Creation Science

Creation Science Rebuttals

Institute for Creation Research

Dr. John's Q&A #81, 1995

Polystrate Fossils


By Greg Neyman

© Old Earth Ministries


       Long one of the championed examples of creation science and proof of a young earth, polystrate fossils may be one of the most misunderstood topics among creationists.  Does the existence of these fossils prove a young earth, or is it merely another mishandling of scientific data by the young earth community?

     First, what is a polystrate fossil?  To borrow from John D. Morris, who uses these as an example of proof of a young earth, "The term "polystrate" was coined to describe a fossil which is encased within more than one (poly) layer of rock (strata) thus "polystrate or "many layers."   Thus, the definition of is straightforward and easy to understand.  However, Dr. Morris goes on to make the claim in the next sentence, "A wonderful story can be told by these fossils which invalidates the commonly held uniformitarian idea of slow and gradual accumulation of sediments." 

     Is this correct?   Dr. Morris mentions in his article trees which go through several distinct layers of sediment.  If a tree goes through several layers, they say it is proof of a catastrophic process, and thus invalidates the uniformitarian model of slow deposition.

        Uniformintarianism is the geological system by which everything is deposited in a slow, gradual process.  It is usually contrasted against catastrophism, which demonstrates rapid burial.  Young earth creationists think that by showing that polystrate fossils were catastrophic in origin, they must prove the Flood of Noah and disprove geological uniformitarianism.

      I agree with the young earth creation science theorists that polystrate fossils are an example of catastrophism.  However, it does not invalidate uniformitarianism...far from it!   Uniformitarianism believes that the present is the key to the past.  If you want to know what happened long ago, look at how rocks are being deposited today, and draw your model from that.  Yes, we can look at sediments today which are being deposited slowly, and thus would be classified as uniformitarian in their characteristics.  However, we also see rapid burial today, in the form of floods, volcanic ash, hurricane deposits, and other depositional processes.  So yes, uniformitarianism is the key to the past, and since we see both rapid and slow deposition today, then we had rapid and slow deposition in the past.

     In other words, if you are a young earth flood believer, you must believe completely in catastrophism.  If you accept any form of uniformitarianism, you are saying that slow deposition occurs, thus you open the door to an old earth interpretation.

     However, if you are an old earth creationism believer, who believes the uniformitarian model, then you see that catastrophic events occur today, thus they must have occurred in the past.  In other words, you believe in uniformitarianism (the slow deposition of most of earth's sediments), however you also believe that catastrophic events happened throughout geologic history (and thus, are also part of uniformitarianism).

     Polystrate fossils fall perfectly in line with uniformitarianism.  Since we know that catastrophies (floods, etc) happened throughout earth history, then we would expect to see evidence of these events.  Polystrate fossils provide this evidence, and validates the old earth position.     However, polystrate fossils do not support a young earth position.  If you believe in a young earth, global flood model, you would expect all rocks to show evidence of a catastrophic origin...but they do not.  Most rocks give evidence of slow, gradual deposition.  Only occasionally do we see evidences of catastrophic events.




     What we have here is a misused geologic principle, singled out by young earth creation science theorists as an easy target to try and lend support to their cause.  However, recognizing that catastrophic events have happened throughout earth history, negates any arguments that they might gain from this misuse of science.  For further reading, see Catastrophism, or Uniformitarianism?


Other Polystrate Rebuttals  


Polystrate Tree Fossils



     If you are not a Christian, and you have been holding out on making a decision for Christ because the Church always preached a message that was contrary to what you saw in the scientific world, then rest assured that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and you can believe in Christ and receive salvation, while still believing in an old earth.  Click here for more.


    Are you a Christian who believes in young earth creationism?  Now that we have shown the many difficulties of the young earth creation science model in this and many other articles, how does this impact your Christian life?  If you are a young-earth creationism believer, click here.



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Dr. John Q&A Index


More John Morris Rebuttals


Young Earth Polystrate Fossil Claims


What Are Polystrate Fossils? (ICR)


The Polystrate Trees and Coal Seams of Joggins Fossil Cliffs (ICR)


Polystrate Fossils (CSE)


The "Fossil Forests" of Nova Scotia

(Randy Berg, at



To learn more about old earth creationism, see Old Earth Belief, or check out the article Can You Be A Christian and Believe in an Old Earth?  

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