The Genesis Flood — 50 years on (3)
Like any book dealing with scientific matters, some of the arguments in The Genesis Flood have had to be reconsidered based on further study.
The book was published before the theory of plate tectonics revolutionised the earth sciences in the late 1960s, which means that much of its geology is out of date. Here are five other areas in which The Genesis Flood has needed reassessment.
One of the areas of contention between George McCready Price and Harold Clark concerned the sequence of rocks and fossils (often summarised in textbooks as ‘the geological column’). Price argued that this sequence was an artificial construct based on the assumption of evolution.
But Clark was persuaded that there really was a consistent sequence, and sought to explain the order of the fossils as the order in which different ecosystems were inundated and buried during the Flood.
Whitcomb and Morris questioned whether the order of the fossils was as consistent as most geologists had assumed, but appealed to the ecological zones of the pre-Flood world as one explanation of any order that did exist.1
Today there is still debate within creationism about these matters, although it is probably fair to say that most of the creationist geologists with field experience have sided with Clark.
One of the arguments marshalled by Whitcomb and Morris against the geological column concerned places where the rock layers were found in the ‘wrong order’.2
Conventional geologists attributed these ‘out of order’ layers to earth movements, in which faults or slides have displaced older rocks over the top of younger rocks. The arguments of Whitcomb and Morris notwithstanding, close inspection leaves little doubt that these ‘out of order’ sequences were truly caused by earth movements and cannot be considered exceptions to the geological column.3
The Flood geologist should not be discouraged by this, however, for it is virtually impossible to explain how such extraordinary movements occurred unless rapidly and catastrophically.
Recent studies suggest that the Heart Mountain slide of Wyoming (one of the examples discussed in The Genesis Flood) must have moved 45 km down a 2o slope in a single cataclysmic event.4
Another argument used by Whitcomb and Morris against the geological column was the phenomenon of ‘misplaced’ fossils.5
Specifically, they referred to the alleged discovery of human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs in the bed of the Paluxy River in Texas. But subsequent investigations by creationists6 and evolutionists7 have shown that the so-called human tracks are a combination of misidentified dinosaur tracks, random erosional marks and carvings made during the Great Depression.
Consequently the Institute for Creation Research stopped promoting the Paluxy ‘man tracks’ long ago,8 although they still crop up in some popular books, articles and web sites.
Whitcomb and Morris suggested that the rain during the Flood might have come from the collapse of a vapour canopy that surrounded the earth before the deluge.9
They identified this canopy with the ‘waters above the firmament’ described in Genesis 1:7. However, biblical and scientific problems with the canopy theory have since caused many creationist researchers to abandon this idea.
Computer models have shown that any canopy able to hold enough water for forty days and nights of rain would have raised temperatures on the earth’s surface to such an extent that life could not have survived.10 11 12
It is also noteworthy that the writer of Psalm 148:1-4 refers to ‘the waters above’ long after the Flood, which implies that they cannot have constituted a canopy that collapsed in the days of Noah.
Another proposal by Whitcomb and Morris was that the Flood was responsible for essentially all the fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks in the geological record, with the exception of the ice age deposits which were laid down immediately after the Flood.13
Today, while most creationists agree that much of the rock record is from the Flood, there are many different opinions about precisely where the beginning and the end of the Flood are located in the geological record.
In all likelihood, some of the uppermost layers of the geological column were deposited over a period of decades to centuries, between the end of the Flood and the beginning of the ice age.
Similar debates take place concerning which rocks mark the beginning of the Flood, especially since well-preserved fossils have now been discovered lower down in the rock record.
These areas of reassessment remind us that we do not rest our faith in the details of scientific arguments. Nevertheless, we do recognise the power of scientific models.
The work of Whitcomb and Morris had such an extraordinary impact, precisely because they were not content merely to point out problems in uniformitarian geology. Instead, they wanted to develop their own scientific model in the light of the biblical Flood.
That was the right approach. Criticising someone else’s theory is nearly always easier than coming up with your own, but it almost always has less impact in the long run.
Paul Garner, FGS, BSc
To be concluded
1. J. C. Whitcomb and H. M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The biblical record and its scientific implications, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961, pp.270-288.
2. Whitcomb and Morris, pp.180-200.
3. K. P. Wise, ‘The way geologists date!’, in: Proceedings of the first international conference on Creationism. Volume I: Basic and educational sessions, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, 1986, pp.135-138.
4. M. H. Anders, B. W. Fouke, A. L. Zerkle, E. Tavarnelli, W. Alvarez and G. E. Harlow, ‘The role of calcining and basal fluidization in the long runout of carbonate slides: an example from the Heart Mountain slide block, Wyoming and Montana, USA’, Journal of Geology, Vol. 118, 2010, pp.577–599.
5. Whitcomb and Morris, pp.172-176.
6. B. Neufeld, ‘Dinosaur tracks and giant men’, Origins (Geoscience Research Institute), Vol. 2, No. 2, 1975, pp.64-76.
7. D. H. Milne and S. D. Schafersman, ‘Dinosaur tracks, erosion marks and midnight chisel work (but no human footprints) in the Cretaceous limestone of the Paluxy River bed, Texas’, Journal of Geological Education, Vol. 31, No. 2, 1983, pp.111-123.
8. J. D. Morris, ‘The Paluxy River mystery’, Institute for Creation Research impact article #151, January 1986.
9. Whitcomb and Morris, pp.255-258.
10. D.E. Rush and L. Vardiman, ‘Pre-Flood vapor canopy radiative temperature profiles’, in: R. E. Walsh and C. L. Brooks (eds.), Proceedings of the second international conference on Creationism. Volume II: Technical symposium sessions and additional topics, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, 1990, pp. 231-245.
11. L. Vardiman and K. Bousselot, ‘Sensitivity studies on vapor canopy temperature profiles’, in: R. E. Walsh (ed.), Proceedings of the fourth international conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, 1998, pp. 607-618.
12. L. Vardiman, ‘Temperature profiles for an optimized water vapor canopy’, in: R. L. Ivey (ed.), Proceedings of the fifth international conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, 2003, pp. 29-39.
13. Whitcomb and Morris, pp.288-326.