In part one, we examined the basics of geology, and found that scientists generally agree on the observational aspects of geology regardless of their respective positions on origins. Creation geologists and secular geologists largely agree on the composition of rocks, where they are found, the way they are formed today, plate tectonics, the nature of strata, and so on. But when it comes to interpreting geological events of the past, we form different conclusions on the basis of different starting presuppositions and views of Earth history.
Secular geologists are largely driven either consciously or unconsciously by the philosophy of uniformitarianism. This view is the belief that present geological rates and conditions are largely indicative of past rates and conditions: “the present is the key to the past.” For example, today the rate at which the Grand Canyon is being eroded by the Colorado River is quite slow. The uniformitarian assumption is that this has generally been the case throughout Earth’s past – that the erosion rate has always been roughly what it is today. Assuming that there was no canyon to begin with, it would take a very long period of time for the Colorado River to cut a canyon as deep as the Grand Canyon at its present rate – much longer than 6000 years. Therefore, if uniformitarianism is true, then the Earth must be very old.
We must understand that uniformitarianism is a matter of degree. Most processes can be extrapolated at their present rate into the future or past to a certain extent and produce an accurate answer. For example, if a flower is observed to grow one millimeter per day, it is reasonable to think that in one week it will be about seven millimeters taller. But it is unreasonable to extrapolate this indefinitely. For example, we cannot conclude that in one hundred years, the flower will be thirty-six meters tall! There are limits to almost any extrapolation. The larger the extrapolation, the more likely the answer will be in error.
How far back can we accurately extrapolate using the assumption of uniformitarianism? We can do so until the last substantial change in rates. The problem is this: we usually don’t know when the last substantial change in rates was. Alternatively, in some cases we do know when it was due to recorded history; but not everyone embraces recorded history. For example, if we wanted to know how deep the Grand Canyon was in some previous year, we could extrapolate based on its current erosion rate and that would give a pretty reasonable answer – until we get back close to the year of the global flood. The runoff from the flood would cut a canyon much faster than the Colorado River ever could. And we know from recorded history that the flood occurred approximately 4,400 years ago. Any extrapolation from present rates beyond that date would therefore give an erroneous answer. But secular geologists generally reject the recorded history of the global flood, and continue to extrapolate based on present rates beyond the flood year into a fictional past. For this reason, their estimate of the age of the Grand Canyon is vastly inflated.
In contrast to uniformitarianism is the philosophy of catastrophism. Catastrophism acknowledges that Earth’s geological features can form quickly under rates that are far faster than typical rates in the present. We know, for example, that canyons do not need millions of years to form, because we have seen it happen. When Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980 and afterwards, it devastated a nearby lake and deposited many new layers of sedimentary rock. It then cut through them forming a canyon roughly 1/40th the scale of the Grand Canyon. This happened in a matter of days. The event was observed and is well documented. So we know for certain that rock layers do not require millions of years to form, nor do canyons. And Mount Saint Helens was just one volcano. It is insignificant when compared to the global flood. Clearly, if catastrophism is true, then the Earth need not be very old and its geological features have formed quickly.
Of course, knowledgeable uniformitarian geologists will concede that catastrophes can indeed produce features at accelerated rates, just as creation geologists agree that uniformitarianism often gives reasonable answers when extrapolations are short. So, let us precise our definitions. A uniformitarian believes that the majority of Earth’s geological features were produced primarily by the kinds of slow-and-gradual processes that occur in the present. A catastrophist believes that the majority of Earth’s features were produced primarily under catastrophic conditions, far faster than rates that are typical in the present. In particular, biblical creationists believe that most of Earth’s geological features were formed during the creation week and the global flood.
Clearly, both uniformitarianism and catastrophism are presuppositions. They are each a philosophical pre-commitment in light of which geological data are interpreted. Therefore, the debate between these two systems of thought cannot be conclusively settled on the basis of geological data. That may seem ironic to people who are unfamiliar with epistemology. But since these respective presuppositions control our interpretation of the geological data, clearly the data cannot conclusively judge which interpretive system is correct. We will need to find some other way to judge the relative strength of each system of thought.
The creationist has a very good reason to embrace catastrophism: recorded history. The Bible is primarily a history book, one that has demonstrated itself to be accurate time and again. Archeology has confirmed many of the events of the Bible. And the Bible records a worldwide flood. In fact, hundreds of flood legends from all around the world verify various aspects of the Genesis flood. In contrast, the secularist really has no good reason to embrace uniformiarianism. It is certainly not verified historically; we have no records of mountains or canyons forming over millions of years. Nor is it something that can be scientifically verified in the present, due to the length of time involved. That is, no one can observe or repeat in the present a canyon taking millions of years to form. As far as I can tell, secularists believe in uniformitarianism on blind faith.
But such discussions are not the purpose of this article. This is a geology article. Most geologists have been trained to interpret data in light of uniformitarianism – a philosophy that is blindly assumed. As such, most people have not considered the merit of biblical presuppositions in interpreting geological data. The geological facts make sense in light of biblical history.
The layers of strata that creationists believe were deposited during the global flood (Cambrian through at least the Cretaceous and possibly much of the Tertiary) are continental in scale. For example, the Tapeats sandstone is a Cambrian layer that is exposed near the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But this same sandstone covers much of the United States and Canada continuously. In other words, you could draw a path on a map of North America from the Grand Canyon up into Canada and, depending on the path, every part of it would have the Tapeats sandstone under it. Note that the same sandstone may be assigned a different name in different parts of the continent, but it is the same rock deposit. Therefore, whatever event or events deposited this sediment must have been continental in scale.
This is significant because we do not observe continental-scale deposits occurring today. Local floods will deposit sediment. But the extent of the sediment is limited to the extent of the flood. Nor can the Tapeats sandstone be the result of multiple small-scale floods because if time occurs between two floods, there will be some erosion from the sediment deposited by the first flood, producing a visible break in the rocks that are produced. Yet, the Tapeats sandstone is continuous in the regions in which it is found. Apparently, it was deposited by a flood that covered at least the majority of the continent of North America. This is consistent with the global flood described in Genesis 6-8.
But the Tapeats sandstone is just one part of the Cambrian system. What about the other rock layers? Which of them are continental in scale? The answer is: all of them. All the Paleozoic and Mesozoic layers are continental in scope: those systems that creation geologists believe to be flood layers. You can find rock layers in eastern states that are continuous with rock layers found in the Grand Canyon. These continental scale deposits just don’t occur today, and therefore should challenge the notion that the “present is the key to the past.”
This does not mean that every part of a continent has every system. The flood occurred in stages, and the earliest stages would not have covered the high ground. So by analyzing where the various systems are found, we can reconstruct the approximate topography of the continents as they were before the global flood. Central Africa, for example, is missing many of the lower layers, and therefore must have been high ground before the flood. The eastern United States does have these lower layers, indicating that it flooded early and must have been at low elevation before the global flood.
The Existence of Fossils
The sedimentary rock layers associated with the flood are full of fossils – mineralized remains of organisms. Most organisms never become a fossil. When they die, they decay or are scavenged, and their physical body is recycled back into the environment. Fossilization occurs when a dead organism is rapidly buried in sediment that hardens into rock. Usually the soft parts of the organism have time to decay, leaving the bones. Bones are porous and become mineralized; the water surrounding the bones contains minerals which move into the bones filling in the pores. A fossilized bone is therefore much heavier than a non-fossilized bone. Sometimes the fossilization process happens so quickly that even the soft parts of the organism fossilize. I have seen fossils of jellyfish.
The strata are full of fossils. But fossilization is not common today, and is never observed on a continental scale. This suggests that these fossil beds were produced by a continent-covering catastrophe, unlike the slow, gradual, and local deposition that takes place in the present. For a fossil to form at all, it must be buried rapidly, and completely. This challenges the notion that fossil-bearing sedimentary rock layers were deposited very slowly over millions of years. If it took millions of years to cover an organism in sediment, it would have had plenty of time to decay or to be scavenged.
Some organisms are so well preserved in the strata that some of the original material remains. Dinosaur remains have been discovered with evidence of red blood cells still inside the blood vessels which are still elastic. This strongly challenges the notion that these remains are millions of years old. It is not realistic for soft tissue to survive that long.
Furthermore, in some cases, sufficient original material remains for the specimen to be carbon-dated. Inevitably, the estimated ages turn out to be a few thousand years – never millions. Carbon dating is based on detecting C-14 atoms. C-14 has a half-life of 5730 years and cannot last even one million years. Yet scientists routinely find C-14 in the remains of organisms buried deep in the rock strata. This also challenges the notion that these rock layers are millions of years old. How could a millions-of-years-old rock contain a thousands-of-years-old fossil?
The Types and Order of Fossils
The very existence of fossils deposited on continental scales suggests a worldwide flood. But the types of fossils we find and their order confirm this. What would be the first organisms to be buried in sediment in a global flood? It would not be land organisms. They would flee to higher ground and there would not yet be sediment to deposit on them. The flood waters would collect sediment from the land and dump it into the sea. The sediment would settle at the lowest elevations first. So the first organisms to be buried would be ocean-dwelling creatures. And what do we find? The lowest fossil-bearing strata contain ocean-dwelling organisms. The Cambrian system contains fossils of clams, worms, sponges, starfish, fish, as well as marine organisms that are now extinct such as trilobites. What do all these organisms have in common? They live in the ocean. They would be the first to be buried, and therefore found in the lowest strata – which is exactly what we find.
Sometimes evolutionists misrepresent the biblical position and claim that the global flood would produce no order in its deposits. But this is unrealistic. The flood occurred progressively, advancing to higher ground over time according to passages such as Genesis 7:17-20. The global flood (both the advancement and recession stages) lasted many months. Noah and his family were aboard the ark for over a year. Given this gradual progression, of course the lower animals will be buried earlier and in lower layers than those animals that live inland and at higher elevations. The evolutionists complain, “If there was a global flood, then why don’t we find rabbits in the Cambrian?” The answer is obvious: rabbits don’t live in the ocean.
Second, note where these fossils of ocean organisms are found: on land! The Cambrian strata covers much of the United States and Canada, indicating that this continent was once under water. Other continents are also covered in marine fossils, even on the highest mountain tops. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Earth once experienced a global flood.
As we go to higher strata, we find organisms that lived in progressively higher ecological niches, eventually including land plants and animals. Note that while the lower layers contain only water-dwelling organisms, the higher layers contain both land and ocean creatures together. I have seen a deposit that has both a small dinosaur and a fish buried next to each other. What kind of event would bury land animals with ocean animals? As the flood waters progress to higher ground, they would eventually overtake land animals, but marine creatures would be mixed in as well as they are carried with the flood waters. Organisms that reached the highest ground are unlikely to fossilize because there would be no additional sediment available to cover them. Unprotected from the elements, they decayed back into the environment.
Secular scientists require vast ages because they recognize that Darwinian evolution cannot happen within the biblical timescale. (Actually, it cannot happen in any timescale – but that’s a different topic). So they are committed to a uniformitarian scenario, regardless of all this apparent evidence to the contrary. And they do offer arguments against the biblical flood. But usually, a careful examination of the presented evidence turns out to challenge the uniformitarian view, and confirms the biblical flood. One spectacular example of this concerns the Coconino sandstone, which is one of the higher layers visible in the Grand Canyon. Secularists used to claim that this layer was evidence against the global flood.
Secular geologists once proposed that the Coconino sandstone represented an ancient desert. This would allegedly pose a problem for the global flood since the Coconino is sandwiched in between the Hermit formation and Toroweap formation – both of which are deposits of the global flood. So how do you get a desert to form during the middle of a global flood? More importantly, what is the evidence that this was an ancient desert? Two lines of evidence were presented.
First, the Coconino sandstone has cross-bedding: layers within a stratum that are at an angle relative to the main bedding plane. Geologists began to interpret such crossbedding as the result of sand dunes; modern sand dunes have inclined internal sand beds due to the way the wind picks up and deposits the sand grains. Second, the Coconino sandstone has a large number of footprint sequences called trackways. They were apparently made by four-footed terrestrial vertebrates (reptiles or amphibians). These were interpreted as footprints of animals as they crossed the dunes in the desert.
Is this evidence against the global flood? More recent research has shown that cross-bedding is not limited to desert sand-dunes, but can also form under water as sand-wave deposits. However, the angle of cross-bedding is somewhat lower than that of desert dunes. The Coconino sandstone has an average cross-bedding angle of 25 degrees, which is consistent with the angle for sand-waves deposited by water. But desert sand dunes tend to have a higher angle, often exceeding 30 degrees.
Second, the footprints in the Coconino sandstone are quite distinct – individual toe marks are often visible. Have you ever seen distinct footprints in dry sand? Neither have I. Dry sand may leave a depression, but the sand collapses around the edges eliminating details. Wet sand, however, can leave a very detailed footprint. You can confirm this yourself by walking along a beach, first in the dry sand, and then in the wet sand closer to the surf.
Our intuition was scientifically verified by Dr. Leonard Brand of Loma Linda University who performed experiments in which he measured footprints of reptiles and amphibians as they occur under water, on moist sand, and on dry sand respectively. His results show that the Coconino sandstone trackways best matched those footprints that were made under water.
Interestingly, the Coconino trackways all seem to be going uphill; the toe impressions were far more distinct than the sole impressions, as if the animals were trying to go uphill. Furthermore, the direction of the trackway is not usually the direction the animals’ toes were pointed – as if the animal was attempting to move in one direction, but was being carried by water current in a different direction. All in all, the evidence for the Coconino being a water-deposit is quite compelling.
Much more could be stated (and has been documented in other works) in support of the global flood on the basis of geology. But even in these introductory articles, the evidence is quite overwhelming. In summary, (1) the Paleozoic and Mesozoic rock layers are continental in scale, which is consistent with a global flood but inconsistent with the numerous local floods that occur today. (2) Fossils always indicate rapid burial, and the sedimentary layers are full of them. This is consistent with the Genesis flood, but inconsistent with slow-and-gradual deposition over millions of years. (3) The types of fossils we find are consistent with a global flood; namely, we find fossils of marine organisms on land. Furthermore, the order in which we find these fossils is precisely what would be expected as the flood progressed. (4) Layers such as the Coconino sandstone bear striking evidence of organisms attempting to flee while being carried by water.
In light of such scientific evidence, it may be hard to believe that some people continue to deny the global flood. But this obviates the truth that presuppositions control our interpretation of all evidence. And it also reminds us that the debate is not merely one of scientific models. There is a spiritual issue as well. The global flood reminds us that God judges sin. And we are sinners. It is an uncomfortable thought that God is rightly angry at us for our rebellion, and that judgment is coming. The unbeliever is inclined by his sin nature to suppress this truth in unrighteousness. It’s not surprising that unbelievers deny God’s judgment of water; they also deny His coming judgment of fire.
The Bible predicted all this. God knew that people would deny the second coming of Christ, would embrace a belief in uniformitarianism and deny that the world of man was once destroyed by a global flood. This is all predicted in 2 Peter 3:3-6. So by denying what the Bible says in Genesis 6-8, unbelievers prove the Bible is true in 2 Peter 3:3-6! Geology reminds us that God is a righteous God and will therefore not tolerate sin indefinitely. And yet the fact that we are here proves that God is also merciful; God warned Noah and instructed him on how to prepare for the coming judgment so that he and his family would live. Today, God again warns us of His coming judgment, and encourages us to call upon Christ to be saved.