November 24, 2017

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (4)

Grand Canyon from Desert View 2. Photo by Felix Morgner

Grand Canyon from Desert View 2. Photo by Felix Morgner

Previous posts in the series:

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.

Chapter 8– “Solving Puzzles- Relative Dating and the Geologic Column” deals with the principles that geologist use to assign relative age to rock formations.  In other words what happened first versus what happened later.

Figure 8-1 from the book shows car, bicycle, and boot prints in sand.  Which was first and which was last?


Just as it’s obvious the car print is first then the bicycle print, then the boot print the geologic principles of relative dating are just as simple and straightforward.


The first principle is Superposition.  Assuming no disturbance, sedimentary layers are laid down in order of superposition, the younger on top of the older.  Geologists have to pay attention to disturbances, faulting can thrust older rocks on top of younger.  Superposition only refers to sedimentary rocks, igneous rocks can insert younger rock within older.  In the example above the oldest rock is the tilted layer all the way to the left.  The tilting event is older than the first limestone.  The red dike is older than the topmost limestone but younger than all the other sedimentary rocks.  What is the youngest feature in Figure 8-2?  We will discuss that below, see if you can figure it out.

The next is the principle of Lateral Continuity.  When we find places like the Grand Canyon where layers can be traced from one side of the canyon to the other, it is evident those layers were once continuous before they were separated by the incision of the canyon.  In other words the layers did not form on opposite sides of a pre-existing canyon.  What if a layer changes gradually from limestone to shale like the lowermost horizontal layer in the above example?  If you are able to observe a place where the change occurs then you know they are contemporaneous.  If not, sometimes fossils can help us recognize discontinuous outcrops of the same layer.

Which brings us to the next principle, the Principle of Faunal (and Floral) Succession.  Geologists noticed two centuries ago that different kinds of fossils consistently appear in the same sequence in different locations.  This was long before Darwin and any kind of evolutionary explanation, it was the observation of simple replacement of one group of organisms by another on a global scale.  The recognition of increasing complexity in both plants and animals came later.

The next is the Principle of Original Horizontality.  In the example above, when we find steeply tilted strata we know they first must have been deposited on a relatively flat surface or gentle slope, then hardened before uplift and tilting began.

The Principle of Cross-Cutting Relationships applies to all rock types.  Faults or dikes (magma intruded into cracks) must always be younger than the layers or features they cross.  A geologic contact is the surface along which one rock touches another.  An unconformity is the contact between sedimentary rocks that are significantly different in age, or between sedimentary rocks and older, eroded igneous or metamorphic rocks. Unconformities represent gaps in the geologic record; periods of time that are not represented by any rocks.  As the book points out:

Recognizing unconformities in the field is important because they indicate a significant disruption in the sequence of formation or deposition of rock units.  The disruption can represent large or small gaps in the time between rock layers.  Multiple unconformities in a sequence of rocks, such as the Grand Canyon, are impossible to reconcile with a single catastrophic event, which is why flood geologist work so hard at discounting the presence of all but the most obvious ones. (Chapter 8, p. 85).

So go back to the Figure 8-2 example and apply the principles:

  1. The layers beneath the Canyon were deposited horizontally and hardened.
  2. These hardened layers were deformed and tilted upward.
  3. The tilted and uplifted layers were eroded to a nearly flat surface, and later buried by the first two horizontal layers.
  4. Magma, forming the red dike, intruded into all the strata, and perhaps higher ones that later eroded away.
  5. Erosion removed all rock higher than the top of the second horizontal layer (known because the top of the red dike is cut off).
  6. The top horizontal layer was deposited.
  7. Magma again intruded from below and formed the yellow dike.
  8. The canyon was carved.

The book has a number of sidebars where controversies are discussed and encapsulated like the one below on “circular reasoning”.


So the geologic column, of which a good part is seen at the Grand Canyon was developed and recognized before radioactivity was discovered based on these principles of relative dating.  As I said in my “Science and the Bible” series, of course, the geologic record is in no one place entirely complete for where geologic forces in one area provide a low-lying region accumulating deposits much like a layer cake, in the next area they may have uplifted the region, and that area is instead one that is weathering and being torn down by chemistry, wind, temperature, and water.  That being said, and contrary to YEC propaganda, there are 25 places in the world where at least part of the entire geologic column is represented, including North Dakota.  Oddly enough, most flood geologists accept the basic construction of the geologic column, they just try to fit it all into one year.

Chapter 9– “So Just How Old is that Rock?” is an excellent essay on radiometric dating authored by Roger Wiens, who wrote the classic paper for the American Scientific Affiliation, “Radiometric Dating- A Christian Perspective” (  Dr. Wiens has a PhD in Physics, with a minor in Geology. His PhD thesis was on isotope ratios in meteorites, including surface exposure dating. He was employed at Caltech’s Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences at the time of writing the first edition. He is presently employed in the Space & Atmospheric Sciences Group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He wrote the first edition in 1994.  It was a smart move to get Dr. Wiens to write this chapter, he is an excellent communicator, a professional scientist, and a Christian.

All atoms of the same element have the same number of protons in the nucleus.  However, atoms of the same element can have different numbers of neutrons and we call those elements isotopes.  So for example carbon has 6 protons but can have 6, 7, or 8 neutrons.  Carbon with 6 protons and 6 neutrons is called carbon-12 (the most common and stable isotope); while the other two are carbon-13 and carbon-14.  The unstable isotopes undergo nuclear decay, that is, they lose neutrons.  The original isotope is called the parent and the decay product is called the daughter.  Radioactive atoms decay at a constant rate which is measurable.  The time it takes for half the parent to decay is called the half-life.  To quote from Chapter 9, page 90:

The simplest view of radiometric dating is that the loss of parent isotopes and gain of daughter isotopes indicates the age of the object.  For an igneous rock the “age” means the time since the rock crystallized from a magma, either inside the Earth or a part of a volcanic system.  Young Earth advocates frequently claim that radiometric dating doesn’t work because there are usually daughter atoms already present at the time the time the magma crystallizes- akin to having some sand grains already in the bottom of the hourglass when it is flipped over.  Scientists are well aware of this, however, and have discovered accurate ways to determine how many of the daughter atoms existed when the clock was started.  With this knowledge, scientists can determine rock ages properly.

Some Young Earth advocates insist on trying to use carbon-14 to date old rocks, coal, or diamonds, with meaningless results.  During sample processing, small amounts of radiocarbon are inevitably incorporated from the air in the lab, so a truly zero reading is never obtained.  Another reason for measurable carbon-14 in coal is that the coal also contains uranium and other radioactive isotopes.  The radiation they give off as they decay re-makes carbon-14 in the coal.  The assertion by flood geologists that “measurable radiocarbon” in coal and diamonds is evidence for a young earth is simply misleading.

Another popular example of the claim by YEC that radiometric dating is inaccurate is the Mt. St. Helens supposed “dating” of the 1980 ash as 300,000 years old.  They submitted a sample of the ash for potassium-argon dating, despite being warned by the lab that the lab was unable to analyze K-Ar samples that were too young. Think about it for a minute; the dating is based on the accumulation of daughter product, if the daughter product accumulation is too low (that is the sample is too young) it will be below the detection limit of the lab.  Another two critical pieces of information are deliberately left out by YEC.  One is it is common for fragments of old rock from the subsurface to become entrained in the upwelling lava.  Indiscriminate sampling of the lava ash could easily result in a mixture of new and old rock.  To quote from the book again (page 95):

The second piece of information left out is that the dating technique used (potassium-argon) has long been recognized by geologists to yield inaccurate results for recent lava flows- not because “they don’t give the right answer”, but because of known processes at work in this environment.  Methods such as argon-argon dating take these processes into account, and do in fact yield reliable ages (such as accurately dating the Mount Vesuvius eruption mentioned above).  Radiometric dating techniques are accurate.  This has been proven over and over again.

The book then cites two other examples of YEC misinformation in the Grand Canyon where they tried to sample igneous intrusions in the Hakatai Shale and the western lavas that poured over the rim of the canyon.  In the western lavas the YEC tried to use the isochron method which requires multiple sample from the same rock unit.  They used samples collected from 4 different flows, guaranteeing meaningless “ages”.


Note in Figure 9-13 that loss of argon would make the rock look falsely YOUNG not falsely OLD.  The YECs don’t include the margin of error on the dates which if taken into account show the ages diverge by about 10%, hardly the wildly inaccurate readings they are alleging.

Since radiometric dating so conclusively destroys the Young Earth position, they have worked prodigiously to try and counter the science.  In 1997, the Institute of Creation Research (ICR) and the Creation Research Society initiated an eight-year research program to investigate the validity of radioisotope dating of rocks.  The project was named RATE for Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth. In the RATE study, the authors admit that a young-earth position cannot be reconciled with the scientific data without assuming that exotic solutions will be discovered in the future.  No known thermodynamic process could account for the required rate of heat removal nor is there any known way to protect organisms from radiation damage.  The young-earth advocate is therefore left with two positions.  Either God created the earth with the appearance of age (thought by many to be inconsistent with the character of God) or else there are radical scientific laws yet to be discovered that would revolutionize science in the future.  The authors acknowledge that no current scientific understanding is consistent with a young earth.  Most laymen have difficulty in understanding the process of radiometric dating, which is how YEC are able to exploit that difficulty and spread misinformation and sow doubt in the minds of many Christians about the reliability of radiometric dating.  It really is a simple matter of standard, well understood, and well documented physics and chemistry.

In an article in the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the organization for Christian scientists, critiquing the RATE study the ASA says this:

 The ASA does not take a position on issues when there is honest disagreement among Christians provided there is adherence to our statement of faith and to integrity in science.  Accordingly, the ASA neither endorses nor opposes young-earth creationism which recognizes the possibility of a recent creation with appearance of age or which acknowledges the unresolved discrepancy between scientific data and a young-earth position.  However, claims that scientific data affirm a young earth do not meet the criterion of integrity in science.  Any portrayal of the RATE project as confirming scientific support for a young earth, contradicts the RATE project’s own admission of unresolved problems.  The ASA can and does oppose such deception.

This deception, this “lying-for-Jesus” really tempts me to anger.  I get being zealous to defend the Bible as “the Word of God” — I get it, I really do… But this crosses a line, a line those who profess to follow the One who is Truth, and in whom “no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22 NIV) shouldn’t cross.

• • •

Photo by Felix Morgner at Flickr. Creative Commons License.


  1. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I can’t begin to recount the ridiculous ranging to shamefyl mental gymnastics people have engaged in trying to “debate” YEC with me, especially around this issue of age (both relative and absolute). Otherwise apparently intelligent, nice, thoughtful people. When eventually the impact of the scientific or logical argument sinks in, they question logic, yell miracle, or fall back on Omphalos.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

    (For the record, as Mike knows, for a time I ran an Ar-Ar lab so this is very much part of my territory, although I have moved on to other parts of Geology).

  2. This deception, this “lying-for-Jesus” really tempts me to anger. I get being zealous to defend the Bible as “the Word of God” — I get it, I really do… But this crosses a line, a line those who profess to follow the One who is Truth, and in whom “no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22 NIV) shouldn’t cross.

    Thanks, Mike. I’m following your articles and diagrams as best I can and it’s all fascinating—but your statement above is where I can really connect.

    • That statement right there is the linchpin for so much else. Politics, science, finances, business, evangelism…

      I suppose lying for Jesus is better than using the sword for Jesus.

      • Christiane says:

        We are not supposed to intentionally do wrong so that good may come of it. It doesn’t work that way.

  3. William Martin says:

    I find the article informative and well written and thought out. I am not YEC and really do not care one iota about it. This how ever is not so beneficial to me especially at my age. A day is like ten thousand years to Him. Ten thousand isn’t so much a number as it means a very long time. Ten thousand was just an expression. When I look at things through the eyes of a being that always was I see time becomes somewhat irrelevant. The ideas expressed in Hebrew poetry mean the same thing in any language quite amazing. Still all in all and I would like some help here as it seems beyond what I can understand is what came first the chicken or the egg. Sorry I had to post because this has bugged me for many years.

    • You like poetry, don’t you, w? I’ve begun seeing “a day is like ten thousand years to Him” as poetry. It’s very artful. It is no less literal than anything else.

      Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Literally the chicken and it’s genetic ancestors.

      • William Martin says:

        Didn’t explain a thing Stuart. It’s genetic ancestors in this context is mere opinion. Somewhere ,somehow there had to be creation and that is my opinion but the best I can come up with. Even if biologist could explain it there had to be a point where the was creation. Even is you try to explain it as an accident it still had to happen and no one alive cannot definitely not attribute it to a God who never sleeps so where are His days. Even the beings that sit in front of the throne praising him always where becomes the tapping of the beat after so long. Something we call time.

        • William Martin says:

          there and if among other mistakes I seem quite capable of

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Even if biologist could explain it there had to be a point where the was creation


          • William Martin says:

            Why Not if even by accident it was still created and you or anyone alive cannot say God’s hand was not on it. Let me see if I can pick my mike up from this box I’m standing on. To much free time lately got to get better so I can go back to work and pay my bills. Wonder if they were created to give me a headache….lol

            • William Martin says:

              I once heard a biologist say on radio that he watches as cells divide and that he doesn’t have an answer to the energy and why except to say that most days he has the privilege to watch the hand of God at work. This times a 1000 is why my father in-law who is quite an intelligent man can;t wrap his head around Christ when so many wacky shows which make no sense to him at all. He also read the Bible twice and still he has a hard time. If he were to talk to this biologist maybe then it would start to make sense. Geologists with a knowledge of the Hebrew would also be so kind in helping him.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says:

              > Why Not if even by accident it was still created and you or anyone alive cannot
              > say God’s hand was not on it.

              Which is about the weakest intellectual tea one can brew without it clearly being just warm water. Neither can I say that extraterrestrials have never visited earth or that there never was such a things as leprechauns.

              And if not(t=0) [t as time] then it means nothing at all. What if the universe is an eternal rinse-n-repeat? Expand, Collapse, Expand, Collapse, and this “creation” is ‘merely’ the start of the current interval? A start, be it “creation” or not, is not required.

              • Well, given the rate of expansion of the universe, it doesn’t appear to ever be headed for a big crunch…

          • I don’t see why there has to be a Creator either. The most mileage I can get is out of Jesus, but even He doesn’t require a Creator.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says:

              And we – and nobody I have ever read – makes a substantive definition of “Creator” anyway. Note that I believe in The Creator, in a rather orthodox way…. but I always recognize that my understanding of the idea is vague, and much of it is probably flim-flam. When people make their notions out to be something more substantive then they are it only goes to bad places.

              • William Martin says:

                Yeah right I wasn’t trying to be intellectual Adam and as long as you continue to actually believe that this kind of come back with leprechauns and such as a weak as hell argument to just refute what I might say only serves to act with what I believe most of what I read here as nonsense and of no benefit to me in building up of what a brother actually needs. It’s funny the question I originally asked got substantive answer. I am glad to once in awhile actually read something that isn’t so negative ina anyway as you pick at only what you want to pick at. If the shoe fits

              • William Martin says:

                extra terrestrials have visited earth and spoke to shepherds as well as many all through out the Bible

                • Bill, why don’t you email Chaplain Mike and tell him to give you my email. That way I can answer some of your questions to the best of my ability off the comment lines. We can take our time and just have a discussion.

                  • William Martin says:

                    This is not what I wanted in dialogue and I got caught in it again. It is quite hard to let people close to me as I find most my pain comes from them. So here is my e mail if you want but I’m not sure what we might discuss because I truly believe the most of what you are saying. If you have a way for me to see the hand of God in what you do then I am interested but bare in mind I am an old construction worker who hated school. My teachers wanted me to apply myself as I always aced tests but did no homework because I work 5 hrs a night and weekends………308 is for Isaiah 30 Verse 8 better look that up its been a long time

            • William Martin says:

              yeah right Stu your comprehension of such a one who is one and had a single mission here doesn’t mean he found himself at odds with scripture just the understanding of it

              • William Martin says:

                Hey Adam reread Job and the poetic language Of God at the end in His correction of Job. You see I have heard God’s voice very plainly and it isn’t English go figure. It took 20 minutes as the interpretation went nonstop till I understood it was correction. It was so beautiful I only wanted to hear more. It was lifting and no way condescending as so many here and that’s why I turned my back and left. Im just going to stop commenting mush easier as I am sick with to much free time . Ill find something to do. Thanks man

              • I think what I was trying to say W is that Jesus can still be the fullest expression of God there is, even be God himself, yet that doesn’t mean there needs to be a Creator. God is love, to an extent, right? He’s the fullness of all divinity, or so we believe. No matter what, Creator or no Creator, it all ends with him, and he existed. And that’s really all we need.

                • William Martin says:

                  I was never talking about what we need Stu and as usual you swing things your way as a kind if bait and switch. Which I fell for again I will master that at sometime for sure. You have missed the biggest part of who he is.

                  • w, I agree with you. If Jesus is not the beginning and end, if he’s not with us now, even more alive than he was during his mortal life, then he simply doesn’t exist. How this relates to cosmology is something that can be argued and disagreed over; but if God (Jesus) is not creator, alpha and omega as the Bible says, in this sense, then Christian faith is an exercise in ignorance.

                • StuartB,
                  If God is not creator, if he’s not the beginning, then how could it be true that “it all ends with him”, as you say? In that case, yes, “he existed” (you mean Jesus, correct?), but now he doesn’t exist anymore. And when he ceased to exist, it ended with him. If this is true, we have no idea how it will end, and no more reason to be hopeful than hopeless.

                  Otoh, if the resurrection of Jesus was and is a real event, then we have every reason to believe that Jesus was the beginning and will be the end, even as we have reason to believe that he’s with us now. As Paul said in one of the epistles (I’m not a chapter-and-verse guy; I could look it up easily enough, but that I tend to think that would be cheating, giving the false impression that I’m more familiar with the particularities of the Bible than I am), if Jesus’ resurrection is not what actually happened, then Christian faith is futile, and I might add, stupid.

                  • William Martin says:

                    +1 on your comments. Although the whole of the dialogue got off track as usual. In the beginning there was the word and the word was with God, Never was anything done alone. Robert I pray for relief for you. Before the foundations of the world. Isn’t this some of the most poetic writing on earth. Timeless crossing all boundaries. I do believe it is fitting of Him because his expressions are such.

      • –> “a day is like ten thousand years to Him”

        To heck with HIM, haven’t we all had days that have felt like ten thousand years?!?

        • William Martin says:

          Wouldn’t go so far as the heck with………But after spending 7 days with less than an hours sleep in total pain and agony it still wasn’t close to a very long time. Crying out to Him constantly was my only way through. Ten thousand in those days was an inconceivable number much like a trillion or more today. It is poetry and meant to convey an idea. I simply can’t imagine how we or some of us me included me get so far off from realities. Even the scientific community wanting to argue about worthless things. How many times have they change stances upon so many things and likely to be so many more. God can do what He wants.

    • William Martin says:

      Chicken and egg was a Metaphor.

      • I know. But it’s still a good science/theology question to answer. It’ll always be the chicken and it’s genetic ancestors.

  4. This article is both fascinating and sad. Fascinating because it’s always fascinating to find out how humans in our curiosity have managed to penetrate the secrets of our cosmos. Sad because in the year 2016 we still have millions of people who think Noah’s Flood was a real thing. What a testimony to our educational system!

    • Noah’s flood is very likely a real thing. That it covered the entire planet is where things fall apart.

      I don’t know Hebrew (new or old) but it is my weak understanding that the term used to describe the flood is used in many places in the OT and it roughly translates into “all the land”. At times the word was used to talk about a king’s realm. In other someone’s farm, etc… Is there any real evidence that there it really meant the entire planet for the flood. As if the concept of the “entire planet” meant anything at that point in time.

      • Like saying “the end of the world” means the literal end of the entire world, and not just the end of the world “as we know it.”

        But who are you going to believe, fallible man or God Almighty.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And there is evidence of a “Ten Thousand Year Flood” in Mesopotamia in early Sumerian times which would have covered the entire Tigris-Euphrates Valley from horizon to horizon. The earliest Sumerian version of the Flood and Ark is believed to have originated in an account of that flood.

        • So it’s literal truth. The flood literally did cover the whole earth.

          Maybe the fundamentalists were right! lol

        • Do you have a citation? Regional flooding yes. Note that over time stories of individual regional floods (and there is plenty of evidence of that) could have been merged with time to create a story of a much larger flood.

    • Years ago when I was following links on the web, I found the blog of an EO woman, Alice Linsley, who has a background in anthropology and linguistics, and also has integrated molecular genealogy and climate studies into her work studying Genesis. Some of her writings on Noah and the flood are really interesting. She posits it was a local event, though covering a large amount of land in north-central Africa, in the area of today’s Lake Chad, which happened tens of thousands of years ago when that part of the world was much wetter. Anthropologists believe that as the area dried up and became desert, the people migrated eastward and some became the ancestors of the Hebrews. Linguistic study gives weight to this possibility.

      Linsley is definitely not YEC, nor is she a biblical iteralist. She affirms mainstream science and scientific inquiry. She does not discuss the geologic aspect; that’s not her interest. I wonder about a few of her conclusions, but the majority of her work, especially with regard to Noah/flood and the connection to the people who became the Hebrews, is quite fascinating and makes a lot of sense to me as someone who has done some language study. A lot of her ideas seem to be at least plausible, because she demonstrates so clearly the anthropologic and linguistic connections to what we know about the life and times of the people whose story Genesis claims to record.

      jandyongenesis dot blogspot dot com – there is an index of topics in the left sidebar under “Popular Posts.” You can navigate to the posts on the flood from there.


      • William Martin says:

        Being that a lot of Genesis is poetic in nature conveying ideas. I always thought the flood to be of that part of the known world. I never saw it being worldwide. Much like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah It would seem things went off track and needed or had to have intervention from a future outcome not worthy of Him. I think like the corrupt nature of the rebellious angels who removed from Heaven. Corruption does seem to spread like the rotten apple that spoils the basket. Something we see every time the Hebrews come in contact with others in the world. Thank God there has been someone to intercede…..Now our Jesus……Noah is not a favorite of Jewish people as he only interceded after the death of all others. He got down kiss the ground and then built an alter to God……not before

      • I like her site, very interesting. Dating Noah’s flood to post-Pleistocene wet period makes sense to me. Although there is evidence for regional flooding in Mesopotamia as well. Eretz is the Hebrew word that can mean earth, land, soil. To the ancients you got up on a high hill and all you could see from horizon to horizon was “the whole earth/land”

        • Well sure there have been floods in the past but the mythological/literary trope of a universal flood, an “uncreating’ of the world, the loosing of the waters of chaos, is endemic to the Ancient Near East. The Genesis account is actually very late and derives from vastly earlier accounts. The writers took the trope and adapted it to their own theological and literary purposes. To try to attach the story in Genesis to some ancient historical event simply misses the point.

          Sorry, no Noah, no Adam, no Eve, no godlings having sex with human women and producing a race of giants (the real reason for the flood). These are myths. Not history. If we read these stories in a Greek or Hindu book of myths we would laugh if somebody suggested they were real events.

          • Yup. Myths are fun tho! But yup, it didn’t happen.

          • There is truth in Myth; in terms of Genesis, we have to figure out what that truth is. It’s not meant to be “history” the way we understand “history”. It is an attempt to explain why there is something rather than nothing, and why human beings are the way they are. Contrary to a lot of biblicist Christians out there, who I agree are missing the point, there are Christians like Mike the Geologist and others who understand that a lot of the Bible is actually rather opaque and needs to be interpreted, and there are good ways and not-so-good ways to interpret it.


  5. You still studying that there athianism?

    Knowlege puffeth up. Lets all puff on Jesus instead!

  6. So the take away is that YECers are liars. Big surprise.