By Greg Neyman
© 2009, Old Earth Ministries
First Published 2 Apr 09
A news feature on the Institute for Creation Research website talks about the supposed mystery that exists with octopus fossils.1 The author, Brian Thomas, points out that the octopus is made of soft tissue, and based on Charles Darwin's quote that it could not be preserved, uses this issue to claim that fossils of soft tissue organisms argue for a global flood.
Thomas states that for fossilization to occur, there must be rapid burial. However, the old earth viewpoint, held by Darwin, Lyell, and modern geologists, is that slow and steady sediment accumulation will slowly bury an organism, and cannot account for the preservation of a soft-tissue organism as a fossil. Although Thomas is partially right, it is not the whole story.
A key point here, in Thomas' own words, is "extremely uncommon." Fossils of this type are indeed extremely uncommon, counting for a very small percentage of all fossils. This is because in most cases, where there is slow sediment buildup, the organisms are completely decayed.
There are only two possible ways to preserve a soft-tissue organism. Thomas already mentioned one, the rapid burial of an organism. Although not frequently mentioned by young earth theorists, catastrophic events occurred throughout the earth's billions of years history, and they are recorded in the fossil record. However, it is the other method of preservation that we are concerned with.
The other method involves oxygen. In certain cases, the environment where the organism falls is lacking in oxygen, or 'anoxic.' In such cases, they are not destroyed because there are no other organisms living there that can live off the dead organism and make it decay. Areas such as this are easy to identify today, because all we have to do is test the waters' oxygen content.2
If you look at the source article that Thomas got the info on the octopi from, it states,
Hâqel and Hâdjoula (limestones) were probably deposited in small and shallow Tethyan basins with a reduced water circulation, in a carbonate platform setting that covered much more of the Arabian craton between Albian and Turonian. In this scenario, mild oscillations of the relative sea level produced an exceptional sandwich of shallow water carbonate facies.3
The reduced water circulation when the deposits were being made meant a more stagnant body of water. In the deeper water in such cases, oxygen is only introduced by diffusion from the upper layers. Diffusion is a slow process, and with the lack of water flow, oxygen is used up quicker than it can arrive, leading to the anoxic conditions. Therefore, the organisms sit there and are covered over slowly by many years of sediment buildup. To the young earth creationist, this gives them the appearance that they were buried rapidly, when in fact this is not the truth.
Thomas states that "soft tissue fossils have long been a problem for those who believe that sedimentary deposits represent vast ages." This simply isn't true. The find of a soft tissue fossil is an exciting discovery, giving scientists a unique opportunity to study these ancient life forms, but they in no way discredit the fact that they come from millions of years ago.
After this quote Thomas mentions the preservation of fossils within the Burgess Shale. Thomas does have a point with this location, since scientists are not agreed yet on what caused the exquisite preservation of these fossils. Oxygen was present in the system, thus it may not be due to anoxic conditions. I say "may not" because one theory has the organisms protected from the oxygen by a microbial mat. Another theory is that the mineralization process was faster here due to the local conditions. Scientists are still studying the processes that caused these fossils, and we may yet have an answer.4 However, we do know that these shale layers do not represent a catastrophic burial event such as a great flood. The shale layers were laid down like all others, over great periods of time. In all, the Burgess is over 500 feet thick, and was deposited over a period of millions of years (~520 - 505 mya).
There are other issues within this article that I would have liked to address, but without access to the full articles which it references, this short explanation will have to suffice. Though short, it is sufficient to show that the claims presented do not support a global flood.
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3 NEW OCTOPODS (CEPHALOPODA: COLEOIDEA) FROM THE LATE CRETACEOUS (UPPER CENOMANIAN) OF HÂKEL AND HÂDJOULA, LEBANON, by Kirk Fuchs, Giacomo Bracchi, and Robert Weis, Paleontology, Volume 52, Issue 1, January 2009. Pages 65-81. Available online at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/121596620/HTMLSTART?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
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