The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate
by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton
We are blogging through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton. Today we will look at Part 4- The World: Thinking About Evidence for the Flood, Proposition 15- Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood. This chapter is authored by Stephen O. Moshier, a professor and chair of the Geology & Environmental Science Department at Wheaton College, whose college bio is here. Moshier is also a contributing author at BioLogos , and was a contributing author to The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which book I reviewed for Internet Monk starting here.
Moshier’s first statement is that, “Any claims about the geographic and hydrological scale of Noah’s flood should be testable by observation of the natural world”. This is the first and primary issue for those who argue for the “clear and plain reading of Scripture”. Can Scripture be judged by science? They would say no, science is the product of fallen, fallible, sinful men, while Scripture is the product of an infallible, all-knowing God, who cannot lie, tell a falsehood, or even inspire something that is in error. If you believe that, then nothing Moshier or I say will convince you otherwise. To be convinced otherwise is to leave the faith and compromise with the world. And if your family, pastor, church, church friends, in short, your whole social fabric is structured by that premise, then the emotional, psychological, and even “spiritual” cost of rending that social fabric is more than you can bear. And besides, there are enough creationist apologetic “ministries” around that lend enough of a patina of intellectual credibility that there is really no good reason to tear up one’s established social fabric and become a pariah to friends and family. I get it, I really do, and I sympathize.
Of course, Walton and Longman have spent the past 14 chapters explaining why such a “plain reading of Scripture” isn’t so plain at all. They have made it as plain as they could that the issue isn’t at all the “infallibility” or “inspiration” of Scripture (which they hold to), but the matter is a difference in interpretation between those who are reading a modern mind-set into the ancient documents, and those who are trying to address those ancient documents at the face-value the original authors and their intended audience meant them to have.
Don’t confuse my sympathy for overcoming the emotional difficulty of leaving a YEC interpretation of the Flood behind for any sympathy for the actual technical argument itself. I have none. So-called “Flood Geology” is as thoroughly debunked as geocentrism and a flat earth, both positions, by the way, people once thought the Bible taught had to be true. So if you can understand this argument:
You should be able to understand the arguments that follow that Moshier highlights.
Geologists developed the concept of the rock cycle from their observations of modern processes and ancient rocks. The three classifications of rocks are based on their formative processes. Igneous rocks crystallize from magma or lava (magma that makes it to the surface). Sedimentary rocks are composed of particles weathered from older rocks, or in the case of limestone, from the accumulation of sea shells. Metamorphic rocks are those rocks transformed by heat and pressure. Sedimentary rocks provide a history of conditions on the earth’s surface because they contain evidence of ancient life (fossils and tracks), depositional processes (bedding structures such as ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop prints, and erosional surfaces), and even past climate conditions (biological and chemical components in the rocks). When igneous rocks solidify, the radioactive elements that compose the rocks begin to decay into daughter products. The ratio of parent to daughter elements along with the measured decay rate allow geologists to estimate the time of cooling, which is roughly the age of the rock.
The thickness of the sedimentary rock varies greatly across the continents and in the ocean basins. There are places, like the Colorado Plateau, where sedimentary rock layers exceed 5 miles in thickness. Sandstones and shales are composed of particles from mountains that long ago have been eroded away. Limey sediments and shell fragments accumulated in shallow seas that intermittently covered the continents. The Gulf of Mexico contains 40,000 feet of sediment shed off of North America and includes 5,000 feet of salt that could only form from evaporation of millions of cubic feet of seawater. Based on this kind of global stratigraphic information, after 250 years of examination, the consensus of geologists is that the sedimentary rocks preserve records of deposition over hundreds of millions of years. This is known as the geologic column. Regarding the geologic column:
1) Contrary to “flood geologist’s” assertions, the entire geologic column is found in 25 other basins around the world, piled up in proper order.
2) Second, the existence of desert deposits is impossible to place in the context of a global flood.
3) Third, the geologic column is not divided by hydrodynamic sorting, contrary to flood geologist assertions.
4) Fourth, the geologic column is not sorted by ecological zones. The Silurian Interlake, Devonian Prairie, Pennsylvanian Minnelusa and Jurassic Morisson formations are continental deposits. Oceanic deposits sandwich these beds. The ocean came and went many times.
5) Fifth, the persistent burrowing which is found throughout the geologic column, the erosional layers and the evaporative salt requires much more time than a single year to account for the whole column.
6) Sixth, the fact that the fossils mammals are not found with the earliest dinosaurs, or that no primates are found until the Ft. Union formation or that no full dinosaur skeletons are found in the Tertiary section, implies conclusively that the column was not the result of a single cataclysm. Worldwide, no whales are found with the large Devonian fish. If the column was an ecological burial pattern, then whales and porpoises should be buried with the fish. They aren’t.
7) Geology, like any science, is not immune from criticism. But Christians who criticize geology should do so only after a thorough understanding of the data, not as is usually the case before such an understanding is gained. They should also be willing to advance explanations for explaining the details observed. For example, why, if flowering plants make up 80% of all plants alive today, is not one single pollen grain of a flowering plant found in any rock in the Grand Canyon below the rim, which was supposedly laid down in Noah’s flood? Spores from lycopods (club mosses, horsetails, scale trees like Lepidodendron) and ferns are plentiful.
8) Eighth, those who would decry the use of uniformitarianism in the interpretation of the fossil record need to show how uniformitarian methodology is inappropriate when one looks at the persistent burrowing, the orbital cyclicities, the abundant erosional surfaces and footprints. They also need to show why the laws of physics (Stokes law) does not apply to the deposition of 2 micron chalk particles, and demonstrate what laws do apply in order to explain the supposed rapid sedimentation of these beds.
9) Ninth and finally, the data shows that there is no strata which can be identified as THE flood strata and there is no way to have the whole column be deposited in a single year.
Moshier notes five categories of geological arguments by which global flood proponents try to make their case.
- Seashell fossil in rocks above sea level. Flood geologists ask how sedimentary rocks containing abundant marine fossils could have been deposited thousands of feet above sea level on mountains unless ocean water flooded the continents. Sediments can stack up in off-shore basins many thousands of feet, like the Gulf of Mexico sediments today, with the ocean maintaining a relatively constant depth. Tectonic activity (collision of plates) pushes the layers of sedimentary rock up in plateaus or mountain building episodes. In mountain belts, the rocks are folded, faulted, or otherwise deformed—something impossible for soft, flood deposited sediment.
- Rock layers over entire continents. Flood geologists reason that only a global flood could transport sediment across continents. Many sedimentary rock layers cover vast areas of continents, but no single layer covers an entire continent from one end to the other as flood geologist’s claim. In fact, detailed mapping shows that rock layers overlap one another like leaves piled up on a lawn. Rather than finding evidence of one massive deluge, we find abundant evidence of multiple periods of rising and falling sea levels.
- Rapid deposition of sand carried across continents. The deposition of sand across continents pertains to flood geologist’s interpretation of the Coconino Sandstone in the Grand Canyon (see my discussion on the Coconino here). As I said in the Grand Canyon series:
The Coconino Sandstone is a thick sequence of sandstone that is well exposed in the Grand Canyon. The Coconino is evidence of an enormous desert sand sea (called an erg) like the Sahara, the Sonoran in northwest Mexico, and the Arabian Peninsula. No remains of animals have been found in the Coconino, which is typical in desert environments where scavengers, wind, and hot sun remove flesh and bones rather quickly. The Coconino Sandstone also contains no evidence of aquatic organisms of any kind that might support an argument for deposition in a deep-water, flood environment as has been proposed by flood geologists. The trace fossils consist of large to small vertebrate tracks and also include tracks and burrows very similar to those left by spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and other arthropods in modern desert environments.
Obviously, having a desert rock deposited in the middle of a flood is a problem for flood geology. So flood geologists try to interpret the sand as having been transported by swift currents of 2-4 miles per hour under deep water. Some flood geologists have claimed that vertebrate tracks in the Coconino were made by amphibians walking or running underwater in an attempt to escape advancing flood waters. Try this observational experiment the next time you’re at the ocean beach; walk down by the water in the zone where the waves are gently washing up and receding. Make some footprints. Watch the waves gently wash over the footprints. How long until the footprints are gone? How long would the footprints last in a RAGING TORRENT— YOU MORON??? (Mike takes several deep breaths, rubs his temples, and edits the previous sentence to maintain an irenic Christian tone to this article in accordance with the example Chaplain Mike sets for this blog).
- Layers made in rapid succession. Another problem is the thick series of sedimentary rock layers that are folded with bends in the strata as much as 90 degrees. Because they do not observe evidence of brittle fracture in the layers, flood geologists claim that bending occurred after the layers occurred in rapid succession but before the sediment hardened into rock. In fact, geologists have reported on abundant evidence of brittle fracture and slippage along surfaces between rock layers. This kind of deformation can occur in hard rock if high levels of stress are applied to the rock over long periods of time (millions of years not thousands).
- No slow and gradual erosion. There should be no evidence of erosion or exposure to air between or within sedimentary rock layers if they were deposited in rapid succession beneath the flood water. However, contacts showing evidence for erosion or non-deposition between the layers in successions of sedimentary rocks, called unconformities, are common on every continent. Flood geologists cite “knife edge” contacts between formations in the Grand Canyon as evidence of continuous and uninterrupted sedimentation from top to bottom of the rock sequence. They only recognize one unconformity at the base of the canyon. There are 19 recognized unconformities in the Grand Canyon sequence, contrary to flood geologist’s assertion, as shown in Figure 10-1 from the book, “The Grand Canyon- Monument to An Ancient Earth”.
The most dramatic and incontrovertible example of an unconformity is the Redwall to Surprise Canyon unconformity. The obvious clue to the existence of this unconformity is the presence of channels carved out of a lower stratigraphic unit that are filled with material from an upper unit. Scour channels in the Redwall Limestone are filled with deposits from the Surprise Canyon formation that in places are 400 feet deep. How do you scour a 400 foot channel in SOFT sediment (hint; you don’t it has to be solid rock).
There are also well known and documented paleokarst features in the Redwall Formation. Karst features result from the exposure of solid limestone to open-air chemical weathering and above-ground and underground water flow over prolonged time. It is a landscape. Karst features such as erosional surfaces, river channels, sinkholes, caverns, and collapse structures would not have time to form on soft sediment in the middle of a flood sequence. There are unmistakable paleokarst features in the Redwall Formation, a thick limestone layer in the middle of the Paleozoic sequence of the Grand Canyon. In other words; it was a karst landscape at one time. The Surprise Canyon Formation, which overlies the Redwall, completely fills in the elaborate network of river channels, karst sinkholes, collapse features, and even caverns on the upper portion of the Redwall forming unconformities. How could any of these events have occurred within the context of a single-year flood? Such a sequence isn’t just unlikely—– IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.
The presence of the common rock, shale, interspersed throughout the geologic column is another huge problem for flood geology. The clay particles that make up shale are fine (less than 0.002 mm) and would remain in suspension in turbulent flood water until the very end of the flood, when the water was quiescent. So shale should ONLY be at the top of the geologic column.
Limestone is composed of whole shells, broken shells, and limey mud. The shells in limestone have not been transported far from where the animals and calcareous algae lived on the ocean floor. We can see and measure limestone forming in shallow, warm, quiet seas like the Bahamas, Florida Bay, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Persian Gulf. As Moshier says:
All the seashell animals on earth at any given moment in its history could not provide enough limey sediment for the total thickness of limestone around the world! Limey sediments could not have been derived from the erosion of older limestone rocks by advancing floodwater, either. Remember the caves and sinkholes? Because limestone is so soft and soluble, weathering limestone does not produce much sediment.
We could go on and on and on with the obvious physical impossibilities of a global flood. For a brief but comprehensive non-book length summary, let me suggest Phil Senter’s, “The Defeat of Flood Geology by Flood Geology” which you can find here. Ken Ham is fond of saying that flood geologists look at the same evidence as real geologists, they just have a different interpretation based on a different worldview. He says:
Evolutionists view the fossil record as a record of evolution over millions of years, with slow processes. They interpret fossils and rocks through that framework.
Creationists look at the exact same rock layers and fossils and come to a different interpretation. Starting with God’s Word, we know there was a global Flood. It radically shaped our geology. Fossils and rock layers are a result of Noah’s Flood!
Two different starting points mean two different interpretations.
But that is not what Moshier (and I) did in this chapter. He started with the assumption that, “Any claims about the geographic and hydrological scale of Noah’s flood should be testable by observation of the natural world”. Ham is also fond of drawing the distinction between “observational” or “operational” science and “historical” or “origins” science, but what Mosier has done here is taken “observational” science and falsified the hypothesis that, “Fossils and rock layers are a result of Noah’s Flood”. It’s not a matter of interpretation, it’s a matter of observation.