fossil than burying a tree. Upright or laying down, the tree will rot unless there are conditions present that cause fossilization. A partially buried living tree is not a polystrate tree. A partially buried or completely buried dead tree is not a polystrate tree. These trees will rot under natural conditions.|
Let’s look at the website referenced above as evidence: http://sts.gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/page1/landf/atlantic/nova/ns_fundy/subm_fo.htm
The bottom line is that you will believe what you want to believe. The evidence does not support evolution. Evolutionists do craft arguments that sound plausible until you actually look at what is being said. Once the facts are compared to the explanation, evolution falls short every time. However, out of a desire for evolution to be true, many will chose to believe it in spite of its lacking foundation.