Flood geology

Flood geology
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Flood geology (also creation geology or diluvial geology) is the interpretation of the geological history of the Earth in terms of the global flood described in Genesis 6–9. Similar views played a part in the early development of the science of geology, even after the Biblical chronology had been rejected by geologists in favour of an ancient Earth. In the contemporary literature, the term 'flood geology' is often taken to be synonymous with young Earth creationism or creation science.[1] Adherents believe the Christian Bible is inerrant and hold its passages to be historically accurate.

Flood geology contradicts the scientific consensus in geology, physics, chemistry, molecular genetics, evolutionary biology, archaeology, and paleontology,[2] and the scientific community considers the subject to be pseudoscience.


History of flood geology

The great flood in the history of geology

Many early Christians, including Tertullian, Chrysostom and Augustine), believed that fossils were the remains of animals that were killed and buried during the brief duration of the Flood.[3] The geological peculiarity in northern Europe where much is covered by layers of loam and gravel as well as erratic boulders deposited hundreds of miles from their original sources furthered acceptance of the idea. Early geologists interpreted these features as the result of massive flooding (in the mid 19th century geologists accepted that they had been formed by ice age glaciations).[4] The global flood was associated with massive geographical upheavals, with old continents sinking and new ones rising, thus transforming ancient seabeds into mountain tops.[5][6]

During the Age of Enlightenment, significant works were compiled to proffer natural causes for the miracles recounted in the Bible. Naturalistic explanations for a global flood were proposed in such works as An Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth (1695) by John Woodward and New Theory of the Earth (1696) by Woodward’s student William Whiston.[7]

The modern science of geology was founded in Europe in the 18th century.[8] Its practitioners sought to understand the history and shaping of the Earth through the physical evidence found 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 ancient theory that fossils were the result of "plastic forces" within the Earth's crust had by this time been abandoned, with the recognition that they represented the remains of once-living creatures. This, though, raised a major problem: how did fossils of sea creatures end up on land, or on the tops of mountains?

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. (Benoît de Maillet had estimated an age of 2.4 billion years by 1732[9][10] as against the 6,000 years proposed by Archbishop James Ussher's famous chronology). In 1823 the Reverend William Buckland, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, interpreted geological phenomena as Reliquiae Diluvianae; relics of the flood Attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge. His views were supported by other English clergymen naturalists at the time, including the influential Adam Sedgwick, but these ideas were disputed by continental geologists and by 1830 Sedgwick was convinced by his own findings that the evidence only showed local floods.[11]

Charles Lyell's promotion of James Hutton's ideas of uniformitarianism advocated the principle that geological changes that occurred in the past may be understood by studying present-day phenomena. In common with Newton, Hutton assumed that the world-system had been in a steady state since the day of creation, but unlike Newton he included in this vision not only the motion of celestial bodies and processes like chemical change on earth, but also processes of geological change. Christopher Kaiser writes:

In other words, in comparison with Newton's, Hutton's was a higher order concept of the system of nature which included not only the present structure of the world, but the process (or natural history) by which the present structure had come into existence and was maintained. As with Newton, and in contrast to materialists like Buffon and neomechanists like Laplace, the origins of the system were beyond the scope of science for Hutton: in nature itself he found 'no vestige of a beginning - no prospect of an end'. But Hutton came about as close to being a neomechanist as one possibly could without changing the Newtonian framework of God and nature. Only the Newtonian stipulation that God had personally designed the present system of nature stood between natural theology and the retirement of God from science altogether... Like Derham and Cotes, Hutton believed that God had implanted active principles in nature at creation sufficient to account for all its natural functions.[12]

The idea that all geological strata were produced by a single flood was rejected in 1837 by Buckland who wrote:

Some have attempted to ascribe the formation of all the stratified rocks to the effects of the Mosaic Deluge; an opinion which is irreconcilable with the enormous thickness and almost infinite subdivisions of these strata, and with the numerous and regular successions which they contain of the remains of animals and vegetables, differing more and more widely from existing species, as the strata in which we find them are placed at greater depths. The fact that a large proportion of these remains belong to extinct genera, and almost all of them to extinct species, that lived and multiplied and died on or near the spots where they are now found, shows that the strata in which they occur were deposited slowly and gradually, during long periods of time, and at widely distant intervals.[13]

For a while, Buckland had continued to insist that some geological layers were related to the Great Flood, but grew to accept the idea that they represented multiple inundations which occurred well before humans existed. He was convinced by Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz that much of the evidence on which he relied was in fact the product of ancient ice ages, and became one of the foremost champions of Agassiz's theory of glaciations.[14] Mainstream science abandoned the idea of flood geology that required major deviations from present physical processes.

Reemergence of flood geology

Flood geology was developed as a creationist endeavor in the 20th century by George McCready Price, a Seventh-day Adventist and amateur geologist[15] who wrote a treatise in 1923 to provide a Seventh-day Adventist perspective on geology.[16][17] Price's work was subsequently adapted and updated by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. in their The Genesis Flood in 1961. Whitcomb was motivated after reading The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954) by theologian Bernard Ramm. Ramm supported the view that scientists who are Christians could come to alternative interpretations to the strict six day creation, as promoted by Price, that are both Biblical and concordant with current scientific evidence.[18][19] 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.[20]

Ramm's book was supportive of religious and scientific dissent from flood geology.[18] J. Laurence Kulp, a geologist in fellowship with the Plymouth Brethren, joined with other Christian geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and biologists whose work related to radiocarbon dating, to persuade the Christian organization, American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), not to officially support or endorse flood geology but to allow members to follow the scientific evidence rather than a literalist interpretation of the Bible.[18] Kulp also wrote a detailed critique of Flood Geology, titled Deluge Geology, which was published in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation in 1950.[21] When the ASA refused to align itself with flood geology, a new generation of Young Earth creationists was founded, many of whom organized themselves around Morris's Institute for Creation Research. Subsequent research by the Creation Research Society has observed and analyzed geological formations, within a flood geology framework, including the La Brea Tar Pits,[22] the Tavrick Formation (Tauric Formation, Russian: "Tavricheskaya formatsiya") in the Crimean Peninsula[23] and Stone Mountain, Georgia.[24] In each case, the creationists claimed that the flood geology interpretation had greater explanatory power than the uniformitarian explanation. The Creation Research Society claims that "uniformitarianism is wishful thinking".[25]

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 languages. Flood geology is still a major theme of modern creationism, though it is rejected by earth scientists.

Biblical basis

Flood geology is based on a literal interpretation of the flood narrative in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 6–9). The narrative 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.[26] (Seeley suggests that the authors of Genesis, like other peoples of the ancient Near East, conceived the earth as a flat, circular disk, floating like a bubble in a limitless expanse of water, with a solid sky (the firmament) separating the dry land inhabited by man 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).[27]

Genesis also contains a chronology which places the Flood in the year 1656 after Creation in the standard Hebrew text (the Masoretic text - other texts have slightly different chronologies). Correlating this with a date in the modern calendar has proven contentious - there have been over two hundred attempts, with outcomes varying from 2304 [28] to 6934 years BC[29] — but modern flood geology attempts to fit geological time within the framework of a "young" Earth.

Scholars propose that the flood story was written around 550–450 BC as a reworking of the ancient Mesopotamian myth of the flood-hero Utnapishtim. For the ancient author or authors, the purpose of the story was theological, elevating Hebrew monotheism over Babylonian polytheism. Within the overall narrative of the Genesis, the Flood mirrors, but in reverse, God's creation of "the heavens and the earth" in Genesis 1. That story tells how God creates an Earth which is good, but which becomes corrupted with violence, until in Genesis 6 he decides to destroy all life. He does this by opening the "windows of the firmament" and the "fountains of the Deep" and allowing the waters of the cosmos in. The chronology of the Flood replicates the chronology of the seven days of Creation: it begins in the second month, equivalent to the second day of Creation, the day on which the firmament was created; the waters then rise for 150 days (five months of 30 days each), until at the end of six months (equivalent to the six days of creative work in Genesis 1) the ark grounds on the highest mountain peak. (To underline the point, Noah's name means "rest" in Hebrew). After a month of rest (the equivalent of the seventh day of the Creation story), the waters recede for 150 days/five months as the world is "re-created": in the sixth month Noah waits, and in the seventh he and the animals exit the ark and give thanks to God.[30]

Belief in a global Flood and a 6000 year history for the Earth had been largely abandoned by the mid-19th century. Their revival and rapid growth in the United States can be dated to the early 20th century, including, in a contemporary form, by Answers in Genesis:

The debate about the age of the earth is ultimately a question of whose word we are going to trust: the all-knowing truthful Creator who has given us His inerrant book (the Bible) or finite, sinful creatures who give us their books that contain errors and therefore are frequently revised. If you firmly trust and carefully read the Bible and become informed on creationist interpretations of the geological record, you can easily see how the rocks of the earth powerfully confirm the Bible’s teaching, both about Noah’s Flood and a young earth.[31]

Evidence cited to support a global flood


The geologic column and the fossil record are used as major pieces of 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. The age of the fossils depends on the amount of time credited to the geologic column, which they ascribe to be about one year. Some flood geologists dispute geology's assembled global geologic column since index fossils are used to link geographically isolated strata to other strata across the map. Fossils are often dated by their proximity to strata containing index fossils whose age has been determined by its location on the geologic column. Oard[32] and others say that the identification of fossils as index fossils has been too error prone for index fossils to be used reliably to make those correlations, or to date local strata using the assembled geologic scale.

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 is the approach taken by Institute for Creation Research creationists such as Andrew Snelling, Steven A. Austin and Kurt Wise, as well as Creation Ministries International. 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,[33] the presence in such sediments of fossils that do not occur later in the geological record as part of a pre–flood biota that perished[34] and the absence of fossilized organisms that appear later, such as angiosperms and mammals, as due to erosion of sediments deposited by the flood as waters receded off the land.[35] Creationists say that fossilization can only take place when the organism is buried quickly to protect the remains from destruction by scavengers or decomposition[36] They say 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.[37]

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. 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. 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. The third factor was anatomical and behavioral, 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.[38] In a scenario put forth by Morris, the remains of marine life were the first to settle to the bottom, followed by the slower moving lowland reptiles, and culminating with mankind whose superior intelligence and ability to flee enabled them to reach higher elevations before they were overcome by the flood waters.[39]

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 due to the heat of the subterranean waters as they were unleashed from the Earth during the flood or by the high temperatures created as the remains were compressed by water and sediment.[40][41]

Creationists continue to search for evidence in the natural world that they consider to be consistent with the above description, such as evidence of rapid formation. For example, there have been claims of raindrop marks and water ripples at layer boundaries, sometimes associated with the claimed fossilized footprints of men and dinosaurs walking together. Such footprint evidence has been debunked by scientists[42] and some have been shown to be fakes.[43]

Widespread flood stories

While it is not geological evidence, 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.[44]

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.[45] Geologists William Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, III have suggested that the rapid filling of the Black Sea (c. 7000 BC) at the end of the last Ice Age may be responsible for the flood myths in the Near East.[46] Newer evidence suggests that if there was a flood it was much smaller than Ryan and Pitman thought it had been.[47]

Proposed mechanisms of flood geology

Runaway subduction

In the last two decades, most proposed flood mechanisms involve "runaway subduction", the rapid movement of tectonic plates, in one form or another.

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.[48] This holds the rapid plunge of former oceanic plates into the mantle caused by an unknown trigger mechanism which increased local mantle pressures to the point that its viscosity dropped several magnitudes according to known properties of mantle silicates. Once initiated, sinking plates caused the spread of low viscosity throughout the mantle resulting in runaway mantle convection and catastrophic tectonic motion as continents were dragged across the surface of the earth. Once the former ocean plates, which are thought to be denser than the mantle, reached the bottom of the mantle an equilibrium was reached. Pressures dropped, viscosity increased, runaway mantle convection stopped, leaving the surface of the earth rearranged. Proponents point to subducted slabs in the mantle which are still relatively cool, which they regard as evidence that they have not been there for millions of years of temperature equilibration.[49]

Catastrophic plate tectonics is also associated with the creationist theory that the Earth's magnetic field reversed direction many times in rapid succession during the year-long global flood.[50][51]

The hypothesis of catastrophic plate tectonics is considered pseudoscience and is rejected by the vast majority of geologists in favor 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.[52] Not only does catastrophic plate tectonics lack any plausible geophysical mechanism by which its changes might occur, it also is contradicted by considerable geological evidence (which is in turn consistent with conventional plate tectonics), including:[53]

  • 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. These islands have widely ranging ages (determined via both radiometric dating and relative erosion) that contradict the catastrophic tectonic hypothesis of rapid development and thus a similar age.
  • 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 (leaving these seamounts' characteristic flat tops).
  • Runaway subduction does not explain the kind of continental collision illustrated by that of the Indian and Eurasian Plates. (For further information see Orogeny.)

Conventional plate tectonics accounts for the geological evidence already, including innumerable details that catastrophic plate tectonics cannot, 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.[53][54]

Vapor/water canopy

Isaac Vail (1840–1912), a Quaker schoolteacher, in his 1912 work The Earth's Annular System, extrapolated from the nebular hypothesis what he called the annular system of earth history, with the earth being originally surrounded by rings resembling those of Saturn, or canopies of water vapor. These were hypothesised to have, one by one, collapsed on the earth, resulting in a "succession of stupendous cataclysms, separated by unknown periods of time" burying fossils. The Genesis flood was thought to have been caused by "the last remnant" of this vapor. Although this final flood was geologically significant, it was hypothesized to account for far less of the fossil record than George McCready Price attributed to it.[55]

This hypothesis gained a following among Jehovah's Witnesses[55] and from Seventh-day Adventist physicist Robert W. Woods,[56] before being given prominent and repeated mention in The Genesis Flood in 1961.[57]

Though the vapor canopy theory has fallen into disfavour among most creationists, recent defences of the theory have been attempted by Dillow[58] and Vardiman.[59]

Modern geology and flood geology

In the 18th century, finds such as Hutton's Unconformity showing layers tilted, eroded, and overlaid, demonstrated the "abyss of time" in the Geologic time scale.

Modern geology, its sub-disciplines 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, one of the most important of which is Charles Lyell's principle of uniformitarianism. In relation to geological forces it 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 these principles, geologists have determined that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. They study the lithosphere of the Earth to gain information on the history of the planet. Geologists divide Earth's history into eons, eras, periods, epochs, and faunal stages characterized by well-defined breaks in the fossil record (see Geologic time scale).[60][61] In general, there is a lack of any evidence for any of the above effects proposed by flood geologists and their claims of fossil layering are not taken seriously by scientists.[62]


The angular unconformity found by James Hutton in 1788 at Siccar Point demonstrated the time taken for erosion of tilted rock and deposition of overlying layers.

The global flood cannot explain geological formations such as angular unconformities, where sedimentary rocks have been tilted and eroded then more sedimentary layers deposited on top, needing long periods of time for these processes. There is also the time needed for the erosion of valleys in sedimentary rock mountains. In another example, the flood, had it occurred, 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.[62]


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 some 6,000 years ago, were actually deposited gradually over many millions of years.

This Jurassic carbonate hardground with its generations of oysters and extensive bioerosion could not have formed during the conditions postulated for the Flood.


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.[63]

The alternation of calcite and aragonite seas through geologic time.[64]

In addition, carbonate hardgrounds and the fossils associated with them show that the so-called flood sediments include evidence of long hiatuses in deposition that are not consistent with flood dynamics or timing.[65]


Proponents of Flood Geology also have a difficult time explaining the alternation between calcite seas and aragonite seas through the Phanerozoic. The cyclical pattern of carbonate hardgrounds, calcitic and aragonitic ooids, and calcite-shelled fauna has apparently been controlled by seafloor spreading rates and the flushing of seawater through hydrothermal vents which changes its Mg/Ca ratio.[66]

See also


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  5. ^ Dana 1863, pp. 642, 659, 767
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  8. ^ The world's oldest professional geological society is the Geological Society of London, founded in 1807; the term "geology" itself was popularized through its use in the Encyclopedie of 1751.
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  17. ^ Numbers 2006
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  20. ^ This is the same model that Buckland had rejected 130 years earlier.
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  49. ^ Baumgardner, JR (2003). "CATASTROPHIC PLATE TECTONICS: THE PHYSICS BEHIND THE GENESIS FLOOD". Fifth International Conference on Creationism. http://www.globalflood.org/papers/2003ICCcpt.html. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  50. ^ Andrew A. Snelling (1991). Fossil magnetism reveals rapid reversals of the earth's magnetic field. Answers in Genesis. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v13/i3/fossil.asp 
  51. ^ Andrew A. Snelling (2007). Can Catastrophic Plate Tectonics Explain Flood Geology?. Answers in Genesis. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/catastrophic-plate-tectonics 
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  53. ^ a b Isaak 2007 p 173 Creationist claim CD750
  54. ^ McPhee, John, 1998. Annals of the Former World. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  55. ^ a b Numbers(2006) pp347-348
  56. ^ Numbers(2006) p501 (footnote 47)
  57. ^ Numbers(2006) p229
  58. ^ Dillow, J.C. (1981). The Waters Above. Moody Press, Chicago 
  59. ^ Larry Vardiman. TEMPERATURE PROFILES FOR AN OPTIMIZED WATER VAPOR CANOPY. ICR. http://www.icr.org/i/pdf/research/Canopy.pdf 
  60. ^ Lutgens, FK, Tarbuck, EJ, Tasa, D (2005). Essentials of Geology. Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0131497498. 
  61. ^ Tarbuck, EJ & Lutgens, FK (2006). Earth Science. Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0131258525. 
  62. ^ a b Isaak, M (1998). "Problems with a Global Flood". TalkOrigins Archive. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-noahs-ark.html. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  63. ^ Schadewald R (1982). "Six 'Flood' arguments Creationists can't answer". Creation/Evolution 9: 12–17. http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/6flood.htm. 
  64. ^ Sandberg, P.A. (1983). "An oscillating trend in Phanerozoic non-skeletal carbonate mineralogy". Nature 305 (5929): 19–22. doi:10.1038/305019a0. 
  65. ^ Wilson, M. (2001) Letter (with references) on hardgrounds and The Flood. Answers In Genesis website.
  66. ^ Stanley, S.M., Hardie, L.A. (1999). "Hypercalcification; paleontology links plate tectonics and geochemistry to sedimentology". GSA Today 9: 1–7. 



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