Geologists Find Massive Volcanism Correlates with Mass Extinction

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on April 6, 2013

National Geographic: “Mega-eruptions Caused Mass Extinction, Study FindsMassive volcanism correlated with the onset of the end-Triassic mass extinction, evolutionary geochronologists find.

If you hear evolutionary geologists talk about “flood basalts,” you might think they were seeing a connection between their geologic observations and the biblical Flood, but alas that is not the case. While flood basalts actually are quite consistent with the historical global Flood, geologists refer to these massive volcanic deposits as flood basalts because they are so voluminous they required a flood-like outpouring of lava to form. The flood basalts recently re-dated by geochronologist Terrence Blackburn of the Carnegie Institute for Science and his team cover vast stretches of four continents.

These flood basalts are in the news because Blackburn’s team has obtained much more precise dates on them. “Zircon is a perfect time capsule for dating those rocks,” Blackburn says. His results, obtained by uranium-lead dating of rare zircon crystals in volcanic rock from the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, he believes indicate the earliest flood basalts from eastern North America and Morocco are temporally correlated with the Triassic mass extinction.

“All mass extinction events are correlated with major eruptions” although with an uncertain causal relationship, according to Berkeley geochronologist Paul Renne, commenting on the study. He believes this study tightens the correlation. Previously dated material has had a huge “margin of error”—around one to three million years—so evolutionary geologists have debated which came first, eruptions or extinctions. These precisely dated deposits do appear to have formed immediately before the end-Triassic mass extinction.

Furthermore, Blackburn’s team reports that pollen grains immediately below the dated region demonstrate the extinction was a sudden and catastrophic event. The authors conclude that the Triassic extinction was likely caused by the massive outpouring of lava over such a wide region, though they admit they cannot be certain and also do not know what specifically caused the sudden deaths of billions of organisms. They express surprise that life seemed to recover so soon, only to be again subjected to more mass extinction events.

The authors are quite pleased that the dates from the zircon crystals agree with those obtained though astrochronological dating of early Triassic fossils. As Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling explains:

Astrochronology is based on the current cyclical nature of the earth’s wobble as it spins in space and how that affects the earth’s distance from the sun, which in turn has an effect on the climate, which in turn effects rainfall, erosion, runoff and sedimentation. While that wobble IS observed today, evolutionary geologists assume, based on their a priori belief in millions of years, that this wobble and its effects can be extrapolated back through millions and millions of years. Because the wobble is cyclical, they look for cyclical patterns in the sedimentary layers. Then they align those patterns in the wobble to date the cyclical patterns in the sedimentary layers accordingly. However, this method is ALL based on two unprovable assumptions—one, that the wobble can be extrapolated back millions of years (because the earth is assumed to be millions of years old), and two, that the cyclical patterns in the sedimentary layers are even related to the earth’s wobble.

Precise results may be mathematically impressive, but accuracy involves how closely the conclusions reflect reality.

The precise dates obtained from the uranium-lead dating of the zircon crystals reflect a more consistent laboratory methodology, but precision does not guarantee accuracy. Precise results may be mathematically impressive, but accuracy involves how closely the conclusions reflect reality. For data like this, there is no objective scientific standard by which to assess the accuracy of the dates. The researchers themselves note in their paper several sources of error, which they have to overcome by making numerous secondary assumptions, in addition to the three main unverifiable assumptions about the unobservable past that the dating method itself is based on. And of course the authors ignore the biblical record of history—the global Flood that affected the geology of the entire earth. Nevertheless, because the results seem to agree with astrochronology and to affirm an association between Triassic fossils and flood basalts, the researchers are quite pleased with the results.

Of course, though we cannot accept the researchers’ geochronologic interpretations, Dr. Snelling points out:

It doesn’t bother us if there is a connection between the mass burials and the catastrophic volcanic eruptions, because that’s EXACTLY what we would expect during the Flood cataclysm.

Scripture records that the global Flood was associated with the breaking up of the fountains of the great deep (Genesis 7:11), which biblical Flood geologists understand to be volcanic activity. Thus it is no surprise to find that massive effusions of magma correlate with the fossil layers burying billions of organisms. This is exactly what we would expect as the violent rising waters of the Flood overwhelmed various habitats and buried the organisms in them.

Evolutionists interpret the final appearance of many organisms in the fossil record as a record of the evolution and extinction of those plants and animals.

Evolutionists interpret the final appearance of many organisms in the fossil record as a record of the evolution and extinction of those plants and animals. And because strata containing similar patterns occur all over the world, evolutionists consider these to represent several mass extinctions. They consider the Triassic extinction to be one of the largest and date it, in this study, at 201,564,000 years ago. However, all the dates obtained in this study—no matter how precise they are and whether they are in agreement or not—are interpretations based on unverifiable assumptions.

The Flood geology model explains much of the fossil record on the basis of the historical global Flood. While extinction may have occurred for some organisms at the time of the Flood, these so-called mass-extinctions are the record of the catastrophic burial but not necessarily the extinction of these organisms. The “mass extinctions” in the fossil record are just regions representing the massive burial of organisms swept together from various ecosystems.1

Thus, the association of massive volcanism with “billions of dead things buried in rock layers”2 makes sense in light of the global Flood. The flood basalts must have come from the catastrophic upwelling of mantle plumes, a scenario that fits the catastrophic plate tectonics model of geologic activity associated with the Flood of Noah’s time. And the fact that pollen grains appear just below the volcanic record of sudden catastrophe and that more living things appear soon “after” the “mass extinctions,” when interpreted in light of the global Flood burying the occupants of successive habitats, along with organisms swept in from elsewhere, also makes sense.

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  1. Flood geologists suggest that burial of ecologically distinctive regions produced much of the order we see in the fossil record. Read more about it in the New Answers Book 2, “Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages?
  2. A truth long ago incorporated into a song by Buddy Davis

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.