Supplying the world with coal
Dr. Andrew Snelling reviewed the particular case of coal in an article posted here from 1986. Although he concludes that Earth could sustain forests capable of supplying the world’s coal reserves, his argument assumes some rather arbitrary or inaccurate conditions. For example, he uses a compaction ratio of less than 2:1 from vegetation to coal, meaning that it would take less than 2 meters of raw vegetation to produce 1 meter of coal. His reasoning was based on “modern research,” which “shows that less than two metres of vegetation are needed to make one metre of coal,” but he fails to cite the supposed research. As it turns out, the compaction ratio of peat to coal is much lower than geologists originally thought, but peat—essentially a type of soil—is very different, qualitatively, from catastrophically buried, raw vegetation.
Dr. Snelling also supposes that the pre-Flood land surface was approximately twice that of today. “If then this vast land area was under lush vegetation,” he says, “then we can account for 100% of the known coal reserves.” But this scenario is not only falsified by Precambrian stratigraphy (which is dominantly marine and quite extensive), but would result in a far more arid landscape (i.e. less ocean = fewer big storms; greater average distance to water = more continentality). Vapor canopy, you say? We’ll leave that one to the jury.
An article by Gerhard Schönknecht (1997; posted by CMI) analyzed the problem with more depth and honesty, but still relied on highly improbable conditions (e.g. 40% thick-forest cover over the entire Earth; near perfect preservation). Could a pre-Flood biomass account for all the coal beds on Earth? Well, perhaps…but as I said, that question is rather inconsequential to a much larger problem.
Discussions on whether a pre-Flood biomass could supply organic carbon to the world’s coal reserves are simply misguided. Why? After explaining the origin of coal, one must account for the organic carbon in all other petroleum resources, from oil to asphalt to natural gas. Furthermore, one should account for the fact that most oil/gas/coal was never preserved or has been eroded out since deposition.
After these masses are summed, one should factor in that this accounts for only 0.13% of all organic matter buried in sedimentary rocks (nearly every sedimentary rock contains some organic matter, if only 0.01%).
So where did all the carbon come from? Ultimately, today, it comes from CO2 in the atmosphere. Can we assume photosynthesis occurred before the flood? If so, the drawdown would have been so great that one must posit an extraordinary source of carbon, several thousands of times larger than today, to the atmosphere. Flood geologists have yet to create a viable, pre-Flood carbon cycle that explains both fossil biomass and isotopic values of organic matter and carbonates.
The real ‘pre-Flood biomass’
How much organic carbon is actually in the geologic column? Holser et al. (1988) provided the following estimates:
Bitumen (recoverable coal/oil/gas): 11,400 Gigatons Carbon
Pelagic ocean sediments: 756,000 Gigatons Carbon
Unlithified shelf/slope sediments: 4,400,000 Gigatons Carbon
Sedimentary rocks: 9,000,000 Gigatons Carbon
Total Exogenic Organic Carbon: 14,160,000 Gigatons Carbon!
Let’s compare that to nowadays:
Modern Biomass (living and dead): 4,400 Gigatons Carbon
In other words, the amount of organic carbon on the surface of the Earth is more than 3,000 times that found in the entire modern biomass. If every organism on Earth (dead and alive) was suddenly buried in a flood and swept to the bottom of the ocean, the amount of organic carbon transported to the deep ocean would equal less than 1/170th the amount already buried in its sediments.
Might I suggest approaching Genesis with a less anachronistic and lexically rigid hermeneutic?
*Although I say “all” fossils and petroleum reservoirs, it depends on where one assigns the ‘pre-Flood’ and ‘post-Flood’ boundaries. To be fair/accurate, I should say Cambrian–Cretaceous at minimum, but I think the point is inconsequential to my argument.
Holser, W.T., Schidlowski, M., Mackenzie, F.T., Maynard, J.B., 1988, Biogeochemical Cycles of Carbon and Sulfur, in Gregor, C.B., Garrels, R.M., Mackenzie, F.T., Maynard, J.B., [editors], Chemical Cycles in the Evolution of the Earth: John Wiley & Sons, New York, 276 p.