Salter’s trilobite, a national fossil of Wales, is evidence for a young earth and biblical history
The following question from a correspondent is about a fossil described on a TV program they were watching. It’s answered by geologist Dr Tas Walker.
Last night I was watching a British programme “Coast” on SBS–TV. The presenter showed Salter’s fossil, a great trilobite, which was discovered around 150 years ago on the west coast of Wales.
Apparently the discovery of this fossil changed the view of the age of the earth. I cannot find a reference to it in your search engine, so I am asking whether this fossil is indeed as old as it is claimed to be. Can you give reasons for your answer please with particular reference to this fossil?
Thank you very much.
CMI’s Dr Tas Walker replies:
I Googled “Salters fossil Wales” and came up with an article about it on the website for National Museum Wales.1 From its description it is a remarkable fossil, being a very large trilobite over 50 cm long and incredibly well preserved. It was found by J.W. Salter in the rocks of Pembrokeshire, and called Paradoxides davidis.
The find of a fossil trilobite in itself would give no clue for the age of the earth. But the find could be used to convince people the world is old depending on the way the people of the day reported the find. For example, it would likely have been presented as a curiosity from a bygone era, a creature now extinct that existed eons of ages ago when the world was very different from ours. However, many, many fossils are the same as creatures alive today. These are often called ‘living fossils’, and they have the reverse effect, giving the impression that the past was not that different from today. (See Living fossils: a powerful argument for creation.)
The strata in Wales, in which the fossil was found, had been named Cambrian by Adam Sedgwick in 1835. So, if the fossil was described as belonging to the Cambrian era, people would have got the impression that it was eons of time ago. In other words, just the language used to report the find could have influenced people to imagine an old age for the earth.
The fossil was found in 1862, and the idea of an old earth had been increasingly popular since it was widely promoted in the writings of Charles Lyell some 30 years before. However, most people of that time still believed the biblical account of earth history, that the earth was only 6,000 years old, as do many people today. Lyell’s claim that the earth was eons old was not a discovery he had made but an assumption, and he was very persuasive in his writings. Lyell deliberately denied that Noah’s Flood had ever occurred in history as the Bible describes, and so he ignored the event and its catastrophic effects on the geology of the earth.
The trilobite fossil is actually stunning evidence for the catastrophe of Noah’s Flood because of its excellent preservation. Its intricate detail indicates that it was buried quickly before it was scavenged by other animals, as occurs so quickly today. In fact, the fossil is a problem for those who believe in long ages, because they have to postulate special conditions for how it was preserved so beautifully while it was waiting to be covered slowly by sediment.
When we interpret the fossil from a biblical perspective, it makes a lot of sense of the evidence. The Cambrian strata in Wales were deposited as the waters of Noah’s Flood were rising, about the middle of the first half of the Flood. That means the fossil is actually about 4,500 years old—one of the creatures that was alive before the Flood, and which perished in the cataclysm.
The fossil was found just three years after Charles Darwin published his Origin. Over the next 30 years there was considerable debate about the age of the earth with physicist Lord Kelvin saying it was about 20 to 40 million years old at the most. (His calculated result was far too old because he made wrong assumptions about what the earth was like when God first created it. See Western culture and the age of the earth.)
Charles Darwin was distressed at Kelvin’s number because it was too small! Darwin said he needed a vast period of time before the Cambrian for his theory of evolution to work. In other words, an almost unimaginably huge age of the earth is something that the evolutionary scientists have been looking for in order for evolution to be at all plausible.
Apart from being evidence for rapid burial in the global Flood, the trilobite fossil is also remarkable evidence for design, which points to the Designer. Its body plan is especially suited for it to live, grow, and reproduce in the environment where it lived. The trilobite eye particularly is a masterpiece of precision optical design.
Trilobites are thought to be extinct, which is why they are of such interest. People are well aware today of the threats and causes of extinction because there are so many animals that are threatened or endangered. So, this trilobite fossil is also evidence that we live in a ‘fallen’ world, where death, suffering, disease and extinction are part of the landscape. The Bible explains how all that came about and it gives us the remedy for that problem, together with hope for the future, in the gospel of Christ.
In summary, there is nothing in Salter’s trilobite or where it was found that points to an old earth. However, this fossil provides stunning evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Its design demonstrates the power and wisdom of the Creator, its death and extinction the terrible consequence of sin, its preservation the reality of global judgment, and the provision of salvation as evidenced by Noah and his family, from whom we are all descended.
All the best,
Re-featured on homepage: 21 April 2021
References and notes
- International fame for Wales's 'National Fossil', museum.wales, accessed 2014. Return to text.