What is a Polystrate Tree?

Talk Origins responds to this article. Click here to read their rebuttal.

Polystrate trees are trees that are found in multiple layers of strata. Creationists observe these trees as evidence for a global catastrophe such as the biblical global flood. We believe these trees are consistent with what should be expected from silt and sediment as it settled after the flood. When you observe residue in water, it settles in layers consistent with the geological column found throughout the world. As this residue settled around the tree and hardened, these trees fossilized. This poses a problem to the evolution model. A rapid deposit is not consistent with evolution because fossils are throughout the layers and supposedly represent millions of years. How can a tree stand erect for millions or even hundreds of millions of years without decay in order to be embedded in these layers? Evolution, on the other hand, claims that these trees do not hinder evolution and attempt to explain away what is observed by science.

It is important for Christians to recognize the method of debate most evolutionists and atheist use. It is also important to recognize that they are not going to win the debate in the eyes of an atheist. Because atheism is a religion of pride – or self worship, to admit defeat is to deny self-identity. An atheist is not on a quest for truth, but on a quest for intellectual identity. They draw self-identity and self-worth from their claims of intellectualism. That is why evidence against evolution is always called religious. If they classify it as non-science, then they can justify in not answering the evidence.

When debating, you will recognize a few key methods almost all evolutionists use. They begin by intimidating critics; avoiding hard questions by machinegun fire questions to smoke screen the issue they are attempting to avoid; and establishing themselves as authoritative by declaring their position to be evolutionary. Once they have declared themselves to be ‘inside the box’ of evolution, they can then use their own quotes as facts. The reasoning is if evolution is the only authoritative position and they stand inside that box, others can then assume their opinions are fact because of that authority.

We often see the claims of evidence without having to provide the evidence. While an evolutionist requires irrefutable proof, they avoid having to prove evolution by bombarding critics with accusations and attempting to create rabbit trails for others to chase. We a creationist calls a bluff, they are either ignored or accused of misquoted evolutionists. To avoid answering opposition or explaining how evolutions leaders contradict themselves and the facts, they accuse others of dishonesty and ignorance.

I was recently given a link to an article as ‘proof’ that polystrate trees have been debunked by evolution: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/polystrate/trees.html . This article on talkorigins.org uses the typical evasive tactics found in almost every defense evolution attempts to establish. The prized tactic of evolution is to put critics on the defensive so that they will not bring the issues to light. Instead of cowering or being manipulated into chasing rabbits, Christians need to recognize these tactics and force the focus to remain on the issue at hand. Rabbit trails can be explored once the primary issue has been addressed. This article uses intimidation and evasion to avoid answering the objections that they fear. They also confirm creation claims and then try to twist them into evolutionary evidence.

The article begins with the typical insult to (hopefully) put creationists on the defensive. If I feel intimidated by my position, I will be less likely to challenge the facts or lack thereof.

The reason I am using Dawson (1868) rather than a more recent reference is to emphasize that many supposed “problems” with conventional geology were solved more than 100 years ago using very basic principles. The people suggesting these “problems” exist are so out of date that even 19th-century literature refutes their presentations.

Also in the 1800s evolutionist didn’t have a problem with spontaneous generation. They believed fruit flies evolved in closed jars. Right off the bat, the intended impression is that if you don’t believe in evolution, you are not even as intellectual as they were in the 1800s. Perhaps the reason he used an argument from the 1800s is because evolution still can’t come up with a reasonable explanation. However, the intent of the comment was to intimidate critics into compliance.

The most common criticism I get from atheists is that I take the quotes that show evolutionists in a bad light. I am frequently called a liar, but I provide references that are completely verifiable. Obviously, I will not quote the whole article, but at the risk of being called dishonest, I will only quote the points relevant to the argument. Anyone who wishes can read the article for themselves to verify my quotes. 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. The article analyses the argument this way:

…he is simply interpolating the average depositional rates for an entire formation down to the scale of meters. This is not the correct way to do it, because individual beds can be deposited rapidly (say, sands and mud during a levee breach), and then little deposition can occur for a long time (e.g., a soil horizon),

This argument craftily avoids the issues while claiming to explain them. The issues in question are:

  • 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 additional layers?
  • 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?

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. The layers of strata have fossils representing different time periods according to the evolution model. It DOES pose a huge problem for evolution. If the tree was buried rapidly as Dawson hints toward and as creationists have said all along, evolution is out the window. If all layers were deposited together, then there is no such thing as millions of years. That would mean that all fossils were laid at the same time.

If the trees were not covered rapidly, then there is no explanation as to how a tree could have embedded itself into layers of strata that accumulated over millions of years. The article does not attempt to answer any of these questions. Yet it claims (as all evolutionists do) to have the answers.

Instead of answers, the claim to intellectual thinking is made while carefully avoiding the real issues. To avoid critical thinking, the article ends by insulting those who may question the facts. This article is nothing more than manipulation through human psychology. If you put people on the defensive, they won’t think critically and the evolutionist can avoid critical analysis against his or her argument. The article claims that we see examples of polystrate trees today. Indeed we do, but they debunk evolution. Mount Saint Helens created a lake full of sediment, which created many polystrate trees. Evolutionists don’t point to this observance but creationists do. To avoid this argument, the article says:

This argument is completely fallacious, because most “fossil forests” do not occur in volcanic deposits

Who said the flood was dependent of volcanic deposits? That is a straw man. The article ends the way it began – by attempting to intimidate critics and make people who would think critically feel ignorant for not siding with evolution. The article concludes: 

…many “young Earth global flood creationists”, have no idea that even data from the 19th century, presented by a creationist geologist is enough to demolish the “polystrate fossil trees” part of their presentation. “Polystrate fossil trees” are probably one of the weakest pieces of evidence YEGF creationists can offer for their interpretation. I wish they would stop using it.

Of course he wishes we would stop using it. They cannot defend against it. The only friend to evolution is the people who blindly accept the propaganda. Critical thinking is not welcomed. While evolution clings to the 1800s, modern science continues to confirm the Bible and evolution must tap-dance around observable science.

Eddie Snipes
2001

A Response to my article ‘Polystrate Trees’

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
additional layers?
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?
-and-
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
recommend Dawson.

“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:
http://sts.gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/page1/landf/atlantic/nova/ns_fundy/subm_fo.htm).
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
be documented.

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 

Bay of Fundy

Tidal marsh encroaching on forest, Amherst Marsh, NS.

Sea level is rising slowly causing the tidal salt marshes to build up and advance onto the land surface. Here the salt meadows are invading a forest. Dating of the trees at the base of the marsh shows that tide level is rising about 30 cm (1 foot) per century; the outermost tree is 1000 years old and is buried by 1 meter of peat.

———–

How does this prove the evolutionary argument that polystrate trees are gradually covered and happening today? 1 meter of peat over a 1000 year period does not help the evolution argument at all. Peat is a very light soil and very organic. This is hardly suitable for fossilization. This is an amazing tree that can live for 1000 years, but once it does die, it will decay unless a catastrophic event occurs that allows the tree to fossilize. Polystrate trees are not buried in peat. A half-buried living tree is not a polystrate tree. These trees growing in peat will not become polystrate trees nor are there polystrate tree fossils found in the areas that have trees growing. Once they die, they will return to the soil as have all the other trees in these types of areas.

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.

Eddie Snipes
2002