John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in eastern Oregon, USA (Directions), is a relative newcomer (1974) to the 113 national monuments. Its 14,000 acres are divided into three separated geographic units. For scientists, its importance lies in the magnificent Tertiary fossil remains and rock sequences. Tertiary strata are often widely scattered elsewhere, but here at the monument they are neatly sandwiched between massive volcanic layers. The result is a geologic paradise built during catastrophic events. Findings and tentative conclusions are presented in an easy-to-read question and answer format. Additional information is given in numerous links.
Why would a visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument interest a Christian who is wondering about the Creation/Evolutionism controversy?
The John Day presents a star witness to a number of factors that shaped the geology of North America. Its fossils and rocks testify to Creation and numerous events in the Earth's chaotic past.
What are some of these factors?
First, let's have a little review. When intensive study of the Earth and its fossils began more than two hundred years ago, already the foundations were laid for the rejection of the biblical account of Earth history. Contrary to a recent Creation date based upon Scripture, Hutton in the late 1700s proposed an enormous age for the Earth. Intensive study of the Earth's rocks and fossils followed in the early and mid-1800s. More and more evidence surfaced indicating a single-event, such as Noah's Flood, could not account for all the massive geologic layers and fossil remains.
Christians devised various possible ways to reconcile the geologic findings with Scripture. One early idea was that the Bible is silent on the age of the Earth. And the unusual groupings of fossils found in the rock layers represented a series of creations over vast geologic time frames. By Darwin's time, even this compromise was rejected by the majority of scientists in favor of a purely naturalistic answer: the Theory of Organic Evolution.
In short, the Bible was thrust out of geologic history?
Yes, and this certainly continues to be true today as seen by visiting the world's museums, reading about the Earth's past in the media or by attending state university classes. God is nowhere mentioned. Christians remain divided about how to correctly understand the physical geologic record as well as about what Scripture says concerning the Earth's geologic past.
So, how are you going to present what has been found at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in the light of Scripture and valid findings of scientists?
The Creation, Curse, Catastrophe (CCC) geologic model was published 15 years ago. It attempts to see the reality of the geologic and fossil record based upon all available revelation in the Bible, yet without rejecting good scientific findings. There can be no real contradiction between God's works in His Creation and His revealed Word. Both must be properly understood. Scientific findings and the Word of God are both limited in scope. Both can be and have been misinterpreted. We must always acknowledge that our understanding of the past is sketchy. Many mysteries remain and our current interpretation can and should change if better data develops.
So how do we begin to study John Day Fossil Beds National Monument?
The Monument, indeed, the whole state of Oregon, is an unusual geologic study! I personally have never studied an area where chaos has played such an obviously dominant role in determining what is seen on the surface and as well as deep in the Earth.
Normally, the basement (bottom) rocks of a region are Precambrian. Precambrian rocks have almost no fossils. They form the basement rocks around the world and underlie the many fossiliferous layers piled on top of them. In Oregon we find the basement rocks might be properly called a "train wreck" of separated segments under girding the layers we see on the surface. And, due to special causes, the basement rocks in Oregon are not Precambrian. But, that's getting ahead of the story.
Explain. What else do we need to know?
Ultimately, we need some concept of what the Earth looked like "in the beginning." That is, what would we have seen if we could have flown over the newly created Earth?
We would have seen a greatly different Earth from today. The vast rock layers containing fossils around the world would not have been there. They are the result of the burial and death of life forms since Creation Week. Or, to put it another way, the early Earth would have been mainly ocean with land surfaces now known as shield areas. These shield areas are Precambrian and have no strata on top of them. They are still found on all the continents and sometimes make up a sizeable portion of the continent. It's here on the shield areas that the original humans and various kinds of created life were originally placed and thrived. And, remember, their presence there is undetectable today because no fossiliferous rocks are found above the shield areas. The shield areas formed original life centers where flora and fauna could migrate from as continents enlarged in area.
But, isn't it true that today most of the Earth's land surfaces are not the shield areas?
Yes, since Creation Week lots of real estate has been added onto the original land masses. For example, in the USA, that would include almost all the land surface we presently live on. For many other countries, much less land has been added to extend the original boundaries. How God accomplished this is an amazing story that is yet to be fully told or understood. But, much of the new land added to continents originated in shallow seas offshore from the shield areas. Through geologic action these sea deposits (named by geologists as Paleozoic and Mesozoic and some Cenozoic) became useable land surfaces. God was creating more and more land surfaces that would be needed to house mankind and the multiplying forms of life created during Creation Week.
So what makes this important to the study of Oregon and the John Day Fossil Beds?
Oregon was an American frontier just 175 years ago. Geologically, it was also one of the last land areas added to extend the North American continent westward. This was done in a most amazing manner, quite different from what God previously had done in North America in developing huge sheets of strata under shallow seas. Oregon lies at one of the earth's many plate boundaries. The Pacific Plate acted as a conveyer belt feeding Pacific oceanic islands up against the North American Plate. Remains of Pacific islands can be found in Oregon because they were accreted to the edge of the continent in the catastrophic past.
No wonder you earlier called the foundational rocks of Oregon the remains of a geologic "train wreck"!
Yes, and that was only the beginning. Many of the strata in the monument as well as elsewhere in Oregon, Washington and Idaho had catastrophic origins.
The area became dotted with volcanoes. At various times huge fissures opened up allowing molten magna to pour out burying everything in their path over thousands of square miles.
So, you're saying there were a series of events spread over time since Creation Week that accounts for what we now see?
That's it exactly. What is now Oregon was originally seabed far off the created North American Precambrian shield. As time passed, many geologic events in shallow seas added additional land adjacent to the Canadian Shield extending the North American continent all the way to the far Western USA. Finally, the conveyer belt of the Pacific plate accreted islands and other material onto the continent.
Too bad this couldn't be illustrated in video form. It would be much easier to understand.
Yes, I very much agree, but unlike the millions (billions) of dollars that have been spent on showing godless concepts (much out of tax payers money), I don't have the resources to do a video. Maybe someone out there who makes videos can volunteer in this regard.
So, Oregon is a late-comer to the North American continent. How did that affect the fossil record?
For one thing, you will not find vast dinosaur graveyards in Oregon. Currently scientists know of only one tiny dinosaur fragment found in the state. And, yet, vast numbers of dinosaur fossils, footprints, nests, eggs, etc. are found east of Oregon in other Western states. Oregon was still under the Pacific Ocean in the process of being formed when dinosaurs roamed the sea coast situated at that time just to the east. By the time Oregon became a land area, the dinosaurs were gone. The newly developed land became home to mammals and angiosperms.
Ok, that brings up the question of how all this fits into a biblically based time-frame.
That's where the CCC geologic model has a better idea. It doesn't cram all geologic activity into a one-year Flood as many young earth creationists attempt to do. Neither does the CCC model agree with the commonly-accepted millions of years used in atheistic, evolutionary theories or in some Creation models that invoke progressive creations.
The CCC model interprets the Biblical curse in the days of early man as initiating vast geologic destruction in the pre-Flood world. Much of the fossil record around the world was already in place at the beginning of the worldwide Noachian Flood. This is not, however, true for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. These rock layers developed after the Flood ended.
The Flood/post-Flood boundary for the California Sierra Nevada area helps evaluate the dating of the Oregon strata. In the Sierra Nevada, there is a similar series of events after the Flood. The earliest mammal and angiosperm fossils in Oregon and the Sierra Nevada are found directly above Flood events. Flood events in the Sierra Nevada consisted of the growth of large igneous intrusions and vast erosion of overlying strata. Flood events in John Day Fossil Beds consisted of the "train wreck" accretion of Pacific Ocean sea beds and islands onto the continent.
Are you saying that the John Day fossil beds were formed after the Deluge?
Yes, that would seem to be the logical conclusion based upon both developments after the Flood in the nearby California Sierra Nevada Mountains and in the newly formed land area now known as Oregon.
Is there any other evidence that would support this conclusion?
Yes, while some creationists teach that radiometric dates are basically meaningless, they can give us a relative sequence of ages. This relative sequence of dates is helpful in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It is true that "absolute" radiometric ages (given in billions or millions of years) are far too old to correlate with biblical chronology. Some yet unknown factor or factors caused the radioactive elements to decay more and more slowly after Creation Week. It's like a clock running wildly at first but then gradually slowing down to its present rate. But when properly understood, a relative sequence of events can be ascertained from the dating methods.
Could you speak a bit more about radioactive dating methods?
Yes, that would be helpful. James Hutton in the late 1700s theorized that geologic events occurred very slowly. Based upon this assumption, it is logical to think it took millions of years for the thick rock sequences to form. Charles Lyell in the 1830s made Hutton's ideas popular. With the discovery of radioactive minerals in the early 1900s, and the assumption of a steady decay rate since Earth's formation, there seemed to be valid scientific evidence for an Earth billions of years old.
So, is the Young Earth Christian foolish to think the Earth is only thousands of years old, as a straight-forward reading of biblical chronology indicates?
As mentioned earlier, there are still unsolved mysteries. The Creationist is not alone. The evolutionist also faces unsolved problems, but in different ways. Science, by its very nature, doesn't claim to have the truth. It only claims to have the best available answer at the time. The Christian who accepts the biblical record as God-given has some advantages.
Whose word would you rather accept? The people who were at the scene of a disaster and saw it happen, or someone a thousand years later who is trying to understand what happened? God was there at and has been here since Creation. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things created. He has revealed in Scripture some of what happened at Creation and during early Earth history. God doesn't lie. So His revelation sets boundaries within which we can fit scientific data. But, many details are unclear and may remain so this side of eternity. Our understanding will never be complete now.
But, aren't there "smoking guns" that point to a young rather than to an ancient Earth?
Indeed, there are, but the scientific community has too often "seen" only what is acceptable at that particular time. Holding a job is important. It is not kosher to go against the current evolutionary, ancient Earth belief.
When I was getting my master's degree in geology at Wichita State University in the early 1980s, I vividly remember a remark made one day by the professor of my geochronology class. It went something like this: "Thirty years ago [that would have been the 1950s] if you wanted a job teaching geology you could not believe in continental drift. Now, unless you believe in Plate Tectonics, you can't get a job teaching geology!"
An outstanding change in geologic thought came about from former University of Chicago Professor J. Harlen Bretz. As early as 1909 he began to see vast evidence that the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington State were the result of cataclysmic flooding. Such a view countered the prevalent uniformitarian bias against anything that might indicate catastrophic origins. It was not until the early 1960s (I believe, mainly due to Bretz's correct catastrophic interpretation of the formation of the Washington Scablands), that most scientists admitted catastrophism fit into modern-day geologic teaching. Once the trance of uniformitarianism was broken, catastrophic events were acknowledged in the geologic record all over the world.
Can you cite some specific "smoking guns" that indicate geologic time has been stretched out way too much?
As I mentioned earlier, the John Day Fossil Beds area have some similarities to the Tertiary of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. There is abundant evidence within the Tertiary strata in the Sierra Nevada of human artifacts and even fossil human bones. Such human artifacts and fossils were found in ancient gold-bearing gravels over nearly 50 years in the late 1800s. These findings would place such human remains and artifacts millions of years into the geologic past, according to the accepted dates. This contradicts all evolutionary ideas and for that reason the fossils and artifacts were never admitted to be that old. There was a geological "cover up" to keep these findings from being accepted.
When I was studying geology in the early 1980s at WSU, a book by Derek Ager was highly recommended by the Chair of the Geology Department. A later book by Ager: The New Catastrophism — The importance of the rare event in geological history was published in the year of his death, 1993. While Ager made it plain he wanted nothing to do with Creationism, he nevertheless thought "...that the 'catastrophist' Georges Cuvier was a better geologist than the 'uniformitarian' Charles Lyell...' (p. xviii). In short, Ager thought geology got off on the wrong foot with Lyell and that is why Ager allowed for periodic catastrophic events over geologic time.
We've had much good background information that will help us better understand the geology of John Day Fossil Beds from a Young Earth perspective. How does this specifically apply to the National Monument?
When analyzing the geology of any one area, it's helpful to look at the entire geologic column, bottom to top, in that region. Often in geological studies by Creationists, focus is solely on a small area of the fossil or rock record that easily shows catastrophism. So, in studying the area of the John Day Fossil Beds, let's start with the basement rocks and work our way to the top of the geologic column. As we do, we will see (in a general sense) a history of events unfold.
The bottommost rocks include all three major groups of rocks — igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. Furthermore, what is true for the basement rocks of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument holds generally true for Oregon.
Oregon is at a major plate boundary called the Cascadia subduction zone. As the Pacific oceanic plate (called the Juan de Fuca Plate) is forced under the edge of the American continent, whatever was on the plate became accreted to the edge of the continent. This has included islands that were once in the Pacific Ocean. Fragmentation occurred during the accretion process. The subducted material was broken into many individual fragments call terranes. That's why I called the basement rocks of Oregon similar to a geologic "train wreck." These successively accreted terranes are the basement rocks upon which other strata were deposited. These processes created the state of Oregon. Geologically, these accreted basement rocks are classified from Devonian through Early Eocene — a supposed span of 345 million years.
Remember that much geologic action had already occurred over the eastern and central USA and the Rocky Mountain area by the time this accretion process ceased. The CCC model would place the end of the accretion process at the time of the Flood. When the waters of the Flood subsided, Oregon was about to experience a vigorous post-Flood period.
So in the "new frontier" of Oregon just after the Flood, God was ready to build upon the foundation/basement accreted terranes?
Yes, after these accretions were added to the continent, the Master Builder was ready to do His handiwork. There was a short geologically quiet period before the outbreak of volcanic activity. Then various types of volcanic materials were deposited over much of this area of Oregon. Two well-known fossil assemblages occur in the Clarno Formation (Eocene): the Nut Bed and the Hancock.
At the end of the Clarno Formation period, it's thought that the subduction zone moved even further westerly. One top of the Clarno Formation the prominent John Day Formation (Oligocene) is found. It is composed of volcanic material much finer-grained than the Clarno Formation. Finer-grained indicates the source of the volcanic material came from further away. The John Day Formation consists of ash-fall deposits. It has four different and well-defined fossil assemblages, the Bridge Creek, Turtle Cove, Kimberly and Haystack Valley.
The Picture Gorge Basalt (Miocene) lies above the John Day Formation. The Picture Gorge Basalt is connected to the huge Columbia River Basalt Group to the north. An astounding 62,000 square miles of Oregon, Idaho and Washington were covered by as much as 15,000 vertical feet of hot and fluid lavas! Some lava flows surged all the way to the Pacific Ocean from many fissures that opened in the earth.
Overlying the Picture Gorge Basalt is the Mascall Formation (Miocene). The Mascall Formation is known for its rich variety of fossil plants and animals. Some tilting, folding, and erosion of the Mascall Formation occurred before the advent of the next formation.
The final deposition is the Rattlesnake Formation (Miocene). After this, extensive erosion dug deeply into all the previously deposit strata.
The standard geologic column and time scale is available here. How this correlates to the CCC model is shown in the following table:
Although there is evidence of erosion occurring during the times before the Rattlesnake Formation, isn't the amount of erosion since then truly enormous in comparison?
Yes, it can readily be seen that much more severe erosion occurred after the whole Tertiary sequence had formed. Using standard geologic time reckoning, more erosion occurred in the last 7 million years than in the previous 39 million years. Again, while the CCC model does not agree these are true years, as I mentioned earlier, we can get a relative idea of time passing. Some condition radically changed to permit such vast erosion never witnessed in the previous layers.
Any ideas what may have been different?
Large lakes existed in various parts of the area after the Rattlesnake Formation time. And Bretz changed the thinking of the geologic community when he proved the Channel Scablands in eastern Washington suddenly formed when a large lake in Montana catastrophically emptied. Local catastrophic erosion around the world is being found in this same time period. We should therefore highly suspect a catastrophic origin of the vast erosion in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Megaflooding on Earth and Mars (2009) says: "The Joekulhlaups [glacial outburst floods] that occurred during the deglaciation of the Quaternary ice sheets constitute the largest floods known to have occurred on the surface of the Earth" (p. 225).
Vast amounts of water resulted from melting continental glaciers during the Ice Age. Vast inland lakes formed and provided large amounts of water for later catastrophic flooding. Various mechanisms (bursting of ice dams, earthquakes, etc.) periodically released enormous volumes of water across the landscape. Deep erosion was a natural result.
This is an area where more research is needed. The prospects are good that the Channel Scablands in Washington State are but a single example of sudden, massive post-Flood erosion in other areas of the Pacific Northwest. The massive erosion in John Day Fossil Beds seems very likely due to sudden event(s) related to glacial melting.
One of the prime values of John Day Fossil Beds is the uniqueness of its outstanding examples of Tertiary fossils. How does this fit into the CCC model?
The geologic fossil record is not a chaotic mixture of fossils (as one might expect from a singular worldwide Flood). Fossils are generally found grouped together within a given formation from a specific type of ecology or environment. That is, you normally don't find fossils of land creatures mixed with fossils of sea life and vice versa. Each formation exhibits a picture of a particular environment and its ecology (sea, shore, inland, lake, etc).
Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks often cover very wide geographic areas. On top of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic formations are sometimes found formations labeled Cenozoic, but Cenozoic rocks are generally more scattered and less thick. It would seem that Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks represent the world before or during the Flood while many of the scattered and often thinner Cenozoic layers are post-Flood. Oregon is one notable exception. Because of its nearness to an active plate boundary, only the basement rocks seem pre-Flood or Flood related.
Evolutionary theory says life has evolved over vast millions of years from simple to more complex forms. Why does there seem to be a progression of life forms (from "simple" to "complex") in the fossil record?
Different Creationists answer that question differently. Progressive Creationists accept an ancient age of the earth, but do not subscribe to the theory of evolution. They say the reason for the apparent development of complexity in the fossil record is that God, as geologic time passed, added (created) more and more life forms.
Many well-known Creationist groups who hold to a young earth teach that the fossil record formed during the one-year Flood. However, Flood geology has no clear reason to explain the fossil order. Thus far no one idea is prominent.
The CCC model is a young Earth model, but unlike any other young Earth model, it utilizes all time since Creation to account for the geologic and fossil record. In particular, it postulates the curse on the earth pronounced at the time of Adam's first sin led to acts of God in the pre-Flood world that are preserved in the geologic record. Each area on Earth has its own history and that history must be deciphered on its own merits.
How does this apply to John Day Fossil Beds?
Here in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, it is the end of the pre-Flood world and particularly the post-Flood times that dominate. In many other areas on Earth, geologic events were recorded much earlier in the time before the Flood. Such early events can be seen in the strata and their fossils. The oceans off the shield areas (the original continents) very early began to accumulate layers of sediment. These earliest layers recorded the life that was originally created there and then how each area developed as new forms of life migrated into it.
The Bible indicates that the plants and animals most associated with humans (angiosperms and mammals) had a very limited initial geographic area ("Eden"). Mankind was provided with what they needed, but that does not mean the early Earth was filled with angiosperms and mammals. Mankind, as well the life associated with humans, had to "multiply and fill the Earth." They could only do so as their food supply radiated out from their creation center ("Eden").
In the same way, other plants and animal ecologic systems were placed in creation centers. From each center they would, over time, spread to other areas. Local ecologies would change as the food chain enlarged. This enlarging of food supply is reflected in the geological record in specific sequences. The groupings are given an evolutionary meaning even though the creatures appear suddenly fully functional. Little evidence of transitional forms is found and those few often mentioned by evolutionists are still missing many transitional forms. The supposed evolutionary meaning of the fossil record is actually a reflection of an orderly ecological transition.
So what is found from bottom to top in the local rock sequences is not evidence of evolution of life, but an evolution (change) of ecology?
The various "kinds" of life were created during Creation Week — not over millions of years. The land forms lived on the shield areas where no sedimentation occurred and therefore were not subject to fossilization. But as food chains matured in the various ecologies on the new lands added to the shield areas, shield-based life migrated. That's why new forms of life seem to appear out of nowhere fully developed in the fossil record.
Sea life was also commanded to "multiply and fill" the oceans, indicating a very limited creation area for sea-life kinds. Sea life migrating into other areas of the ocean built up the food chains. They suddenly appear in the fossil record as if out of nowhere for this reason.
The fossil record does not show the needed transitional forms to validate the theory of evolution. And the billions/millions of years assumed is contrary to Scriptural revelation and an unbiased look at what the fossil record actually shows.
Can you see these young Earth evidences at John Day Fossil Beds?
Yes, I was amazed to see many examples. Let's start with an old example used in the evolutionary theory. In spite of the unique Tertiary record at the monument, the primary example (and, as I recall, the only one) given of evolution was that of the horse. You would think as a prime site for a Tertiary sequence, many evolutionary examples would be cited.
The museum is a fine one and houses many examples of fossils found at the monument. Rather than showing evolution, it presented fossil after fossil of trees and animal types still present today. Many of them could be described as "living fossils" — that is, life forms supposedly millions of years old and yet very much like their modern-day living representatives. This is just what we would expect from a biblically-based model. While some life forms have vanished (or, perhaps not yet been found in some isolated area), many life forms found as fossils at the John Day Fossil Beds are still very much a part of our modern-world.
In conclusion, is there anything else about the John Day Fossil Beds that are important?
I'm sure there are many aspects of this magnificent setting that one could cover. One area that is downplayed or even overlooked in studying the geology of an area is what the CCC model calls time indicators. Time indicators are evidences of more than a single time-frame — such as the one-year universal Flood — being responsible for the fossil record. The John Day Fossil Bed National Monument has some very nice examples of time indicators.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a fitting tribute to God's handiwork and power.
"Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work...He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered." (Psalm 111:2-4a, ESV)