In a recent post, The Hijacking of Creationism, I discussed the currently obligatory conservative Christian view of why the earth appears to be billions of years old when traditional interpretations of Genesis 1 say it is only about 6,000 years old. I expressed my misgivings about that explanation, which proposes that all or certainly most of the appearance of age is due to damage to the earth’s crust caused by torrential rains and upheavals associated with the Genesis Flood. I also expressed doubts about the qualifications of Henry Morris, popularizer of the Flood Theory.
I do believe in the historicity of the Genesis Flood itself, but I don’t believe that the best explanation of how God brought this judgement about (see Fountains of the Deep, an earlier post) would have caused the level of devastation that Flood Theory requires.
As recapitulation of my own technical and professional qualifications: I am not a geologist, but I am well-trained in relevant aspects of geology. In a long career as a petroleum engineer, I worked extensively with and/or in place of geologists.
There are several sub-fields of petroleum engineering, and I have worked most of them. For most of my tenure with both large and small companies, both as an employee and as a consultant, I served as a petroleum reservoir engineer. As such I have had to be intimately familiar with all aspects of stratigraphy (rock layering), including rock and fluid properties, strata deposition mechanisms and deformations, fluid saturations and flow mechanisms, and, for diagnostic purposes, subsurface electrical and radioactivity profiles. As a well-site drilling engineer, I have examined rock cores and bit cuttings, electrical logs, pressure and flow tests, and more, from the surface to more than a mile deep. As a production engineer, I have observed how both productive and non-productive rock strata behave under a wide variety of external disturbances. In short, I probably know more about rock layers and how they behave than most geologists in non-petroleum fields.
One way to solve the age problem is to simply say, “What’s the problem? God simply spoke everything into existence exactly the way we would have seen it in 4004 BC!” Now, I don’t doubt for an instant that Almighty God is capable of just such a mighty act but just because He can, does that mean that He did? Observation suggests that He did not. To borrow a phrase from 1 Cor. 14:33, God is not the author of confusion, so why would His creation be so complex and appear so tremendously old, if it is not? Just to fool scientists and throw people off the track? I don’t think so!
Several years ago, before the advent of smartphones, I set out to make the 22-minute drive from my home to Belton, Missouri, where I was taking a semester of Theology at a Bible College. The topic of the day was to be Creation, and I knew that my professor was a proponent of Flood Theory. On the way I decided to pull out my microcassette recorder and list as many geological phenomena as I could think of, before I got there, that I know cannot be explained by the flood. I’ve since lost the list, but I recall most of what was on it. Here are some of the key items (in no particular order), with my reasoning added:
“Clastics” are the small, sometimes microscopic, rock fragments formed by “weathering” of larger fragments or massive rock formations. “Erosion” is the process by which clastics are subsequently moved from place to place and deposited in broad areas by the force of moving water, wind, glaciation, volcanic action, or simple gravity. When these clastic “sediments” become fused together over long periods of time by heat, pressure or chemical action, they become the sedimentary rock strata that we see today. My focus here is on the fragments themselves, not the strata.
Weathering of solid, non-sedimentary rocks like granite is generally not due primarily to frictional erosive flow in stream beds as most people think, but rather is caused by expansion/contraction cycles. Perhaps the most important of such processes, often called “frost wedging“, occurs when water enters small cracks and pores in the rock, freezes, expands, and wedges the openings larger. Over many alternate cycles of freezing and thawing, the two sides of the wedged rock can completely separate. Plant growth in these opening can accelerate the wedging. Another very common process that weathers rock is “exfoliation“, which occurs as the surface of a rock heats and cools more rapidly than the interior, causing layers near the surface to flake off.
Eventually, weathered rock fragments can become small enough to be transported by erosion. As they tumble along, they will be further broken up as they knock into other fragments, a process called “saltation“. Roiling water from the Genesis Flood could have redistributed loose fragments—soil, dirt, pebbles, and even larger rock—and further broken and shaped some of these fragments, but it could not, in a span of only 40 days, have caused any significant erosion of solid rock, even if heavily laden with abrasive silt. Nor could the Flood account for the rounding and blunting that we typically see in sand grains and many other clastics. The Flood, as cataclysmic as it was, simply did not last long enough or provide the temperature swings or friction surfaces needed to account for the clastic structure we see.
Can I prove this? No, but it is my professional opinion, and Scripture has nothing to say on the process. Scientific studies could be done to prove the feasibility (or not!), but I haven’t seen any such research. The relevant discipline to conduct such studies is called “rock mechanics“, and in fact rock mechanics was the focus of my own master’s thesis.
Homogeneity and sharp boundaries
Sedimentary rock strata sometimes extend laterally for long distances—often hundreds, or even thousands, of square miles which, strangely, Flood Theory enthusiasts seem to regard as proof of their point. In general, the strata tend to be mostly homogeneous, with few random impurities indicating uneven mixing with other rock types during deposition. Furthermore, the boundaries between layers tend to be crisp and well-defined. A sandstone, for example, does not normally grade into a shale or a limestone.
These characteristics are the opposite of what one would expect of sediments transported by a violent flood. During the rain, and afterwards as the water receded, any large or dense rocks transported would quickly have sunk to the bottom, followed by smaller and less dense rocks, and finally silt. The final result would be a single, deep, turbidity layer, grading from heavy, dense rock at the bottom, to lighter clastics at the top. Sorting would be by size and weight, not by rock type.
Limestone is formed from the skeletal material of sea life. A critter dies and sinks to the bottom. Its soft tissues decay, and what remains calcifies. Over time, enough of this material accumulates to form beds that fuse into massive rock strata. In a Flood scenario, we should expect to see calcified remains more or less distributed throughout the single, thick stratum discussed above. Of course, we do see some distribution of calcified fossil remains in all rock types, but additionally we see massive continuous beds of relatively pure limestone interbedded with sandstones and shales and other rock types. I simply don’t see how this can be accounted for without repeated flooding over long intervals of time. Almighty God could have simply spoken it into being in this configuration, or He could have directed the Flood waters and upheavals in such a way as to “stack it” to His own specifications, but why? Only to fool us into discounting our own senses? If I could see anything in Scripture to make me think this way, I would accept it. But I simply don’t!
Let’s say that the cataclysmic geologic activity associated with such a flood caused mountains to cyclically rise and recede in a very short time span and caused rock and debris to wash into the low areas, burying forests and animal life forms. If the up-thrust rock was composed differently from place to place, couldn’t this alternating rise and fall account for the rock strata that we observe? No! Such a violent scenario would cause mixing of the materials, not sorting and stratification, particularly since most of the rock strata are composed of very fine-grained clastics that are themselves a product of weathering and subsequent erosion over long periods of time.
Geologists have mapped the “normal sequence” of rock strata—the so-called “geologic column“—at many locations throughout the world. At any particular location, it is not at all uncommon to find that various members of the normal column are missing, since stratum thicknesses vary naturally from place to place, all the way down to zero; but the overall sequence is nevertheless still normally recognizable. It is also not terribly uncommon to find regions where the sequence is exactly reversed; in other words where we find the apparent age of the rocks decreasing with depth. This is evident, for example, in some of the rocks exposed by the Grand Canyon. Genesis Flood theorists are fond of chuckling at the irony they see in this. “Haha, geologists, the joke’s on you! Not only is the sequence wrong, but it is exactly opposite from what you expected!” In reality, this is easy to explain. Tectonic forces cause deformation and bending of entire sequences of strata. In nature we find them tilted to all angles, including completely flipped over. This is the same thing that happens when you use your fingers to push the left and right edges of a newspaper towards each other. The difference is that solid rock is more or less rigid, unlike newsprint. Such deformations over the course of days or even years or decades would cause the rock to crumble and the strata to disintegrate. Over geologic time, however, “solid” rock tends to undergo “plastic” deformation. In geologic (not meteorological) time, it can flow like a viscous fluid—in fact, exactly like a glacier.
Discontinuities and crossbedding
A related effect that we frequently see over geologic time is that strata get “tilted” to some angle by those same tectonic forces, then the tilting action stops and weathering/erosion cuts horizontally across exposed edges of the strata. Flowing water initially brings debris down from the highlands and cuts river channels in those transported debris fields, but then over time there is a levelling effect, forming the broad, flat plains between mountain ranges and the coastal peneplains. Still later, deposition may form new strata in horizontal beds lying across the eroded edges of the older rock. The interface between the canted strata and the horizontal strata is called a “discontinuity” or “unconformity“. “Crossbedding” usually refers to unconformities in aeolian sands (see below).
Not all rock strata are deposited by water. Sometimes wind blowing over long periods of time can deposit clastic materials and form rock strata. These “aeolian” deposits have a very distinctive structure that is readily recognizable to geologists. Fossilized desert sand dunes are a subset of this group. I see no possible way that the Genesis Flood could account for these.
Still other features are formed only by glaciers flowing slowly and plastically downhill. Flowing water cuts V-shaped valleys. Glaciers scoop out large and obvious U-shaped valleys, like using a giant spade. “Hanging valleys” are formed when one glacier melts away, leaving behind its characteristic U-shaped valley, and many thousands of years later a new glacier flows by at an angle to the first.
As glaciers flow, the debris that they scoop out of the canyons strings out to the side like snowbanks formed by plows after a storm. The debris itself is called “till” and it is tumbled and polished into a form that is easily recognizable. The so-called Split Rock of Horeb, in the first figure above, is till deposited by a glacier during the last ice age, in what is now northwest Saudi Arabia. The ridges of till that I have described are called “lateral moraines.” The Genesis Flood could not in any way account for the effects of glaciation. Glacial ice, like rock strata, would crumble if it were deformed and forced to try and flow over a short time span.
Salt, gypsum and a number of other deposits are laid down as a result of evaporation over long periods of time. Water simply cannot hold enough of these materials to form, in a short time span, the deep beds of such “evaporites” often found.
I don’t think that God set out to destroy or remake the entire planet with the Flood! His purpose was to show fallen mankind after the Flood that He would not tolerate their evil ways forever. He saved Noah and his family. He saved animal species that could not swim. He did not destroy plant species or swimming animals, because they could survive the limited time span of the Flood. There was no reason to break up land masses, nor was there a mechanism for doing so, because “the fountains of the deep“, I believe, were the volcanic vents along the mid-oceanic ridges, and the rains were spawned by out-venting from those. So, far from being smashed by raging torrents and mudslides, the wicked were destroyed by rising waters, like in a huge bathtub. Similarly, the waters receded by means of suction into tectonic plate subduction zones, on a smaller scale, a proven and well-understood process.
Another important question not answered by the Flood Theory is, how would the Flood account for the apparent (and in my opinion, demonstrable) 13.7-billion-year age of the universe?