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Fish Cause Problems for the Global Flood

Copyright 1998 G.R. Morton. This may be freely distributed so long as no monetary charge is required or change to the text is made. (

I have several questions for the young-earth creationists. I recently compiled a database of all the living and fossil genera of fish along with their distribution in the geologic column. There are 3245 living genera of fish; there are 1837 extinct genera. My sources for this information were Robert L. Carroll, “Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution,” (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1988), pp 596-612 for the paleontological data (plus a few living genera) and for the living genera was: every attempt was made to avoid duplications between these two sources. I give these data sources so that anyone can perform the same work I have and while the numbers might vary a bit (due to errors by both of us) they aren't going to vary by much. Here are the results:

Youngest period # Fish genera # living genera # extinct genera
Recent 3245 3245 0
Pleistocene 422 408 14
Pliocene 416 372 44
Miocene 496 320 176
Oligocene 321 207 114
Eocene 398 157 241
Paleocene 124 53 71
Cretaceous 340 38 302
Jurassic 146 5 141
Triassic 175 0 175
Permian 86 0 86
Pennsylvanian 106 0 106
Mississippian 163 0 163
Devonian 524 0 524
Silurian 57 0 57
Ordovician 5 0 5
Cambrian 1 0 1
Oldest period
( then select fishbase option from this page)

The numbers in the table will not add up to the 5082 genera cited in the above table because some of the genera live through numerous of the geologic periods.

What is fascinating are the implications which can be gleaned from the distribution of the fish throughout the geologic column. I need to make a couple of remarks about the geologic column. First, it does exist in its entirety in over 20 different places around the earth (contrary to young-earth creationist claims). I would refer you to my web page article “The Entire Geologic Column in North Dakota”. Secondly, one rule is true in geology (and it was set up by a man who believed in Noah's flood) that the highest rock layer is the youngest and the oldest is the deepest. This relative age is a logical necessity which follows from the fact that sediments land on the ocean bottom coming only from above and not from below. This means that even if the sediments were deposited by Noah's flood, the deepest sediment was part of the early flood and the last layer was deposited at the end of Noah's flood. Given this, the question now comes about as to why only 408 out of the 3245 living genera of fish have ANY fossil record at all? If they were in the ocean at the time of the flood there are two reasons why SOME of the modern fish should be found in the early flood sediments. First, fish have a limited lifespan. Most fish live less than 10 years with a few, like the halibut living 30 years. This means that in the preflood population there would be a significant fraction of old fish, ready to pass on to their reward. If there were 10 billion halibut, 330 million of them would be expected to die from old age during the flood. So during the flood year, normal mortality should have claimed some of the modern fish and the flood should have then buried and fossilized them. Secondly, due to the extreme turbulence of this global cataclysm, some of the fish should have been bonked on the head with rocks, boulders or just simply buried. Yet, as you can see from the above distribution, not a single genera of modern fish is found prior to the Jurassic period. Where were the 3245 modern genera of fish in the early part of the flood? Simply put, their absence is remarkable and clearly contradicts the predictions of the global flood. I want to emphasize that the oldest living genera in the Jurassic do not contain any living SPECIES of fish. The oldest fossil example of a living species of fish is that of a shark which is based upon the occurrence of shark teeth (supposedly diagnostic of each species) and that would show that the oldest living species is an Elfin shark from the Upper Cretaceous. (see J.R. Norman, “A History of Fishes”, (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1949), p. 124) How can a global flood advocate respond to the above distribution of fossil fish in the flood sediments? They could say that the fossil record is incomplete. They could say that the modern fish lived in different habitats from those which were buried earlier in the flood. Or they could say that God created new life after the flood. We will examine these possibilities one by one. Could the fossil record be incomplete? Well, it is, but young-earth creationists often criticise evolutionists for making that claim. Gish wrote: “Sampling of the fossil record has now been so thorough that appeals to the imperfections in the record are no longer valid.” Duane Gish, “Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record,” (El Cajon: Master Books,1985), p. 42 (Gish makes the identical statement in Evolution: the Fossils say NO! p. 51)

Huse states:

“In time he [Darwin] argued, these connecting links would be found and the critical gaps filled. This convenient excuse, however, no longer offers any refuge for evolutionists.” Scott M. Huse, “The Collapse of Evolution,” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), p. 42

So, if the fossil record is complete, then WHERE are the modern fish?

Could the modern fish have lived in a different habitat? Whitcomb and Morris would imply this is one of the main reasons that fish are not found with other animals (Henry M. Morris, “Creation and the Modern Christian,” (El Cajon, California: Master Book Publishers, 1985), p. 249). Whitcomb and Morris also state that the preflood sea bottoms should have been the first to be buried in the flood followed by the marine environment. So why are the early flood sediments devoid of modern species and genera of fish who HAD TO HAVE OCCUPIED THE VERY SAME PREFLOOD OCEAN! This obviously presents difficulties to the global flood concept.

Could God have created the new life after the flood? Yes, of course God could have. Of course this would be adding to the Scripture which is warned against in Galatians and Revelations. In other words, there is no evidence from Scripture that God engaged in a massive creation event after the flood.

Fish are not the only group presenting this challenge to the young-earth view point. The Mammalian distribution is as follows:

As one goes back into the past, there are fewer and fewer living species found as fossils. The data is as follows:

Recent 4631 species
Pleistocene 282
Pliocene 67
Miocene 2

The two living species found in the Miocene are the carnivore Callorhinus ursinus and the bat, Rhinolophus ferrum-equinum.

The final implication of the data is that other than these (aggregate 282 species), ALL species found in the fossil record are different from those living today. The number of extinct species found in the various epochs of the Tertiary are:

Pleistocene 786
Pliocene 1119
Miocene 2988
Oligocene 1282
Eocene 1819
Paleocene 604

The average species is only found in one of these epochs. This implies that the fauna almost entirely turns over with the passing of each epoch. This is another difficulty for the global flood--explaining why different forms are deposited in the various layers, in spite of the fact that most ecozones are represented in each epoch.

On the genus level the numbers of members of extant mammalian genera in the various geological epochs is:

Triassic there are 4 genera --no living members
Jurassic 43 genera -no living members
Cretaceous 36 genera -no living members
Paleocene 213 genera -no living members
Eocene 569 genera -3 extant genera
Oligocene 494 genera 11 extant genera
Miocene 749 genera 57 extant genera
Pliocene 762 genera 133 extant genera
Pleistocene 830 genera 417 extant genera

So, as far as I can see, there is no explanation for this data within the typical creationist interpretive scheme. My questions for young-earth creationists are these:

What would you tell a student who comes to you and asks how you explain this data?

Why do you think it is that Christian apologists never mention paleontological data at this level of detail? (and if one wants to complain about my use of the word ‘never’ then please tell me where the distribution of the genera of fish are discussed in a young-earth creationist paper).

How do you explain the data within a young-earth creationist framework?

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