Cosmos Review: “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth”

Episode Nine of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey

Cosmos Articles and Discussion Guides

See Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey for reviews of other episodes and discussion guides for further study.

“The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth,” episode nine of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, claims to show us how to “read the autobiography of the Earth.” Host Neil deGrasse Tyson tells an engaging story of how our supposed geological history has blindly guided our alleged human evolutionary history. Yet his evolutionary epic of Earth’s geology stands on a foundation of unverifiable worldview-based assumptions and circular reasoning. The history “written” in the geologic record cannot be accurately understood without reference to a reliable historical record of the events that shaped it.

Scientists with Blind Spots

“There were as yet no humans to witness this enormous flood or to admire the beauty it created,”1 Tyson says as he describes the evolutionary version of how the Mediterranean Sea came to exist, complete with the rate of filling and how long it took. When discussing the reluctance of the mid-20th century scientific community to accept the existence of the Mid-Oceanic Ridge, he said,

Scientists are human. We have our blind spots and prejudices. Science is a mechanism designed to ferret them out. Problem is we aren’t always faithful to the core values of science.2

By rejecting the historical record that should guide scientific conclusions about our origins, Tyson and those who stand with him are guilty of this themselves. These skeptics have blindly rejected the eyewitness account of a host of authors, guided by God, in the pages of Scripture due to their prejudices!

The scientific method demands scientific observations. Since no scientist today could observe the alleged deep history that Tyson eloquently describes, a scientific understanding of Earth’s geological history requires reliance on some sort of eyewitness to the past. There is a Book, the recorded Word of God provided by the Creator of the Earth, that provides in its history a reliable and consistent guide to interpret the geological record.

The most Earth-changing event described in biblical history is the global Flood of about 4,300 years ago. The global Flood and its aftermath provided the explanations for the majority of the phenomena described in this Cosmos episode.

Super Air for Super Bugs

How did some familiar insects end up being so huge in the fossil record? Carboniferous dragonflies with 28-inch wingspans? Millipedes eight feet long? Tyson tells us the critters scurrying around his legs grew so big because the oxygen content of the air was “almost twice” that of today.

Actually the notion that atmospheric oxygen levels were higher (estimated at 31–35 percent compared to our 21 percent, not really “almost twice”) has not been demonstrated. But high levels of oxygen can be toxic, and not all insects preserved with these giants were giants. Biologists are not certain why some insects grew so large and investigation is ongoing.

Milder pre-Flood seasonal variations may have permitted insect varieties with gigantic potential to reach full size.

One cannot be dogmatic about whether the pre-Flood atmosphere differed from today’s. However, we need not invoke high oxygen levels or evolution to explain giant insects. Milder pre-Flood seasonal variations may have permitted insect varieties with gigantic potential to reach full size.

In the more extreme seasons of the post-Flood world, gigantic varieties of insects may have been weeded out of the gene pool as those maturing quickly would have had a reproductive advantage. So these insects lost the ability to grow to such sizes and thrive. From an evolutionary perspective, where did they get these genes in the first place? Super-size insects do not demand a super-oxygenated explanation when the fossil record is understood through the light of biblical history.

From Oxygen to Extinction

Building up to an explosive story, Tyson invokes a hyperoxic world and blames it on trees. Trees, he says, evolved because their essential structural molecule—strong, flexible lignin—evolved. But lignin supposedly remained impervious to decomposition for millions of years, until smarter decomposing biochemistry could evolve. Thus—the story goes—the carbon cycle was disrupted, living trees hyperoxygenated the air, dead trees couldn’t rot, and buried carbon in the form of buried forests and coal acted as a time bomb to trigger volcanic disaster and mass extinction.

The heat from the massive Siberian volcanic explosion, in which over a million square miles was flooded with lava, Tyson says, caused large Siberian coal beds to belch toxic gases and smoke into the atmosphere. He reports methane and sulfurous gases liberated from the lava-baked coal and thawed methane ice caused extreme global warming and destroyed the ozone layer, resulting in an end to the temperature-dependent mixing of oceanic waters, the death of most marine life, the overgrowth of hydrogen sulfide-producing bacteria, and then the subsequent poisoning of most life on Earth. This speculative, mythological saga is his explanation for the Permian mass extinction.

Mass Extinctions or Volcanic Peek to a Floody Past

When the fossil layers are understood in light of the global Flood, we see there actually was no Permian mass extinction to explain. Whenever some fossilized organisms are missing from a layer of rock above other layers in which they are found, evolutionary scientists assume a mass extinction occurred. This concept is a purely evolutionary interpretation of the fossil layers as a record of the evolution of increasingly complex organisms in the wake of countless extinctions. But the unverifiable millions of years assigned to the geologic column are unable to supply the genetic information for molecules-to-man evolution, something not seen in the study of living organisms. The fossil record is instead primarily a record of the rapid burial of organisms during and soon after the global Flood.

Massive volcanic events in Siberia and India left their marks on the Earth. They were unlike any other volcanoes in history, both in their scope and in the deposits they left. Read more about how the unique characteristics of the Deccan Traps of India and the Siberian Traps of Russia give us a peek into Earth’s greatest catastrophe—not mass extinctions but the global Flood—in Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling’s article “Volcanoes—Windows Into Earth’s Past.”

Layers Upon Layers

“There are places on Earth where you can walk through time and read the history written on the rocks,” Tyson says, as he leads viewers to the cliffs of Nova Scotia where many layers of sedimentary rock are preserved. “Every one tells the story of a flood, one after another over millions of years. . . . The newer layers were always deposited on top of the older ones. All the pages are in the correct order bearing witness to what happened here over millions of years.”

Here again the belief that the Earth must be billions of years old and that sedimentary layers of rock required millions of years to accumulate and entomb evolving creatures is founded on numerous unverifiable assumptions. Such fossil-containing layers are instead consistent with the historical account of the global Flood and its logical aftermath. The “pages” are the record of not lots of floods over millions of years but of one particularly bad one. These “pages” are in the correct order representing the way organisms were overwhelmed, sorted, and buried beneath tons of sediment during the Flood and in its proximate aftermath.

When speaking of all these little floods to make the rock layers, Tyson actually shot himself in the foot. Allow me to explain. The concept of “millions of years” comes from these rock layers allegedly being laid down slowly and gradually over millions of years. But in appealing to small floods, then Tyson has essentially undercut his uniformitarian views of millions of years by explaining away any evidence of millions of years! He is agreeing that they were not laid down slowly over millions of years, but instead should be explained by floodwaters, with an unknown amount of time between them. For all that he really knows, it could be over the course of one year!

Curiously, Tyson briefly points out a vertical tree fossil spanning several sedimentary layers. “This is the death mask of that 300 million year old tree,” he says. Polystrate tree fossils are a major problem for evolutionists, as trees should not be able to remain undecayed and upright for millions of years until fossilized and buried. The claim that lignin-eating decomposers took millions of extra years to evolve, leaving such trees intact is contrived.

The historical Flood would have buried trees rapidly. Furthermore, creationist geologists have examined the fossil record as well as modern catastrophes to gain insight into the mechanics of such preservation. For instance, Dr. Steve Austin studied the floating logs in Spirit Lake following the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Waterlogged stumps and logs settled to the bottom, often root end first. This Flood-based explanation is supported by observational evidence.

Joggins Formation

Joggins Formation in Nova Scotia contains layers of sedimentary rock deposited by the global Flood about 4,300 years ago. It also contains many polystrate tree fossils best explained by the global Flood. Image: Michael C. Rygel through Wikipedia

Layers Farther Than the Eye Can See

The layers of sedimentary rock in Nova Scotia and the Grand Canyon, it happens, are actually part of a transcontinental stack of sedimentary layers. Many such layers span the globe, with coal beds and even the sorts of fossils in them often matching up. These findings attest to the truth of the biblical record of the global Flood.

Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling writes, “On every continent are found layers of sedimentary rocks over vast areas. Many of these sediment layers can be traced all the way across continents, and even between continents. Furthermore, when geologists look closely at these rocks, they find evidence that the sediments were deposited rapidly. . . . As Noah’s Flood catastrophically swept over all the continents to form a global ocean (described in Genesis 7–8), we would expect the waters to deposit fossil-bearing sediment layers rapidly across vast areas around the globe. And that is exactly what we find—further evidence that the global cataclysmic Genesis Flood was an actual event in history, just as God has told us in His eyewitness account of Earth’s history.” These transcontinental rock layers are just one of the many geologic footprints left by the biblical global Flood.

Fossil Reef or Mount of Rubble

“This mountain was made entirely by life,” Tyson says of the 400-mile long Guadalupe Mountains, claimed by evolutionists to be the largest fossilized reef in the world. Though Tyson says this “reef” flourished for millions of years, Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling notes in “Ancient ‘Fossil Reefs’—Formed in the Flood?” that careful examination of the mountains’ architecture casts serious doubts on the notion that these mountains were ever a reef, much less a reef of ancient age. He writes,

The sloping deposits that should flank behind and in front of a true reef were not deposited at the same time as the claimed “reef.” Furthermore, the Capitan Limestone lacks large, organically bound reef “frameworks” buried in place, or even smaller chunks from an organic framework as it was broken up and redeposited.

Instead, the Capitan Limestone is composed primarily of broken fossil fragments in a fine-grained mixture of lime silt and sand. The organisms that normally form reef frameworks are either absent or uncommon. The fine-grained mixture and broken fossils suggest that the material was deposited very rapidly, consistent with deposition during the Genesis Flood.

Under the Sea

While the majority of the time in this week’s Cosmos episode was devoted to the evolutionary yarn of Earth’s history, we do learn a bit about the bottom of the oceans. We examine the Marianas Trench, the deepest canyon in the world’s oceans, and we’re reminded that even there some pressure-resistant creatures generate their own light using bioluminence. Naturally, rather than acknowledging the Creator of these creatures we’re told to marvel at “the amazing variety of light that evolution has crafted in oceans.” We hear about toxin-living microbes that get their energy from the hot chemicals emerging from hydrothermal vents. And we note “the longest submarine mountain range in the world, the Atlantic Mid-Ocean Ridge, wraps around our globe like a seam on a baseball.”

What Tyson fails to mention is that the Mid-Oceanic Ridge and hydrothermal vents are testaments to the rapid movements of the Earth’s crust during the global Flood. Evolutionists, as Tyson explains, believe in slow and gradual continental drift and consider the earthquake-epicenter-lined Mid-Oceanic Ridge as the “smoking gun” for their position, but the patterns of magnetic reversals in the ocean floor and the pattern of sediment deposition in its vicinity are consistent with a more rapid change in Earth’s crust. (Read more about it in “A Catastrophic Breakup.” Likewise, Tyson tells us the volcanic activity beneath the Pacific produced the Hawaiian Islands over millions of years. Yet there is nothing about the geology surrounding the islands to demand a millions-of-years explanation. Rather, the aftermath of the global Flood fits the geology surrounding “Hawaii’s Volcanic Origins—Instant Paradise.”

Puzzle Pieces

Since the first reasonably accurate world map was drawn centuries ago, many have observed how nicely the world’s land masses seem to fit together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It is only natural to think these pieces were carved from a larger land mass. How could that be?

Tyson credits Alfred Wegener with formalizing the idea of gradual continental drift to explain the shapes and the similarity of matching layers and fossils on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Not mentioned was the 1859 publication by creationist Antonia Snider-Pellegrini proposing a rapid horizontal spreading of plates of the Earth’s crust associated with the global Flood had produced the world’s map. Snider was ignored. Wegener was ridiculed. Eventually, Wegener’s slow and gradual view of continental drift was accepted by evolutionary scientists as the explanation for the existence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

But what of biblical history? There again a modern, computer-based model based on the biblical global Flood explains the geology. Creation geophysicist John Baumgardner proposed that simultaneous cracks in the crust of the pre-Flood ocean basins and at the edges of a large supercontinent triggered rapid seafloor spreading, subduction, and tectonic movements of crustal plates. This model deals effectively with data that is left unexplained by the uniformitarian model embraced by evolutionists.3

Once again, the host and writers of Cosmos handled not only the Earth’s ancient history without regard to the biblical history but also were careless of more modern history. Answers in Genesis astronomer Dr. Danny Faulkner notes,

Once again, silly errors crept into Cosmos. They said that Alfred Wegener left camp (implying alone and on foot) and was never seen again. Actually, he left with another man, Rasmus Villumsen, and they used dog sleds and skis. Wegener died, was buried in the snow by Villsumsen, with the place marked with skies. Six months later, others found the grave, and reburied Wegener. It was Villumsen who was never heard from nor seen again. Why do they keep making these mistakes?

Primate Ascendancy

To tie the evolutionary version of Earth’s history to human history, Tyson stitches the climate change that could have occurred if the slow-and-gradual view of earth’s history were actually true to a relative deforestation in Africa, driving primates from the trees to dash on their hind legs across the savannahs scooping up food, sticks and stones for weapons, and tools and of course evolving the intellect to graduate to being human. As we’ve discussed many times—most recently in our review of Your Inner Monkey—there is nothing in experimental biology to support this claim. Our resourceful primate ancestors of course were tested and refined, Tyson contends, by the challenges of repeated ice ages provoked by the tug of Jupiter and Venus on Earth’s orbit and tilt.

Yet again, Earth’s actual geology is solid evidence for only one Ice Age. The “astronomical theory” for multiple ice ages, despite Tyson’s report of the way the tug of Jupiter and Venus tweak our tilt, doesn’t hold water. The tiny wobble that occurs in Earth’s axis is insignificant in the scope of the 6,000-year age of the Earth. Furthermore, the “astronomical theory” cannot account for the increase in precipitation over cooler continents necessary to build up the ice for an ice age.

The single Ice Age, easily seen in evidence across the northern hemisphere, is readily explained within the scope of biblical history as the completely predictable aftermath of the global Flood. Oceans still warm from flood-associated volcanic activity, abundant snowfall accumulated on the land, and cool summers owing to lingering volcanic dust in the air all would have combined to produce the time we know from the footprints of glaciers as the Ice Age. Read more about how the Bible’s history gives us the answer even for this unique time in Earth’s true history at “What Started the Ice Age?

Cosmos “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth” offers us an autobiography of the Earth drawn from evolutionary imagination. This episode of Cosmos offers a lot of beautiful graphics and special effects, but in the end it should be lumped with fairy tales like Tinker Bell or Shrek. Yet Bible-believing creation scientists who are willing to look at the world through the history provided in God’s Word without the prejudice and blind ignorance can “read” in Earth’s geology a true and exciting account of our history. And biblical truth is a much better account than fiction.

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  1. Of course, Noah and his family were alive when the shaping of the current Earth occurred; for instance, Psalm 104:8–9 discuss the rising of the mountains and sinking of the valleys during the Flood.
  2. Naturally, “science” has no core values, and any perceived values assigned to “science” would come from the founders of great scientific fields who believed in the Bible. But in the secular understanding, there is no right or wrong in any absolute sense.
  3. For instance, a collision between continents traveling at today’s speeds measured in inches per year would barely amount to a fender bender. Dr. Baumgardner’s model, however, based on Flood geology, calculates continental speeds in feet per second, quite sufficient to push up huge mountain ranges like the Himalayas. The catastrophic plate tectonics model also explains how layers of sediment laden with marine fossils came to be deposited all over the Earth. The chaotic patterns in the record of Earth’s magnetic field reversals also make sense in light of this biblically based model. (See “Can Catastrophic Plate Tectonics Explain Flood Geology?” and “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History” to learn more.)


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