Creation - Age Of The Earth

The Yellowstone Petrified Forests

Evidence of Catastrophe

by Jonathan Sarfati

Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the United States, spans parts of three states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It is famous for its geothermal activity including 10,000 hot springs and 200 geysers, including ‘Old Faithful’. There are also mountains, including one of black obsidian (volcanic glass), cooled and hardened basalt lava flows, deep valleys and canyons, rivers, lakes, forests, petrified wood (wood turned into rock), and wildlife.


In some places in Yellowstone Park, erosion of a hillside reveals layers of upright petrified trees. At Specimen Ridge, there are said to be 27 layers, while Specimen Creek contains about 50. This means that the Specimen Creek formation is especially huge - its total vertical height is 1,200 metres (3,400 feet). This raises the question: how did the petrified tree layers form?


Evolutionists and other long-agers usually teach the following scenario:

  1. Each layer is the remains of a forest.

  2. Each forest was buried where it grew by volcanic ash and other debris.

  3. Dissolved minerals were soaked up by the trees, petrifying them.

  4. After about 200 years, the ash weathered into clay, then into soil.

  5. A new forest grew on top of where the previous one had stood. From the well-preserved tree rings, the oldest tree in each layer was about 500 years old on average.

  6. The new forest was buried by volcanic ash, and the process repeated.

  7. The erect stack of layers was eroded, such that their edges are now exposed in a cliff.

If this scenario were true, it would have taken nearly 40,000 years to form the entire series at Specimen Creek. However, since the scenario is based on the unobserved past, it is not part of normal (operation) science, as this deals with repeatable observations in the present. But as we will see, there are certain features of Specimen Ridge that make no sense under this explanation. [1]



As shown above, the slow ‘one after the other’ explanation for the Yellowstone petrified trees is incompatible with the evidence. It also clearly contradicts a straightforward reading of Scripture which teaches a young age for the earth. We weren’t there to see it happen, and we should not trust such scenarios when they contradict God’s infallible written Word. Starting from biblical framework, we should expect that the ‘forests’ were buried recently, and probably by a catastrophe.

A recent catastrophe has given us some insight into what might have produced the Yellowstone petrified ‘forests’. On 18 May, 1980, Mt St Helens in Washington State erupted with the energy of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs. Although tiny by the standards of most eruptions, this eruption flattened millions of trees in 625 square kilometres (240 square miles) of forest. The eruption also melted snowfields and glaciers, and caused heavy rainfall. This resulted in a mudflow that picked up the fallen logs (some of which travelled upright), so the both forks of the Toutle River were log-jammed. An earthquake, Richter magnitude 5.1, caused a landslide that dumped half a cubic kilometre (one-eighth of a cubic mile) of debris into the nearly Spirit Lake. This caused waves up to 260 metres (860 feet) high, which gathered a million logs into the lake, forming a floating log mat. Most of them lacked branches, bark and an extensive root system.

Since roots are designed to absorb water, the remains of the roots on the floating logs soaked up water from the lake. This caused the root end to sink, and the logs tipped up to float in an upright position. When a log soaked up even more water, it sank and landed on the lake bottom. Debris from the floating log mat and a continuing influx of sediment from the land (in the aftermath of the catastrophe) buried the logs, still in an upright position. Trees that sank later would be buried higher up, that is on a higher level, although they grew at the same time. This was confirmed by sonar and scuba research by a team led by Drs Steve Austin and Harold Coffin. [8] [9] By 1985, there were about 15,000 upright logs on the bottom. Later, the lake was partly drained, exposing some of the bottom, revealing upright logs stuck in the mud.

There is ample evidence that petrification need not take very long. Hot water rich in dissolved minerals like silica, as found in some springs at Yellowstone, has petrified a block of wood in only a year. [10]

Imagine if the logs on the bottom of Spirit Lake were found thousands of years later. Evolutionists would probably interpret them as multiple forests buried in place, rather than trees living at the same time that were uprooted, transported, and then sunk at different times.


One historian of science, Ronald Number, placed his faith in fallible human theories about the past, and used this as an excuse to apostatise (fall away from his professed faith). As he said in his book on the history of creationism, [11] a supposedly objective study: [12]

‘I vividly remember the evening I attended an illustrated lecture on the famous sequence of fossil forests in Yellowstone National Park and then stayed up most of the night . . . agonising over, then accepting, the disturbing likelihood that the earth was at least thirty thousand years old. Having thus decided to follow science rather than Scripture on the subject of origins, I quickly though not painlessly, slid down the proverbial slippery slope toward unbelief.’ [13]

Of course, he was not following ‘science’, in the sense of repeatable observations in the present; that is, the type of science that sent men to the moon.

Most importantly, he presumed that he knew all the facts, which he obviously did not. We should remember the lesson of ‘Piltdown man’. Before the hoax was discovered in 1953, this convinced many that evolution was true. Those convinced included the eminent English Christian surgeon Arthur Rendle Short, who unlike Ronald Numbers never apostatised. But Rendle Short agonised over long ages of death and suffering, which clearly conflict with the biblical teaching that there was no death before the Fall (Genesis 1:29-30, 3:19; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). [14] There is evidence that his view was moving back to biblical creation, although he didn’t quite live to see ‘Piltdown man’ exposed as a hoax.

We now have answers to both the Piltdown and Yellowstone challenges. We should remember, if confronted with other ‘unanswerable’ challenges to the biblical world view, that even if we don’t have all the answers, God does. And He, in His good time, may raise up godly scientists to discover them.

  1. Much information comes from Harold Coffin (with Robert Brown), Origin by Design, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington DC, 1983. Return to First Text Reference to this note. Return to Second Text Reference to this note.

  2. Don Batten, ‘Sandy stripes: Do many layers mean many years?’ Creation 19(1):39-40, 1996. Return to Text.

  3. P Julien, Y. Lan and G. Berthalt, ‘Experiments on stratification of heterogeneous sand mixtures’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 8(1):37-50, 1994. Return to Text.

  4. Guy Berthault, ‘Experiments on lamination of sediments’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 3:25-29, 1988. Return to Text.

  5. H. A. Makse, S. Havlin, P. R. King and H. E. Stanley, ‘Spontaneous stratification in granular mixtures’, Nature 386966230:379-382, 27 March, 1997. See also Andrew Snelling, ‘Nature finally catches up’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 11(2):125-6, 1997. Return to Text.

  6. John Morris, The Young Earth, Master Books, Colorado Springs, CO, 1994, pp 112-117. Return to Text.

  7. Michael J. Arct, ‘Dendroecology in the fossil forests of the Specimen Creek area, Yellowstone National Park’, Ph.D. Dissertation, Loma Linda University, 1991; Dissertation Abstracts International 53-06B:2759, 1987-1991. Return to Text.

  8. Steve Austin, ‘Mount St Helens and catastrophism’, Proceeding of the First International Conference on Creationism, 1:3-9, ed R. E. Walsh, R. S. Crowell, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 1986; Ken Ham, ‘I got excited at Mount St Helens!’ Creation 15(3):14-19, 1993. Return to Text.

  9. H.G. Coffin, ‘Mt St Hellens and Spirit Lake’, Origins (Geoscience Research Institute) 10(1):9-17, 1983. Return to Text.

  10. A. C. Sigleo, ‘Organic chemistry of solidified wood’, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 42:1397-1405, 1978; cited in J. Morris, ref 6 p. 113. Return to Text.

  11. Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism, University of California Press, 1992. Return to Text.

  12. Although well-researched, his prejudices are evident. The book majors heavily on personalities, with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) character assassinations, while the high scientific qualifications of many creationists are downplayed. He invariably gives the last word to the evolutionist, which often leaves an impression contrary to the facts as can be seen upon checking the sources. However, he exposes the ‘strained efforts' of reinterpreting Scriptures to fit evolution, and the deceit of some theistic evolutionary college professors ‘[s]tretching the truth to the breaking point’ (p. 182) when trying to hide what they really believed from conservative parents and donors. See also review by Prof. Edgar Andrews, Origins (Journal of the Biblical Creation Society) 8(20):21-23, 1995. Return to Text.

  13. Ronald Numbers, Ref 11, p. xvi. Return to Text.

  14. See the book by his son, Prof. John Rendle-Short, Green Eye of the Storm, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998, Part 3; and the shorter account ‘From theistic evolution to creation’, Creation 19(2):50-51, 1997. Return to Text.

from CREATION ex nihilo
Volume 21 Number 2
March - May 1999

The information on this page has been obtained from Creation Ministries International, a non-denominational ministry.

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