Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (3)

Navaho Sandstone exposure known as “the Second Wave” north of the Grand Canyon

Previous posts in the series:

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.


Part 2 – “How Geology Works” is an impressive primer on basic geology especially as it relates to the Grand Canyon.  The section is divided into:


  • Chapter 5- Sedimentary Rock Types and How They Form
  • Chapter 6- Sedimentary Structures: Clues from the Scene of the Crime
  • Chapter 7- Using the Present to Understand the Past


  • Chapter 8- Solving Puzzles: Relative Dating and the Geologic Column
  • Chapter 9- So Just How Old is That Rock?
  • Chapter 10- Missing Time: Gaps in the Rock Record


  • Chapter 11- Plate Tectonics: Our Restless Earth
  • Chapter 12- Broken and Bent Rock: Fractures, Faults, and Folds

It is 75 pages of photographs, illustration, and laymen-friendly text that will give you a basic understanding of the natural processes that formed the Grand Canyon.  Over and over again, flood geologists and young earth creationists assert the “One World-Two Views” theory that they are looking at the same evidence as “secular” scientists only with a different (Biblical) worldview.  We “secularists” and “compromisers” are assuming an evolutionary viewpoint therefore we reason circularly to an evolutionary conclusion.  But as the reader will see from this section; the only thing assumed is that the laws of physics and chemistry that we observe today have operated the same way in the past.  In fact, if one doesn’t make that assumption, one cannot do science.

Chapter 5 begins with; “Sedimentary rocks are emphasized in the next three chapters, in part because they are the rocks that make up the bulk of the Grand Canyon and the Grand Staircase to the north, and also because much of what we know about Earth’s overall history is contained in sedimentary rocks.”  Chapter 4 ended with a rhetorical question: “Can anyone know what actually happened in the unobserved past?”  The answer to that question for a particular area my take years of study, but the basic tools in a geologist’s toolbox are actually fairly simple; start by observing how sediments form today.

Idealized illustration depicting many common environments where different kinds of sediments are deposited. Each deposit has characteristics that are unique to that environment. For example, deposits of sand from desert dunes look very different from sand deposited along a seashore. The diagram shows what kinds of sedimentary rocks are created in these different settings.
Idealized illustration depicting many common environments where different kinds of sediments are deposited. Each deposit has characteristics that are unique to that environment. For example, deposits of sand from desert dunes look very different from sand deposited along a seashore. The diagram shows what kinds of sedimentary rocks are created in these different settings.

Sediments that make up sedimentary rocks will reflect their source rock, their alteration during transport, the environment where they are deposited, and post-depositional transformation from pressure, heat, and water chemistry or cementation.

Common sediment particles are classified according to their size:

Mud is usually taken to mean water mixed with varying amounts of clay or silt.  Mud turned into rock is mudstone, rock composed of sand is sandstone, rock composed of silt is siltstone, rock composed of clay is shale (you thought I was going to say claystone- we geologists are nothing if not prosaic), and rock composed of a mixture of gravel and pebbles with sand and mud is conglomerate.

Limestone is rock formed from accumulation of calcium carbonate shell fragments and limey mud.  Lime sediment is accumulating today across the Grand Bahamas Bank, seaward of the Florida Keys and behind them in Florida Bay, along the coast of the Persian Gulf, and anywhere coral reefs are growing.

No limestone has ever been documented to form from floodwater- either in the laboratory, or from field observations- not even in floods as massive as formed the Channeled Scablands in Washington State (discussed in Chapter 16).  Quite simply, limestone is one type of rock that takes a long time to be deposited- much longer than the time span of a flood. (Chapter 5, page 61)

The observable fact about flood deposits, especially large turbulent floods is that they lay sediment down in order of the flood’s decreasing energy.  The first part of the flood, the highest energy part, doesn’t deposit at all, in fact, it erodes and scours. Then as the flood’s energy decreases the largest sediment particles are laid down, the cobbles, pebbles, and gravels.  Then sand is laid down followed by silt, and finally clay.  If your home has ever flooded you are all too familiar with the sticky, hard to clean muck that is left after a flood recedes.  Now remember, according to the flood geologists all the sediments from the above the Supergroup, not just to the top of canyon rim, but all the way up the Grand Staircase to Bryce Canyon were laid down in Noah’s flood and then eroded all at once after the flood.  So we start with the Tapeats Sandstone then the Bright Angel Shale then the Muav and Redwall Limestones.  Well, maybe OK, at least we are decreasing energy. But then, wait, we get to the Supai Group and then it is sandstone again in the Esplanade Sandstone.  Then alternating shales and siltstones, then the Coconino Sandstone, then the Toroweap and Kaibab limestones again and so on up the Grand Staircase with alternating limestone, sandstones, siltstones and shales.  Does that seem like one flood to you?  Or is the conventional geologic model of the advancing of seas inland (transgression) and then retreat of the sea level (regression) over time a more reasonable explanation.

To quote from the book (Chapter 5, page 65):

image3The sedimentary layers found in the Grand Canyon can be easily explained by a succession of rising and falling sea levels.  No fantastic or undiscovered natural processes need be invoked to account for what is observed.  The flood geology model, on the other hand, requires many fantastic or never-before-seen explanations, including sediments accumulating at phenomenally high rates, unreproducible chemical reactions occurring in deep ocean fissures, mysterious lack of mixing of clay and lime in the same layers, monumental stockpiles of pre-flood sediments awaiting redistribution, and walls of sediment hundreds of feet high moving as a unit across continents.  It’s remarkable that such speculations are even necessary, given the total absence of any descriptions of global tsunamis, catastrophic continental upheavals, massive gravity flows, or violations of natural laws in the Genesis account of Noah’s Flood.

Chapter 6– “Sedimentary Structures: Clues from the Scene of the Crime” covers such features as mud cracks, ripple marks, raindrop prints, cross bedding, and various types of animal tracks.

image4Mudcracks (also known as desiccation cracks or mud cracks) are sedimentary structures formed as muddy sediment dries and contracts.  It is impossible for mud cracks to form during a flood obviously.  Flood geologists try to explain this by appealing to syneresis cracks which happens when fine grained sediment settles and “dewaters” as it is compressed, or are formed by the contraction of clay in response to changes in the salinity of a liquid surrounding a deposit. Desiccation mudcracks are usually continuous, polygonal, and have U- or V- shaped cross sections that would have been filled in with sediment from above. Syneresis cracks, however, are usually discontinuous, spindle or sinuous in shape, and have U- or V- shaped cross sections that have been filled in with sediment from above or below.

Raindrop prints are made when droplets of pounding rain impact wet mud, silt, or sand, thus creating small depression imprints of those drops in the sediment.  This can only happen when moist sediment is exposed to the air, because if the sediment is under water it cannot be impacted by raindrops.  Raindrop prints have been found in the Coconino Sandstone at many locations.

Cross bedding in the Coconino Sandstone

Cross-beds are the groups of inclined layers, and the sloping layers are known as cross strata. Cross bedding forms on a sloping surface such as ripple marks and dunes, and allows us to interpret that the depositional environment was water or wind.  Speaking of the Coconino Sandstone, the book points out that the maximum angle for loose dry sand is 30-34 degrees.  Saturated sand in underwater dunes or ripple marks cannot maintain slopes as steep as dry sand in desert dunes.  Coconino cross beds have angles typical of desert dunes with maximum angles of 29-30 degrees.  Go back and look at the figure showing the Grand Canyon strata- where is the Coconino?   So was there Sahara-level desert conditions in the middle of a world-wide flood?  Or does the Coconino Sandstone represent a time when a desert environment was present in this area?

Chapter 7– “Using the Present to Understand the Past” begins with correcting the misrepresentation of uniformitarianism that YECs like to promote.  Flood geologists commonly demonize it by making synonymous with materialism or evolutionism.  But modern geologists have no problem recognizing that there were many places and times where catastrophic events have shaped the Earth’s various layers.  And flood geologists who like to take the example of the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens as a scenario under which the Grand Canyon formed are unwittingly performing an uniformitarian exercise.  The eruption delivered dozens of feet of volcanic ash to the valleys below the mountain in the span of a few hours.  That ash was subsequently eroded and impressive gorges were carved into the soft ash sediment.

Ash Erosion at Mt. St. Helens

The deposits contain layers and bedding which flood geologists like to say looks like rocks and cliff faces in the Grand Canyon.  They totally miss the irony of comparing modern deposits (Mt. St. Helens) to ancient deposits (the Grand Canyon) is a fully uniformitarian exercise.

The book then goes on to describe, that if the present is the key to the past, we should be able to identify landscapes today that are comparable to Grand Canyon landscapes of the past.  The book then lists and discusses 5 such landscapes:

  1. Bare Naked Rock (Crystalline Basement Rock Exposed by Erosion)- the Vishnu Schist
  2. Muck and Mud (Clay Deposition in a Shallow Near-Shore Sea)- the Bright Angel Shale
  3. Vacation Destination (Warm Seas and Carbonate Deposition)- the Muav Limestone
  4. Subterranean Labyrinth (Cave and Sinkhole Formation)- the Redwall Formation
  5. Hot and Dry (Desert Sands)- the Coconino Sandstone

The major point of discussing these examples is that the Grand Canyon deposits WERE JUST THAT — LANDSCAPES that existed in the ancient past.  Each deposit represents an environment that existed at that time and place and we can know that because in the present environments around the world we observe sediments representing those environments being deposited now.

In my Science and the Bible series I made a big deal about paleokarst in the Redwall Limestone because the church class I was teaching lived and worked in middle of the famous southern Indiana karst terrain.  They were intimately familiar with what a karst landscape looked like.  They understood that a karst landscape, with sinkholes, springs, and caves, could not form in soft sediment in the middle of a flood.

Paleokarst in the Redwall Formation
Paleokarst in the Redwall Formation

35 thoughts on “Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (3)

  1. Thank you for these insights !
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  2. You have a typo–a superfluous “s” andf “c” in the phrase “Vishnu Schit.”

    (Named by heathens, I assume?)

    “Knowlege puffeth up…”


  3. All of this is mind-blowing, Mike. This is way cooler than hearing anybody say, “I am more interested in the Rock of Ages than in the age of rocks!”

    That’s from the play “Inherit the Wind” but I hear the equivalent from others.

    I read ahead in the homework and found an interesting article about where did the stuff go.

    I don’t know if the author knows what he’s talking about but he seems on the level and he writes like you do. That’s meant as a compliment.

    On a related matter (as it turns out), I’ve always wanted to know how seals got into Lake Baikal. I won’t burden you with that.


  4. There is the Arthur C. Clarke short story, “The Star” which starts:

    It is three thousand light years to the Vatican. Once, I believed that space could have no power over faith, just as I believed that the heavens declared the glory of God’s handiwork. Now I have seen that handiwork, and my faith is sorely troubled. I stare at the crucifix that hangs on the cabin wall above the Mark VI Computer, and for the first time in my life I wonder if it is no more than an empty symbol.


  5. It’s ironic that one of the most eloquent speakers concerning the wonder and awe inherent in God’s creation was an atheist.

    Not so much “ironic” as he was able to look at it from an outsider’s POV, without the baggage of us insiders.


  6. So I was formed either extremely randomly (which would be counter to typical biblical teaching) OR God is an amazingly patient creator.

    With what I know of my mind and emotions, I’d go with “random”.


  7. “So I was formed either extremely randomly (which would be counter to typical biblical teaching) OR God is an amazingly patient creator.” Why is it either/or? Our existence with it’s attending contingency of “what was the chance” ancestry is an answer to the question (at least to me) of how God’s providence can accomodate randomness. It’s a beautiful thing.


  8. I was re-reading Carl Sagan’s reflections on the “pale blue dot” we inhabit. He said, ” It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

    Although he’s speaking as an astronomer, I assume a geologist would feel much the same and he’s right–we should be humbled by the vastness of this universe and the immense time it took to craft it. It would be easy to become discouraged or downright depressed with how insignificant we seem to be in this universe but I’m with you, Stuart and so was Sagan:

    “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

    Instead, many Christians just seem to double down on the arrogance and “human conceits” in an effort to prove how right they are. It’s ironic that one of the most eloquent speakers concerning the wonder and awe inherent in God’s creation was an atheist.

    For those who haven’t seen it, it’s really quite moving:



  9. It certainly does not cry out for anything like a Human-esque creator. Most of the Universe is utterly Hellish. If multiple high-order sentient races exist we are isolated from unspeakably vast distance both in space but possibly time as well.

    When pastors wax divide about the beauty of the [color corrected] images of some nebula or what not… I can never help but thinking: you clearly do not understand what that is.


  10. …. or the systems and schema created by the Creator are themselves creative. No rigid clockwork destiny required.

    Who would be the better software developer – the one who makes a sweet algorithm which can elegantly solve one problem – or the one one who constraints an AI [which is “artificial” exactly how?] that encounters problems and bangs on them till it finds a solution? I would be far more impressed with the second case.

    If a creator loves creativity why not just unleash it!


  11. “Where does that leave me in the 21st century?”

    I’m glad this discussion has been helpful to you and, as Mike says upthread, given 4 out of 10 Americans believe in a young Earth, it’s an important discussion to have for those who have a hard time reconciling what science has clearly shown to be true and the “truth” of the Bible. Many think they have to jettison one or the other.

    As for me, I just don’t feel the need to reconcile the two.


  12. I’m guessing there is a bit of extraneous (seemingly purposeless) stuff in the mix just for laughs and just to look at.


  13. –> “It simply says that God is never rushed.”

    Exactly, exactly, exactly!!! Think about how you were formed. If God formed you to be exactly who you are – your hair, skin, nose, physical traits, personality, character traits, etc – then think how He did that. It took the exact pairing of your mother and father, and the exact pairing of their mothers and fathers, and the exact pairing of THEIR mothers and fathers, and so on back to the dawn of man and woman.

    So I was formed either extremely randomly (which would be counter to typical biblical teaching) OR God is an amazingly patient creator.


  14. Oh for sure. The more I learn about the universe and how amazing it is, the less of an obvious need for a God there is.

    Which actually, in a roundabout way, makes God cooler, because he’s that much smarter that he is not needed at all. And can focus on love. Which is where Jesus excels, because Jesus cares more about people then about hanging stars in the sky.

    That verse rings hollow to me now but fits perfectly with Paul’s time and worldview.


  15. On iMonk, the discussion is rightly about how science and the world accurately reflects an old earth and non-YEC understanding interpretation of the Bible. This is incredibly important to discuss per the site’s goals and readership, and was very helpful to me years ago.

    I guess nowadays I’m thinking about it differently. I’ve been corrected and convinced from my previous position. Now how does it tie into everything else. How does science fit into understanding a ANE tribal deity with scriptures that largely cribbed from competing religions and mythologies or are full of poetry about the deity of the moment’s handiwork in creation? Where does that leave me in the 21st century?


  16. Ahhh, okay. Yeah, Paul’s declaration in Romans 1 that God is clearly perceived in the things He has made notwithstanding, it doesn’t scream at me, either. In fact, just the opposite–I can’t conceive of a being so powerful as to create this universe. That’s why I have to start with Jesus.


  17. But a BIG Cosmos, Deep Space, and Deep Time are SCARY.
    (“How can *I* Be Important?”)
    A 6020-year-old, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse is cozy.


  18. Absolutely. But my mind was thinking more along the lines of merging the conversations between science and ANE history and how the Bible was created.

    Eventually, a lot of this stuff gets back to one thing for me: how does this natural world reflect that there must be some ancient bronze aged deity responsible for it’s creation? I don’t see it. This world is pretty cool, but it doesn’t scream at me at all that there must be a hands-on creator behind it.


  19. I realize that ChrisS and I have tried to remain irenic. But when I see poll results that 4 in 10 Americans believe God created the earth less than 10,000 year ago… I feel like as a Christian and a professional geologist I need to do something, at least speak up.


  20. My thoughts exactly, Chris. I’ve wondered why God created this vast universe and everything in it; the expanse of space and the time scales involved just boggle my mind and I can’t come up with a better answer than what you have said–He’s a creator, it’s what He does and it seems sometimes He just wants to say, “Hey! Look what I did! Isn’t it awesome?”


  21. My other point, one I’ve made before, is that seeing this land mass from an evolutionary point of view doesn’t lessen God’s place in it to a believer in God. It simply says that God is never rushed. I see His handiwork dancing wildly all over the thing. It’s an exhuberant burst. It’s a symphony. It reveals His creativity (being a creator after all). It reveals joy. It reveals determination and focus. It reveals so much more. The evolution of it makes it that much richer to me. It. Is created by a being who lives in eternity.


  22. This information is interesting to read. It’s informative and enlightening. If one were reading it from a defensive position however, it would get the heart beating and the pulse up to fend off the attack. Other voices would come in to deny its veracity as Godless mumbo jumbo. At that point it depends on how a soul is inclined. Factual information is trifling, easily dismissed, if one is inclined to step away from mundane reality.


  23. This is good and important stuff for many people who are struggling to come out from under the influence of fundamentalist thinking about creation and the origins of life. Unfortunately, we now also need corrective teaching for all from the President-elect down about how human-caused climate change is not a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but an understanding of what is in fact happening based on the preponderance of scientific observation and evidence. Oh, well: one step up, and two steps back…or something like that.


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