Forty years after University, most of us don’t remember much detail from our lectures. But for me one memory has stuck fast to this day. Like everyone, I was taught Uniformitarian Geology. This is standard, mainstream geology, which says that everything happens very, very slowly over millions of years. As an atheist at that time I had absolutely no reason to doubt it, and it was never mentioned that there has always been an alternative view of geological processes.
One day, in a lecture, the speaker said “The very odd thing is that fossil formation is extremely rapid!” There was no lead-up to this statement, and I sat bolt upright in my seat waiting for what would come next. I’ve always loved learning, and had a half-formed theory that we only really learn when we are surprised; everything else is just more (boring) detail on the framework of what we already know. However, my excitement was short lived, as the lecturer went back to whatever else he was saying, leaving his statement hanging in the air. He wasn’t the sort of man you addressed questions to, so the statement got firmly lodged in my brain, awaiting an explanation.
The explanation is actually rather obvious. Millions of creatures die every day, but they don’t get fossilised. They rot. In order to be become a fossil, an organism must be killed and preserved instantly. This normally involves some kind of catastrophic burial in water and sediment, or volcanic ash. And this process provides the name of the alternative to Uniformitarianism: Catastrophism; a name and a way of thinking that was kept hidden from us at University. What lay behind that lecturer’s sudden, solitary comment? A lapse of concentration? Guilt?
Among the fossils, the most stunning manifestations of catastrophic burial are the “Death Pose Dinosaurs”:
They are found in many parts of the World, and show the classic, gasping, arched-back pose due to lack of oxygen. This pose would not be maintained for long, as death would shortly intervene and the muscles would then relax. The envelopment of these animals that made preservation possible must have been virtually instant. For other fossils, the vast majority of which are marine species, the simple fact of their preservation demonstrates rapid burial and preservation.
If fossils are formed instantly, clearly the rocks in which they are fossilised must also be formed instantly/catastrophically. One can at least understand why the lecturer did not want to delve into an “anomaly” that disproved his entire Uniformitarian Theory!