Catastrophic Plate Tectonics | The Institute for Creation Research

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics


In Western culture during the first few decades of the 19th century, the uniformitarian interpretation of the earth’s physical history supplanted the Bible’s account of that history. One reason for this was simple. Staggering thicknesses of fossil-bearing sediment layers cover much of the earth’s continental surface. The defenders of the biblical view could not provide a credible conceptual picture of how the Flood cataclysm could possibly have generated these layers within the time constraints of the Genesis text. Sadly, the inability to answer this vicious assault on biblical authority continued well into the 20th century.


Discoveries from the ocean bottom during the 1950s and 1960s, enabled by sonar technology from World War II, opened a door to fresh possibilities. This technology provided detailed topography of the world’s ocean floor for the first time. It revealed an underwater mountain chain some 40,000 miles long as well as deep trenches of approximately the same total length.

A flurry of ocean bottom explorations during the 1960s led to further momentous findings, including the fact that all of today’s igneous ocean crust is younger than all the sediments on the continents classified as Paleozoic. By the early 1970s, these discoveries precipitated a shocking scientific revolution, with the framework known as plate tectonics replacing earlier ideas.


In spring 1978, I was engaged in creation apologetics as a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member. I delved into the question of how the findings that undergird plate tectonics might relate to the Genesis Flood. I was almost overwhelmed by the realization that because all of today’s igneous ocean floor is younger than much of the fossil-bearing sediment record, all the basaltic crust of today’s ocean floor must therefore have been erupted and cooled during the Flood.

This implied that the Flood, in significant measure, logically must have been a tectonic cataclysm involving processes in the earth’s interior. Seeking God’s direction in how to respond to this realization, I left Campus Crusade and that fall began graduate studies in geophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles. My goal was to acquire the training needed to investigate this topic at a professional scientific level.

At UCLA, God opened amazing doors to me, including the opportunity to develop a 3-D numerical model of flow of rock inside the earth that was suitable for exploring the physics behind an episode of very rapid plate tectonics. He also enabled me to earn a Ph.D. and begin a professional career as a computational scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Already at that time, mineral physics experiments were demonstrating that silicate minerals weaken dramatically under shear stress conditions that can arise inside the earth. Subsequent numerical studies revealed that the extreme sensitivity of mantle rock strength to increasing stress and temperature means that a catastrophic mantle overturn and a complete resurfacing of the planet can truly occur. Determinations of the age of the ocean floor relative to the continental sediments combined with the Bible’s clear testimony concerning the Flood provide the secure logical basis for catastrophic plate tectonics (CPT). And the laboratory experiments and numerical simulations supply many of the details concerning the physical processes involved.1


Another major piece of the puzzle has come into place during the past 10 to 12 years with the realization that the rapid recycling of the ocean floor into the earth during the Flood generated vast numbers of giant tsunamis. A global numerical model that incorporates this tsunami generation process, along with cavitation erosion of continental bedrock and transport and deposition of sediment by turbulent water, shows that CPT-generated tsunamis can indeed erode, transport, and deposit the amount of sediment observed on today’s continents during the timespan of the Flood. Moreover, the resulting sediment distribution pattern matches the observed pattern to a remarkable degree.2 To God be the glory!


  1. Baumgardner, J. R. 2003. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: The Physics Behind the Genesis Flood. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism. R. L. Ivey, Jr., ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 113–126.
  2. Baumgardner, J. R. 2018. Understanding How the Flood Sediment Record Was Formed: The Role of Large Tsunamis. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism. J. H. Whitmore, ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 287–305.

* Dr. Baumgardner earned his Ph.D. in geophysics and space physics from UCLA.

Cite this article: John Baumgardner, Ph.D. 2023. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics. Acts & Facts. 52 (10).

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