CATASTROPHISM AND "ABSENT" STRATA
1. "Flood Geology" and Scientific Models
Since the "Flood geology" view has been offered as a "scientific model," evangelical Christians have supposed that it is somehow a workable explanation of the origin of the earth's sedimentary cover. They do this even though it runs counter to the most fundamental facts concerning the components of, and formation of, rock strata. But in science, when it is discovered that a given model has failed to take a fundamental set of principles or data into account it is immediately discarded. And the catastrophic "model" of the formation of the earth's sedimentary cover must not be "granted immunity" to this practice of scrutiny in the scientific community. Perhaps it would be nice to have the benefit of a young-earth-creation type of doctrine in our opposing of evolutionism; but, since the proposed model violates so many of the natural laws which God established in the earth, we dare not cherish and cling to it.
Morris' s well-known descriptions of how he visualizes the laying down of the strata of the earth's sedimentary cover during the Flood are based almost entirely on hypotheses of what the physical conditions might have been like during the Flood. But these hypotheses can never be substantiated, because they take as their basis the belief that the sedimentary strata were formed mainly as a result of a set of "once-in-earth's-history" physical processes or events which have not been (and will not be) repeated. With no possibility of making scientific observations for verification of these supposed, unique events, there is no way to use this "Flood geology" concept as a scientific model. And, even on a more local level, the "Flood geology" explanation of how the thick sequences of rock layers were supposedly formed has no scientific basis. It is not at all based on observations of how rocks are being formed in various parts of the world, or of the real processes by which they are deposited and lithified.
2. The Rumored Revival of Catastrophism
A perplexing, recent development in the promotion of "Flood geology" hypotheses is the claim, now being frequently made, that within the past decade "there has taken place an amazing revival of catastrophism among evolutionary geologists" (Morris, 1985, p. 130). Similar statements are made in Morris and Parker (1982) and in other recent creationist publications. To uphold this claim they quote brief excerpts from paleontologist David Raup, and geologist Derek Ager, both of whom thoroughly and clearly recognize the presence of deposits and processes in the earth's sedimentary cover which require long periods of time. These men, and the others who young-earth creationists are saying are "returning to catastrophism" are not at all denying the rock-lithification processes or suggesting that there is evidence that the earth's sedimentary cover contains only rapidly-formed components. They are merely calling attention to certain definite, rapidly-formed deposits such as those laid down by volcanic action, ocean storms, and the debris flows dealt with in Chapter 6 of this book.
Ask any of these geologists and paleontologists about the origin of the Great Bahama Bank, the coral atolls, buried coral reefs, multiple coal deposits, cyclic evaporite deposits, and great limestone formations which contain in situalgal structures, and they will give essentially the same answer that their colleagues in paleontology and geology give. The reason that the young-earth leaders mistakenly think that these scientists no longer recognize the many geologic and petrologic evidences for long periods of time seems to be only that (a) the young-earth leaders are themselves unaware of the vast amount of data demanding long periods, and (b) they are so out of touch with the geologic profession that they do not know the nature of the research reports which are regularly being submitted to the various geologic symposia. By attending or reading such symposia it is very easy to find out why the geologists are recognizing certain rapid events which appear at intervals in the strata. The reason that they refer to these events more often now than formerly is that they now have much more adequate methods of detecting and recognizing the characteristics of deposits formed by them. On the other hand, there has been a great increase in the writing of research reports recognizing the abundance of deposits which require long periodsof time for their formation, such as those named in the first sentence of this paragraph. New methods of sedimentary and petrologic observation which have been developed during the past two decades have greatlyenhanced our ability to identify boththe rapidly-formed and slowly-formed parts of each local sedimentary column.
So, the increased recognition of catastrophic processes is a much different situation from the recent recognition by some evolutionary biologists that they have not been able to find much real evidence for abiogenesis and macroevolution. Most of the data which inform us of the passing of long periods of time are readily observable, definite and concrete—as has been pointed out at various places in this book.
3. Why We Do Not Find All of the Rock Strata Systems* Everywhere on Earth
A question is often brought up concerning why certain formations and systems* which are present in one area are absent in another area. For example, some of the formations which are found in the Appalachian Valley of Virginia are not present in Pennsylvania. This condition leads many young-earth creationists to say that the practice of classifying rock systems and their formations, and of recognizing that some are older than others, is only an imaginary exercise carried out by geologists.
The absence of certain formations is not really disturbing when one considers the characteristics of the depositional processes which formed the Appalachian provinces. At least three orogenies* (the Taconic, the Acadian, and the Appalachian) were changing the elevation of various parts of the land and thus were alternately forming and draining inland seas in the region. It is also easy to realize that, during any period of time when a given area of land is above sea level, it is not as likely to have sediments deposited on it as when it was covered by water. Parts of the land which are above sea level are subjected to erosion, whereas adjacent parts receive the sediments which are eroded off the former. (Sometimes these adjacent parts which received sediments were still above sea level, though lower in altitude than the areas which were supplying the sediments—as was frequently the case in Pennsylvanian times.)
It is significant, however, that allof the major rock systems(formed during the geologic periods*) up through the Mississippian are present almost everywhere in the Central Appalachian zone which we are considering. So, interruptions of deposition were not so long as to cause an entire strata system of formations to be omitted. Of course, after the lastmajor orogeny (the Appalachian or Alleghenian), the land was left too high to receive further layers of marine sediments. Thus we should not expect to find such systems as the Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary present in the Appalachians.
Historical geologists have for many years recognized evidence which shows that at least the Permian System was formerly present over much of the Appalachian Region, but that it was worn off by erosion after the time of the Appalachian Orogeny—just as considerable areas of the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian were worn off in certain other parts of the Appalachians. For example, an examination of a color geologic map of northern West Virginia and western Maryland shows that there is a long valley of Devonian farmland and forest extending from a point somewhat south of Elkins, West Virginia, to slightly beyond the northern boundary of Garrett County, Maryland. Further examination of the map reveals that on either side of this NE-SW Devonian, linear exposure the various formations of the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian systems are present, appearing as linear bands of different colors (Fig. 5). (The set of bands to the west of the Devonian valley forms an approximate mirror-image of the eastern set.) This arrangement, coupled with the fact that the area of Devonian exposure lies on the surface of a well-known NE-SW anticline,* gives us unmistakable evidence that at least the entire Pennsylvania, Mississippian, and the first one or two formations of the Devonian were worn off by long-term erosion.
|Figure 5. Geologic Map Showing an Example of
of Two Entire Geologic Rock Systems by Ancient Erosion, Along the Axis
of an Anticline. (Redrawn from Geologic Map of Maryland,Scale
Maryland Geological Survey, 1968.) The removal of these rock systems is
discussed in this chapter. There is no sizable river or stream running
through the Devonian valley. It is drained by small streams which flow
northward, and eventually into the Ohio River.
This is such a clear example of the removal of at least two entire rock systems, long after coal had been formed and the area then uplifted, that we will briefly describe the local conditions. In this Devonian valley the local business men and farmers have long been aware that there were no layers of coal or limestone in the valley, but that they could obtain both by going a few miles west or east to the bands of Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rock and soil exposures. They also knew that near the center of this Devonian valley was an apex of the bedrock, so that all rocks on the west side of the apex which had never been moved sloped downward toward the west, and that those on the east side of the apex dipped downward toward the east (because the apex which the people observed as they excavated for buildings, etc., was the axis of the above mentioned anticline—called the "Deer Park Anticline"). Because of these facts a good number of even the manual laborers realized that a great mass of rock layers had been worn off in early times. This was a vivid fact to them, because many of them wished that they could find the Mississippian Greenbrier Limestone and the Pennsylvanian coal seams which the more fortunate people who owned land along these bands (and extending to the west and to the east from the bands) were able to find and use for economic gain.
Another important observation in this geographic area is that the bands of Mississippian and Pennsylvanian exposure along the sides of the Devonian valley are abrupt, and sometimes even cliff-like. This shows that the erosion which removed the center of the NE-SW area occurred after the rock layers had been well cemented into hard rock and the coal had been hardened to maturity. Thus it would be completely illogical to suggest that the upper strata systems were removed as soft sediments after the Flood.
(b) Young-earth Misconceptions
Many young-earth creationist books, and even the article "Ten Misconceptions about the Geologic Column" by Steven A. Austin (1984), contain a section which promotes the mistaken belief that since all the earth's land surface is not covered by all of the geologic strata systems, we should regard most of the teachings of sedimentary geologists concerned the origins of the earth's sedimentary cover to be erroneous. In his section dealing with this subject, Austin says that the geologic strata systems are "poorly represented on a global scale," and even indicates that all of them should be found on the ocean floors (even though nearly all of the present ocean floors were formed from new magma long after the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian systems had already been deposited!). He then accusingly states, "Even where the ten [strata] systems may be present, geologists recognize individual systems to be incomplete [i.e., to lack some of the formations]," (p. ii). Thus Austin, Morris, and other writers have neglected much essential data concerning the strata systems and the early conditions of the earth's crust, causing confusion even among Christian men and women of science. These authors, and those who put confidence in them, have totally failed to understand that it was perfectly normal for parts of the earth's surface to be above sea level at various times and thus not to receive continuous sedimentary deposition.
It is very detrimental that there is such a widespread misunderstanding about the absence of some of the strata systems from parts of the earth. Morris shows himself to be a victim of this misunderstanding when he says, "Rocks of any 'age' may rest vertically on top of those of any other 'age.' The very 'oldest' rocks may occur directly beneath those of any subsequent 'age.' " (Morris, 1974, p. 132) (The word "vertically" in this quotation and elsewhere in that section of the book seems to mean sequentiallyinstead of vertically.) He is here referring to the absence of the strata systems in certain geographic areas, but has failed to understand the reasons for this.
The principles which we have pointed out in the above several paragraphs, plus the fact of overturned folds and short-distance overthrusts—which are so common and well mapped in the Valley and Ridge Province of the Appalachians—are entirely adequate to account for the variations in stratigraphic order to which Morris refers. He regards such variations as inconsistencies in the work of regional geologists and strati graphers. But practically all such "inconsistencies" are cleared up by careful and logical field studies of the regions involved. Those few for which there seems no good explanation may have to be explained in terms of earlier wrong identification of the "out-of-order" formations. But the amazingly complete seismic mapping of the past two decades, together with drilling records in areas of intense folding, force us to recognize that the formations with which we are so familiar to the east and west of the Valley and Ridge Province really were folded, overturned in a few places, and sometimes faulted and pushed up on one another.
Thus, the idea held by most young-earth creationists that the
of certain geologic formations in a given region, and the superposition
of formations in some places, is an indication that the work of
is invalid, is simply due to their failure to familiarize themselves
what the sedimentary cover of the earth is really like. We need to
the available data (which are very abundant) and not to rebel against
Since the rock strata testify that there really were orogenies
and other tectonic* processes and events which produced major changes
the altitude and slopes of the land, we should be willing to recognize
that the order and existence of the rock systems and formations is
with these processes and events. Christians are really placed at a
when they read creationist works which encourage a disregard for the
Even if such works are written by one of the very few young-earth
who have graduate degrees in geology, this is not an indication that
an author has to be correct in what he is teaching. Two reasons for
are: (1) earth science is such an extensive and broad science that no
person can be competent in more than a small percentage of it, and (2)
every profession has a few iconoclasts who attempt to challenge even
and demonstrated principles. These iconoclasts sometimes do some good,
but they usually end up losing the argument, and we hear little more of
them; but they invariably gain a satisfying prestige within a limited