Five Mass Extinctions or One Cataclysmic Event?
at your dream vacation spot. Do you prefer a tropical
forest, lush and humid,
where fragrances from
exotic flowers overwhelm
your senses? Or
a sandy coast, where the
sun warms your skin and
the palm trees sway? Or a secluded old-growth
forest, where the only sound
for miles around is a trickling brook?
Now add a triceratops splashing in
the water, while a duck-billed dinosaur
lazily chomps on a tasty conifer tree
nearby. Overhead, a pterosaur glides
toward its lair in the jagged cliffs.
What an amazing world we live in,
and what an amazing world it once
was! Fossils indicate that the earth
has been covered with a wondrous
array of environments in the past.
Then something happened. The
earth’s rocks indicate that past
catastrophes struck on a scale unlike
anything we see today. The earth’s
crust split open, belching toxic fumes
into the sky and sending rivers of lava
that swallowed up forests and everything
else in their path.
The original continent also broke
apart. The land rose and fell as the
broken landmasses slid around and
bashed into each other. A deluge of
floodwaters battered the shallow seas
and coasts, and then moved inland.
Terrified animals roared and screamed,
seeking safety but finding none.
Meanwhile, meteorites slammed
into the earth, incinerating everything
in their local area, leaving death
and craters in their wake.
What caused these catastrophes?
When did they occur, and how did life
on earth survive?
If you visit any secular natural history
museum or read any secular geology
textbook, you’ll find claims about
five major extinction events that supposedly
occurred during the earth’s
many-millions-of-years history. After
each extinction, new life-forms supposedly
arose to replace those that died.
The Bible gives a much different picture.
God made the earth and every kind
of creature in a single week just 6,000
years ago. Later, because the earth was
filled with evil, the Lord destroyed it
in a worldwide Flood, and all the land
creatures died. We can see reminders of
this mass destruction everywhere. Yet
God in His mercy preserved representatives
of every kind of air-breathing land
creature on Noah’s Ark.
Yes, the earth has endured mass
extinction, but only one.
What Do We Find in the Rock Record?
Before we look at the evidence for
one mass extinction versus five, let’s
consider which parts of the geologic
column diagram we can all agree on.
The charts in secular textbooks and
museums show multiple layers with
names like Cambrian, Permian, Jurassic,
and Cretaceous. They also have
time periods associated with those
layers, and notes often tell about the
five great extinctions that separate
these time periods. Which parts of
those charts are accurate?
First, the layers really do exist. A
visit to the Grand Canyon or other US
national parks, or a long drive on the
highways across America, shows us
distinct rock strata in cliffs and road
cuts, like pancakes stacked on a breakfast
plate. These rock layers are easily distinguished
by their appearance
Many can be traced with
outcrops and drill holes
right across North America
and beyond, to other
Lifeless areas in the Sahara
remind us of destruction that
once changed the face of the
The layers from different
regions around the
world have been added
to a “master” sequence to
make a composite record
of strata. That is all a geologic column
diagram is—a pictorial summary of the
layers we can actually see deposited
around the globe.
The layers are factual, and the
names are useful to identify the present-day strata. The problem arises with
the dates, which estimate when the
layers were deposited. They are based
on speculations and multiple assumptions.
The experts who assign these
dates reject the Bible’s revealed historical
timeline and deny that the Flood
could have deposited the layers. They
assume, instead, that we should interpret
past (unobserved) events based
on present-day (observed) processes.
This assumption is deeply flawed. The Bible reveals that God has
uniquely intervened in history at key
moments, which look unlike anything
we see today, especially creation and
the worldwide Flood of Noah’s day.
Period was not a past world of animals and
plants that existed 150 million years ago.
Thus, for example, the so-called
Jurassic Period was not a past world of
animals and plants that existed 150 million
years ago. It never was observed.
Instead, the Jurassic layers (which we
do observe today) contain a unique
combination of fossils swept up by the
Flood and deposited in unique layers.
The charts do provide accurate summaries
of the fossil sequence. There
is a definite order, from bacteria and
sea creatures at the bottom to modern
humans at the top.2 But it is not a clear-cut
order showing evolution from one
kind of creature into a very different
creature, as secular scientists claim.
Instead, some creatures
represented in the fossil
record have survived
until today, unchanged.
Many other fossils, now
extinct, are found in multiple
layers. And some
creatures appear in only
one layer, without any
clear relationship to fossils
before or after them.
These findings don’t
make sense in the evolutionary
they do make sense if God created all
these unique creatures separately and
they were living together at the same
time. From a biblical perspective, the
order probably reflects the order in
which different environments were
buried during the Flood.
The first deposited layers of the
Flood, at the base of the “Paleozoic,” are
filled exclusively with shells of creatures
that lived on the shallow seafloor. Since the Flood began with the breaking
up of “the fountains of the great
deep” on the ocean floor, the resultant
earthquakes caused a series of colossal
seafloor-hugging water surges to first
wash away and bury sea creatures. As
the Floodwaters rose higher to sweep
onto the land, land-dwelling creatures
got buried in successive layers. Thus
the land-dwelling creatures appear
higher in the fossil record.
Five Mass Extinctions?
If a single Flood buried all these
creatures, why is there evidence of
five mass extinctions? Consider what
“mass extinctions” describes. Animals
weren’t all buried together in a jumbled
mess. Instead, some creatures were
buried before other creatures. Whenever
many different types of organisms
from the same place were completely
buried on a massive scale at the same
levels, often no more appear higher in
the fossil record. So secular scientists
think they look like “mass extinctions.”
If you look closely at those charts
where these five mass extinctions
occur, however, you’ll notice a pattern
that makes more sense as a burial from
sea to land at the same time in history.
The first two (Ordovician–Silurian
and upper Devonian) are just different
regions of the ocean that got buried.
Scientists have difficulty identifying
any one cause for these deaths. They
point to things like climate change,
based on the chemistry of the mud
and sand buried with the animals,
but there is no general agreement on
the cause (because there isn’t a single
cause, other than the Flood itself).
The third and largest “extinction”
(Permian–Triassic) is right where we
would expect the biggest transition in
the types of creatures buried: when the
destructive waters rose from the ocean
floor to begin engulfing the land!
What appears to be a big extinction
is just a transition in the height of the
Floodwaters, which buried different flora and fauna below and above this
level. No wonder we don’t find certain
sea creatures after this point—because
their environments were completely
buried before any land creatures were
swept up by the rising water.
The next extinction (Triassic–Jurassic)
does not have a distinct cause,
either. It simply represents different
parts of the land buried at different
times during the Flood. Secular scientists
still aren’t quite sure what
catastrophe caused this burial.
The really big extinction that everyone
knows about is the fifth and final
one, the Cretaceous–Paleogene (formerly
called the Cretaceous–Tertiary)
extinction. This marks the burial of
the last known dinosaur remains, and
it is often blamed on a huge meteorite
impact. But from a creationist perspective,
we would expect major differences
between creatures buried in the
last stages of the Flood, and animals
buried after Noah’s Ark landed and
creatures repopulated the earth.
Notice the main difference between
the biblical and secular interpretation.
In the evolutionary story, the fossil
record represents different environments
full of creatures that lived and
died at different times over millions
of years. So, for example, they say seafloor
creatures called trilobites were
buried in lower “Paleozoic” layers over
almost 300 million years. They say
these creatures went extinct before
the first Triassic creatures (including
early dinosaurs) arose on land.
According to the Flood perspective,
in contrast, the fossil record represents
different environments full of creatures
that lived at the same time but
were buried in the order of the Flood’s
destruction. The Flood buried the last
of the trilobites before it reached the
dinosaurs on land. The trilobites’ pre-Flood habitats were destroyed and disappeared
under rapidly accumulating
Flood sediments before dinosaurs and
other land animals got buried.
Do we have any hard evidence that
the Flood caused all this destruction
over a short time? Yes, we do!
Megasequences of Rock Layers
A landmark paper in 1963 revealed
that North America’s sedimentary
layers, thousands of feet thick, were
deposited in five large “packages” of
layers called megasequences.3 At the
boundaries between these packages
are erosion surfaces called unconformities.
These are surfaces that were
sheared flat by high-energy, rapidly
flowing ocean waters that rose to flood
the continent and scraped away some
As these surges of ocean waters
slowed, they deposited sediment on top
of those flattened surfaces. In general,
the coarser-grained sediment particles
settled first with progressively finer
particles deposited on top of them.
Each “package” of these graduating sediment
layers is called a megasequence.
Clearly, powerful ocean floodwaters
were at work to lay down these megasequences.
But why are there five?
The Floodwaters reached a zenith
during each of these depositional
cycles, likely getting higher and higher
until the whole earth was flooded as
described in Genesis. Between each
megasequence cycle, the waters began
to retreat. As they again moved rapidly,
in some places they eroded some of the
sediments they had just deposited and
moved them elsewhere. Between each
rise and fall cycle, large portions of the
continent were above water again. Any
animals struggling to swim could have
left footprints on the exposed wet surfaces
that then hardened. The next brief
wave of sediment-laden water would
cover and fossilize those footprints.
In fact, the fossil record often has
tracks of animals in lower layers than
the fossilized remains of those animals.4
This is an enigma to secularists.
How could animals make tracks
and thousands or even millions of
years later their bodies were buried?
It makes more sense that the tracks
and then the bodies were buried in the
Flood over mere hours or days.
This megascale cycle of depositing
“packages” was repeated, as renewed
surges of ocean waters rapidly rose to
again cover the continent. The cycle
appears to have happened five times
before most of the Floodwaters finally
receded and the North American continent
started to dry.
This repeated cycle appears not only
across North America but also across
other continents. Not just layers but
megasequences.5 And the same “mass
extinctions” are repeated, too, all
across the globe, deposited by unimaginably
powerful ocean currents.
Mass Extinction or High Water Level?
Five “mass extinctions” (red arrows) occurred
in the fossil record when the earth’s oceans
were near their highest point (solid blue line).
The dashed line shows the sea level today.
How Did These Mass Extinctions Happen?
Refer to the diagram. Note that the
“mass extinctions” coincide with the
laying down of the five main (named)
megasequences in the geologic record
of North America. Each megasequence
begins with a rise in sea level.
when the sea level was
rising to its zenith and
the ocean waters had
flooded the continent.
This rise in sea level
occurs when the ocean
waters rose to flood
the continent and bury
marine creatures across
the continent. In nearly
every instance, the
when the sea level was
rising to its zenith and
the ocean waters had
flooded the continent.
That’s why so many “extinctions” coincide
with the middle or the top of the
megasequences, coinciding with a possible
zenith in water height. So it makes
sense that these surges destroyed and
buried whole habitats.
This doesn’t help explain the evolutionary
story, however. If the rising
sea levels occurred at the evolutionary
snail’s pace, with the
water level rising slowly
over thousands and even
millions of years, animals
could escape and reestablish
their habitats on safer
ground. This is even true
of marine animals. But
when the water level rises
rapidly, as in the global
Flood, animals cannot
escape and are buried en
masse, as we find in the
So that explains how rising ocean
water produced five layers of “mass
extinction.” But what about the other
main causes that evolutionists give
to explain these mass extinctions (in
addition to rising sea levels): (1) massive
lava flows through cracks in the earth
(called flood basalt eruptions) and (2)
Flood basalts were humongous
eruptions of ginormous quantities of
basalt lavas (lavas from hot melted upper mantle material that forms
rocks when it cools). These eruptions
spewed huge quantities of volcanic
dust, aerosols, sulfur, and carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere, causing
a catastrophic change to living conditions
for animals and plants. All five
of these major mass extinction levels,
particularly the upper three, correspond
to some degree
to such flood basalt
super-eruptions. We see
one of them in India,
where lava flows accumulated
in a mile-thick
stack that covers an area
the size of France!
A satellite image captures
three volcanos erupting in the
southern Atlantic along the
fault line between tectonic
plates. The Flood destroyed
life on earth when the earth’s
crust broke up into plates.
We also find evidence
of meteorite impacts. The
(uppermost) mass extinction
level may correlate
with a massive meteorite
impact, the so-called Chicxulub impact,
when a large meteorite slammed into
the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The
explosion is claimed to have hurled
copious amounts of dust into the atmosphere,
produced mega-tsunamis, and
even caused global forest fires.
Based on the biblical account,
we believe disasters occurred in rapid,
In reality, the existence of flood
basalt super-eruptions and multiple
meteorite impacts matches the global
Flood cataclysm well. Based on the
biblical account, we believe they all
occurred in rapid, overlapping succession
in just one year! They were all
part of God’s earth-shattering judgment
on the evil that filled the world.
God’s Providential Care
That explains how five extinctions
took place during one global Flood
event, with massive meteorite impacts
and lava flows. But another question
remains. If the upheaval and destruction
were so cataclysmic, how did
Noah and his Ark cargo survive?
We find the answer in Genesis 8:1:
And God remembered Noah.”
That’s right, Noah and the Ark survived
because of God’s providential
care. Did that require special miracles?
No, the Ark was designed purposefully.
Neither does God’s providential care
for us today require miracles to keep
the earth hanging in space, spinning
at just the right speed at just the right
distance from the sun. We may not face
upheavals as cataclysmic as the Flood,
but all of our concerns come down to
the reassurance Jesus gave us 2000
years ago when He said, “
If God so” (Matthew 6:30).
clothes the grass . . . will He not much
more clothe you?
Like Noah, we do not have to fear
hard circumstances that lie ahead
because our Creator God has promised
to care for His own.
the University of Sydney and has worked as a consultant
research geologist in both Australia and America. Author of
numerous scientific articles, Dr. Snelling is now director of
research at Answers in Genesis–US.
SourceThis article originally appeared on answersingenesis.org