Skip to content

8.1 Flood Geology

Archbishop James Ussher
Archbishop James Ussher (Wikipedia)

Flood geology is a concept based on the belief that most of Earth’s geological record was formed by the Great Flood described in the story of Noah’s ark. Fossils and fossil fuels are believed to have formed from animal and plant matter which were buried rapidly during this flood. Sedimentary strata are also claimed to have been predominantly laid down during or after Noah’s flood. Flood geology is a variant of catastrophism and is contrasted with geological science in that it rejects standard geological principles such as uniformitarianism and radiometric dating.

Geologists found no evidence for such a flood in the preserved rock layers and, moreover, they showed that such a flood is physically impossible. For instance, since Mount Everest currently is approximately 8.8 kilometres in elevation and the Earth’s surface area is 510,065,600 km², the volume of water required to cover Mount Everest to a depth of 15 cubits (6.8 m), as indicated by Genesis 7:20, would be 4.6 billion cubic kilometres. The Earth’s atmosphere, however, only has the capacity to store water in vapour form sufficient to blanket the globe to a depth of 25 millimetres.

Flood geology is really only a set of religious beliefs under the umbrella of creationism that assumes the literal truth of a global flood as described in the Genesis account of Noah’s Ark. For its adherents, the global flood and its aftermath are believed to be the origin of most of the Earth’s geological features, including sedimentary strata, fossilization, fossil fuels, and salt domes.

Young Earth Creationists regard Genesis as providing a historically and scientifically accurate record for the geological history of the Earth and believe that there exists evidence to support the historicity of the flood to actually promote such beliefs. Many

8.1.1 History of flood geology The great flood in the history of geology

The modern science of geology was founded in Europe in the 18th century. It tries to understand the history and shaping of the Earth through the physical evidence laid down in rocks and minerals. As many early geologists were clergymen, they naturally sought to link the geological history of the world with that set out in the Bible.

The idea that fossils represented organisms that were killed and buried during the brief duration of the Flood was once commonly held by many Christian thinkers. Notions were also once held that the global flood was associated with massive geographical upheavals, with old continents sinking and new ones rising, thus transforming ancient seabeds into mountain tops.

By the early 19th century it was already thought that the Earth’s lifespan was far longer than that suggested by literal readings of the Bible (an age of 75,000 years had been suggested as early as 1779, as against the 6,000 years proposed by Archbishop James Ussher’s famous chronology).

The idea that all geological strata were produced by a single flood was rejected in 1837 by the Reverend William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University. Re-emergence of flood geology

Flood geology was developed as a creationist endeavour in the 20th century by George McCready Price. Price’s work was subsequently adapted and updated by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. in their book “The Genesis Flood
” in 1961. Morris and Whitcomb argued that the Earth was geologically recent, that the “Fall of Man” had triggered the second law of thermodynamics, and that the Great Flood had laid down most of the geological strata in the space of a single year.

J. Laurence Kulp, a geologist, joined with other Christian geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and biologists to persuade the Christian organisation, “American Scientific Affiliation” (ASA), not to support or endorse flood geology but to allow members to follow the scientific evidence rather than a too literalist interpretation of the Bible. Kulp also wrote a detailed critique of Flood Geology, titled “Deluge Geology. When the ASA refused to align itself with flood geology Young Earth creationists joined Morris’s “Institute for Creation Research”.

The impact on creationism and fundamentalist Christianity of these ideas is considerable. Morris’ theories of flood geology are widely promoted around the world, with his books being translated into many other languages. Flood geology is still a major theme of modern creationism, though it is rejected by earth scientists.

8.1.2 Biblical basis – Genesis and the Flood

Flood geology is based on a literal interpretation of the “flood narrative” in the “Book of Genesis” (Genesis 6–9). The story begins with God’s decision to bring a deluge which will wipe out all life on earth except for those to be saved on Noah’s Ark. In the 600th year of Noah’s life God opens the “fountains of the deep” and the “windows of Heaven” and causes rain to fall on the earth for 40 days and nights. The flood increases for 150 days and covers “all the high mountains under heaven,” at which point the Ark grounds on the mountains. The waters then retreat for 150 days, the earth dries, and Noah and his family and the animals and birds emerge to re-establish life on earth.

Genesis also contains a chronology which places the Flood in the year 1656 after Creation that is somewhere in the 3rd millennium BC according to Usher’s creation date.

8.1.3 Theological basis

Most mainstream (Non-Orthodox Judaism and Non-Evangelical Christian) modern biblical scholars believe that the flood story in Genesis was written around 550–450BC. The Hebrew supreme deity, Yahweh, is credited with the creation of the world in Genesis 1–2, its destruction in Genesis 6–9, and the subsequent subjection of Canaan to Noah’s son Shem, ancestor of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel. The flood story is believed to be a reworking of the Babylonian myth of the flood-hero Utnapishtim, but with the theology of the Babylonian story reversed: where the Babylonian story featured multiple gods, the Hebrew story has only Yahweh.

The flood story is the central element of Genesis 1–11, which scholars call the “Primeval Narrative.” This begins with the creation of “the heavens and the earth” in six days, with a seventh day of rest. God’s creation is good, but man corrupts it with violence. The flood narrative marks God’s decision to destroy his creation. Like the creation (Genesis 1), destruction takes six time-units —months instead of days— with a seventh month in which the Ark “rests” on the highest mountains”. The Ark rests for a month, the waters then recedes for five months (total 6 months repeating the six days of creation) and Noah waits a further month, mimicking again the sacred seventh day of rest, before emerging.

For the Hebrews, the earth was surrounded by water, both above, below and around, with a solid roof (the firmament) preserving the habitable world from the surrounding waters. When God opens the “windows of heaven” and the “fountains of the Deep”, it is these waters which enter and flood the world —which is flat and circular, on the Babylonian model (another model could have been the Egyptian universe, which was equally flat, but rectangular).

The flood of Genesis was almost universally believed by Christians until the 17th century but by the mid-19th century belief in both the flood and the Genesis 1–11 chronology had been almost completely abandoned. The revival and rapid growth of biblical literalism, especially in the United States, started in the early 20th century.

8.1.4 Evidence cited to support a global flood Fossils

Generally, the geologic column and the fossil record are used as evidence in the modern scientific explanation of the development and evolution of life on Earth as well as a means to establish the age of the Earth. Young Earth Creationists, such as Morris and Whitcomb, in their 1961 book, “The Genesis Flood”, deny that the fossil record in the geologic column represents the evolution of life on earth over millions of years.

Other creationists accept the existence of the geological column and believe that it indicates a sequence of events that might have occurred during the global flood. This the creationists of the “Institute for Creation Research” such as Andrew Snelling, Steven A. Austin and Kurt Wise, as well as “Creation Ministries International” believe. They cite the Cambrian explosion —the appearance of abundant fossils in the upper Ediacaran (Vendian) Period and lower Cambrian Period— as the pre-Flood/Flood boundary, the presence in such sediments of fossils that do not occur later. Some creationists claim that fossilization can only take place when the organism is buried quickly to protect the remains from destruction by scavengers or decomposition. They claim that the fossil record is evidence of a single cataclysmic flood and not the record of a series of slow changes accumulating over millions of years.

Flood geologists have proposed numerous hypotheses to reconcile the sequence of fossils evident in the fossil column with the literal account of Noah’s flood in the Bible. Whitcomb and Morris proposed three possible factors.

i-      One is hydrological, wherein the relative buoyancies of the remains based on the organisms’ shapes and densities determined the sequence in which their remains settled to the bottom of the flood waters.

ii-    The second factor they proposed was ecological, suggesting organisms living at the ocean bottom succumbed first in the flood and those living at the highest altitudes last.

iii-  The third factor was anatomical and behavioural, the ordered sequence in the fossil column resulting from the very different responses to the rising waters between different kinds of organisms due to their diverse mobilities and original habitats.

Some creationists believe that oil and coal deposits formed rapidly in sedimentary layers as volcanoes or flood waters flattened forests and buried the debris. They believe the vegetation decomposed rapidly into oil or coal. Liquefaction

Liquefaction is a process by which sediments saturated with water can, under certain conditions, acquire properties that are more like those of a heavy liquid than those of a loose solid. Flood geology proponent Walt Brown contended that liquefaction during the flood sorted the sediment into identifiable sedimentary layers and can explain how these layers extend over wide areas. Widespread flood stories

Believers in Flood Geology also point out that flood stories can be found in many cultures, places, and religions. This, they suggest, is evidence of an actual event in the historic past because local floods would not explain the similarities in the flood stories.

Anthropologists generally reject this view and highlight the fact that much of the human population lives near water sources such as rivers and coasts, where unusually severe floods can be expected to occur occasionally and will be recorded in tribal mythology.

8.1.5 Proposed mechanisms of the flood

Although most proponents of a global flood believe that it was the result of divine intervention, some said that a flood occurred within the framework of natural laws. The main difficulty is where the enormous amount of water required to cover “all the high mountains” came from or where it went to. Some flood geology supporters propose that the mountains were much smaller before the flood, and would be submerged by only tens of meters of water. Most flood geology proponents envision the ocean basins opening up after the flood providing a place for the flood waters to drain to. This would require tectonic motion millions of times faster than any known mechanism could produce. Hydroplates

Walter T. Brown, director of the “Centre for Scientific Creation”, has attempted to solve the problem of the origin and subsequent drainage of the floodwaters with the idea that the Earth as originally created had huge subterranean reservoirs, (the “waters under the Earth” referred to in Genesis 1). The Flood had its origin when the crust of the Earth cracked, allowing this water to escape violently to the surface. The pieces of the surface crust, which Brown calls “hydroplates”, then divided to form the present continents, and the water drained into the basins formed by the division of the plates to become the oceans.

“Answers in Genesis” and the “Institute for Creation Research” reject Brown’s hydroplates in favour of “catastrophic plate tectonics”. The idea been criticised by physicists and geologists as well on numerous points:

  • The rock of the Earth’s crust does not float, and any subterranean waters underneath the crust would have been expelled almost immediately and raised to the surface.
  • The temperature of water rises with depth, due to pressure: any water at the depths proposed by Brown would reach the surface as steam, creating flood waters too hot for any life on the Ark to survive.
  • The violent explosion of subterranean waters proposed by Brown would erode the walls of the fissures as it escaped, leaving behind obvious evidence of basaltic erosion. Such evidence has not been found. Vapour canopy

In 1874 Isaac Vail, drawing on the “waters above the firmament” mentioned in Genesis 1:7, proposed that the waters for the Flood came from a “canopy” of water vapour (or liquid water or ice) surrounding the primeval Earth. In 1961 “The Genesis Flood”, by Henry M. Morris and John Whitcomb, revived Vail’s hypothesis and bolstered it with further biblical statements, including:

  • “the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth… but there went up a mist from the earth” (Genesis 2.5-6) interpreted to mean that there was no rain prior to the great Flood, but only a vapour mist which watered the earth;
  • “the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” — interpreted to mean that sunset being the breezy part of every day;
  • “I do set my bow in the cloud” (Genesis 9:13) — interpreted to mean that there were no rainbows prior to the great Flood;
  • “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day” —the great luminary on the 4th day that becomes the sun after the Flood;
  • “the windows of heaven were open (Genesis 7:11) —understood to describe the collapse of the vapour canopy during the Flood;
  • “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22) —understood to mean that prior to the flood there were no seasons as the vapour canopy created a uniform climate.

Evidence for the vapour canopy, as advanced by creationists, has included the supposed long lives of the antediluvian Patriarchs (the idea being that the vapour canopy shielded them from harmful ultra-violet solar radiation), and the frozen remains of woolly mammoths with grass in their mouths (supposed to be evidence of a sudden freezing out of the water vapour as ice at the poles).

The scientific criticism of the vapour canopy focuses on the required pressure and temperature of the atmosphere. For water vapour equivalent to a one-kilometre depth of liquid water, the pressure at the surface of the Earth would be 100 times greater than it is now.

The idea of a canopy of liquid water, or ice, faces other difficulties. A stationary layer of water would, of course, not be stable and would immediately fall. An orbiting ring or shell of water or ice, even if it could be made stable for long periods and then suddenly fall, would be heated by conversion of gravitational energy during the fall, resulting in steam rather than rain. Runaway subduction

In the last decade, most proposed flood mechanisms involve “runaway subduction” (the rapid movement of tectonic plates) in one form or another, in order to open up the ocean basins to allow the drainage of the water after the flood, but possibly also to close them before the flood in order to force the oceans onto the land.

One specific form of runaway subduction is called “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics”, proposed by geophysicist John Baumgardner and supported by the “Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis”. The hypothesis of catastrophic plate tectonics is considered pseudoscience and is rejected by the vast majority of geologists in favour of the conventional geological theory of plate tectonics. It has been argued that the tremendous release of energy necessitated by such an event would boil off the Earth’s oceans, making a global flood impossible. Catastrophic plate tectonics lack any plausible geophysical mechanism and are contradicted by considerable geological evidence including:

  • The fact that a number of volcanic oceanic island chains, such as the Hawaiian Islands, yield evidence of the ocean floor having moved over volcanic hot spots.
  • Radiometric dating and sedimentation rates on the ocean floor likewise contradict the hypothesis that it all came into existence nearly contemporaneously.
  • Catastrophic tectonics does not allow sufficient time for guyots to have their peak eroded away.
  • Runaway subduction does not explain the kind of continental collision illustrated by that of the Indian and Eurasian Plates.
  • Conventional plate tectonics accounts for the geological evidence already, such as why there is gold in California, silver in Nevada, salt flats in Utah, and coal in Pennsylvania, without requiring any extraordinary mechanisms to do so.

8.1.6 Evidence cited to refute a global flood

Modern geology, and its sub-disciplines of earth science, geochemistry, geophysics, glaciology, paleoclimatology, paleontology and other scientific disciplines, utilize the scientific method to analyze the geology of the earth. The key tenets of flood geology are refuted by scientific analysis and do not have any standing in the scientific community. Modern geology relies on a number of established principles including Charles Lyell’s principle of uniformitarianism that states that the shaping of the Earth has occurred by means of mostly slow-acting forces that can be seen in operation today. By applying this principle, geologists have determined that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Geologists divide Earth’s history into eons, eras, periods, epochs, and faunal stages characterized by well-defined breaks in the fossil record.

8.1.7 Historical records

The dates of a number of ancient cultures (such as those of Egypt and Mesopotamia) have been shown by the analysis of historical documents, supported by carbon dating, to be older than the alleged date of the Flood. Erosion

The flood should also have produced large-scale effects spread throughout the entire world. Erosion should be evenly distributed, yet the levels of erosion in, for example, the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains differ significantly.

8.1,7.2 Geochronology

Geochronology is the science of determining the absolute age of rocks, fossils, and sediments by a variety of techniques. These methods indicate that the Earth as a whole is at least 4.5 billion years old, and that the strata that, according to flood geology, were laid down during the Flood 6000 years ago, were actually deposited gradually over many millions of years. Paleontology

If the flood were responsible for fossilization, then all the animals now fossilized must have been living together on the Earth just before the flood. Based on estimates of the number of remains buried in the Karoo fossil formation in Africa, this would correspond to an abnormally high density of vertebrates worldwide, close to 2100 per acre.

In addition, carbonate hard grounds and the fossils associated with them show that the so-called flood sediments include evidence of long hiatuses in deposition not consistent with flood dynamics or timing.

Enhanced by Zemanta