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Genesis 11:6
"And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they...
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Geology and Genesis

Ian Taylor

Charles LyellJust how does the modern geologist tell the age of a rock by simply looking at it? For that matter, where do all those millions of years come from and how can they be reconciled with Genesis? Until the 17th century most people of Europe and Britain believed the biblical account of creation and a global Flood. They considered history as “static” but by the late 1600’s this began to change to “progressive history.” Both invention and discovery gave this impression. Genesis tells of mankind’s Fall from a noble beginning. The Fall of Man has been morally, intellectually and physically continuous thus history is dynamic and regressive, not progressive. Physical changes observed in the earth were also used to argue for progression. For example, from mining operations it was known that the interior of the earth was hot thus reasonably it was hotter in the past and has been cooling. Life on earth is thus only possible in the narrow interval of temperatures that will sustain it. This thinking is actually a re-emergence of the thinking of the Greek philosophers and ironically was introduced by the Church of England. This Protestant Church had required the educated classes to study the Greek language as part of their Christian education. In this way, the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers began to infiltrate the collective minds of the ruling elite. The Greeks had taught that the creation of the universe began with the divergent paths of a falling atoms while subsequently all life on earth had progressed from simple to complex over a very long time. It would be the end of the 19th century before these Greek ideas became familiar to the man in the street and credited to Charles Darwin. Darwinian evolution is totally dependant upon slow incremental changes that demand vast periods of time. A global Flood in historic time stands as a monumental barrier to any kind of subsequent evolution but the seeds of doubt in a global Flood had long been sown by the racial prejudice in the minds of 15th century Europeans. When the naked, colored peoples of Africa and the Americas were discovered, “specimens” were brought to Europe for exhibition. The Christians had been convinced that the patriarchs from Adam to Noah were white, thus, for the colored people to have survived the Genesis Flood outside the ark, that Flood must have been local. The medieval Church declared the teaching of a local Genesis Flood a heresy and fought back. The same thing would not happen today!

The Danish anatomist/geologist, Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), observed in 1669 that the fossils found in rocks were actually the remains of once-living things. He drew up three principles that are still valid today for the study of stratigraphy: 1. Each stratum is younger than the stratum beneath it, i.e. the strata were laid down in sequence.  2. The rock strata originated from sediment in water and were initially laid down horizontally. 3. Each stratum has the same age even if discontinuous, e.g. continues on the opposite side of a valley. In the following century, the Italian naturalist, Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795), divided the different types of rock strata into three categories: Primary rocks were the crystalline basement rocks present at creation. Secondary rocks were from the sediments laid down by the Genesis Flood and contained the fossil remains of pre-flood life. Tertiary rocks were those resulting from more recent local flood sediments, volcanoes and earthquakes.

The change in Christian world-view that began in 16th century became more evident in the 18th century. In 1741 George Frideric Handel was inspired to write his oratorio Messiah in only 24 days. Just before the Hallelujah chorus Psalm 2 declares, “Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing?” The seeds of revolution against God Himself were being sown and just over 40 years later they spilled out into the streets of Paris as the French Revolution of 1789. France became totally de-christianized for the next several decades. The revolutionaries wanted the best science and the most glorious city to proclaim their anti-Christian ideals. Paris was virtually re-built and Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was co-opted at 26 for science; he turned out to be one of the best brains in Europe. Cuvier was a French-speaking Lutheran and believed the Bible but had difficulties with the miracles, especially Noah and his ark.  He studied the fossils in the Paris area and concluded that there had been four major catastrophic floods in earth’s history caused by rising sea levels while the Genesis Flood had been the last. However, this flood was only partially global thus a remnant of life survived to re-populate the earth -- this made Noah unnecessary! He believed in the fixity of species but in an old earth. His ideas were perceived by many Christians to support the Genesis account of the Flood. It was translated into English by professor Jameson and published in 1813. The work remained one of the most popular among English evangelicals for the next 50 years. 

During the revolutionary turmoil in France, England had its own revolution; it was bloodless and brought prosperity and a world empire. The Industrial Revolution was driven by steam and steam was generated by coal. England was well endowed with coal and, in 1799, several wealthy young men met in the back rooms of the Freemason’s tavern to establish the Geological Society of London. Their object was to know where to invest in land for minerals and coal. There were no railways at that time and the coal was shipped to the factories by sailing barges on an immense canal network built throughout Britain. Fossils became important to building the canals.

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was born to wealthy Scottish parents, was a Christian and well educated in classics and the law. Having studied Greek he had read Strabo (1st Cent. Greek geographer). While at university, he was inspired by the lectures of William Buckland who taught Cuvier’s theory in support of the Genesis Flood. After graduation in 1823, Lyell visited Paris, met Constant Prévost, a student of Cuvier, and heard criticism of Cuvier’s theory of rising sea levels. He began to realize that a rising sea level would have a world-wide effect and Noah and his ark began to look like an embarrassing possibility! Lyell read James Hutton’s (1726-1797) Theory of the Earth (1795) and, like Hutton, became convinced that given sufficient time, catastrophes such as a rising global sea level were unnecessary. In 1829 Lyell visited the Temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples. Here he saw the three remaining marble columns while about half-way up each column there was a series of tiny holes made by lithodomi, a small crustacean that secrets acid and burrows into solid stone. Clearly, this meant that after construction of the Temple the land had sunk below sea level then, years later, had risen again. Lyell discovered that this had taken place by local volcanic activity from nearby Mount Nuovo in 1538. He was delighted because rising sea levels were not necessary; here was evidence that land could sink and elevate and provide the same sedimentary evidence.

The picture of the Temple of Serapis became an icon of truth to Lyell and it appeared as the frontispiece in every edition of his book, The Principles of Geology. The Genesis Flood was thereby down-graded from global to local making Noah and his ark an allegorical tale at best; at worst, it became a children’s story. Here, slow minor events operating over vast periods of time replaced the world’s greatest Flood.

Lyells’ Principles of Geology was first published in 3 volumes between 1830 and 1833. It was written for the layman and illustrated with cute little woodcuts that made it popular, nevertheless, it was criticized because the evidence for land elevation was confined to local areas. It happened that during his 5-year voyage the young Charles Darwin (1809-1882) had had first-hand knowledge of land elevation “twice the area of the Black Sea” during the earthquake at Concepçión, Bolivia, in 1835 when the land had risen 5 – 15 feet. This was exactly the evidence Lyell needed to counter his critics and, as soon as possible, he met Darwin in 1836. In Germany, Abraham Werner (1750-1817) taught that the earth’s rock strata had been laid down from sediment in water and classified them according to mineral content i.e. shale, limestone, sandstone etc. He said these mineral strata were in the same order globally. Lyell took this argument but based it upon fossil content rather than mineral content. Like Strabo, both Werner and Lyell believed that the sedimentary deposits had been made sequentially over very long periods of time. In 1828, just before his visit to Pozzuoli, Lyell had met with Italian geologists who had told him of Giovanni Arduino’s classification of strata into Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. They also pointed out that each of these divisions had since been further sub-divided by the proportions of extinct-to-modern marine shells. Lyell then met Paul Deshays (1795-1875) in Paris and learned of his catalogued collection of over 7,000 sea shells. It was evident that the use of marine shells – mollusca, brachiopoda, echinoderma, etc.—could be used to classify sedimentary rocks since these small shells were found in practically every stratum. They became the index fossils. With the help of friends in the Geological Society, Lyell lifted Arduino’s work, invented Greek names for the strata and sub-divided the Tertiary into the Eocene, Miocene and Pliocene eras.

The use of the marine shells to identify and trace strata is the basis for the working geologist’s Geologic Column. It is practical since these fossils do form in a certain order: extinct species in the lowest layers and living species in the top-most layers with mixed proportions in between. However, index fossils do not progress from simple to complex and there is no sign of evolution. On the other hand, the Geologic Column shown in textbooks with the trilobite at the bottom in the Cambrian stratum then progressing upwards from fishes to reptiles, to mammals and finally man at the top, is purely hypothetical. It is simply an ideal that would be found if life had actually evolved. It is shown to demonstrate a principle but the student is never informed of this and comes away believing that fossils of these life forms are actually found in this order. They are not. The Geological Society wanted to determine earth’s history and thus began historical geology. The rate at which sediments deposit today were measured and the figure divided into the greatest thickness of deposit found for each individual stratum. This gave a minimum age for life on earth. That age has steadily increased over the past 150 years while radiometric measurements are of no help because they are calibrated against the ages assigned to the fossils!

By about 1840 and with Lyell’s Principles’ now in its third edition, many academics had accepted that continental land surfaces had elevated and submerged many times in the past through the agency of earthquakes and that each submergence had allowed sea sediments to deposit then to dry out upon elevation. To this day there is no adequate explanation for how continents sink and rise and professors and text-books are careful to simply speak of, “transgression and regression of the sea.” By the 19th century, belief in the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood in only thousands of years of history had gradually subsumed to Lyell’s version of earth’s history while the text-book age of the earth ballooned to billions of years.

There are a number of problems with the assumption of sequential deposition of strata from local floods. Interbedding of adjacent stratum poses a problem for sequential deposition. Another serious problem is known as the “persistence of facies” a term that tends to hide the awkward fact that some strata are traceable as a continuous layer more than halfway around the earth. One example is the Late Cretaceous chalk identified by the index fossil micraster together with nodules of flint stone that extends from Ireland, through Britain (White Cliffs of Dover), across Europe and Russia and across India to Australia. This is a sedimentary rock deposited from water at one period of time and is very good evidence for one global flood, not a sequence of local floods.

In the mid-1980’s Guy Berthault began to publish the results of his studies of sedimentation carried out in France and the US. Here he showed that when flowing water contains a mixture of sediments, they deposit in a very specific order as horizontal layers. The process was observable by video, is repeatable, quite rapid and showed that multiple sedimentary strata are formed simultaneously from mixed sediments. Berthault’s work has been confirmed by others and the physics of the process worked out permitting prediction thereby establishing it firmly on scientific grounds. The implications are that the millions of years thought necessary collapse to a few months! The process is known as progradation and has been used for over a century by geologists and engineers for mineral extraction. In 1667 Steno wrote of the phenomenon of simultaneous deposition but later chose to believe that strata had been formed by sequential deposition and thus laid the groundwork for the multi-million year old earth and Darwin’s evolution. Inter-bedding and the persistence of facies are precisely the evidences expected from simultaneous deposition from a global flood. It is just possible the continents did sink and the sea level did rise while the floodwaters, now as a continuous film on the earth’s surface, would flow relative to the earth’s rotation. Under these conditions the various sediments would be deposited together with entrained dead life-forms, including the marine crustaceans. In addition, the moon’s gravitational pull on the water and the sediments introduces a process known as liquefaction; this is known to occur and would very effectively sort the entrapped marine crustaceans within the sediments. This process would provide the order of the index fossils based upon their density. As is well known among geologists there is no sign of progression of complexity among the index fossils and therefore these provide no evidence for the evolution of life. The bottom line is that without the millions of years there can be no evolution at all and the God of the Scriptures may most reasonably be re-established as the Creator.


Photo: Charles Lyell.

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