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Dinosaurs for Dummies                                  Richard Dawkins                                                   More To Life

Built on Rock ! Exploring Answers to Questions about Life, The Universe & Everything
Geology of the Earth

What Kind of Processes Caused the Geology of the Earth and Over What Timescale?

Was it Over Millions of years of Slow and Gradual Change: Or was it Something Else?

The following is a necessary introduction to a complex subject

Evolution cannot begin to operate as a theory without a hundreds millions of years timescale. A theory called Uniformitarianism supplied that need. It is often not realised just how much the theory of evolution needs this linked relationship. The first theory gave credence to the second and greatly helped Darwinism become embedded within the public consciousness. The strangely named first theory, which predates Darwinism, asserts that the geology of the earth has been shaped by processes that work at more or less constant rates. This means gradual change, similar to the rates of erosion and deposition observed during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was these slow rates that so influenced the two highly regarded scientists credited with devising the theory of Uniformitarianism.

Whether or not this theory was originally designed as a direct contradiction to the beliefs of Bible believing Christians is questionable; but whatever the intention, that is how it developed. Biblical Catastrophism, the idea that the Earth was shaped by a series of sudden, short-lived creation events, followed later by violent upheavals of the earth's crust and a global flood was supplanted by this new theory. It was initiated by James Hutton and developed by Charles Lyell. To this day their theory neatly summarised by the catchy "the present is the key to the past" plays a major role; being a vital component of evolutionary theory.

But things have moved on substantially since their day. The original ideas, generated during periods of comparative ignorance are now much adapted and altered. But they still persist; ideas once established are hard to shift, especially those that caused the abandonment of a very long held biblically based belief system. The old belief in a great flood and catastrophes was swept away by these 18th and 19th century thinkers. The old religious faith and the Bible were usurped and made to look ridiculous by this new wave of thinkers, philosophers and scientists, led by men like Hutton, Darwin, Huxley and Lyell. Not all of them were atheists by any means. But the atheistic philosophies developed during the Renaissance period found in evolutionary theory a platform from which it could mount an attack on the Judaeo Christian faith. The ancient explanation for the geology of the earth and its timescale which had been thoroughly biblical was dethroned. Even the great evangelical preacher Charles Spurgeon who had an extreme dislike for Darwinism seemed prepared to accept the millions of years as a real possibility.

However, this once brave new world now begins to look its age. It is essentially 19th century and like anything old it requires more and more care and attention. Many an ancient building has to be buttressed by modern supports and regularly repaired. Some of the base foundations are being challenged, and others have already been swept away. Evolution is now a word that carries a multitude of meanings and explanations. The simple construction that looked so secure approaching the middle of the twentieth century now looks very different. The waters are muddied and disturbed, and the old certainties are being worn away by recent discoveries. This is true in the areas of biology and paleontology and is just as true for geology.

The old age model of the earth is still the current scientific orthodoxy. In geological textbooks and in the media generally it has become the established rule that the rocks and the fossils buried within them testify to the long age, multi-million year theories first proposed by the 18th and 19th century geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell. This idea influenced Darwin deeply. He took Lyell's influential book with him on the Beagle voyage to the Galapagos Islands. Darwin envisioned evolution in the same way Lyell saw the geology of the earth. He understood his developing theory in terms of biological uniformitarianism; a process that caused change, but worked too slowly for us to perceive it in operation. Both Lyell and Darwin rejected the idea that catastrophic causes shaped the geology of the earth and that sudden works of creation explained the vast array of species of flora and fauna. And it was his belief that won the day. Uniformitarianism and Evolution became the fixed point against which there was no appeal. Catastrophism was considered a theory that had had its day. The idea of the biblical flood that had once been the dominant belief became increasingly ridiculed.

Uniformitarian’s today takes a more inclusive view, a view forced on them by evidence that could not be denied. They now maintain that while slow and imperceptible processes are the general rule, they concede that catastrophes have in the past occasionally made dramatic contributions to the geology of the earth. This concession was not made easily; it was fought against as if it were a noxious contaminant. This is proved by the fact that the geologist who forced a reversal in this thinking came within a whisker of having his career ended by the favourite tool of evolutionists: ridicule.

Harlan Bretz and the Channelled Scablands of Washington State


This video is of a flight over parts of these Scablands.

The Channelled Scablands are a geologically unique erosional feature where massive erosion cut through basalt deposits. Bretz's theories required cataclysmic water flows to form the landscape. This was seen as arguing for a catastrophic explanation of the geology, against the prevailing view, which was uniformitarian. Bretz encountered resistance to his theories from the geological establishment of the day, the largely Ivy League-based geology elites. The idea of massive floods was not welcome. Catastrophic, which by definition means fast change, did not fit the script. That was and still is the major reason evolutionists shy away from catastrophic explanations, and particularly those that involve vast floods. Why? Because it comes close to validating the old discarded explanation given by the Bible for the present geology of the earth: which includes volcanism, tectonic upheavals and vast global flooding with aftershocks including tsunami’s and underwater turbidity currents.

Bretz was however proved entirely correct, given the highest honour in geology, the Penrose Medal in 1979, and finally vindicated after over fifty years of fighting the geological establishment who had called his theory "insane". The final explanation? A fracture in an ice plug, that had until it was cracked open, constrained the huge glacial lake Missoula lying to the northeast, caused a raging wall of water, up to 900 feet high to sweep westwards through a huge area of the northwest of the USA at speeds up to 60 mph before it emptied into the Pacific Ocean.

These Scablands cover an area similar to the Grand Canyon. This flood produced an astonishing array of geological features, like Dry Falls.


'As the name suggests, Dry Falls no longer carries water, but is the remnant of what was once the largest waterfall known to have existed on earth.  Viewing the 3.5 miles of sheer cliffs that drop 400 feet, it is easy to imagine the roar of water pouring over them.  (Niagara Falls by comparison, is one mile wide with a drop of 165 feet)....The falls were created following the catastrophic collapse of an enormous ice-dam holding back the waters of what has been named "Glacier Lake Missoula".  Water covering three thousand square miles of northwest Montana, about the volume of Lake Ontario, was locked behind this glacial dam until the rising lake penetrated, lifted and then blew out the ice dam.  The massive torrent (known as the Missoula Flood) ran wild through the Idaho panhandle, the Spokane River Valley, much of  eastern Washington and into Oregon, flooding the area that is now the city of Portland under 400 feet of water.'

Quote from gonorthwest.com

David Alt, a geology professor emeritus at the University of Montana has expressed himself surprised that no one has found fossils in Glacial Lake Missoula sediment: no petrified wood, no leaves, and no bones. No record of the plants and animals that lived in and around Lake Missoula. Large animals such as mastodons, beavers the size of bears, bison’s of enormous size were all common during the most recent ice age, and yet there is not a sign of their existence. It is said to be particularly surprising to find evidence of a great lake but with no sign of fish, not even a few scattered scales. What possible reason could there be for the total absence of fish? Classically trained geologists may have no real idea, but here is one to consider.

A flood of biblical proportions wipes all but a residue of fish and other marine creatures from the face of the planet. The subsequent aftershocks of this catastrophe caused massive environmental changes, including ice ages. The later release of the waters from Glacial Lake Missoula, have in the case of the Scablands caused a transformed landscape to be created without leaving any evidence whatsoever of the flora and fauna that once existed. One possible reason? There was simply nothing left of plant or animal life or much of marine life to be fossilised? The Great Flood had destroyed it all maybe a few centuries earlier. The later release of the penned waters of this vast glacial lake swept across lands that were still ravaged and largely denuded of all but the beginnings of new life?

There is an excellent beautifully illustrated website HUGEfloods.com if you want to get some idea of the scale of these features, all exoded by flood water out of an area that was formally a flat plain.

Here are a few more examples of geological terrain carved out suddenly by flood waters and volcanic action.

An unlikely candidate: a Planet without Water! Mars.

Source http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/photo_gallery/photogallery-mars.html http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/planetary/mars/marsglobe1.jpg

Author NASA / USGS (see PIA04304 catalog page)

The truly massive Valles Marineris Canyon seen above appears as an elongated scar across the face of the planet. Scientists believe this geologic feature was caused by huge floods arising from melted ice. Explanations may vary but they are uniformly catastrophic, and many describe the impact of water and floods.

‘At the valley's eastern end, scientists see unmistakable evidence for massive floods. The ground here was so saturated that when the water escaped, the surface collapsed almost completely, leaving only isolated mesas and hills. Not surprisingly, scientists term such regions "chaotic terrain."


The floodwaters eventually poured into the northern lowlands through several outflow channels. From the east end of Valles Marineris, the water flowed through a sequence of channels before reaching the Chryse basin. Northwest of Valles Marineris, a similar flood emerged from a depression called Echus Chasma to form the Kasei Valles outflow channel.


A mystery remains whether these floods were single, overwhelming events in each channel - or a number of separate floods operating on lesser scales. The best evidence suggests the floods occurred in several stages, with at least one large outburst.’

From the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration website.

Creationists are routinely ridiculed for any reference to the geology of the earth that includes a massive and global flood. And yet what is written above refers to a massive, if not global flood, to account for the formation of a geological feature that makes the Grand Canyon look like a dwarf. And these comments are based on physical evidence and made by scientists who should be acceptable to any reasonable evolutionist

Mount St. Helens:

Here is a part of a video by geologist Steve Austin. It gives an idea of what a relatively small volcano can achieve in quick time.

The eruption of Mount St Helens also in Washington State is a modern example of Catastrophism. It blasted through solid rock causing canyons to be formed in hours, and narrow sedimentary layers, laminae, to be formed that under Uniformitarian rules would be thought to have taken many years, maybe hundreds or thousands of years to form.

On Sunday, May 18, 1980, this eruption caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, exposing the partly molten, gas and steam rich rock in the volcano. This rock exploded causing a pyroclastic hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock toward Spirit Lake so fast, 90 mph, that it overtook the avalanching north face. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming series volcanic mudslides that reached as far as the Columbia River nearly 50 miles to the southwest.

There were other subsequent explosions and together they have formed in a matter of a few years a series of canyons that bear a miniature likeness to the Grand Canyon.

Lake Canyon Gorge in Texas

Smaller versions of essentially the same phenomena were seen at Lake Canyon Gorge in Texas. This was due to a release of water from a dam which caused new geological terrain to be formed in a few hours, creating a layered gorge, streamlined islands, etc that are usually associated with long ages: in this case it was formed within a few hours.

‘The 2002 flood event at Canyon Lake and subsequent rapid formation of Canyon Lake Gorge presented a unique opportunity to study the incredible geomorphological power of rapidly moving water and to better understand the process of canyon formation.

In their 2010 study, Michael Lamb of the California Institute of Technology and Mark Fonstad of Texas State University documented the dramatic transformation of a section of the Guadalupe River Valley landscape into a steep-walled bedrock canyon in just three days. The scientists documented the excavation of bedrock limestone to an average depth of over 20 feet and average width of 130-200 feet for a distance of over one mile. The “plucking” and transport of massive boulders from the site resulted in the formation of several waterfalls, inner channels, and bedrock terraces. The abrasion of rock by sediment-loaded water sculpted walls and created plunge pools and teardrop-shaped “streamlined islands”. Although some of the geological formations present in the gorge are known to be associated with rapidly flowing flood water (such as the streamlined islands), other formations (such as the inner channels, knickpoints and terraces) have traditionally been interpreted through the “long ago and very slow” paradigm of geologic time in response to shifting climate or tectonic forcing.

Typically a steep-walled, narrow gorge is inferred to represent slow persistent erosion. But because many of the geological formations of Canyon Lake Gorge are virtually indistinguishable from other formations which have been attributed to long term (slower) processes, the data collected from Canyon Lake Gorge lends further credence to the hypothesis that some of the most spectacular canyons on Earth may have been carved rapidly during ancient megaflood events. Additionally, because the flood conditions under which the gorge was formed are known, Canyon Lake Gorge provides a means of developing improved computer model reconstructions of pre-historic floods to determine water volume, flood duration and erosion rates.’


Lyell's theory as he expressed it goes up in smoke under this kind of evidence. Geological features associated with long age explanations are proved to have happened in quick time. How many other geological terrains that are confidently explained away under Lyell's theory, such as Grand Canyon, was in fact the result of sudden tumultuous floods.

There is physical evidence for what has just been described, but there is not a scrap of real evidence that supports Lyell's entirely imaginary scenario. No one was around to observe a geological feature being formed under the uniformitarian formula of millions of years. Written history disappears into the mists of time after about 5000 years so evidence for what happened before that must be speculative at best.

We can ridicule good hard working field and evidence based scientists like Bretz, suggest geologists like Michael Lamb of CIT are covert creationists (an accusation I saw on an internet forum) just for stating obvious conclusions, and doubt the objectivity and integrity of geologists like Steve Austin because he accepts an evidence based alternative theory. Make all their lives an uphill struggle by calling them fools and charlatans. We can demonise their opinions and big up our own theories and still be completely and utterly wrong. Why because we cannot see beyond how right we are, and because of that we can see no merit in anything that opposes our own fixed dogmas. That’s what the uniformitarian consensus did to Bretz, and they were totally wrong. And yes, this accusation can equally well be aimed at people like me. Whether the statements of certainty are religious or scientific, a sense of infallibility is rarely if ever validated by history. Whenever this is claimed it is usually later shown to be just a worthless by-product of overweening pride.

Nevertheless it is important to hammer this point home. Charles Lyell himself would have stood alongside the men of the Geological Society of Washington in maintaining that the Channelled Scablands and Valles Marineris, the terrain for 230 square miles around Mount St Helen’s and Lake Canyon Gorge could only be explained by slow and imperceptibly gradual processes. Lyell would have been wrong on all counts, as were the Washington Geological Society regarding the Scablands. The entire uniformitarian theory when put to a really big geological test failed miserably.

Charles Lyell had the following to say. His certainty is of the type characteristic of all evolutionists.

"...no causes whatever have from the earliest time to which we can look back, to the present, ever acted, but those now acting; and that they never acted with different degrees of energy from that which they now exert."

Sir Charles Lyell


Harlan Bretz demonstrated that good field work ‘can look back’ and discover a cause that is explicable but not uniformitarian. The cause being a flood the like of which has never been seen, with forces that ‘acted with different degrees of energy from that which they now exert’ on the Scablands of Washington State; therefore the words of Charles Lyell quoted above are falsified.

This fact would not have surprised one eminent evolutionist.

Stephen Jay Gould was a Harvard professor, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation and he had strong views on Charles Lyell and his theory.

“Lyell's gradualism has acted as a set of blinders, channelling hypotheses in one direction among a wide range of plausible alternatives. Its restrictive effects have been particularly severe for those geologists who succumb to Lyell's rhetorical device and believe that gradual change is preferable (or even required) a priori, because different meanings of uniformity are necessary postulates of method. Again and again in the history of geology after Lyell, we note reasonable hypotheses of catastrophic change, rejected out of hand by a false logic that brands them unscientific in principle.”

Gould was no lover of creationists or the bible, so his views on Charles Lyell should be taken seriously. Gould argues that perfectly reasonable catastrophic theories were ruled out because a set of blinders were imposed by a principle that was adopted because biblically described catastrophic causes were unwelcome in principle.

Was that, is that good Science?