July 14, 2024

Crisis of Faith in Flood Geology

I got an email from a Christian creationist having a crisis in faith, at least with regard to the creationist part of his beliefs. He said he wants to be honest and to have a “rational faith”, though he admits the irony in that phrase. He saw my video series disproving the Biblical flood and said that he “found it compelling, but incredibly jarring and difficult to absorb”. He wants to understand the evidence and be intellectually honest about it. He also wants to “expel every avenue of retreat” before being forced to change his mind. I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all, especially when it is a long and deeply held impression such as this is. That’s what I would do too. Before you let yourself be convinced of something, you ought to make sure it’s correct.

He presented a series of questions specific to geology rather than phylogeny. So I opted to tap a couple of friends with professional experience for the best possible answers. One is a paleontologist using the handle, Paleo Clipper. The other is a geologist known on YouTube as Wildwood Claire.
My inquisitor wishes to remain anonymous, but his questions are common ones, and I think the answers should be of benefit to many others besides himself. So I’ll call him Mr Christian, thinking of Mutiny on the Bounty.
Mr Christian: “The eruption of Mt. St. Helens produced 10-15 feet of stratified sedimentary rock layers with petrified biological material contained inside in a total of just 5 hours by breaking a natural dam (obviously the actual petrification did not take 5 hours.) In addition, the nearby Engineer’s Canyon was carved in just a few years by pumps and the “little Grand Canyon” was cut quickly by water released by a broken dam in the aftermath of the eruption. Having been orders of magnitude more powerful than the mudslides and volcanic activity of Mt. St. Helens, could the biblical flood have produced the stratified rock formations, fossilization, and erosion patterns we observe today?”
Here’s a link to an article which talks about petrification, but I am interested in the portion that specifically mentions Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone Park.
It claims that the rings in the petrified trees match in such a way that their growth must have had significant overlap instead of being staggered into a 12,000 year chronology. (At least I think it was 12,000 years; I can’t remember where I got that number from.) The conclusion, obviously, would be that all the trees grew together in the same forest, were torn up by a flood waters, and laid down under relatively rapid, successive volcanic eruptions from the Yellowstone Caldera.
Mr Christian wrote back to me after only a few hours, saying that he’d already found an answer to this first question. But to save others in his situation from having to do their own homework, let’s hear from the pros.
WildwoodClaire: Here are some answers:

(1) Mt. St. Helen’s 1980 eruption did not produce “sedimentary rock layers,” it produced multiple, stratified layers of unconsolidated volcanic ash. This is common in “plinian” volcanic eruptions. “Biologic material” within the ash was scorched by the heat of the pyroclastic flows that produced the layers of ash, not “petrified,” which is a completely different chemical process;

(2) Regarding the so-called “Little Grand Canyon,” and other erosional features in ash from the 1980 eruption, it is not difficult for stormwater runoff to produce erosion channels in disarticulated volcanic ash;

(3) No. The sedimentary rock record of the planet is very complex. Here are a few basic reasons a worldwide flood event did not produce the world’s sedimentary rock record:

a) Erosional unconformities: There are thousands of erosional unconformities in the sedimentary rock record, including angular unconformities in which overlying strata overly strata that had been folded and/or faulted and then eroded for some considerable amount of time before the later strata were deposited atop the older, deformed strata;

b) Aeolian strata: These are rocks formed from sedimentary material deposited chiefly by wind rather than water. Aeolian strata include sediments deposited in deserts and loess deposits formed by erosion of preexisting rock by glaciers and then deposited by wind;

c) Intervening and cross-cutting igneous rocks: Igneous dikes and sills are found between sedimentary rocks and cutting across them. Obviously, igneous dikes and sills were formed at some point after deposition of the sedimentary rocks they cut across and these igneous rocks can often be dated using radiometric dating. Thus, a time range for deposition of the sedimentary rocks can be established;

d) Limestone: massive deposits of limestone are found throughout the world. The major constituent of limestone is Calcium Carbonate and formation of calcium carbonate is an exothermic chemical process (it gives off heat). It is known precisely how much heat is generated by formation of a gram of calcium carbonate, therefore it isn’t difficult to calculate the amount of heat generated by formation of millions of cubic miles of calcium carbonate. Were those millions of cubic miles of limestone formed in a very short time (the time of the Biblical flood), the heat generated by the process would be sufficient to boil the oceans and quite likely the atmosphere, rendering this planet a lifeless hulk.

I suggest that if your correspondent wishes to research this topic, an excellent resource for the general reader is a book edited by Tim Helble, shown below. And BTW, Helble is a Christian.

Also, your correspondent’s questions illustrate some pretty common misconceptions, as well as exposure to dishonest creationist propaganda. Another book that would be helpful is Mark Isaak’s “Counter-Creationism Handbook.” Mark addresses the points you’ve been asked about as well as a host of other misconceptions, obfuscations, and outright lies:



Paleo Clipper: 

“Uniformitarianism, by the way, does not mean that everything that happened in geological history is slow and gradual. Lyell and Darwin and the other scientists of the day knew that there were catastrophic events that produced geological changes, but it’s the process that is the uniformity, as it were, from one time to another. The rate doesn’t have to be the same.” –Dr Eugenie Scott

I’m going to pretend for a moment that the Biblical Flood actually happened and wouldn’t have actually broken physics. When we look at the “stratified rock” of the Mt. St. Helens eruption and the Engineer’s Canyon we see a major difference between these and the geological makeup of the Grand Canyon.  The sediments on, and around, Mt. St. Helens are unconsolidated volcanic ash, a type of deposition easily eroded. Whereas the Grand Canyon was carved in much harder materials including well consolidated sandstones and limestones, hard metamorphosed sediments (such as the Vishnu Schist) and some relatively recent basalt sediments. A swift experiment you can do at home to get an idea of the differences is to simply lay a hose in a sand pit and turn it on low. Watch how the sand is cut away easily by the water. Now do this same thing on your driveway. You could hypothetically leave that hose on your driveway for years and still barely see any difference in the pavement. Granted pavement isn’t the same thing as limestone or even hard basalt, but it’s only a mild example.
Although I think I was supposed to throw out geological data wasn’t I? How about just the walls of these two places? Mt St Helens canyon has walls that slope 45 degrees, whereas the walls of the Grand Canyon are vertical in places.This difference in angle is what helped to contribute to the rapid erosion in the Engineer’s Canyon, but again that’s coupled with the soft sediments around the volcano. Even if the Grand Canyon had a 45 degree slope and the same amount of water rushing through it as the U.S. Army Corps used you still wouldn’t see the same kind of rapid erosion. Not only that but the Grand Canyon (and canyons further up and down the Colorado River) is more than 100,000 times larger than the canyon on Mt St Helens, they aren’t exactly comparable in the first place, and attempting to say that this would have been possible by the biblical flood is really stretching reality a lot.   

It comes to this basically:
If the Biblical Flood happened, and as I said didn’t break the laws of physics in the process, it still wouldn’t have been able to carve out the Grand Canyon rapidly like you see at the Mt. St. Helen’s area nor the Engineer’s Canyon. Simply put, the rock is too hard. But no geologist, that I know of anyway, would deny that a canyon can be carved out rapidly. The problem comes when you try to carve a canyon from hard rock that way vs soft volcanic deposits.

On a related note to this, there was the claim put forwards that Mt St Helens deposited thick sediment in a matter of a few hours due to the eruption. Again, no geologist that I know of will deny that you can indeed get very thick deposits from a volcanic eruption. However, not all the stratigraphic layers on the earth are volcanic in nature. So it doesn’t really make much sense to claim that volcanic deposition is the sole reason for the geologic column we see in places like the Grand Canyon.

I’m pretty sure we dissected Specimen Ridge rather well in the video a while back in regards to how volcanic rock breaks down into soil that plants can grow in, let alone trees. But as per the silicification (petrification) process that’s a little more complicated. Yes, you can get “petrification” of wood rather rapidly. There’s even a few patents out there for making petrified wood! Which are referenced in the “article”; which as a side note is being written by someone who is not Geologist or even a chemist.

If these trees were torn up by a rapid flood, as being proposed, we wouldn’t really see any trees still rooted (firmly) into the ground either. Which unfortunately for the article, using the term loosely, we see many trees with roots fully intact and even some actually growing on top of the trees below it! Looking into the chemistry and knowledge behind petrification there’s really two different aspects to it: impregnation of the wood (where the organic material still exists) and complete replacement (no organic material left). Generally speaking, from what I am understanding from several different research papers, the older the petrified specimen the less the organic material remains. Mt St Helens did indeed “petrify” the wood of some of the trees around it. But it wasn’t exactly the full petrification you’d expect to see if they were indeed fossil. But even if the petrification of the trees at Specimen Ridge happened rapidly you still have to account for the trees growing on top of each other, the hundreds of years in which volcanic sediment takes to decay and become suitable for growth, and the clear sedimentary layers and evidence of multiple eruptions. You have trees growing in those separate layers. If these were rapid, successive eruptions there would be no time for these trees to properly grow.

As a side note, there are no scientific research papers or articles that I can find that either support or refute the claim that the petrified wood at Mt St Helens proves a young earth or that it disproves the 1,000 year or so estimate that it takes to do so. Science has known petrification can happen rapidly, for quite some time. We use different methods to date things, not just a simple “oh hey, it’s petrified therefore it must be really really old.”


Mr Christian:A couple candidate pairs for the phylogeny challenge:

(Echidna [Oviparous + Spines], Porcupine [Viviparous + Spines])

-> There is a divergence between oviparous and viviparous mammals and then subsequent, independent evolution of spines. (I assume?)

The bill evolves in both the platypus and avians subsequent to the divergence of mammals and reptilians.”

Paleo Clipper: “Erm, are these not just examples of convergent evolution? I don’t know a lot about the evolutionary background of the species mentioned, but I’m at least suspecting that because the Platypus lays eggs it would also seem to reason that because mammals do share an ancestor with reptiles (and of course as a result birds) it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see a bill similar to a duck in what is considered to be the transitional form.  

We see flight, camouflage, eyes, and all other manner of adaptations evolving along separate lines and lineages based upon whatever the selective pressures are in the environment. I think flight has evolved separately something like 8 times? Insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals have all discovered how to do this, and some fish to a certain degree. More like gliding, but it looks a bit like flying and I’m willing to speculate that given enough time and pressure flying fish may eventually evolve something akin to true powered flight.” 

Bills (or beaks) are simple structures that have evolved independently on birds and a number of other dinosaurs and also turtles and even a few early therapsids. The bill of a platypus, however, is not quite the same thing, being a leathery skin with sensory organs.

Quills also are again very simple structures that evolved independently in echidnas, porcupines, and hedgehogs at least. There may have been other animals to wear this kind of defense. It’s not the sort of thing that would be easily recognized in fossilization.

Just as there are organisms that switch back and forth from sexual to asexual reproduction, there are also species that switch from oviparous to viviparous and back. However, as I explained in my recent video on Theria, it seems that our direct ancestors made that change only once.

The Phylogeny Challenge is an attempt to identify created kinds; specifically by identifying to different lineages which science considers closely-related but that creationists hold to be separately created unrelated to anything else. Porcupines are rodents. As such they are only one of a group of eutherian mammals. Whereas echidnas are monotremes, about as distant to eutherians as it is possible to be. So this example could not address the question.


Mr Christian: “This is the big one for me: Radiometric dating
I don’t have much of a problem with dating by C-14; if the dendrochronological records we’ve obtained are properly matched up to form a continuous record, then I think that a calibration curve obtained from them should be trustworthy. I haven’t looked at the additional calibration techniques used by INTCAL13, but if they are supplementary to dendrochronology, I don’t take issue with them.
In addition, and this is just speculative, it seems to me that since radioactive decay is a probabilistic process, the rate of decay should follow the law of large numbers and become easier to measure accurately the faster the decay rate of the substance is and more difficult to measure for materials that emit particles less frequently. With C-14 having a half life of 5730 +-40 years, it seems much more likely that we could get an accurate reading on its decay rate as compared with U-238 which is supposed to have a half life of 4.468 billion years.
Here’s a link to a creationist presentation on radiometric dating: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AomTKRLB_4
Specifically in 32:43 – 45:13, Andrew Snelling talks about other decay rates being corrected to match dates given by a calibration technique, Pb-Pb, and the inherent inaccuracy of actual Pb-Pb dating itself. How can we be sure of the accuracy of our measurements of decay rates used in radiometric dating? How can we cross-validate radiometric dates when it seems that the decay rates are artificially synchronized?
He also brings up isochrons at 29:57 and discusses the difficulty in knowing which data points represent contamination of parent or daughter material and which represent accurate readings. I’m not exactly sure what to make of this, but I thought I would bring up this segment in case you got bored (I did) and skipped to the portion I mentioned above.”

Paleo Clipper: “First off, I’m always extremely suspicious and cautious when it comes to things stated by Snelling. Secondly, I’m not all that great when it comes to radiometric dating (not a good chemist, I make things explode more often than not. LOL) But I’ll do my best with this part.

He seems to be asserting that somehow the decay rates are artificial and even that they can be changed somehow. I think that’s what is being suggested anyway. Which, research has shown that isn’t the case. https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2010/09/research-shows-radiometric-dating-still-reliable-again

In terms of the contamination idea, I do know that typically several samples are taken to ensure the dates do correspond. One of the professors I assisted in Saltville VA explained that essentially radiometric dating is done as a way to corroborate the data already collected regarding the ages of particular sites. Sorry I’m not much help on this particular question.

Wildwood Claire: “And BTW, for the record Andy Snelling is an incompetent, morally bereft, lying shill earning a tawdry living by telling numbskulls what they want to hear.”

That’s true, and I did talk about some of Andrew Snelling’s dishonesty in my series.

I want to thank my friends, Wildwood Claire and Paleo Clipper, not just for assisting with these questions but also for their technical guidance in my video series disproving Noah’s flood.

Mr Christian, I hope you found these questions satisfactory. And if you didn’t, you’re welcome to inquire of me further.

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