Creative Science 15 – Catastrophe or Uniformity

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. Gen 7:11 (ESV).

In 1830 Charles Lyell published Principles of Geology. He believed that the geological processes we observe today have gone on essentially uniformly since the beginning of time. To understand the past, we only need to observe the present. Lyell’s theory forbids the possibility of any catastrophe on a planetary scale. Since we do not observe worldwide catastrophe today, Lyell reasons that no such catastrophe has occurred in the past – at least not since the rise of life. Lyell’s Uniformitarianism is not as widely accepted today as it was half a century ago. Many geologists today recognize that substantial catastrophes have occurred including large regional floods, glaciation, tectonic plate movement, and so forth. Even so, Lyell’s basic premise – which denies a recent global flood – is still regarded as fundamentally sound by many.

Genesis 6 to 9 recounts a hydraulic catastrophe where liquid water covered the entire surface of our planet for a period of several months. This catastrophe is described as violent and sudden. It profoundly affected surface features, atmosphere and climate. The bible indicates only a few people and a few of each “kind” of air breathing animal were preserved through the catastrophe on a wooden ark. Both the flood and the preservation of life through the flood are regarded as divinely caused. Based on the biblical record, the flood is believed to have occurred roughly 4200 – 4400 years ago.

There are two critical conflicts between Lyell’s theory and the biblical account. First, Lyell’s theory forbids any catastrophe which would have radically affected the type or rate of geological processes on a planetary scale. Second, Lyell’s theory is a critical part of the overall Materialist doctrine of accepting only natural processes – Evolution being the key natural process interlocked with Uniformitarianism. The Genesis flood must be denied, otherwise the ancient text and its allusions to the supernatural are legitimized.

The idea of a supernatural force destroying all air-breathing life except for the people and animals aboard a huge wooden vessel is just too fantastic for many to accept. For others, the possibility of the biblical flood being nothing more than a myth or an allegory is absurd in light of both the testimony of scripture and the geological evidence. The logical question is whether forensic evidence in the rocks supports a relatively recent hydraulic cataclysm or not.

In recent decades geologists have discovered and verified there are huge plates in Earth’s crust. These tectonic plates float on a layer of molten rock called magma. The plates can and do move. Most earthquakes and volcanoes occur along plate boundaries. Scientists have not found anything like our tectonic plates on other planets.

The Uniformitarian model suggests the plates have always moved slowly as they move now. The shapes of the plates and their relative motion suggests they may once have all been positioned together to form a super-continent called Pangea. The mechanism for the original break-up of this super-continent is not known with certainty, although tidal force may be the prime cause. Mountains result from the compression of plates colliding. Oceanic trenches occur where plates pull apart.

The biblical model predicts that originally Earth had shallow seas and low mountains unlike what we observe today. At that time great reservoirs of water were held under great pressure below the surface. At the start of the flood God broke open the “fountains of the deep” like we would crack an egg. The water under pressure found relief in geysers pluming into the upper atmosphere resulting in intense rain for an extended period. At the same time, lateral force against the plates drove them very quickly apart. Some plates collided and in a very brief time drove up great mountain ranges. In other places the plates left enormous open spaces which are today our great oceans. The tensile forces where they pulled apart left very deep gashes in the ocean floor. In these very thin and very weak areas volcanic vents continually churn out magma. During the flood great amounts of magma may have been exposed to the ocean floor. The heat may have been intense enough to cause the flood waters to rise even higher during the initial phase of the flood period. The water would quickly cool the exposed magma back down to form a relatively stable ocean floor. Modern vents remain active primarily because tectonic plates continue to move slowly.

Tectonic plate motion is believed to be the cause of mountains and trenches in both the Materialist and Biblical models. The substantial difference is that the Biblical model supplies a cause, a purpose, and a fairly detailed recent timeline. The Uniformitarian model denies the supernatural purpose and water catastrophe as the causal mechanism.

Uniformitarianism predicts that the overall climate of the planet has remained little changed over millions if not billions of years. The poles have always been cold compared to the equator. The water cycle is essentially as it has always been with evaporation, cloud formation, rain, and runoff back to the oceans. While this model certainly does allow for some variation over time, like changes in currents and jet stream, the grand scheme of things is believed to be essentially constant.

The Biblical model predicts a more uniform climate around the globe prior to the flood. Initially mist rather than rain watered the earth according to Gen 2:5-6. If, rather than rain as we know today, the atmosphere contained a perpetual light mist to water the plants, such an atmosphere would have surely trapped and more evenly dispersed solar heat. The temperature near the poles may have been much warmer. Scripture does not really prohibit rainfall before the flood, but with such drastic and sudden changes as are described in scripture it seems logical that the climate of the whole planet would have been altered by the flood. In the aftermath of the flood, the poles cooled quickly resulting in vast icy glaciers. A number of scientists today dispute the old theory that glaciers must have formed and moved debris very slowly. Soil and rock displacement attributed to glaciation may have actually occurred very quickly and in some cases may be linked to water movement rather than ice movement. In either case, the biblical model does not prohibit ice ages where great glaciers were pressed down from the pole to points as far South as mid-western US states or central Europe. What is prohibited is a period of thousands of years of such ice. The sudden appearance of ice is to be expected in an atmosphere suddenly emptied of most of its water vapor. It probably took a few centuries after the flood for the atmosphere to reach equilibrium with some retreat of ice from Northern regions.

Fossils of animals known to prefer warm climates have been found in rich abundance in polar regions. This strongly suggests a much more uniform distribution of heat around the globe at some point in the past. Hundreds of almost instantly frozen animals have been found in the permanently frozen Northern regions of Siberia and Alaska. Of these, the most well known are the Wooly Mammoths and the Sabertooth Tigers. For many years it was believed the long hair of the Mammoth protected it from the cold, but recently scientists have learned that oils in the animals’ skin and hair function more like hairy animals in the tropics to keep them cool. Mammoths and Sabertooths would have been much more comfortable in the tropics than the polar regions. Evolutionary scientists fail to offer a credible explanation without veering from Lyell’s Uniformitarian model. Creationists offer two theories. One theory is that the creatures were frozen at the start of the flood when the warm water vapor barrier suddenly collapsed. The polar region froze suddenly. The ice at the poles would not have been included in the biblical account since it did not directly impact Noah’s experience. The alternate theory is that there was some lag after the flood before the poles froze over. During that period the tropical Mammoths and Sabertooth Tigers propagated and traveled North, but were caught in a sudden cooling in the century or two following the flood. Of these two I personally prefer the former, but since I was not there my preference amounts to little more than private speculation. Either way, the presence of whole frozen animals with undigested food still in their mouths and stomachs cannot be explained by slow glaciation.

The book of Job probably provides the most information about Creation outside of the opening chapters of Genesis. Job contains several references to snow and three of the four references to ice in the entire bible. Consider this passage: “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it. Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens. From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” (Job 37:5-10, ESV) This last sentence in particular suggests Job and his friends knew about glaciers along with snow, rain, and cold winds.

Average global temperatures are known to vary. In the 10th and 11th centuries England produced wine rivaling the best vineyards of France. This rivalry led to war. During the same period Vikings settled the fertile and lush land in southern Greenland. The “little ice age” began about 1315 A.D. Within a generation almost the civilization of Greenland was decimated. Unable to grow crops and keep animals alive, survivors departed for the warmer European continent. England could no longer produce fine wine. The Thames river is said to have frozen over completely many times during the 14th and into the 15th centuries.

More recently, there is little doubt that average global temperature has risen slightly over the last few decades. There is a great deal of debate as to why. The popular notion it is largely man’s fault may not be correct. Many factors are precisely balanced to maintain the temperature of our planet. Cloud cover, particularly in the lower atmosphere, is the most significant single factor because clouds block and reflect so much heat. Recent observations have shown that cosmic radiation directly impacts cloud formation. When solar flare activity is high there is more solar wind. Solar wind reduces the amount of cosmic radiation reaching the lower atmosphere. It has been reliably shown that with sunspot activity there is lower cloud formation and higher average surface temperature. It is likely that the warm age of the 10th to 12th centuries saw higher average solar flare activity than the much cooler period of the 14th and 15th centuries.


About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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2 Responses to Creative Science 15 – Catastrophe or Uniformity

  1. Lance,

    On Job 37: 5-10, personally on the language here, I would see this as more metaphorically of God’s great providence over the earth and His creation. Also here is the majesty of God. In fact note in verses 12 and 13, we see more of the great sovereignty of God in His providence. Remember the Book of Job is part of the OT Wisdom Literature, and here we must note the poetic also. Again, my thoughts at least. 🙂

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Yes, Fr Robert, much of Job is written in poetic voice. That doesn’t take away from its faithfulness or truth, only a different way of expression. Even in poetry, references to snow and ice suggest familiarity with them which suggests climate conditions almost unknown later by biblical authors. So much of Job is different, though, yet beautiful for so many reasons. I love the central theme of Job which as you so eloquently said is God’s sovereignty. We absolutely agree on this and I am honored to have your company in this. So many folks in the church – especially the American protestant denominations – give only lip service to God’s sovereignty. It drives me to reverence, and to my knees. God bless you. I so enjoy your comments.

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