Disrupting Long Held Beliefs
You have been taught that the earth is 4-5 billion years old and the universe about 13.5 billion years old for how many years? If you are a Christian, it has to have caused some difficulties for you in your journey when the Bible teaches that the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. Reconciling the differences has been a problem and has split religious individuals in half with some believing the Bible is inerrant and others trying to make the Bible fit into a MYA (Million Years Age) philosophy.
First, I need to do a brief introduction to the science of geology for my readers so we can at least talk about the subject on a similar level. I will describe conventional geology theory, with essentially modern geological processes functioning for hundreds of millions of years, and short-age geology, with geological processes functioning for only thousands of years. One might say two very different points of views.
The geological processes to be described will include types of rocks and how they form, the depositional environments in which sedimentary rocks accumulate and how to recognize these environments, how mountains and landscape develop, and erosion processes that shape the land. Glaciation, the stratigraphic sequence of rock layers, and the fossils they contain and how they were preserved will also be discussed.
This is not the best comparison chart I could have found. It will do for now, I hope to find a better one later, Even if I have to make it myself. The important thing is to remember that thee millions of years on the life are condensed in thousands of years during and after the flood on the right side. We will refer to the names of various periods on the left.
I will introduce two differing theories that attempt to account for the origin of the Cambrian explosion to the recent geological column and its fossils. Conventional geology estimated to be 541 million years of time and short-age geology is just a few thousand years. Both of theories must account for a number of geological features and processes. These are the formation of rocks and minerals, accumulation of sedimentary deposits in various ancient environments, formation of mountains, and erosion of the sediments to form our modern landforms, glaciations on mountains and over continents, and the origin of the fossils in the fossil record.
In evaluating data and interpretations in geology/ paleontology, it will often be difficult to apply the concept of inference-to-the-best-explanation because we are dealing with events that happened long times ago and not directly observed. If we do not have adequate modern analogues for comparison with the rocks (and we have never observed a global geological catastrophe), we will be somewhat hampered in reaching a confident interpretation of the data.
The most direct source of evidence of the history of ancient life comes from the fossil record. It poses difficulties for both interventionism and macroevolution. The vertical stratigraphic sequence of fossils from one-celled prokaryotic (cells with no nucleus) organisms in the Precambrian to eukaryotes (cells with a nucleus), invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and, finally, humans and the associated questions of geologic time with its support from radiometric dating are the real challenges that face interventionists who accept a literal biblical creation. The following material introduces the basic concepts of geology with both conventional and short-age interpretations of the concepts.
Geological processes, generally like those observable today, operating over a time period of several billion years produced earth’s geological features.
“Life” (cells that are alive,t hey have movement, take in nourishment, excrete by-products) have been on the earth during much of Earth’s history according to F. M. Gradstein and others in their book “The Geologic Time Scale” (Boston: Elsevier, 2012). The Phanerozoic (Cambrian to recent) rocks formed during the last 541 million years, and the fossil record is a record of the evolution and extinction of life forms through this time period. The modern field of geology traces its roots back primarily to Charles Lyell, who developed the theory of uniformitarian geology[i]. This theory directly contrasted the theories of catastrophism and supernatural occurrences. Uniformitarianism is the idea that by using observations of current natural processes, we can predict how processes occurred in the past. In order to do this, we must accept that changes in nature occurring millions of years ago are similar to the changes that occur today.
Modern geological theory is a modification of Lyell’s uniformitarian views and recognizes that Lyell was partly wrong. The term “uniformitarianism,” as used by Lyell, actually includes four different concepts. These four aspects of uniformitarianism with an evaluation of each summarized in the following table:
Table 1. There are four separate concepts in Lyell’s uniformitarianism[ii]
- Uniformity of law: This is a part of science in general, and not unique to geology. It is still accepted that natural law is indeed uniform. Water never flowed uphill in the past. (Interpreted as the Creator making a uniform and consistent world of scientific laws if you are a Christian).
- Uniformity of geological processes: The present is the key to the past. The application of this means we do not invent unique processes if modern processes can explain the observations. However, this is only partly valid; it is now known if the geological past was very somewhat different from what we observe today.
- Uniformity of rates of processes: Geological processes have always been slow and gradual. There have not been any catastrophic geological events. This is known to be false but is still figured in their calculations.
- Uniformity of conditions: Conditions on earth have always been the same, cycling endlessly with no direction. This is not true and hard to support. Conditions in the Cambrian, for example, were quite different from conditions today. For example, our existing continents were largely covered with shallow seas during the Cambrian. In addition, the fossils in different parts of the geological column are significantly different.
The four points in the above table is the basic concept that any theory of geology must satisfy. So also, should the concept of short-age geology. It’s basic tenets are as follows. The Phanerozoic (denoting the eon covering the whole of time since the beginning of the Cambrian period, and comprising the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras) record consisted of just a few thousand years. The major taxonomic (the science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics) groups of animals and plants arose at the beginning of that time through independent origins, by creation in other words. Much of the fossil record consists of remains of these organisms that ended up buried in a sequence resulting from the order of events before, during, and after a worldwide geological catastrophe rather than from an evolutionary sequence.
After the catastrophe, geological processes gradually slowed to the rates observable today and significant fossil deposits formed because of the progressively less catastrophic events during this time. A significant part of the Cenozoic fossil record, probably formed after the global catastrophe, which would include evolutionary sequences of organisms within the individual created groups.
Whether the basic structure of the earth and the lower portions of the geological column (e.g., the Precambrian) had a recent origin or formed over billions of years is a separate question beyond the scope of our discussion. Other authors have covered it very well. We will discuss short-age geology as it pertains only to the Phanerozoic part of the geological column.
The short-age geologist proposes that, at some time in the past, a disturbance in the earth’s crust temporarily disrupted the normal relationships between land and water bodies, initiating a period of rapid geologic activity on a global scale. This period of rapid erosion and sedimentation produced a significant but unknown portion of the geological column. The geological and geophysical processes that occurred during that event have determined the characteristics of the rocks formed at that time and the distribution of various fossils in the rocks. They influenced the distribution and character of radioactive elements in the minerals used in radiometric dating.
A short-age geology theory expressed in this form is a simple descriptive statement. It says nothing about the un-testable question of whether God was involved in initiating this geologic event. No supernatural powers, no magic or mythical events. It will satisfy the four requirements in Table 1. It does not attempt to explain any process or event that may have operated outside the known laws of geology, chemistry, or physics. This particular descriptive theory can be used as a basis for defining specific hypotheses concerning the sedimentary processes and the amount of time involved in depositing individual formations or in shaping the earth’s landforms.
These hypotheses can be tested in the same way that any geologist tests hypotheses. Two geologists could be doing research on the same rock formation. One geologist might believe that the formation took a long time— thousands or millions of years— to be deposited. The other geologist would believe the formation was deposited considerably quicker. They will probably ask different questions, but they both look for the same general types of data as they study the rocks. Each must analyze their own data, as well as other published data, and interpret the meaning of all the data. When they disagree, each geologist analyzes the other’s work and reevaluates their own work and tries to determine what additional data would be needed to clarify the issue. If each is doing good work, the findings will be published in a scientific journal so others can benefit from it.
In time, as more data accumulates it will point to rapid deposition, very slow deposition, or something in between. If we evaluate the data fairly, eventually it should imply which theory is truer, unless our inability to go back in time and directly observe what happened, limits the data too much. All geologists will use the same observational and experimental procedures in their research. One primary difference in the research approach of short-age geologists and other geologists is what they predict the eventual outcome will be: The short-age geologist is confident that when “the data is all in,” they will indicate that much of the geologic column was deposited in a short time. A conventional geologist is more likely to have confidence that the data eventually will indicate that the entire geologic column was deposited very slowly or in rapid spurts with long periods of time between.
Many would say the data already is conclusive and has disproved the short-age theory. However, the short-age geologist notes with interest the definite trend toward catastrophism in geology that began a few decades ago. Some of the pertinent articles are listed below:
- V. Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1981)
- A. Berggren and J. A. Van Couvering, eds., Catastrophes and Earth History: The New Uniformitarianism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984)
- Albritton, Catastrophic Episodes in Earth History (New York: Chapman & Hall, 1989); R. J. Huggett, Catastrophism: Systems of Earth History (New York: Edward Arnold, 1990)
- Koeberl and K. G. MacLeod, Catastrophic Events and Mass Extinctions: Impacts and Beyond (Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, 2002).
Nevertheless, a number of lines of evidence challenge the short-age theory. Discrepancies between a theory and the available data can arise in at least two different ways: either (1) the theory is wrong or (2) important discoveries are waiting for diligent researchers who use their theory to guide their research. Interventionists/ short-age geologists recognize that if their theory is true, significant phenomena have yet to be discovered. Does interventionism stifle research, as some have suggested? If interventionism is understood correctly and if its predictions of new phenomena waiting to be discovered are taken seriously, it can be a stimulus for vigorous new approaches to research. I will now review the basic concepts of physical and historical geology and make initial comparisons of how these two theories deal with this evidence.
First up: Rock Types and Processes for Their Formation and Weathering
[i] C. Lyell and G. P. Deshayes, Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation, 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1830– 1833).
[ii] S. J. Gould, “Toward the Vindication of Punctuational Change,” in Catastrophes and Earth History: The New Uniformitarianism, ed. W. A. Berggren and J. A. Van Couvering (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 9– 34.