Geology and the Flood
by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.
In the early days of geology, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries, the dominant explanation for the sedimentary rocks and their fossilized contents was that they had been laid down in the great Flood of the days of Noah. This was the view of Steno, the "father of stratigraphy", whose principles of stratigraphic interpretation are still followed today, and of John Woodward, Sir Isaac Newton’s hand-picked successor at Cambridge, whose studies on sedimentary processes laid the foundation for modern sedimentology and geomorphology. These men and the other flood geologists of their day were careful scientists, thoroughly acquainted with the sedimentary rocks and the geophysical processes which formed them. In common with most other scientists of their day, they believed in God and the divine authority of the Bible. Evolution and related naturalistic speculations had been confined largely to the writings of social philosophers and rationalistic theologians.
Toward the end of the 18th century, and especially in the first half of the 19th century, the ancient pagan evolutionary philosophies began to be revived and promoted by the various socialistic revolutionary movements of the times. These could make little headway, however, as long as the scientists were predominantly creationists. Evolution obviously required aeons of geologic time and the scientific community, including the great Isaac Newton himself, was committed to the Usher chronology, with its recent special creation and worldwide Flood.
Therefore, it was necessary, first of all, that the Flood be displaced as the framework of geologic interpretation, so that earth history could once again, as in the days of the ancient Greek and Oriental philosophers, be expanded into great reaches and cycles of time over endless ages. Geologic catastrophism must be, at all costs replaced by uniformitarianism, which would emphasize the slow, uniform processes or the present as a sufficient explanation for all earth structures and past history. This was accomplished in two stages: first. the single cataclysm of the Flood was replaced by the multiple catastrophes and new creations of Cuvier and Buckland, each separated from the next by a long period of uniform processes; second, these periodic catastrophes were gradually de-emphasized and the uniformitarian intervals enlarged until the latter finally incorporated the entire history.
It is significant that this uniformitarian revolution was led, not by professional scientific geologists, but by amateurs, men such as Buckland (a theologian), Cuvier (an anatomist), Buffon (a lawyer), Hutton (an agriculturalist), Smith (a surveyor), Chambers (a journalist), Lyell (a lawyer), and others of similar variegated backgrounds. The acceptance of Lyell’s uniformitarianism laid the foundation for the sudden success of Darwinism in the decade following the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin frequently acknowledged his debt to Lyell, who he said gave him the necessary time required for natural selection to produce meaningful evolutionary results.
Nevertheless, the actual facts or geology still favored catastrophism, and flood geology never died completely. Although the uniformitarian philosophers could point to certain difficulties in the Biblical geology of their predecessors, there were still greater difficulties in uniformitarianism. Once uniformitarianism had served its purpose—namely, that of selling the scientific community and the general public on the great age of the earth—then geologists could again use local catastrophic processes whenever required for specific geologic interpretations. Stephen Gould has expressed it this way:
"Methodological uniformitarianism was useful only when science was debating the status of the supernatural in its realm." 1
Heylmun goes even further:
"The fact is, the doctrine of uniformitarianism is no more ‘proved’ than some of the early ideas of world-wide cataclysms have been disproved."2
With adequate time apparently available, assisted by man’s natural inclination to escape from God if possible, Darwin’s theory of evolution by chance variation and natural selection was eagerly accepted by the learned world. Pockets of scientific resistance in the religious community were quickly neutralized by key clerical endorsements of the "day-age theory", which seemingly permitted Christians to hang on to Genesis while at the same time riding the popular wave of long ages and evolutionary progress. For those fundamentalists who insisted that the creation week required a literal interpretation, the "gap theory" ostensibly permitted them to do so merely by inserting the geologic ages in an imaginary gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, thus ignoring their evolutionary implications.
The Biblical Deluge was similarly shorn of scientific significance by reinterpreting it in terms of a "local flood" or, for those few people who insisted that the Genesis narrative required a universal inundation, a "tranquil flood". Lyell himself proposed a worldwide tranquil flood that left no geological traces. In any case, the field of earth history, was taken over almost completely by evolutionists.
In turn, this capitulation of the scientists to evolution was an enormous boon to the social revolutionaries, who could now proclaim widely that their theories of social change were grounded in natural science. For example, Karl Marx and the Communists quickly aligned themselves with evolutionary geology and biology, Marx even asking to dedicate his Das Kapital to Charles Darwin.
"However harshly a philosopher may judge this characterization of Marx’s theory (i.e., that Marxism unites science and revolution intrinsically and inseparably) an historian can hardly fail to agree that Marx’s claim to give scientific guidance to those who would transform society has been one of the chief reasons for his doctrine’s enormous influence."3
The "science" referred to in the above is, in context, nothing but naturalistic evolution based on uniformitarian geology. Similarly, Nietzschean racism, Freudian amoralism, and military imperialism all had their roots in the same soil and grew in the same climate.
Yet all the while the foundation was nothing but sand. Uniformitarian geology was contrary to both the Bible and to observable science. Now, a hundred years later, the humanistic and naturalistic culture erected upon that foundation is beginning to crumble, and men are beginning again to look critically at the foundation.
The two Biblical compromise positions are now widely recognized as unacceptable, either theologically or scientifically. A brief discussion of the fallacies of the "day-age" and "gap" theories, as well as "theistic evolution" and "progressive creation" appeared in Impact Article No. 5, of the ICR ACTS & FACTS, "Evolution and the Bible."
The local-flood theory is even less defensible. The entire Biblical account of the Flood is absurd if read in a local-flood context. For example, there was obviously no need for any kind of an ark if the flood were only a local flood. Yet the Bible describes it as a huge vessel with a volumetric capacity which can be shown to be equal to that of over 500 standard railroad stock cars! According to the account, the ark floated freely over all the high mountains and finally came to rest, five months later, on the mountains of Ararat. The highest of these mountains today is 17,000 feet in elevation, and a flood which could cover such a mountain six months or more was no local flood!
Furthermore, God’s promise never to send such a flood again, sealed with the continuing testimony of the rainbow, has been broken again and again if the Flood was only a local flood.
A list of 96 reasons why the Flood must be understood as worldwide is given in one of the writer’s books.4
The tranquil-flood theory is even more ridiculous. It is difficult to believe anyone could take it seriously and yet a number of modern evangelical geologists do believe in this idea. Even local floods are violent phenomena and uniformitarian geologists today believe they are responsible for most of the geologic deposits of the earth’s crust. A universal Flood that could come and go softly, leaving no geologic evidence of its passage, would require an extensive complex of miracles for its accomplishment. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the hydraulics of moving water and the hydrodynamic forces associated with it would know that a world-wide "tranquil" flood is about as reasonable a concept as a tranquil explosion!
As far as science is concerned, it should be remembered that events of the past are not reproducible, and are, therefore, inaccessible to the scientific method. Neither uniformitarianism nor catastrophism can actually be proved scientifically. Nevertheless, the Flood model fits all the geologic facts more directly and simply, with a smaller number of qualifications and secondary assumptions, than does the uniformitarian model.
An obvious indication of global water activity is the very existence of sedimentary rocks all over the world which, by definition, were formed by the erosion, transportation, and deposition of sediments by moving water with the sediments gradually converted into stone after they had been deposited.
Similarly, an obvious indicator of catastrophism is the existence of fossils in the sedimentary rocks. The depositional processes must have been rapid, or fossils could not have been preserved in them.
"To become fossilized, a plant or animal must usually have hard parts, such as bone, shell, or wood. It must be buried quickly to prevent decay and must be undisturbed throughout the long process."5
The importance of this fact is obvious when one realizes that the identification of the geologic "age" of any given sedimentary rock depends solely upon the assemblage of fossils which it contains. The age does not depend on radiometric dating, as is obvious from the fact that the geologic age system had been completely worked out and most major formations dated before radioactivity was even discovered. Neither does the age depend upon the mineralogic or petrologic character of a rock, as is obvious from the fact that rocks of all types of composition, structure, and degree of hardness can be found in any "age". It does not depend upon vertical position in the local geologic strata, since rocks of any "age" may and do rest horizontally and conformably on rocks of any other age. No, a rock is dated solely by its fossils.
"The only chronometric scale applicable in geologic history for the stratigraphic classification of rocks and for dating geologic events exactly is furnished by the fossils. Owing to the irreversibility of evolution, they offer an unambiguous time-scale for relative age determinations and for world-wide correlation of rocks."6
Thus, the existence and identification of distinctive geologic ages is based on fossils in the sedimentary rocks. On the other hand, the very existence of fossils in sedimentary rocks is prima facie evidence that each such fossiliferous rock was formed by aqueous catastrophism. The one question, therefore, is whether the rocks were formed by a great multiplicity of local catastrophes scattered through many ages, or by a great complex of local catastrophes all conjoined contemporaneously in one single age, terminated by the cataclysm.
The latter is the most likely. Each distinctive stratum was laid down quickly, since it obviously represents a uniform set of water flow conditions, and such uniformity never persists very long. Each set of strata in a given formation must also have been deposited in rapid succession, or there would be evidence of unconformity—that is, periods of uplift and erosion—at the various interfaces.
Where unconformity does exist, say at the top of a formation, there may well have been an interval of uplift or tilting, at that location. followed by either sub-aerial or sub-marine erosion for a time. However, since such formations invariably grade laterally into other formations (no unconformity, is worldwide), sooner or later one will come to a location where there is a conformable relationship between this formation and the one above it. Thus, each formation is succeeded somewhere by another one which was deposited rapidly after the first one ... and so on throughout the entire geologic column.
Thus, there is no room anywhere for long ages. Each formation must have been produced rapidly, as evidenced by both its fossils and its depositional characteristics, and each formation must have been followed rapidly by another one, which was also formed rapidly! The whole sequence, therefore, must have been formed rapidly, exactly as the Flood model postulates.
But, then. what about the geologic ages? Remember that the only means of identifying these ages is by fossils and fossils speak of rapid formation. Even assuming a very slow formation of these beds, however, how can fossils tell the age of a rock?
Obviously, fossils could be distinctive time markers only if the various kinds each had lived in different ages. But how can we know which fossils lived in which ages? No scientists were there to observe them, and true science requires observation. Furthermore, by analogy with the present (and uniformitarianism is supposed to be able to decipher the past in terms of the present), many different kinds of plants and animals are living in the present world, including even the "primitive" one-celled organisms with which evolution is supposed to have begun. Why, therefore, isn’t it better to assume that all major kinds also lived together in past ages as well? Some kinds, such as the dinosaurs, have become extinct, but practically all present-day kinds of organisms are also found in the fossil world.
The only reason for thinking that different fossils should represent different ages is the assumption of evolution. If evolution is really true, then of course fossils should provide an excellent means for identifying the various ages, an "unambiguous time-scale," as Schindewolf put it. Hedberg says:
"Fossils have furnished, through their record of the evolution of life on this planet, an amazingly effective key to the relative positioning of strata in widely-separated regions."7
The use of fossils as time-markers thus depends completely on "their record of evolution." But, then, how do we know that evolution is true? Why, because of the fossil record!
"Fossils provide the only historical, documentary evidence that life has evolved from simpler to more and more complex forms."8
So the only proof of evolution is based on the assumption of evolution! The system of evolution arranges the fossils, the fossils date the rocks, and the resulting system of fossil-dated rocks proves evolution. Around and around we go.
How much more simple and direct it would be to explain the fossil-bearing rocks as the record in stone of the destruction of the antediluvian world by the great Flood. The various fossil assemblages represent, not evolutionary stages developing over many ages, but rather ecological habitats in various parts of the world in one age. Fossils of simple marine invertebrate animals are normally found at the lowest elevations in the geologic strata for the simple reason that they live at the lowest elevations. Fossils or birds and mammals are found only at the higher elevations because they live at higher elevations and also because they are more mobile and could escape burial longer. Human fossils are extremely rare because men would only very rarely be trapped and buried in flood sediments at all, because of their high mobility. The sediments of the "ice-age" at the highest levels are explained in terms of the drastically changed climates caused by the Flood.
The flood theory of geology,9 which was so obvious and persuasive to the founders of geology, is thus once again beginning to be recognized as the only theory which is fully consistent with the actual facts of geology, as well as with the testimony of Scripture.
Stephen Jay Gould: "Is Uniformitarianism Necessary?" American Journal of Science, Vol. 263, (March 1965), p. 227.
Edgar B. Heylmun: "Should We Teach Uniformitarianism!", Journal of Geological Education, Vol. 19, January 1971, p. 35.
David Jorafsky: Soviet Marxism and Natural Science (New York, Columbia University Press, 1961), p. 12.
Henry M. Morris: The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth (San Diego, Institute for Creation Research, 1972), 114 pp. [Editor's note: Referenced book is out of print. "Genesis Record" book lists 100 reasons why the Flood must be understood as worldwide.
Henry M. Morris: The Genesis Record (San Diego, Institute for Creation Research, 1976) 716 pp.
F. H. T. Rhodes, H. S. Zim and P. R. Shaffer: Fossils (New York, Golden Press, 1962). p. 10.
O. H. Schindewolf, "Comments on Some Stratigraphic Terms", American Journal of Science, Vol. 255, June 1957, p. 394.
H. D. Hedberg: "The Stratigraphic Panorama", Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 72, April 1961, pp. 499-518.
C. O. Dunbar: Historical Geology (New York, Wiley, 1960), p. 47.
See The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris (Nutley, N. J., Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), for a much more extensive treatment of the various topics discussed in this brief paper. Available also through the Institute for Creation Research.
The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb (1961, 518 pp.)
The Genesis Record by Henry M. Morris (1976, 716 pp.)
The Beginning of the World by Henry M. Morris (2nd ed. 1991, 184 pp.)
* Henry M. Morris is Director of the Institute for Creation Research, as well as the Academic Vice-President of Christian Heritage College. He received his Ph.D. in hydraulics, with minors in geology and mathematics. He has spent thirty years in education and research, including thirteen years as Professor of Hydraulic Engineering and Chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is also President of the Creation Research Society.