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Ariadne’s Thread

Ariadne's Thread: Sedimentology and the Collapse of Evolutionary Theory

by Hugh Owen

In the famous story of Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of scarlet thread so that he can find his way out of an intricate labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur.  Today, sedimentology is the Ariadne's thread that allows scientists to retrace the history of evolutionary theory, discover the fundamental error upon which it was based, and escape from the labyrinth of false conclusions that followed from that fundamental error.

The foundations of evolutionary theory were laid in the field of geology in the nineteenth century by amateur geologist Charles Lyell and his colleagues who speculated that Earth's fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks had been laid down gradually and that consequently the layers of rock that they studied must have been formed over immense periods of time.  It followed that the fossils in the rocks had been laid down successively during these immense periods and that the apparent succession of fossils from small, seemingly simple, organisms in the lower rocks, to more complex organisms in the higher rocks, suggested that the simpler organisms had evolved through some kind of natural process into the variety of species of living things that populated the earth.

For amateur naturalist Charles Darwin, the fact that various species of plants and animals changed over time seemed to support this theory of biological evolution.  According to Darwin, given Lyell's long ages of geologic time, small changes, such as the changes in beak size that he observed in finches on the Galapagos Islands, might accumulate, resulting in the transformation of species.  He theorized that natural selection-the survival of the fittest, or better adapted, members of each species-could even account for the transformation of reptiles into birds, land mammals into whales, and apes into men.

What followed vividly recalls Iago's devilish discovery of "irrefutable evidence" of Desdemona's infidelity-only in this case the victim was the rare scientist who insisted on empirical proof of Darwin's theory.  From the end of the nineteenth century, an increasing number of intellectuals came to believe the facts of biology and geology had "proven" the theory that all living things evolved from a primordial blob by small changes.  In reality, the proof of macroevolution-or particles to people evolution-was never provided.  Instead, like Iago, (but, in some cases, without a deliberate desire to deceive) the theory's promoters presented pieces of evidence that could be interpreted as favoring their theory, while promising to deliver the definitive "proof"-fossil evidence of transitional forms between diverse kinds of living things-in the future.

Numerous intellectuals of good will accepted as proven the assumption that the fossil-bearing rocks of the earth had been laid down vertically in chronological order over millions of years.  Interpreted in this way, the apparent arrangement of the fossils from simpler to more complex from the deepest to the surface fossil layers seemed to confirm the occurrence of macroevolution.  A few lone voices, like those of Sir J. Ambrose Fleming, Paul Lemoine, and W. Bell Dawson protested the complete lack of evidence for these assumptions. However, the intellectual leadership of the world came under increasing pressure to agree with the American Association for the Advancement of Science resolution of 1922 that "the evidences in favor of the evolution of man are sufficient to convince every scientist of note in the world."

What these "scientists of note" had overlooked is that it is far more common for scientists to reason correctly from false premises than it is for them to reason incorrectly from true ones.  In this case, mainstream scientists made logical deductions from the false premise of slow and gradual deposition of the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks, with the result that they constructed a theory on a foundation of sand.  As long ago as 1956, Edmund M. Speiker, in the Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists reflected, "I wonder how many of us realize that the time scale was frozen in essentially its present form by 1840," after the publication of Lyell's Principles of Geology. Writing in Science in 1983, Stephen Rowland noted that "The basic time scale has remained unchanged since 1879, when the Ordovician period was inserted between the Cambrian and Silurian." Indeed, in 1893, three years before the discovery of radioactivity, an age of 600 million years was assigned to the beginning of the Cambrian era, based on a slow and steady rate of sedimentation over millions of years.

Nowadays the geological time scale is said to be based on radiometric dating, which is believed to offer an objective method for determining the ages of sedimentary rocks, by dating the rocks above or below the sedimentary rocks.  But T.C. Chamberlain who pioneered the practice of radiometric dating at the end of the nineteenth century based his estimated ages of rock samples on "biological requirements." By this he meant the time required for the slow and gradual transformation of biological species-such as reptiles into birds and land mammals into whales. These "biological requirements" were, in turn, based on Lyell's principles of slow and steady sedimentation, which meant that nineteenth century sedimentology provided the interpretative framework for radiometric dating and continues to do so at the dawn of the third millennium.

Lyellian geology not only provides the framework for the interpretation of radiometric dating of earth's rocks.  It also provides the framework for interpreting astronomical data used to determine the age of the solar system and of the whole cosmos.  For example, in the early twentieth century most astronomers believed that the sun was gradually contracting and converting gravitational energy into heat.  The famous astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington challenged this hypothesis, not on empirical grounds, but because "it is not much use extending the age of the earth without extending the age of the sun." According to Eddington, astronomers ought not to put their trust in astronomical arguments alone but must "turn to the sister sciences for other and perhaps more conclusive evidence. ...The age of the older rocks [of the earth] is found to be about 1,200 million years. ...The sun, of course, must be very much older than the earth and its rocks." Thus, Lyellian geology was even used to determine the age of the sun!

The reliance on the Lyellian geological framework as the ultimate basis for assigning dates to prehistoric objects has continued to the present day.  East African fossils of alleged human ancestors are still "dated" by radiometric dating of lava flows whose ages were in turn determined with reference to the standard stratigraphic scale.  According to physicist Dr. Jean Pontcharra:

In theory, dating fossils with the K40/Ar40 method, is only possible if they are buried above or under a solidified lava flow. In reality, fossil deposits are far away from magmatic flows. The stratigraphic scale is used to match the depth of fossil occurrence with the depth of lavas flows located several miles away. The lava flows are dated by radiometric Ar and an age is given to their strata depth. In fact the radiometric results are calibrated with the stratigraphic scale. The excess argon demonstrated in contemporary deposits also alters the results on supposed old rocks and prevents any consistent age to be attributed to the fossils. In addition, the necessity to match with the standard stratigraphic scale destroys the credibility of the entire process.

It is ironic that the foundations of evolutionary theory were laid by amateur scientists who did not do experimental research and that all of the experimental research that has been done by evolutionary scientists since then has been shoehorned into a framework constructed without experimental verification.  Even when geologists like Harlan Bretz challenged the conventional Lyellian, uniformitarian interpretation of major geological formations, like those found in the Missoula scablands, and proved that massive formations could be-and had been-produced rapidly by catastrophic forces, no attempt was made to reconstruct the geological time scale that had been erected by Lyell and his disciples.  Instead, mainstream geologists defended the Lyellian time scale on the grounds that they had taken catastrophism into account, but without explaining how the same geological framework that had been erected on the assumption of slow and gradual formation of sedimentary rocks could accommodate catastrophism without being overhauled!  Such a situation could not endure forever, of course, and in the second half of the twentieth century, a number of scientists began to do experiments in sedimentology and developed laboratories where experimental research could be performed.

In the 1980s, French researcher Guy Berthault demonstrated that sediments suspended in a liquid are sorted by physical characteristics and deposited in strata simultaneously.  The two principal stages of his research program dwelt upon research in lamination and stratification.  In 1986, Berthault conducted sedimentation experiments in still water with a continuous supply of heterogranular material.  A deposit was obtained, giving the illusion of successive beds of laminae.  These laminae were the result of a spontaneous periodic and continuous grading process, which took place immediately, following the deposition of the heterogranular mixture.  The thickness of the laminae appeared to be independent of the sedimentation rate but increased with extreme differences in the particle size in the mixture.  Where a horizontal current was involved, thin laminated layers developed laterally in the direction of the current.  A second series of experiments was performed at the Marseilles Institute of Fluid Mechanics which demonstrated that in still water, continuous deposition of heterogranular sediments gives rise to laminae, which disappear progressively as the height of the fall of particles into water (and apparently their size) increases.  Laminae follow the slope of the upper part of the deposit.  In running water, many closely related superposed types of lamination appear in the deposit.

Berthault then conducted experiments in stratification at the Fort Collins hydraulics laboratory of the Colorado State University with the professor of hydraulics and sedimentology Pierre Julien. For these, it was necessary to operate with water in a recirculating flume traversed by a current laden with sediment. As Hjulstrom (1935) and his successors had defined the critical sedimentation rate for each particle size, the current velocity would need to be varied. By modulating the current velocity, a superposition of different sized particles could be obtained.

The flume experiments showed that in the presence of a variable current, stratified superposed beds form simultaneously in the direction of the current. The result, on the scale of strata, also conformed, on the scale of facies, to the findings of Golovkinskii, Inostrantzev and to Walther's law (Walther, 1894; Middleton, 1973; Romanovskii, 1988), according to which the extension of facies of a specific sequence is the same in both a lateral and vertical direction. Laboratory experiments on the desiccation of natural sands also showed preferential fracturing (or joints) of crusty deposits at the interface between strata of coarse and fine particles. Rather than successive sedimentary layers, these experiments demonstrated that stratification under a continuous supply of heterogeneous sandy mixtures results from segregation for lamination, non-uniform flow for graded beds, and desiccation for joints. Superposed strata are not, therefore, necessarily identical to successive sedimentary layers.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Berthault worked intensively with a team of Russian sedimentologists directed by Alexander Lalomov (Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Ore Deposits) and applied paleohydraulic analyses to geological formations in Russia. One example is the publication of a report in 2007 by the Lithology and Mineral Resources journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It concerns the Crimean Peninsular. It shows that the time of sedimentation of the sequence studied corresponds to a virtually instantaneous episode whilst according to stratigraphy it took several millions of years.  Moreover, a recent report concerning the North-West Russian plateau in the St. Petersburg region shows that the time of sedimentation was much shorter than that attributed to it by the stratigraphic time-scale: 0.01% of the time.

In the conclusion to a paper presented by Berthault at a conference devoted to a scientific critique of evolutionary theory at Gustav Siewerth Akademie in Germany, Berthault observed that:

Paleohydraulic analysis determines the time of sedimentation of a sequence, which is shown to be much shorter than the stratigraphic time. Evidently, this short time period does not support the evolutionary hypothesis that life arose from non-life and that life-forms developed from a common ancestor through innumerable genetic mutations over hundreds of millions of years (see: .  .  . By calling into question the principles and methods, upon which geological dates are founded, and in proposing the new approach of paleohydrology, I hope to open a dialogue with specialists in the disciplines concerned, who are able to appreciate the implications, and propose a geological chronology in conformity with experimental observation based upon time of sedimentation-time which is insufficient for the evolution of species, as conceived by the proponents of the evolutionary hypothesis.

Defenders of the Lyellian framework have criticized the new experimentally-driven sedimentology, but the critics are having an increasingly difficult time defending the Lyellian framework.  For example, noted critic Alan Hayward articulates the conventional wisdom that:

shale is made of compacted clay. As most readers will have noticed, clay consists of exceedingly fine particles which take a long time to settle in water. Turbulence keeps them in suspension and consequently clay will only settle in calm water.

However, recent experimental studies in mudstone formation have shattered that conventional wisdom.  In a recent report in Science by Schieber et al, the authors conclude:

Our observations do not support the notion that muds can only be deposited in quiet environments with only intermittent weak currents. Instead, bedload transport of flocculated mud and deposition occurs at current velocities that would also transport and deposit sand. Clay beds can accrete from migrating floccule ripples under swiftly moving currents in the 10 cm/s to 26 cm/s velocity range, a range likely to expand as flows with larger sediment concentrations are explored . . . In the course of two decades of detailed studies of shales and mudstones, one of us has seen comparable low-amplitude bedforms  in shale units that were deposited in a wide variety of environments. Examples can be found in the Mid-Proterozoic Belt Supergroup, the Devonian of the eastern United States, the Jurassic Posidonia Shale, the Cretaceous Mancos Shale, and the Eocene Green River Formation. This suggests that mud accretion from migrating floccule ripples probably occurred throughout geologic history. Many ancient shale units, once examined carefully, may thus reveal that they accumulated in the manner illustrated here, rather than having largely settled from slow-moving or still suspensions. This, in turn, will most likely necessitate the reevaluation of the sedimentary history of large portions of the geologic record.

As Schieber notes in his report, "Mudstones constitute up to two-thirds of the sedimentary record and are arguably the most poorly understood type of sedimentary rocks." Moreover, it is important to note that the mudstone formations mentioned by Schieber in his Science report are massive.  The Belt Supergroup shales near Glacier National Part are up to 2100 meters thick, the Marcellus shale in the Devonian in the Eastern United States is up to 900 feet thick, the Ohio shale in Kentucky is up to 500 feet thick, and the Mancos shale is between 1000 and 5000 feet thick. Thus, the experimental research proving that formations of this size can be explained in terms of rapid deposition of sediment by turbulent waters supports Berthault's call to reconstruct the geological time scale in the light of experimental findings.

The importance of Berthault's research has been underscored by recent research in paleontology, radiometric dating and genetics which strongly supports his contention that the geological time scale ought to be reconstructed.  Meticulous carbon-14 dating of material from virtually every part of the geological column has produced results in the same range as fossils of mammoths and other megafauna that are known to have lived contemporaneously with man. Soft tissue and DNA have been found in dinosaur bones and other megafauna, and collagen from dinosaur bones has been dated using accelerated mass spectrometry in the same carbon-14 age range as modern mammals. In the field of genetics, researchers Kimura and Kondrashov have shown that the vast majority of mutations have a slightly-harmful effect on an organism.  These slightly-harmful mutations accumulate, producing a steady degradation of the genome, and imposing a time limit "on the existence of vertebrate lineages"-a time limit much lower than the millions of years evolution requires. The research of Berthault, Lalomov, and Schieber demonstrates that fossilized organisms entrapped in many massive sedimentary rock formations lived simultaneously and therefore provide no evidence of evolution.  Moreover, recent studies of fossils found in earth's deepest rocks have confirmed the existence of an astonishing degree of technological sophistication in some of the "oldest" fossils on earth.

Trilobites are members of the arthropod phylum, invertebrate animals having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages.  Although they appear in some of earth's "oldest" rocks-dated at 560 million years ago within the Lyellian framework-trilobite eyes had bifocal lenses that human engineers did not learn how to make until several hundred years ago.  Trilobites "could see anteriorly, laterally, dorsally, and even downwards and backwards," from one position. According to Riccardo Levi-Setti, Trilobite eyes "represent an all-time feat of function optimization." A writer for Science News described trilobite eyes as having "the most sophisticated eye lenses ever produced by nature," a fact which prompted the famous evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould to admit that "The eyes of early trilobites . . . have never been exceeded for complexity or acuity by later arthropods. ... I regard the failure to find a clear ‘vector of progress' in life's history as the most puzzling fact of the fossil record."

In the light of the new experimental sedimentology, Gould's puzzle can finally be solved.  The trilobite eye appears in the fossil record, flawlessly formed and fully-functional, without an evolutionary history-because there was no evolutionary history to begin with. In the light of all of the evidence cited in this article, it is time for all truth-loving scientists to take hold of the Ariadne's thread offered to them by the latest research in sedimentology.  Only then will they be able to identify and correct the fundamental errors of Lyell and Darwin and extricate themselves from the labyrinth of false ideas that followed from those errors.

Edmund M. Speiker, "Mountain-building and the Nature of the Geologic Time-scale," Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, (1956) 40(8):1769_.

Stephen Rowland, "A New Shirt for Carl," Science (1983) 4(5):80_82.

Cf. C. Schuchert, Geochronology. Bulletin of the National Research Council. (1931) 80:10_64.

Stephen G. Brush,. "The Age of the Earth in the Twentieth Century," Earth Sciences History (1989) 8(2):170_182.

A.S. Eddington,. The Internal Constitution of the Stars. (New York: Dover, 1926; reprinted 1959), p. 295.

Ibid, p. 96.

Jean Pontcharra, "Are Radioactive Dating Methods Reliable?" (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).

Guy Berthault, "Experiments in Stratification Do Not Support the Theory of Evolution," (Rome: Sapienza University, 2009), pp. 15-30.

Guy Berthault, "Time Required for Sedimentation Contradicts the Evolutionary Hypothesis," (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).

Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies (London: Triangle, 1985), pp. 123-125.

Juergen Schieber, John Southard, and Kevin Thaisen, "Accretion of Mudstone Beds from Migrating Floccule Ripples," Science 14 December 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5857, pp. 1760 - 1763.

Josef Holzschuh et al, "Recent C-14 Dating of Dinosaur Fossil Bone Collagen," (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).


Alexey Kondrashov, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1995, 175:583.

T. McCormick and R.A Fortey. "Independent Testing of a Paleobiological Hypothesis: The Optical Design of Two Ordovician Pelagic Trilobites Reveals Their Relative Paleobathymetry," Paleobiology 24(2):235-253 (1998), p. 236.

Riccardo Levi-Setti, Trilobites, 2nd edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 29-74.

Lisa J. Shawver, "Trilobite Eyes: An Impressive Feat of Early Evolution," Science News, Vol. 105, 2 February 1974, p. 72.

Stephen Jay Gould, "The Ediacaran Experiment," Natural History, Vol. 93, February 1984, pp. 22-23.

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