Science: Flood Geology and Related Fallacies

by Alan Hayward

A related article: Are geologic strata the result of the Flood?

Originally published as chapter 8 of Creation and Evolution: Rethinking the Evidence From Science and the Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1995). Reprinted with permission from the original publisher, SPCK, London.


No human investigation can be called real science if it cannot be demonstrated mathematically. —Leonardo Da Vinci.1

We saw in chapter 5 that ‘Flood geology’, the notion that the makeup of the earth’s crust is due to Noah’s Flood, was a seventeenth-century idea which was dropped in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries because it didn’t make sense. After another 150 years of scientific discovery, it makes even less sense today. Why, then, have recent-creationists taken up such an indefensible position?

Presumably because, just as falling mountaineers will grab at an icicle, they feel that any explanation of the geological evidence is better than none at all. For their only alternative escape-route is even worse, as we shall now see.

Gosse again

As chapter 5 mentioned, the only intellectual in the mid-nineteenth century to attempt a logical defence of recent-creationism was Philip Gosse. ‘The earth is not really old,’ he said, in effect. ‘It just looks old, because God made it so. He even created fossils to deceive unbelieving geologists.’

Gosse received little support. The idea that God set out to deceive people was repulsive to most nineteenth-century believers. To their credit, most of today’s recent-creationists also reject it, as these quotations show:

True creation necessarily involves creation of an ‘appearance of age’…. We insist as emphatically as we know how that the doctrine of creation of apparent age does not in the remotest degree involve a divine deception, but is rather inherent in the very nature of creation.2 (Henry Morris – his italics.)

We may be assured that God did not create a world filled with unmistakable and essentially unnecessary testimonies to a previous history simply for the purpose of deceiving man!… Creation with appearance of age is not deceptive, but glorious.(John Whitcomb – his italics.)

It seems as if we are, for once, all agreed. Our God is not a deceiver. When he created the heavens and the earth there were certain things that simply had to have an appearance of age. A newly-created man or woman is bound to look as if they had lived at least sixteen years. A sizeable oak tree on the day of its creation would have to look as if it were a hundred years old, or thereabouts. And so on.

It is a matter of logical necessity. As Morris put it, ‘creation necessarily involves creation of an appearance of age.’ The converse of this is, in Whitcomb’s words, ‘God did not create a world filled with…unnecessary testimonies to a previous history.’ God does not go out of his way to deceive. He only does that which, in the nature of things, is necessary.

Fossils did not meet Whitcomb’s and Morris’s requirement of being necessary. To have created such things would evidently have been an act of deceit. Therefore, says everybody, Gosse was wrong: God did not create fossils. (Nor, says nearly everybody, did God allow the devil to create them, because God is the one and only Creator.)

This leaves recent-creationists with no alternative. Only one possible explanation of the origin of fossils is open to them: they are forced to believe that fossils are the remains of living things that perished in the Flood. Whatever its weaknesses, they must cling to ‘Flood geology’ like grim death – otherwise, they would have to drop the whole idea of a young earth.

Letting Gosse in the back door

In practice, recent-creationists find it difficult to do without Gosse’s theory. Having slammed the front door in his face with their firm declaration that God does not deceive, they are under great temptation to let Gosse in through the back door.

Take the point made in the previous chapter, about the absence in nature of a great many radioactive substances with half-lives of less than fifty-million years. I showed how this must mean either that the solar system is billions of years old, or that a fantastically improbable coincidence has occurred. Some recent-creationists would say, ‘Not so. There is a third alternative: God created the earth that way, to give it an appearance of age.’

But that won’t do. There is no question of necessity here. Most Christians find it impossible to believe that God deliberately left out all those short-lived substances at the Creation, merely to make the world look far older than it is. That surely would have been an act of deceit. Slapping fancy names on the situation, like ‘appearance of age’, or ‘mature creation’, does not turn deceit into non-deceit.

Similarly with the expanding gas clouds in chapter 7, which look precisely like the remains of supernovae that exploded tens of thousands of years ago. And those star clusters that lack all the short-lived varieties of stars. Are these things what they appear to be? Or did God create them specially to give astronomers the false impression that the universe is old? Surely not.

Recent-creationists sometimes argue thus: ‘But Christ at Cana miraculously created some excellent wine (John 2.1-10), which must have looked and tasted mature. So why should not God have created a mature universe?’ But this is most misleading, because the apparent maturity of that wine was unavoidable. There could be no parallel with what we are considering here unless Christ had created some unnecessary appearance of age – such as a spurious label from a Galilean wine merchant, with a vintage year written on it.

There is also a serious problem for recent-creationists who believe that God has put an ‘appearance of age’ on some aspects of creation but not others. They themselves spend much time in trying to find scientific evidences of a youthful creation. Why should these exist, if God has tried to make a young earth look old? As John Byrt has put it:

A serious source of perplexity is that if God did in fact build an apparent age into the whole creation, one would expect that he would do it consistently. One would not expect evidences of youth to pop up here and there, as if God had forgotten to ‘artificially age’ these few aspects of his work.4 (His italics.)

In particular, ‘Flood geology’ can be sustained only by falling back on Gosse whenever a problem arises. In chapter 5, for instance, we noted the seven-mile-thick layers of fossil-bearing sediments around the mouths of great rivers. Are these what they look like, deposits that those rivers have built up during millions of years? Or did the Flood, by some amazing coincidences, just happen to dump them in these places?

Some ‘Flood geologists’ are sorely tempted to say there is a third possibility: that God deliberately caused the Flood to do this. But such a Gossism is out of bounds. The leaders of the ‘Flood geology’ movement insist that God is not a deceiver – that he would not miraculously direct the Flood to produce misleading results.

We shall see more examples of this problem when we come to consider ‘Flood geology’ in more detail. But first it is necessary to look at two important geological questions where recent-creationists are not wholly correct.

Do geologists reason in a circle?

Geologists in the nineteenth century gave names to the various layers of sedimentary rock, and arranged them in order of age. This was not too difficult, because the oldest strata naturally occur at the bottom and the youngest on top. The only exceptions to this rule occur where some upheaval in the earth has changed the natural order, and it is nearly always evident when this has happened.

A complete list of all these layers is called ‘the geologic column’, and it is as fundamental to geology as the multiplication table is to arithmetic. Recent-creationists are fond of pointing out that there is nowhere in the earth’s crust where a complete geological column can be seen, but it has to be built up from sections of it. For example, Morris and Parker say:

There is only one place in all the world to see the standard geologic column. That’s in the textbook!… The standard column has been built up by superposition of local columns from many different localities.5 (Their italics.)

Despite the recent-creationist suspicions of the procedure, there is nothing illogical or unscientific about it. In one place we find layers ABCDEFG; in another. DEFGHIJ; in another, GHIJKLMN – and so on. There are so many of these fragmentary columns, and so much overlap between them, that it is quite easy to build up the complete column from A to Z (or from Archaeozoic and Proterozoic to Pleistocene and Recent, if you want to be technical).

The reasons why we never find a complete column are simple: more often than not, a layer of rock that is deposited during one period gets eroded away during a later period. The rocks we see today are the fortunate survivors. Also, sediments are mostly laid down under water; consequently, at any given location we do not expect to find sediments from those geological periods when that area was far above sea-level.

Recent-creationists are convinced that geologists are guilty of circular reasoning in building up the geologic column. They make this accusation in nearly every book they publish. This is a typical example:

Here is obviously a powerful system of circular reasoning. Fossils are used as the only key for placing rocks in chronological order. The criterion for assigning fossils to specific places in that chronology is the assumed evolutionary progression of life; the assumed evolutionary progression is based on the fossil record so constructed. The main evidence for evolution is the assumption of evolution!6

Professor Edgar Andrews also warns of what he calls, ‘the danger of evolution relying on geology for its time, and geology relying on evolution…they could agree about the age of the earth and yet both be completely wrong.7

But these accusations do not fit the facts, which are quite simple. William Smith, the ‘father of English geology’, pioneered the technique and built up the first geologic column in 1799. Evolution did not enter into the matter. Darwin then was still unborn, and Smith remained a creationist all his life. All he did was to reason, ‘How do I know a Type-A stratum when I see it? By the Type-A fossils it contains. The B strata contain B-type fossils, and so on.’ As the Encyclopaedia Britannica expresses it:

Its [palaeontology’s] critical importance in geology arises from the use of fossils as time markers in stratified rocks. Near the start of the 19th century independent workers in England and in France discovered that units of sedimentary rocks can be traced over wide areas by means of distinctive fossils in each unit….

Some of the fossil species were found only in single beds or a few successive beds; and those ranging through somewhat greater thicknesses were seen to be replaced in higher beds by different species. Such changes seem commonplace under present concepts of evolution; but the discoverers accepted the facts merely as a rule of thumb to aid in classifying and mapping the thick sections of sedimentary rocks.8(My italics.)

Of course, any good thing can be abused. As certain writers that recent-creationists love to quote have pointed out, some misguided evolutionists have used the geologic column in an illogical way, by basing circular arguments upon it. But these are the rare exceptions and it is quite unreasonable to criticize orthodox geology because of them.

The geologic column itself was built up in a thoroughly logical way, long before the theory of evolution was invented, and many of those who contributed to its building were creationists. And there is nothing illogical or ‘circular’ about the way that mainstream geology uses it today.

Two views of uniformitarianism

The modern science of geology was born when the principle of uniformitarianism was recognised. This simply states that the same sort of geologic processes have gone on throughout the earth’s geological history. Most of them are still going on, somewhere, today.

Consequently, if we want to understand how sandstone was formed in one place and shale in a nearby place, we only need to observe a river estuary. There it is easy to see how the muddy waters slow down as the estuary widens out. As the speed of flow gradually reduces, the turbulence of the water becomes less, and this makes it impossible for large particles to stay in suspension. So the coarse grains of sand settle out first, then the finer grains a little farther out to sea, and finally the fine clay.

Similarly, if we want to know how a particular kind of limestone was formed, we can go to see a coral reef where similar limestone is being formed today. And so with almost any other rock-forming process you care to name. As the cliché has it, ‘The present is the key to the past.’

It goes without saying that the rates at which these processes occur must vary from time to time. In the early days of geology some uniformitarians thought that such variations would not be very great, and could therefore be ignored. They attempted to explain all past events in terms of present-day rates. Some of the other early geologists disagreed on this question of rate, though not on the actual fact of uniformitarianism, which is only common-sense.

Nowadays there is no question as to which view was right. For a long time geologists have agreed that rates of sedimentation and erosion must have varied considerably, with variations in circumstances. They have long insisted that we must also take account of occasional interruptions in these slow processes, caused by sudden major events such as giant floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. More recently they have added that even greater catastrophes, such as the fall of occasional giant meteorites, may possibly have played a part in the earth’s geological history, too.

Extraordinarily, many recent-creationists seem unaware of these facts. Their view of uniformitarianism is as naïve as it is incorrect. For example, Dr D. B. Gower wrongly asserts:

This is really the Theory of Uniformitarianism – the rate at which things are happening has been constant from the beginning.9

When they criticize that sort of uniformitarianism, recent-creationists are only attacking a man of straw. The real principle of uniformitarianism is so obviously sensible that it cannot be gainsaid.

Many recent-creationists are evidently aware of this, because – although they wouldn’t dream of admitting it – they utilize the real principle of uniformitarianism themselves! This we shall see in what follows.

The basis of ‘flood geology’

The great classic of ‘Flood geology’, The Genesis Flood,10 is based upon a principle which has since been stated succinctly by one of its authors, Dr John Whitcomb:

God maintains a definite economy of miracles. Otherwise, miracles would become commonplace and would thus lose their uniqueness and significance.… Apart from the specific miracles mentioned in Scripture, which were necessary to begin and to terminate this period of global judgement, the Flood accomplished its work of destruction by purely natural processes that are capable of being studied to a certain extent in hydraulics laboratories and in local flood situations today.11 (His italics.)

Although Whitcomb seems to be unaware of it, he is here recommending uniformitarianism. If you want to understand what the Flood must have done, don’t just write it off as a miracle that we cannot possibly understand. Go and study floods occurring today, or carry out laboratory experiments on simulated floods, he advises.

The advice is excellent. The only trouble is that ‘Flood geologists’ have never followed it. ‘Flood geology’ bears all the signs of an idea that has not been properly thought through: its implications have never been carefully considered.

Let us begin with a simple example. Conglomerate is a rock that looks rather like a natural concrete. It has a matrix of sandstone or other fine-grained rock, but embedded in this are many rounded pebbles of various sizes, and even boulders. Sediments like this are brought down by rivers under extreme conditions of flood. The Institute for Creation Research textbook admits this:

When vast region-wide blankets of conglomerate rocks are found, only region-wide floods can explain them. And such phenomena are not at all uncommon in the geologic column. The Shinarump conglomerate of the Colorado Plateau, for example, spreads over an area of 125,000 square miles.12

They go on to imply that Noah’s Flood was responsible for this, and for all the other great concentrations of conglomerates throughout the world. But they nowhere face up to the great problems that this idea creates.

One major difficulty is that many large deposits of conglomerate lie on top of great thicknesses – often several miles – of fine-grained sedimentary rock. The great conglomerate sea cliffs near Marseilles, for instance, are hundreds of feet high and contain boulders more than a foot in diameter. What ‘purely natural processes’ (Whitcomb’s phrase) would enable the Flood to deposit a thickness of several miles of fine-grained sediments first, and then place the boulder-laden conglomerate on top? Have ‘Flood geologists’ not heard the expression, to ‘sink like a stone’?

Another problem for them is the clean, sharp line often found at the boundary between a conglomerate and an underlying sandstone. Clearly, the lower layer must already have hardened into rock when the conglomerate was dumped on top, as otherwise the stones would have sunk into it. If one Flood deposited both layers in quick succession, how could this be?

Above all, there is the fact that the boulders in conglomerates often contain fossils. How did they get there if, as ‘Flood geologists’ assert, fossils are the remains of creatures that died in the Flood? And these boulders are nearly always rounded, as if they had been rolled around on a river or sea bed for long periods before being dumped in their last resting place.

Of course, one can always argue that God specially created these rounded, fossil-laden boulders, and then miraculously caused the Flood to place them on top of the fine-grained deposits. But that would be to break the very rules that the leading ‘Flood geologists’ themselves have pronounced in the extracts quoted in this chapter: no deceit by God, and purely natural processes operating in the Flood.

More difficulties of ‘flood geology’

Another problem that ‘Flood geologists’ have never squarely faced is the sheer volume of sedimentary rock in the earth’s crust. Take just the so-called ‘Phanerozoic’ sedimentary rock, that is to say, the rock containing fossils, and which is therefore supposed by ‘Flood geologists’ to have been deposited by the Flood. This alone comes to 654 million cubic kilometres, whereas the total amount of water on earth is less than 1,400 million cubic kilometres.13

Try mixing water and dry soil in those proportions – or, if you don’t trust the accuracy of the figures quoted above, even with double the proportion of water. The result is not just dirty water, but a rich, creamy mud, in which no fish life could possibly survive. Did Noah’s ark float on water or on an earthy soup?

Now try another experiment. Borrow one of those garden fishponds where the bottom is on two different levels, to give twice the depth of water at one end as at the other. Thoroughly stir up the mud in it, and leave it to settle. Then examine the bottom of the pond. What do you find?

Where the water was twice as deep, the mud is nearly twice as thick, because there was nearly twice as much of it in suspension in the deeper water. For this reason, ‘Flood geology’ would lead us to expect a thick layer of sedimentary deposits at the bottom of the oceans, and a thin layer over the continents where the water was much shallower. (It only cleared the highest peaks by a mere 15 cubits – 25 feet – remember.14)

Unfortunately for ‘Flood geology’, what we actually find is the exact opposite. The sedimentary rocks on and near the continents are in many places several miles thick, while in the deep oceans far from land they are only a small fraction of a mile thick – which is just what orthodox geology would lead us to expect.

Then there is the problem of the molten rock that formed the igneous intrusions. ‘Flood geologists’ have often spoken eloquently of the great volcanic eruptions that must have accompanied the Flood to produce these intrusions. But they never seem to have made any mathematical analysis of the consequences.

Recently, however, Robert Moore has taken the trouble to calculate the heat that would have been released within one year, if the ‘Flood geologists’ were right. He made it ‘3.65 octillion calories15 – which he calculated was enough to raise the temperature of the oceans by more than 2700 degrees Centigrade! Even if his result was fifty times too high, this would still have been enough to melt the pitch off the Ark and cook its precious cargo.

Strata in the sedimentary rocks

There is one quite astonishing example of the unwillingness of ‘Flood geologists’ to consider the implications of their theory. The sedimentary rocks are arranged in clearly defined layers, or strata. But floods only produce neatly stratified deposits under special circumstances, and then only in a limited total thickness.16 Floods generate so much turbulence that they commonly mix everything up, and so deposit a gorgeous mishmash. As we saw in the previous section, ‘Flood geologists’ themselves have recognized this fact when discussing the origin of conglomerates.

Stratified deposits, on the other hand, are usually produced by slow, long-continued sedimentation. It is possible to see them forming slowly today, in many places where muddy rivers discharge into lakes or the sea. Consequently, the universal existence of thousands of feet of strata in the sedimentary rocks is powerful evidence that they were laid down slowly, one at a time, and not all at once by one great Flood. The response of ‘Flood geologists’ to this evidence is quite inadequate.

Take, for example, the standard textbook of the Institute for Creation Research17Scientific Creationism. This admits on page 112 that strata are generally quite thin: ‘Each stratum may be from a fraction of an inch to several inches in thickness.’ Then it goes on to claim, on page 115, that all the strata must have been laid down, one above another, during the Flood.

But it makes no attempt to explain how this could have happened. Nor does it pause to look at the obvious difficulties involved: it merely declares that it must have happened. In chapter 3 I quoted Hitching’s criticism that Darwinists, when at a loss, use the ‘Abracadabra technique’; here we see that recent-creationists are equally fond of it.

Now let us do a few sums, of the kind that recent-creationists avoid doing. We will take the average thickness of strata as 3 inches, which is really an overestimate. Consider a place where the sedimentary layer is only 20,000 feet thick. (There are some places where it is twice that thickness.) Combining these figures gives a total of 80,000 strata in a typical column of sedimentary rock.

The Flood lasted about a year, but during the first part of it the flood waters were building up, so only a portion of the year would have been available for the deposition of sediments. Let’s allow 9 months, which is probably over-generous. 80,000 strata in 9 months works out at 5 minutes each.

In each 5 minutes, then, the Flood had to bring in a particular kind of sediment, distribute it fairly uniformly over a wide area – often over many tens of square miles – and deposit it on top of the previous layer. The two layers might sometimes be similar in composition, but would often be quite different. The Flood would have had to deposit the upper layer so gently that the layer deposited in the previous 5 minutes was not disturbed, so that no mixing of the two layers could occur. And it would have had to be so firmly in place at the end of the 5 minutes that the next layer could then safely descend upon it – and so on, every 5 minutes for 9 months.

Then there is the observation of geologists that the upper surfaces of strata often have fossil limpets or barnacles on them. This shows that those layers had time to harden into rock and attract rock-clinging shellfish before the next stratum was laid down;18 this is hardly likely to happen in 5 minutes!

In some areas the problem would have been even more severe than I have portrayed it. The Raymond rock formation in the USA is only a portion of the sedimentary column, with other rock formations above it and below it. Yet the Raymond formation, less than a mile thick but extending over a large area, contains more than 30,000 alternating layers of shale and sandstone – two entirely different types of rock.’19

Shale is made of compacted clay. As most readers will have noticed, clay consists of exceedingly fine particles which take a long time to settle in water. Turbulence keeps them in suspension, and consequently clay will only settle in quite calm water.

The ‘Flood geologist’ looking at the Raymond formation has a problem. How did the Flood bring in a thin layer of sand and deposit it over a large area, then bring in a thin layer of clay and allow this to settle quietly – all in a matter of minutes? And then repeat the whole performance fifteen thousand times?

It seems rather obvious that there is only one way in which such a series of events could possibly occur. God would have had to direct and control the whole process miraculously to achieve this result. But what of our agreed rules, that God would not use his powers to produce an effect which would mislead scientists, and that the Flood operated by Whitcomb’s ‘purely natural processes’?

Once more we are back at the same old dilemma. ‘Flood geology’ can be made to work only if we prop it up in many places with Gosse-like explanations.

Too many fossils

Recent-creationists are well aware that there are a great many fossils in the earth’s crust. Morris and Parker, for example, state that ‘the Karroo Beds in Africa contain the remains of perhaps 800 billion vertebrates.’20 Yet they never seem to spend any time pondering the consequences if, as they assert, all these animals died in the Flood.

Robert Schadewald21 has now carried out some of the calculations that recent-creationists have avoided. 800 billion, if spread over the entire land surface of our planet, would average 21 animals per acre. The Karroo fossils range from lizards to animals the size of cows, with the average size about that of a fox.

And that is only the fossilized animals found in one spot. By what should we multiply this figure to allow for all the other fossil deposits all over the world, and for the animals that drowned in the Flood but whose bodies putrefied instead of fossilizing? A million? A thousand? Schadewald decides to be conservative and multiplies by only a hundred, which is almost certainly far too low a figure.

But even that highly conservative estimate leads to 2100 animals per acre, which allows them each a plot the size of a hearthrug. Try feeding somebody’s pet rabbit on the produce from that much ground, and see how long he survives.

That is only the beginning of the fossil problem, however. The vast majority of all fossils are shellfish. Chalk is composed almost entirely of such fossils. Many limestones also contain high proportions of fossil shellfish. To allow for other rocks which may be devoid of fossils, Schadewald estimates that on average there is at least 0.1 per cent of marine fossil material in sedimentary rock. This is undoubtedly a great underestimate, because it is known that about 20 per cent of the sedimentary rocks are chalk, limestone and similar materials.22 We could multiply Schadewald’s figure by 10 and still end up with an underestimate. From his ultra-conservative estimate Schadewald concludes:

If all the fossilized [marine] animals could be resurrected, they would cover the entire planet [land and sea] to a depth of at least 1-5 feet. What did they eat?

Schadewald may be an unbeliever, but it must be admitted that he has a point. It really does not make sense to assert that all the multitude of fossils in the earth’s crust have come from a single generation of living creatures.

Coal seams

Most recent-creationist books have a page or two on coal. They always deal with the subject in a negative manner, by showing that orthodox geology still has some unsolved problems in this area. They point out, for example, that sometimes a fossil tree trunk is found projecting through two or more coal seams, and that sometimes a coal seam will fork into two seams separated vertically by a layer of rock.

Such cases are indeed a problem for ordinary geology. But let us not exaggerate the size of the problem, as ‘Flood geologists’ are wont to do. Although such ‘polystrate fossils’ are not rare, they affect only a relatively small number – perhaps one per cent – of the world’s many coal seams. They show that a small minority of coal seams must have been formed in some exceptional fashion that is not yet understood, although research into the problem continues. Large local floods may have been involved, though this is not yet proved.

The other ninety-nine percent of coal seams present no great problem to the orthodox geologist. They fit quite well the conventional explanation, of vegetation growing in a tropical swamp and then becoming deeply buried and, eventually, metamorphosed into coal.

But whilst conventional geologists cannot yet explain a few exceptional coal seams, ‘Flood geologists’ have a far greater problem. I have yet to see a detailed, plausible explanation of how the Flood could possibly have produced the world’s store of coal. The difficulties involved are so great that the absence of an explanation is not surprising.

The first problem is, as with animal fossils, the sheer quantity existing. Well over a million million tons of coal have already been located. Nobody knows how much remains to be discovered, but one recent book puts total world reserves of coal at 15.3 million million metric tons.23 The most pessimistic authorities would agree that there is at least 5 million million tons, if you include seams too narrow to be worth mining. That works out at 65 pounds of coal for every square yard of our planet’s land surface. Where did the vegetation come from to produce all that coal? The leading botanist Heribert Nilsson pointed out that it takes a lot of wood to produce a little coal. He wrote:

A forest of full-grown beeches gives material only for a [coal] seam of 2 centimetres.24

A layer that thick would weigh about 80 pounds per square yard. At first glance it looks as if the required figure of 65 pounds is not impossible. But wait. We must take into account the following facts:

  1. Coal is not made from beech trees. The abundant fossils in coal show that it is mostly composed of the remains of large fernlike plants, which were on average a good deal smaller than beech trees and had a higher water content.
  2. Not all the earth in Noah’s day would have been covered by this one kind of vegetation. Fossil plants and animals show that there always were many different kinds of habitat in the past, just as there are now.
  3. Most wood has a habit of floating, and only becomes waterlogged when it has been lying in water for years. The Flood could hardly be expected to bury more than a fraction of the vegetation of Noah’s day. Much of it would end up on the surface, and decompose.

When these factors are taken into account, it is evident that the Flood could not possibly have produced as much coal as there is.

Then there is what we might call the problem of mechanics. Coal seams often occur in groups, one above another, with layers of rock between. How did the Flood manage to produce these series of coal seams?

To appreciate the difficulties, imagine a group of frogmen trying to construct just such a layer cake on the seabed, while stormy currents of water surge around them. Their job is to put down a layer of woody vegetation, then a layer of mud or sand, then more vegetation, and so on. How would they achieve this?

With great difficulty, no doubt – unless they were allowed the benefit of modern technology. In that case they could use a wire cage to hold the vegetation down while they shovelled the mud on top. Without some such device the tendency of vegetation to float and wash away would defeat all their efforts.

It is hard to see how the senseless, raging waters of the Flood could have achieved such an unnatural result. Once more we have an example of the central dilemma of ‘Flood geology’. Genesis portrays the Flood as destructive, the most destructive event in history, in fact. Yet ‘Flood geologists’ portray it as constructive, capable of creating many of the finely arranged strata in the earth’s crust. Is not this almost as illogical as attributing creative powers to natural selection?

One last point about coal. The nature of the stuff is all wrong, from the ‘Flood geologists’ point of view. If they were right, coal should contain plenty of fossils of modern vegetation. But it doesn’t. Most coal was made in the Carboniferous Period from species of ferns now extinct. Such coal contains no flowering plants or trees, and none of their pollen which finds its way into practically all the more recent sediments. And radiocarbon tests on coal cut from virgin seams deep inside the earth always give the same result: ‘Too old to give a meaningful reading.’ This is so well established that radiocarbon laboratories now use coal samples to check the zero readings of their equipment.25

Ancient-creationists have no problem here. They accept the fossil evidence that ferns were created first and flourished during the Carboniferous (‘coal-producing’) Period, while flowering plants and trees were created later. But ‘Flood geologists’ are at a loss to explain these findings. Were there no flowering plants in Noah’s day? Once more it is evident that the facts are not in accord with the theory of ‘Flood geology’.

The Yellowstone fossil forests

In and around the Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, there are many square miles of fossilized forests. Petrified forests have also been found in other parts of the world, but the interesting feature of those in Yellowstone is that many of them are stacked one upon another. In one place there are as many as 44 successive forest layers in one huge stack, all buried in a kind of rock that is formed from volcanic ash. What evidently happened was this:

  1. Nearby volcanoes threw up a cloud of ash and chunks of rock, which descended on the forest and buried the trees a few feet deep. This killed the trees and eventually fossilized their lower portions, together with fallen trees and leaves on the forest floor. The tops of the trees, however, stuck up above the ash and slowly rotted away.
  2. The surface of the ash gradually weathered into soil, and a new forest grew there for a while.
  3. Then the volcano erupted again and the whole process recurred, time after time.

Because there are thousands of feet of fossil-bearing rock beneath the fossil forests, ‘Flood geologists’ recognize that they cannot have been formed prior to the Flood. This creates a problem for them, for there has not been nearly enough time for all those forests to grow one upon another since the Flood. The solution offered by Whitcomb and Morris26 is that the whole formation was produced by the Flood, in the following way:

  1. First, the Flood deposited thousands of feet of sediments, complete with the living things that later became fossilized.
  2. After that, it washed up a layer of uprooted trees and left them exposed on top of the sediments, and temporarily receded.
  3. A volcano then ejected a cloud of ash, and buried these trees in it.
  4. This was followed by another great wave of water, carrying lots more floating trees. It did not wash away the freshly deposited ash, but spread out the trees on top of the ash layer as the water receded again.
  5. Then the volcano buried this second batch of trees in ash, after which the Flood surged up again with another load of trees. And so on, until many layers of alternating wood and ash had been deposited – all within a few months while the Flood was upon the earth.

Intuitively, one feels that such a suggestion is unconvincing. Such co-ordinated behaviour by the Flood and the volcano could not have occurred by mere chance. Only a miraculous operation, of the Gosse kind, could have achieved such a result. But let us see what a leading expert has to say.

Dr Richard Ritland is a palaeontologist who has done a great deal of field research on these fossil forests. He also happens to have long-standing connections with the Seventh-Day Adventists – the church that originally fostered the twentieth-century revival of ‘Flood geology’. His theological background might therefore be expected to incline him to agree with the above explanation. But he does not. His field work has led him to state:

The transport theory for the origin of the fossil forests of the region as suggested by Whitcomb and Morris is not in harmony with the facts.27

The reasons for this conclusion are given in detail in a paper by himself and Stephen Ritland.28 To quote just a few of them:

  1. Floods carrying trees create ‘log-jams’, with a tangled mass of tree trunks pointing in all directions. But the Yellowstone petrified forests are not at all like this. The majority of the fossil trunks are upright, in positions of growth, and most of the rest are horizontal, like trees that have fallen on a forest floor.
  2. The spacing of the upright trunks is generally similar to that of trees in living forests.
  3. Some of the layers contain trees of all ages, while others contain only young trees, thus representing forests that had not been growing very long when they were buried.
  4. The fossil leaves on the forest floor are not flattened like leaves that have been buried when wet, but have the surface profile of leaves that were buried in a dry condition.
  5. There are no widespread silt deposits as would be expected in any major flood.

Recently another Christian geologist, Dr William Fritz, has made a detailed study of these forests, with the ‘Flood geologists” theory in mind. He found nothing to support such an idea, though he did find evidence that some of the upright stumps had slid down the mountainside into their final positions. Nevertheless, he concluded:

Even though I believe transportation of upright stumps to have occurred, I argue that many were preserved in place.29 (My italics.)

Thus the Yellowstone fossil forests remain what they have always been: a unique natural formation bearing evidence of many thousands of years’ history. ‘Flood geology’ cannot possibly explain it without falling back on either an unbelievable series of coincidences, or a miracle designed to produce an entirely unnatural result.

Why do fossils of a feather flock together?

We noted earlier that fossils of any particular kind tend to occur at one particular level in the geological column, which is why the various rock levels, or ‘systems’ as geologists call them, can be identified by their fossils.

Thus near the bottom of the column we find the very ancient Cambrian layer, where the animal fossils are all invertebrates (creatures without backbones). Higher up is the Carboniferous, characterized by the coal-forming ferns and by amphibians. Later comes the Jurassic, where the dinosaurs ruled; and higher still the Tertiary, with its numerous mammals.

All this points towards a series of geological ‘periods’: an early age of invertebrates, with a later age of amphibians, later still an age of dinosaurs, and then an age of mammals. (This is in fact a great oversimplification, because there are many more distinct periods than those four.)

‘Flood geologists’, of course, reject this interpretation, and say that all these fossils are of living things that died in the Flood. This leaves them with the problem of explaining how the fossils come to be arranged in such well-defined zones. How do they do it? So far as I have been able to discover they have offered only three possible explanations, none of which sounds likely.

The first might be described as the Theory of Hydraulic Sorting. If you put a handful of gravel, a handful of sand and a handful of clay in a bucket of water and stir it, a layer of gravel will settle out first, then the sand, and lastly the clay. But there will not be a clearcut division between adjacent layers; there will be quite a bit of overlap, in contrast to some of the fossil layers in the rocks, which have a sharp cut-off. Passing over this minor difficulty we soon come to a major one.

The theory proposes that the Flood swept up all the creatures that were fossilized, and allowed them to settle. The larger and denser bodies dropped to the bottom first, the smaller and less dense ones last.

It is an ingenious theory but it is in conflict with the facts. Many trilobites, for instance, are small and of low density;30 yet they are found only at the bottom of the geological column. And they are found at exactly the same level as much larger trilobites, instead of being sorted according to size. Then there are nautiloids and ammonoids, whose beautiful spiral fossils are abundant on the cliffs at Lyme Regis in Dorset; their shells contain buoyancy chambers, and are therefore very light – yet they are never found in the upper levels. And ammonoid specimens ranging in size from a fraction of an inch to several feet across are all found together in the same deposit.31

On the other hand, turtles, which are both large and dense, are only found in the middle and upper layers of rock, never in the lower ones. The Hydraulic Sorting Theory is clearly a non-starter.

Next, there is what I shall call the Theory of Differential Mobility. This holds that the most mobile creatures fled to the high ground and were the last to be drowned, while the least mobile stayed where they were and so were the first to perish. Hence you find shellfish in the lowest layers; the sluggish dinosaurs were only able to make the foothills, and so are concentrated in the middle layers; and nimble human beings all fled to the mountain tops.

This sounds fine, until you stop to think. Then you begin to wonder: why is there not a single human fossil below the topmost layer? Were there no inhabitants of the coastal plains overwhelmed in their sleep? No cripples or sick folk unable to flee? And why are the pterodactyl fossils all in the middle layers? You would think that at least one or two of them would have flapped their way to the hilltops. Then there is the little problem of vegetable fossils. As R. J. Schadewald has put it:

A scenario with magnolias (a primitive plant) heading for the hills, only to be overwhelmed along with early mammals, is unconvincing. And when marine fossils are found in many places above those of land animals and plants, [this theory] loses all credibility, too.32

‘Flood geology’s’ favourite theory

Finally, there is the Theory of Ecological Zoning, which seems to be the one on which ‘Flood geologists’ currently pin their hopes. The basic idea is that the Flood deposited marine creatures at the bottom of the geological column because originally they lived in the lowest places. Creatures from the seashore would naturally come next, then those from lowland regions, and so on. In 1982, Morris and Parker spoke of the Theory like this:

According to creationists, the geological systems represent different ecological zones, the buried remains of plants and animals that once lived together in the same environment. A walk through Grand Canyon, then, is not like a walk through evolutionary time; instead, it’s like a walk from the bottom of the ocean, across the tidal zone, over the shore, across the lowlands, and on into the upland regions.33

This also looks plausible – as long as you don’t take the trouble to think about it. After a moment’s thought, a huge difficulty is apparent. Morris and Parker’s walk from the bottom of the ocean to the upland regions would typically cover at least a hundred miles, horizontally. In the wall of the Grand Canyon, however, those various ecological zones are compressed into one mile, vertically. How did they get there?

Orthodox geology has no problem. Hundreds of millions of years ago the site of the Canyon was under water. Later, the sea evidently receded and the region became a coastal zone, while later still the land rose higher and the Rockies were formed.

But ‘Flood geologists’ have not yet published any details of their Ecological Zoning Theory. How did the Flood manage to transport all those marine creatures more than four hundred miles, and spread them neatly over a great area of Arizona? And, after that, to transport layers of inter-tidal life, and life from the coastal plains, some three to four hundred miles and place them in successive layers? And then top off with layers of living things from the uplands – and all without scrambling the various layers?

When the mind has finished boggling at that thought, it is time to contemplate that the Grand Canyon is by no means the only place to present this problem. Oil company borings have revealed hundreds of sites all over the world where the same sort of vertical zoning occurs. They are found in the mountains, in the plains, and far out at sea in the offshore oil-fields. Over a large part of the earth’s surface, if the Ecological Zoning Theory is correct, the Flood scooped up hundred-mile tracts of surface complete with their inhabitants, and then neatly arranged them into one-mile deep stacks – and in the right sequence, and without intermingling.

If any ‘Flood geologists’ know how the Flood could have achieved this, by Whitcomb’s ‘purely natural processes’, then they should speak out. Until they do, the rest of us must be forgiven for thinking that there is only one way it could have happened in Noah’s time: for God to have worked a whole series of mighty miracles beneath the waters of the Flood.

Even if the Flood could have achieved such a remarkable result in one place, it could not possibly have done so all over the world. The average thickness of fossil-bearing rock throughout the world is about a mile. Yet the precious layer of soil in and on which all life must live (except for swimming fishes and floating plants) is never more than a few feet thick. Did the Flood pick up that thin layer and with it produce sedimentary rock one mile thick? Because, if so, God must have multiplied that precious layer, and its quota of once-living things, like the loaves and fishes of Galilee!

Which brings us back, inexorably, to our earlier conclusion. The Flood cannot possibly have left the earth’s crust the way it is – not unless God worked great miracles to produce an unnatural effect, thus leading geologists along a false trail. In other words, if the ‘Flood geologists’ are right, then Gosse’s ‘deceit theory’ must have been true after all.

But if, as the ‘Flood geologists’ themselves assert, Gosse was wrong and our God does not deceive people, then ‘Flood geology’ is nothing more than a lovely pipe-dream.

They can’t have it both ways.


1. Cited by P. C. W. Davies in reference 21 of chapter 4, p. 221.

2. H. Morris, The Twilight of Evolution (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co, Philadelphia, 1963), pp. 56, 57.

3. J. C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth. Evangelical Press, London, 1972, pp. 32, 37. (L. H. Worrad, Jr. makes a similar point in an article in Creation Research Society Quarterly, 13 (March 1977), pp. 199-201, entitled ‘God Does Not Deceive Men.’ He points out that ‘the essence of deceitfulness lies in the intent’; God undoubtedly did not intend to deceive us.)

4. J. Byrt, ‘The roles of the Bible and of science in understanding creation.’ Faith and Thought, 103(3), 1976, pp. 158-88.

5. In reference 17 of chapter 5, pp. 196-8.

6. In reference 22 of chapter 7, p. 136.

7. In reference 9 of chapter 5, p. 58.

8. C. R. Longwell, article, ‘Geology’. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1973, vol. 10, p. 175.

9. D. B. Gower, Radiometric Dating Methods. Pamphlet No. 207 of the Creation Science Movement, Worthing, Sussex (formerly the Evolution Protest Movement).

10. J. C. Whitcomb and H. M. Morris, The Genesis Flood. Presbyterian & Reformed, Philadelphia, 1961.

11. J. C. Whitcomb, The World that Perished. Baker, Grand Rapids, 1973, p. 67.

12. In reference 22 of chapter 7, p. 103.

13. R. A. Moore, ‘The impossible voyage of Noah’s ark.’ Creation/Evolution, 11 (Winter 1983), pp. 1-43.

14. Genesis 7.20.

15. R. A. Moore, op. cit.

16. This is because in a thick deposit, containing many strata, the lower strata need time to harden before the upper layers are deposited. A single flood provides only enough time for a limited number of strata to be laid down.

17. Reference 22 of chapter 7.

18. D. E. Wonderly, in reference 7 of chapter 6, p. 130.

19. E. F. McBride, ‘Flysch sedimentation in the Marathon region.’ In: J. Lajoie, ed., Flysch Sedimentology in North America. Geological Association of Canada 1970, pp. 67-83.

20. In reference 17 of chapter 5, p. 138.

21. R. J. Schadewald, ‘Six “Flood” arguments creationists can’t answer.’ Creation/Evolution (9), Summer 1982, p. 12.

22. J. E. Sanders & G. M. Friedman, ‘Origin and occurrence of limestones’, in Developments in Sedimentology, No. 9A, Carbonate Rocks, 1967, p. 193. Also B. B. Hanshaw, ‘Inorganic geochemistry of carbonate shelf rocks’, American Assoc. of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin (abstract), 55 (1969), p. 720. (Cited by D. E. Wonderly in reference 7 of chapter 6.)

23. G. Foley, The Energy Question. Penguin, London, 1976, p. 115. (Cited by Hitching, in reference 20 of chapter 3.)

24. H. Nilsson, Synthetische Artbildung, Lund University, Gleerup, Sweden, 1954, p. 1198. (Cited by Hitching, in reference 20 of chapter 3.)

25. Living things derive freshly-generated carbon-14 from the air. When they die, this store of carbon-14 gradually decays. When their remains are more than 40,000 years old, less than one per cent of the original carbon-14 is left. The radiation emitted by this minute amount then becomes practically impossible to detect, because it is swamped by the background radiation that is always with us. Occasional reports by amateur geologists that they have found radiocarbon dates of (say) 50,000 years on coal are undoubtedly the consequence of their inexperience with background radiation. A few early measurements on coal contaminated with recent material have given young ages, as would be expected. But all authentic measurements on ordinary coal can be relied upon to give a result of ‘no carbon-14 left’. On the other hand, meaningful radiocarbon dates have been obtained on various frozen Siberian mammoth carcases, ranging from 11,450 to 39,000 years old, according to C. G. Weber. (‘Common creationist attacks on geology.’ Creation/ Evolution, 2 (Fall 1980), p. 10.) This provides one more problem for ‘Flood geologists,’ who assert that coal and the mammoths are the same age.

26. In reference 10, above, pp. 418-21.

27. R. M. Ritland, private communication, 1983.

28. R. M. Ritland and S. L. Ritland, ‘The fossil forests of the Yellowstone region.’ Spectrum (a Quarterly Journal of the Association of Adventist Forums), 1974 (1 and 2), pp. 19-65.

29. W. J. Fritz, ‘Geology of the Lamar River formation, Northeast Yellowstone National Park.’ Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Field Conference of the Wyoming Geological Association, 1972, pp. 73-101.

30. This is because their skeletons are composed of both calcium carbonate and chitin. The statement on p. 274 of The Genesis Flood (reference 10, above) attributing high density to trilobites is erroneous. (Based on a private communication from D. E. Wonderly.)

31. The Observer’s Book of British Geology. Frederick Warne, London & New York, 1949, pp. 151-3.

32. Op. cit.

33. In reference 17 of chapter 5, p. 131.

Author: Alan Hayward

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