Precambrian Pollen: A Response to Questions About Creationist Research

Precambrian Pollen:
A Response to Questions About Creationist Research

Author: Emmett L. Williams, Eugene Chaffin, George W. Howe, et. Al.
Subject: Biology

In 1996, a message was posted on CRSnet (25 May 1996, Research up to snuff? from Allen Roy) which took issue with the various field and laboratory efforts of the Society in isolating fossil material from Hakatai shale in Grand Canyon National Park. The author of this attack was from evangelical who adheres to an old earth position and the post contains misrepresentations and outright falsehoods. Apparently, from the abysmal ignorance shown in the post, the author has not studied the original papers!

The work on Hakatai shale is contained in the following Quarterly reports and letters.

  1. Burdick, C.L. 1966. Microflora of the Grand Canyon. *CRSQ* 3:38-50.
  2. Burdick, C.L. 1972. Progress report on Grand Canyon palynology.*CRSQ* 9:25- 30.
  3. Burdick, C.L. 1982. Reply to Rusch. *CRSQ* 19:144.
  4. Chadwick, A.V., P.DeBordand H. Fisk. 1973. Grand Canyon palynology – a reply. *CRSQ* 9:238.
  5. Howe, G.F., E.L. Williams, G.T. Matzko and W.E. Lammerts. 1986. Pollen research update. *CRSQ* 22:181-182.
  6. Howe, G.F. 1986. Creation Research Society Studies on Precambrian pollen. *CRSQ* 23:99-104.
  7. Lammerts, W.E. and G.F. Howe. 1987. Creation Research Society studies on Precambrian pollen – Part II: Experiments on atmospheric pollen contamination of microscope slides. *CRSQ* 23:151-153.
  8. Howe, G.F., E.L. Williams, G.T. Matzko and W.E. Lammerts. 1988. Creation Research Society studies on Precambrian pollen, Part III: A pollen analysis of Hakatai shale and other Grand Canyon rocks. *CRSQ* 24:173-182.

Also another paper on the palynology of the Hakatai shale (HS) that was often referenced and discussed in the 1986-1988 CRS reports was:

  1. Chadwick, A.V. 1981.Precambrian pollen in the Grand Canyon – a reexamination.*Origins* 8(1):7-12.

Individual comments by the evolutionist (S) will be examined and discussed.

S claimed that Burdick (Ref. 1) employed scanning electron microscopy in examining pollen from HS. This is not true. Burdick used optical microscopy.

S noted that. “The pollen isolated was pine, juniper, and Mormon tea.”

He failed to mention that fungal structures, plant stems and lycopods were also detected (Ref. 1, p. 45).

Later S stated that Burdick took no precautions against contamination (Ref. 3). Then S said, “The work of Howe et al. (Refs. 5 and 8) was interesting in that they didn’t guard against contamination as much as Chadwick (Ref. 9) did.”[parenthesis ours] Earlier S mentioned that Chadwick

“. . . washed the samples in filtered water, trimmed the samples to remove the exterior surfaces and took care to analyze his samples in a clean and sterile lab. Guess what? No pollen.”

S failed to mention that in an earlier investigation Chadwick, DeBord and Fisk (Ref. 4) found fossil material in HS. When Howe et al. processed the HS samples, they trimmed them to remove the exterior surfaces. Then samples were cleaned in Varsol and non-ionic detergent and later cleaned in distilled water within an ultrasonic bath in clean laboratories with filtered air supplies. All containers were carefully cleaned with distilled water and soap, acetone, etc. where necessary. Matzko has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and Williams worked in a scanning electron microscopy (SEM) laboratory. We understand and practiced careful laboratory techniques. One does not perform SEM without keeping the laboratory clean and samples contamination free, for any foreign material on SEM samples is readily apparent upon examination in the microscope.

The processing of samples was done according to Doher (1980) except that in some cases, the samples dissolution step using HF was unnecessary. Chadwick (1981) employed the Doher (1980) technique including the final step of placing the samples in an HF solution. Actually, we used the entire Doher/Chadwick method (with time in HF solutions) on two HS samples and obtained positive results in one instance!

Before undertaking the laboratory work, we discussed the sample dissolution procedures with several palynologists and analytical chemists. They warned that if the fossil pollen was silicified within the shale matrix, excessive time in HF solutions would destroy the grains. Many of the samples were completely dissolved in the HCL solution rendering the HF dissolution step unnecessary. The HF dissolution was only to be employed if the rock had not been completely dissolved in the HCL solution.

We repeat, lengthy exposures to HF can destroy fossil pollen incorporated in the shale matrix without affecting any possible contaminating modern pollen. We demonstrated that HF exposure would not destroy modern (contaminating) pollen. Fresh oak and pine pollen were placed in 48% HF solutions for periods of 64-70 hours. The pollen grains were still present after these exposures (Ref. 8, Figures 43-46).

Likewise, the samples were collected in the field in February on a bitterly cold day to avoid the pollinating season of native plants if possible. The collection technique was described (Ref. 8, p. 173) illustrating the careful procedures we employed. Howe et al., noted that “Scrupulous care was taken throughout the procedure to avoid contamination of the sample by atmospheric pollen in the laboratory” (Ref. 8, p. 174). This was done in all phases of the field and laboratory work. Thus the probability of field or laboratory contamination with modern pollen was extremely unlikely. Contamination of another sort will be discussed later.

Again S observed ” . . . that the positive results (finding fossil pollen in HS) comes from either one or two rock samples. Don’t they even know?” [parenthesis ours]. If S had consulted the original report and the tables of collected data (Ref. 8), the answer to his question would have been evident. S concluded by stating that “No graduate student in any geology department I’ve been in would have gotten away with such sloppy work.” An amazing conclusion from a person who never read our reports or observed our work in the laboratory.

Another phase of our work included a study of contamination of laboratory slides during the pollinating season of various trees by Lammerts and Howe (Ref. 7). They showed that it is difficult to contaminate greased slides with pollen (outdoors and in the laboratory) even when you are trying to accomplish that goal! Lammerts was a plant breeder and geneticist and Howe is a botanist, so such work was within their area of expertise. S did not mention this study.

S continued by claiming that Chadwick’s (1981) results were not reported in *CRSQ* – another lie. “The CRSQ simply will not publish results critical of young-earth creationism.” Chadwick’s work (Ref. 9) was discussed in detail in Refs. 5, 6, 7, and 8. More evidence that S had not consulted the original reports when he attacked our work.

Then S wrote that Chadwick stated that “Some of them regarded me as an evolutionist by then, . . . ” We do not know who is meant by “them” but a careful reading of all *CRSQ* papers will reveal that Chadwick was never regarded as an evolutionist and all of us held his work in high regard. In all conversations and correspondence with the workers on this project, no one ever referred to Chadwick as an evolutionist. Possibly since S so easily misrepresented our work on this project, he did the same to Chadwick?

Finally S criticized Russell Humphreys for mentioning our pollen work in his tract Evidence for a Young Earth and accused Humphreys of dishonesty because he did not mention Chadwick’s work. Humphreys had read our reports (More than S can claim – we wonder who is really dishonest?) and realized that we discussed Chadwick’s work. Thus anyone that consulted our reports would have known of Chadwick’s studies.

Comments by Burdick and Rusch

Burdick (1974) noted the discovery of pollen grains in formations designated as Precambrian by other geologists. Later Burdick (1975) and Rusch (1982) referenced reports concerning the detection of microspores of vascular plants and tracheids having bordered pits in Cambrian strata. None of these studies were isolated incidences ” . . . since several workers in India, Australia, and the U.S.S.R. have reported these findings” (Rusch, p. 1434).

The point being that the results of the CRS studies were not unusual!

Another Type of Contamination and Models of Earth History

Realizing that HS is classified as Precambrian using the standard geologic column, could the shale have been contaminated later in geologic history? For instance, could the catastrophic forces of the universal Flood with associated massive erosion, deposition and tectonic activity have affected the HS if the formation had been deposited before the Flood? Also if the conjectures of Austin (1994) and Brown (1995) are viable, could the draining of the postulated lakes on the Colorado Plateau after the Flood to form the Grand Canyon have affected the HS? (Also see Williams, Meyer and Wolfrom, 1991, 1992a, 1992b; Oard 1993.) Would the violent processes involved in these two events have deposited pollen and other plant material from more “modern” eras into the HS which was later incorporated into the rock structure? We think that such a circumstance may be possible, but we have no way of knowing if it happened.

Creationist models of earth history also will determine how an individual creation scientist will view our findings. For instance in 1991, Snelling asked the question, “Where do the Precambrian strata fit?” He suggested that much of the Precambrian fossil-bearing strata should be considered as Flood deposits. However, Wise (1992, p. 70) felt that ” . . . Precambrian sediments were formed in a pre-Flood global water catastrophe.”

He suggested a regression of water in day three of the Creation week as a possibility. Steve Austin (1994, pp. 58, 62-67), in his excellent monograph on the Grand Canyon, listed Precambrian rocks as pre-Flood and Creation week formations.  Also, old earth creationists would reject the presence of fossil material in HS for there would be no “advance” plant life on earth at that time according to their model.

If a portion of HS was a Flood deposit, there would be no problem with our findings. Also, if the standard geologic column is not a reliable basis for any earth history model as discussed by Reed (1996), our results would cause no problems. However, if it is assumed that a Precambrian sediment was formed during the Creation week or before the Flood, there should be no fossils of any significance in HS. Thus as always the model determines “reality.” This is one of the weaknesses of scientific models. How you visualize earth history is how you determine the validity of scientific evidence. You pigeonhole evidence based on which model you believe. Thus any fossil pollen and tracheids in HS have to be, by definition, a result of contamination.

This circumstance was realized a few years ago when the former editor of the Quarterly, Don DeYoung, received a belligerent letter from a creationist criticizing an article. Since our HS work was mentioned in the paper the critic proclaimed that what we found was certainly not Precambrian pollen!

We respect all creationist positions on various subjects, even if we do not agree with them. We admire those who have developed comprehensive creationist models and appreciate the professionalism required to outline the necessary details. We have no argument with those who disagree with us if they prefer to believe that the fossil material we detected is from later contamination due to the Flood or other catastrophic activity. We realize it is a matter of personal opinion.

As a matter of interest, as Howe and Williams descended from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, sliding along the icy North Kaibab Trail to collect the rock samples, How asked Williams what he expected we would find. The answer was that we would find no fossil material in the rocks. Howe agreed. We were astonished at our findings! We have “no axe to grind” and realize that the results of our work have caused much disagreement among creationists.

It was not our intent to be self-serving in that investigation. However, we deeply resent any accusations that our field and laboratory techniques and procedures were remiss and that we contaminated the rock samples. We have spent the majority of our professional careers involved in laboratory work. We know how to follow and develop procedures to avoid contamination. It is easy for someone to sit in front of a computer and claim contamination when he has not read the original reports or does not know what was done! It is the height of arrogance and laziness and we reject such allegations as spurious.

Those readers who are interested in this investigation should obtain and consult the various articles and notes mentioned and decide for themselves how to interpret the evidence.

Additional References

*CRSQ* – *Creation Research Society Quarterly*

Austin, S. A. (editor). 1994. Grand Canyon: Monument to catastrophe. Institute for Creation Research. Santee, CA.

Brown, W. 1995. In the beginning: Compelling evidence for Creation and the Flood. Sixth edition. Center for Scientific Creation. Phoenix, AZ. pp. 103-105.

Burdick, C.L. 1974. More Precambrian pollen. *CRSQ* 11:122-123, 126.

____________. 1975. Cambrian and other early pollen in the literature. *CRSQ* 12:175-177.

Doher, L.I. 1980. Palynomorph preparation procedures currently used in the paleontology and stratigraphy laboratories. United States Geological Survey Circular 830. Washington, D.C.

Oard, M.J. 1993. Comments on the breached dam theory for the formation of the Grand Canyon. *CRSQ* 30:39-46.

Reed, J.K. 1996. A biblical Christian framework for earth history research, Part I – Critique of naturalist-uniformitarian system. *CRSQ* 33:6-12.

Rusch, Sr., W.H. 1982. The present position of Pre-Cambrian pollen. *CRSQ* 19:143-144.

Snelling, A.A. 1991. Creationist geology: Where do the Precambrian strata fit? *Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal# 5:154-175.

Williams, E. L., J.R. Meyer and G.W. Wolfrom. 1991. Erosion of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, Part I – Review of antecedent river hypothesis and the postulation of large quantities of rapidly flowing water as the primary agent of erosion. *CRSQ* 28:92-98.

____________________________________________. 1992a. Erosion of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, Part II – Review of river capture, piping and ancestral river hypothesis and the possible formation of vast lakes. *CRSQ* 28:138-145.

____________________________________________. 1992b. Erosion of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, Part III – Review of the possible formation of basins and lakes on the Colorado Plateau and different climatic conditions in the past. *CRSQ* 29:18-24.

Wise, K. 1992. Some thoughts on the Precambrian fossil record. *Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal* 6:67-71.

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