Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Those Bad Flood Geology Arguments

Over at In The Agora, in the comments on Eric’s post replying to me about slavery and the Bible, a commenter named lawyerchik1 has cut and pasted a bunch of arguments for a global flood from the ICR. Like all flood geology arguments, they require serious ignorance of geology and the evidence in order to be viewed as the least bit compelling. Let’s take them one by one.

Further, all the mountains of the world have been under water at some time or times in the past, as indicated by sedimentary rocks and marine fossils near their summits. Even most volcanic mountains with their pillow lavas seem largely to have been formed when under water.

I’m always amused by this argument. Yes, the rock that makes up mountains is sedimentary and many mountain ranges have sedimentary layers at or near the top that have marine fossils within them. And yes, this means that those layers were in fact deposited underwater. Does this mean they were deposited by the flood? Of course not. This is very common argument among young earthers and it needs a careful and detailed account of why it’s so completely wrongheaded.

If the layers in which those marine fossils are found were deposited by the flood, that means that those mountains could not have been there when the flood occured because almost all of the strata that make up a mountain will be marine (but not all, there may also be terrestrial sandstone sediments, for example). If all those sedimentary strata that make up the mountain’s rock were deposited by the flood then that means the mountain itself was deposited by the flood. But….the Ararat mountains, which we know had to exist before the flood occured (because the Ark allegedly landed on it before the waters had receded) is also made up of sediments with marine fossils in them. Big problem for flood geology. Where did those pre-flood sediments come from? Clearly, then, the mountains must have pre-existed the flood.

The second possibility is that they were deposited at a much lower level, in many cases below sea level, and then uplifted through tectonic activity to their present height. And in fact, this is what happened. We see it around us today in mountain ranges all over the world. The Himalayas are still rising as one tectonic plate continues to slowly slide under another beneath southern Asia. But if these sediments were deposited by the flood, that would mean that all of the mountain ranges of the earth have been lifted from the surface to their present height in just the last 4500 years, which is clearly absurd. If they were being pushed up that fast, the heat released and the mind-blowing earthquake activity would render the area around every mountain range completely inhabitable. Yet we have records of civilizations existing in mountain and river valleys going back well over 4500 years ago and they’ve been inhabited continuously.

So yes, these sediments were deposited on the ground, essentially. and then later uplifted by tectonic activity to form mountain ranges. But this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years, not 4500 years. Speed up that activity enough to make it happen in such a short period of time and those areas could not possibly be inhabited. And surely if every mountain range of the world had risen that quickly, it would have been noticed by someone.

Most of the earth’s crust consists of sedimentary rocks (sandstones, shales, limestones, etc.). These were originally formed in almost all cases under water, usually by deposition after transportation by water from various sources.

Yes, most of the earth’s surface (not crust) consists of sedimentary rocks and most sediments are deposited underwater (when not underwater, erosion is more likely than deposition due to wind). But most sediments are not, as she seems to think, due to being transported by water. Some types of sediments are of course deposited by the movement of water, such as the deposits that collect at river deltas that are easily identiable when we encounter them.

But other types of sediments require marine environments that don’t move much if at all, like lake beds or sea beds. Some sediments can only be deposited in tranquil marine environments over very long periods of time. Limestone, for example, is deposited primarily in shallow marine environments where the calcium carbonate can leech out over vast periods of time (this is how coral reefs, which are almost 100% calcium carbonate, are formed). It can also be deposited in deep marine environments, but there the limestone is made up of the shells of microscopic animals that build up on the bottom as they die over extremely long periods of time. In neither case are such sediments transported there, they must build up over very long periods of time in tranquil waters.

Shale is another sedimentary rock that must form in tranquil environments over long periods of time, because they are very fine grained and moving water will suspend such small particles in solution and they can’t settle out. It’s really only conglomerate deposits that are deposited by moving waters, for obvious reasons. The point is that each type of sedimentary rock requires a different type of depositional environment, including many that simply cannot occur in a year-long global flood.

The assigned “ages” of the sedimentary beds (which comprise the bulk of the “geologic column”) have been deduced from their assemblages of fossils.

This is patently false. The assigned ages are determined by radiometric dating of igneous intrusions between sedimentary strata.

Fossils, however, normally require very rapid burial and compaction to be preserved at all. Thus every sedimentary formation appears to have been formed rapidly – even catastrophically – and more and more present-day geologists are returning to this point of view.

This is also false. Fossils do not require rapid burial to be preserved, it depends entirely on the environment. In some cases, a dead body that later fossilizes is indeed buried rapidly, or was already “buried” when it died (like trilobites, which lived in the mud of shallow marine environments). But there are lots of other ways that a fossil can be preserved as well, such as when an animal dies in a volcanic eruption and is covered in ash or buried in volcanic sediments. An animal that dies and settles to the bottom of an anoxic marine environment could lay there without decay for vast periods of time while slowly being buried in sediments settling to the lake or sea floor (this is why marine fossils are so much more common than terrestrial fossils).

Since there is known to be a global continuity of sedimentary formations in the geologic column (that is, there is no worldwide “unconformity,” or time gap, between successive “ages”), and since each unit was formed rapidly, the entire geologic column seems to be the product of continuous rapid deposition of sediments, comprising in effect the geological record of a time when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.”

This isn’t just false, it’s downright silly. As explained above, it simply isn’t true that each sedimentary unit was formed rapidly. Indeed, most sedimentary units (limestone, shale, chalk, etc) cannot be formed rapidly. Think about just chalk for a moment. We have enormous deposits of chalk around the world, particularly in Europe (the famous White Cliffs of Dover are the best example). These sediments are made up of coccoliths and calcium carbonate that accretes together at the bottom.

Coccolithophores live near the top of the water and when they die, their calcium carbonate shells slowly settle to the bottom and over vast periods of time large deposits form. We find deposits in Europe that are hundreds of feet thick, which would require millions and millions of years of calm, tranquil environment to accumulate. Now think about this: according to flood geology, all of this had to form within only a few months, which means all of the organisms whose dead bodies make up the chalk formation had to be alive at the same time.

But these organisms are incredibly tiny, less than 1000 angstroms typically, so if enough of them were alive in the oceans to form a layer hundreds of feet thick, there would have been no ocean at all – the water would be so thick that you wouldn’t have to be Jesus to walk across it. That would have killed off every other form of life in the ocean, for crying out loud. But this is the type of reasoning you have to engage in if you want to compress hundreds of millions of years of geological activity into just a single year.

It is also significant that the types of rocks, the vast extent of specific sedimentary rock formations, the minerals and metals, coal and oil found in rocks, the various types of structures (i.e., faults, folds, thrusts, etc.), sedimentary rocks grossly deformed while still soft from recent deposition, and numerous other features seem to occur indiscriminately throughout the various “ages” supposedly represented in the column. To all outward appearances, therefore, they were all formed in essentially the same brief time period.

This may be the dumbest argument on this issue I’ve ever heard. The logic is completely reversed. The fact that we find all sorts of geological features happening throughout various points in the geological record is, in fact, strong evidence against the notion that the whole record was formed by a single event. The world as it is now has a huge variety of depositional environments, from deserts to ocean, from mountain ranges to lakes, from rivers to savannahs and much more. The world in a global flood has one depositional environment – deep water.

But there are many types of geological features that cannot form underwater, like terrestrial sandstone (desert) environments. Yet we find desert sandstones at various levels of the geologic column all over the world. In the middle of the Grand Canyon sediments, all of which a flood geologist must claim were deposited by the flood, you find the Coconino sandstone, which is a terrestrial sandstone. It’s actually about 2/3 of the way up the sequence, sitting atop about a mile of sediments requiring different depositional environments and buried by yet more marine sediments.

Now, a flood geologist has a difficult time explaining how, in the middle of a global flood, a terrestrial desert environment suddenly popped up, complete with burrows and trackways of terrestrial animals (what were they doing walking around in the middle of a global flood that was supposed to drown them, especially after the deposition of a mile of sediments that had to be deposited in just a few months time – meaning sediments were being deposited at a rate of several feet per day).

In addition, at all levels of the geologic column you can find features that could not possibly have been laid down during a flood – mud cracks (which require drying by the sun), meteoritic craters, dinosaur nesting sites (were they raising their young underwater?), glacial deposits, river channels, burrows, footprints or terrestrial volcano sediments. All of these things can only be formed at the surface, not underwater, yet we find examples of them at every single point in the geologic column somewhere around the world. There is simply no way that the entire earth was ever covered with water at the same time.

The fossil sequences in the sedimentary rocks do not constitute a legitimate exception to this rule, for there is a flagrant circular reasoning process involved in using them to identify their supposed geologic age. That is, the fossils have been dated by the rocks where they are found, which in turn had been dated by their imbedded fossils with the sequences based on their relative assumed stages of evolution, which had ultimately been based on the ancient philosophy of the “great chain of being.”

More nonsense. This notion of circular reasoning is one of the most annoying creationist arguments. In fact there are two types of dating and they act as a check on one another. What we call “index fossils” are used to determine the ages of a rock formation in the field, where one has no access to radiometric dating. But this can only be done because of the correlation of those index fossils with strata of a particular age. If a given organism is found only in strata that dates to the middle Devonian, then when you come across such a fossil on a dig you would surmise that the formation you are digging in dates to the middle Devonian.

But it doesn’t stop there. You then want to find an absolute date for the strata and you gather samples that allow you to date it radiometrically. This is a crucial check on the validity of using the index fossils – if the rocks do not, in fact, date to the middle Devonian, then something is clearly wrong. But the fact that the radiometric dates always end up confirming the assumed age, this acts as a double check on the dating in the field. Relative and absolute dating work as a perfect double check on one another.

All of these arguments are just plain bad, but they are incredibly popular among those with no knowledge of geology. I could easily provide another dozen reasons why a global flood is impossible as an explanation, but I think I’ve provided enough for now.

Comments

  1. #1 Raging Bee
    March 24, 2006

    IIRC, “lawyerchik1″ was also a regular poster at a blog called “Right Reason,” dedicated to supporting bedrock-conservative principles with rational philosophical arguments. Among the principles so soberly and maturely defended were: banning gay marriage isn’t really the same as banning interracial marriage; sperm donors deprive their kids of their fathers; we all have a “natural right” to own guns; and a few others. I remember “lawyerchik1″ joining in the total meltdown over Terri Schiavo, and joining with others in making arguments that were both utterly illogical and contrary to documented facts.

    So it doesn’t surprise me at all to find her so soberly pasting text to prove a belief from an ancient religious text.

  2. #2 Chuck
    March 24, 2006

    Excellent refutation, Ed. Your patience never ceases to amaze me. Let me add that such a flood would require the sudden appearance of three times more water than exists in all the world’s oceans combined. The ebbing of the flood would require its sudden disappearance

  3. #3 Matthew
    March 24, 2006

    The circular reasoning argument is fun just because it assumes that scientists have overlooked something completely obvious.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    March 24, 2006

    Chuck-

    I could literally go on adding arguments all day long. I didn’t even get into the heat problem, which is enormous. Lots of geological events and processes release large amounts of heat – volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, even limestone formation. If 90% of the sedimentary rock in the world was deposited by the flood then all of the heat-causing events recorded in those strata also had to take place within a very short period of time. The calculations actually show that that much heat released in that short a period of time would have burned the earth’s atmosphere completely off.

  5. #5 Matthew
    March 24, 2006

    Anyone familiar with the vapor canopy argument? I’ve seen it from time to time and I think its even more out there than typical flood geology. It has something to do with before the flood we were all walking around in a constant foggy environment.

  6. #6 Pieter B
    March 24, 2006

    Not being as quick with the geological facts off the top of my head, and aiming for the lowest common denominator, I use the arithmetical refutation of the Flood.

    Quick synopsis — establish that your flood-defender is pretty much a biblical literalist, and then get agreement on the rain of forty days and forty nights. Let’s see — that’s 960 hours, right? Let’s round it off to a thousand hours to make it easy to calculate in our heads. And “all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered” (Gen. 7:19), right?

    Now, Mt. Everest is 29,000 feet high; I know we have to correct for mountains taking up a certain amount of volume, so I’ll be generous and throw in a fudge factor of 30%. This leaves us with the problem of how a wooden boat of primitive design and manufacture crammed to the gunwales with animals stayed afloat when the rain was falling at twenty feet per hour or more. Any ideas on that?

    Responses are seldom temperate.

  7. #7 KeithB
    March 24, 2006

    Pieter B:
    I am no YEC, but these should be pretty easy for a YEC to counter. As Ed pointed out, Everest grew *after* the flood when “the world was divided. After all, it is made of flood deposited sediments. So the flood did not have to cover Everest.

    Also, some of the water came from “the fountains of the deep”, so it did not have to rain *quite* that hard.

    This is essentially Walt’s Wacky Waterplate theory. He calls it “Hydroplate”, but I wanted 3 W’s there.8^)

    Note, I am not a YEC, just pointing out that an oily YEC can get around simplistic arguments.

  8. #8 Raging Bee
    March 24, 2006

    Guess what — now she’s going on about the “homosexual agenda.” Just when you think such people can’t get any sillier…

  9. #9 Grumpy
    March 24, 2006

    the Ararat mountains, which we know had to exist before the flood occured (because the Ark allegedly landed on it before the waters had receded)…

    It’s not inconceivable that the Ark landed on mountains freshly formed in the Flood. Sure, it’s physically impossible, but it’s not logically impossible, which is what you imply. Of course, if the Flood built up all the strata as we see them today, then the surface that Noah walked on, pre-Flood, must have been scoured clean. None of the pre-Flood geography could have survived. Which means these fanciful searches for the Garden of Eden are doomed to fail, for that reason alone.

    a flood geologist has a difficult time explaining how, in the middle of a global flood, a terrestrial desert environment suddenly popped up, complete with burrows and trackways of terrestrial animals…

    This is what I found amusing about Carl Baugh’s presentation when I saw it earlier this month. Most of his career is based on alleged anachronistic human footprints. He fails to explain how there can be any footprints in layers of mud that were supposedly laid down during a year when every human was exterminated.

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    March 24, 2006

    The thing is, the Flood makes perfect sense if you have a flat earth with a dome over it keeping out the waters in the heavens from the surface of the earth. Open up some windows above and below and bam, you got yourself a dandy little flood.

    That’s part of the problem I have with inerrantists — they don’t go far enough. If you want to believe in a six-day Creation and a one year global flood, go whole hog and endorse a flat earth too. It makes the entire Genesis account make much more sense. See this link for more.

    Note that I am not arguing that early Church fathers (after Christ and as early as 200 BC) believed in a flat Earth any longer, but the people who wrote the Old Testament and Genesis in particular clearly did. It’s the only thing that makes sense given what’s written.

    So come on, people, join the Flat Earth Society and get serious about your religion!

  11. #11 ignatz1138
    March 24, 2006

    She also makes one of my favorite creationist arguemets in there, saying that evolutionists are willing to do whatever mental gymnastics it takes to justify their views.

    Creationists always try to make the complexity of evolutionary theory, biology, and geology into arguements that they’re not true. These same people would never use the same line of reasoning to claim that they could design their own microchip, or fix their own car, but they somehow forget that a phd scientist goes through somewhere around eight years of education to grasp the concepts they’re dealing with.

  12. #12 decrepitoldfool
    March 24, 2006

    A freshwater flood would have killed most of the lifeforms in the sea, and in terrestrial rivers too as huge swings of temperature and salinity affected aquatic life. But it’s an argument you can’t win. After all, Goddidit.

  13. #13 tacitus
    March 25, 2006

    The most amazing thing about this whole issue is the lengths creationists will go to “prove” that the scientific evidence shows that Noah’s global flood really happened. I mean, it was a supposed to be a supernatural event! Why should they even be worrying about trying to prove it happened? As the previous poster pointed out, God supposedly did it, so who’s to say what he did in the aftermath of the flood? Perhaps he missed the good old days of the creation week and decided to throw up a few good mountain ranges and work on all those crinkly bits over in Norway… hmm, perhaps I’m now confusing God with someone else..

  14. #14 Jaime Headden
    March 25, 2006

    Ed, you mention further considerations of the heat release principle (imagine Noah gasping in astonishment as the Chixulub crater in Mexico wiped out that hemisphere of about 75% or more of its biomass).

    However, more important to the geological refutation of the flood is the nature of sediment compression, which requires not marine mass but pressure from denser substances, accrued through the compression of further mass of particulate matter overlying it. This can occur in a terrestrial environment, just as an aqueous one, as you note in the Cocolino. It might be a tad diningenuous to offer the Cocolino as a terrestrial mass that arose during the flood. What might be more fun is to argue every sedimentary level underlying a terrestrial environment is evidence of a flood event, and this goes back into Cambrian times during which over 80% of the world’s surface was covered in water. Going forward through deep time from there, we have continuous floods (or God’s wrath) wiping terrestrial life from its surface again and again and again. God just wasn’t ever happy, was he!?

    This is, in fact, how limestone and shale layers are formed, material compressing into layers as coarser material forms the boundary between layers (less fine particulates creating perfect boundaries, which as in lacustrine and estuarine sediments, are indicative of phases of organic and sedimentary accumulation). This argues that sedimentation was periodic, and it was Milutin Milankovic, a serbian astronomer, who applied this to glacial periodicity, and sedimentation corresponding to seasons are now known from lakebeds around the world, called Milankovich cycles. These have been recovered from around the world, including the Permian Karroo beds, and the Newark beds of New Jersey and Newark Supergroup throughout New England up to Nova Scotia. These argue that these cycles, which are annual, show compression through deep time no flood theory has resolved.

  15. #15 J-Dog
    March 25, 2006

    Ed – What’s up with Pandas Thumb? Did DaveScott finally go over the edge and crash it? As of Saturday morning, I can’t get on to it…

  16. #16 mark
    March 25, 2006

    What can one expect when, for many people, their only “education” in geology comes from utter morons? Too few schools offer Earth science in K-12 curricula, and too many fundie whackos work to keep such knowledge away from students. It’s sad because there are so many excellent programs and teaching aids made available. Whackos like lawyerchik1 are oblivious to the mountains of research being conducted every single day–this past week, for example, such research was presented at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America–and none of it supported young Earth or a global flood a few thousand years ago, or the ridiculous notions described by lawyerchik1.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    March 25, 2006

    J-Dog:

    Panda’s Thumb is having some issues due to, we think, some of the backbone servers. It’s available for some people (including me) while others can’t reach it. That suggests a DNS problem and Wesley is working on it. We just reregistered it for the next 3 years, so that may have something to do with it. I’m sure he’ll have it taken care of soon.

  18. #18 Miguelito
    March 25, 2006

    Good trashing of the creationist viewpoint. But, as a clastic sedimentologist, (I deal with sands and muds), I’ve got to point an error you make.

    Shale is another sedimentary rock that must form in tranquil environments over long periods of time, because they are very fine grained and moving water will suspend such small particles in solution and they can’t settle out. It’s really only conglomerate deposits that are deposited by moving waters, for obvious reasons.

    Mostly true, but, it’s been determined that we can get “fluid” muds: the microscopic mud particles carried by fresh water streams become attracted to each other in brackish- and marine-salinity waters forming larger “particles”. These larger particles sink to the bottom of the stream and get carried by the current as a dense slurry of mud and water, behaving as a single fluid. In this way, mud can be deposited under higher energy conditions. Also, thick sections of it can be deposited very rapidly (about several centimetres per day of it, being deposited during each tidal cycle on a tidal flat for example).

    Most of the sediment deposited by the Amazon River along the coastline of South America is deposited as fluid mud, and we’re talking about alot of sediment. These forms of mud have been largely ignored in ancient environments and probably make up a significant proportion of sedimentary deposits, but they’re hard to identify because they are so homogeneous.

    Don’t get me wrong: depositional timescales for a “flood” hypothesis are completely unrealistic and completely unsupported by radiometric dating. But, just because you see shale doesn’t mean you have deep, quiet, still water.

  19. #19 Ed Brayton
    March 25, 2006

    Miguelito-

    This is very interesting, I’d not heard of this before. But then, as you can probably tell, I’m strictly an amateur. I would think, given your description, that it wouldn’t be too difficult to distinguish between conventional deep water shales and these river-deposited shales, at least by examining the other telltale signs of the depositional environment. Either way, of course, it doesn’t add any support to flood geology.

  20. #20 Miguelito
    March 25, 2006

    You may be an amateur, but you know enough to see through awful arguments of creationists.

    The fluid-mud thing is relatively new. My supervisor introduced me to it after he started working in a field area with very high suspended-sediment concentrations. Then I started looking at the literature on the Amazon and was amazed at how important it was throughout the system, on tidal flats to deep under water, hundreds of kilometres seaward.

    We should be able to differentiate between the two in the ancient record, but there are problems. Compaction and lithification destroy much of the texture we need to see and makes mudstones appear to be homogeneous no matter how they were deposited. There has been some success lately with X-rays of rock samples to see obscured depositional fabrics, if that’s any indication of how difficult it is to see with the naked eye.

    Again, the traditional thoughts on mud deposition still apply in many cases, however, these fluid muds probably make up an unrecognized significant part of the stratigraphic record because they appear to be common enough in the modern environment.

    But, it’s something that creationists won’t understand: we have a well-established theory of fluid mud based on the modern environment. We can make a hypothesis about the ancient environment that these fluid muds should be present there as well. We can then test this hypothesis by making observations. It’s something I would like to work on for a post-doc.

  21. #21 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    March 25, 2006

    Anyone familiar with the vapor canopy argument? I’ve seen it from time to time and I think its even more out there than typical flood geology. It has something to do with before the flood we were all walking around in a constant foggy environment.

    Yeah, I’ve encountered that one. It’s Hovind’s argument, and to all the normal litany of bad science that Creationists use, adds bad MEDICINE.

    Also, it’s actually a really neat argument to refute – because the math involved is simple, and the physics is purely high-school level, and a teeny-tiny bit of geometry.

    What you do … assume a depth for the floodwaters.

    Figure the volume of the earth – approximate as a sphere, use the radius.

    Figure the volume of the water – again, approximate as a sphere, use the radius of the earth plus the assumed depth of floodwaters. (It’s just the volume of the “outer” sphere minus the volume of the “inner” sphere. Easy, especially with a calculator. Be sure to use one that handles REALLY BIG NUMBERS, though.)

    Now figure out the height the “canopy” must’ve been at. (Ten feet is a good one. It’s OBVIOUSLY an absurd underestimate, if you accept the claim).

    Then calculate the potential energy the water would have had while it was up there, and you get the kinetic energy that would have been released when it came down…

    Then you can do whatever you want with that number. It’s hard to argue with.

  22. #22 Dave S.
    March 26, 2006

    Ed writes:

    The Himalayas are still rising as one tectonic plate continues to slowly slide under another beneath southern Asia.

    This is true when thinner oceanic plates subduct under thicker continental plates, but India is also a continental plate, and only part of it is subducting. The net effect is more of a bunching up, like when a plow goes through snow. This is the reason that the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas are so high.

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