Science in Christian Perspective



Flood Geology is Uniformitarian!
Department of Physics
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan


From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 146-152.

The principle of the uniformity of nature can be summed up in the familiar statement, "The present is the key to the past." Since the publication in 1830 of Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell most geologists have approached their science, the study of the Earth, in terms of this principle. Modern geological practice is uniformitarian1 in outlook.

Since the days of Lyell there have been individuals within and at the fringes of the geological community who have challenged the validity of the principle of uniformity in nature. Among these individuals, especially at the present time, are those who adhere to the theory of flood geology. These individuals generally wish to be considered as catastrophists.2

It is the contention of catastrophists that modern historical geology is fundamentally in error because of its adherence to the principle of uniformity. It is said that many of the conclusions of modern geology, for example, the great antiquity of the Earth, are in error because they are based on this false principle. It is argued that the principle of uniformity is incapable of explaining the observed data of the rock record. It is said to be an inadequate explanatory principle. Many catastrophists also charge that the principle of uniformity is an unbiblical principle and should therefore be abandoned, especially by those who are Christians. Thus uniformitarians are urged to reinterpret the data of geology in light of the true and scriptural principle of catastrophism. Critics of modern geology would suggest that we have, in the interpretation of the geological record, a conflict between two diametrically opposed philosophies, catastrophism versus uniformitarianism. Our differences are considered to be fundamentally philosophical differences.

In this paper we show that modern flood catastrophists3 do not really understand the principle of uniformity as it is generally used by geologists today, and we shall show that even flood catastrophists, though they might deny it, subscribe strongly to the principle of uniformity as it is applied in modern geology. Modern flood catastrophists are really uniformitarians who have falsely interpreted the geological evidence. The differences between modern flood catastrophists and more orthodox geologists are not so much differences of philosophy. The problem is that flood catastrophists have avoided that vast body of evidence which is contrary to their preconceived theory.

Flood Geology's Challenge to Uniformitarianism

Flood catastrophists believe that the principle of uniformity is lacking in explanatory power. It is charged that it is an inadequate principle. For example, in a book review of Franciscan and Related Rocks and their Significance in the Geology of Western California, theologian Bernard Northrup begins by stating, "Seldom has a book been written within the interpretative framework of evolutionary macrochronological geology4 that has so effectively demonstrated the inadequacy of that framework to explain the facts found in field research."' In yet another paper on the Sisquoc diatomite beds near Lompoc, California, Northrup says that he is 

convinced that reality in geological time has been grossly misrepresented on the walls of the contemporary science classroom by the deceptive shadows of evolutionary uniformilarian time values. At Lompoc this distortion is remarkably evident. The fossils that were trapped in the abrupt deposition which left this unique graveyard tell a story violently contradictory to the classroom interpretation. Every fossil found supports a denial that it had been buried at a geological "snail's pace."

In a general discussion of sedimentation Henry Morris states that

the principle of uniformity turns out to be entirely inadequate right at this most important aspect of geologic interpretation. Modern processes of sedimentation are in general quite incapable of accounting for the sedimentary rocks of the geologic column. This is true whether the environment of deposition is thought to be geosynclinal, deltaic, lagoonal, or some other.7

Nevins comments that

the many contradictions encountered make the Principle of Uniformity unacceptable to the historical geologist. The principle which has long been considered the basis for historical geology has been shown to be inadequate.8

Steinhauer maintains regarding two aspects of uniformitarianism that "one is at variance with observation; the other, though correlating with many observations, leads to logical and philosophical contradictions."9 And finally Whitcomb and Morris repeatedly stress the inadequacy of uniformitarianism. Regarding continental ice sheets, "the principle of uniformity is once again woefully inadequate to account for them."10 Regarding the formation of coal, "the fundamental axiom of uniformity, that the present is the key to the past, completely fails to account for the phenomena.11 Thus we see that, according to catastrophists, the phenomena of sedimentation, fossilization, volcanism, tectonism, glaciation, and the like, cannot be accounted for in terms of the principle of uniformity.
It has also been charged that uniformitarian thinking is unbiblical. Uniformitarianism is thought to be a false unchristian philosophy. So, for example, Whitcomb and Morris have appealed to II Peter 3:3-10 in support of this contention. In this passage Peter warns that, in the last days, there would be scoffers who would say, "Where is the promise of his (Jesus') coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." Peter then goes on to remind his readers of the flood judgment and of the coming final judgment. With regard to this passage, Whitcomb and Morris say,

Here again the Flood is used as a type and warning of the great coming worldwide destruction and judgment when the 'day of man' is over and the day of the Lord' comes, But the prophet is envisioning a time when, because of an apparent long delay, the 'promise of his coming' is no longer treated seriously. It is to become the object of crude scoffing and intellectual ridicule. It will be obvious to 'thinking men' in such a day that a great supernatural intervention of God in the world, as promised by Christ, is scientifically out of the question. That would be a miracle, and miracles contradict natural law!
And how do we know that miracles and divine intervention contradict natural law? Why, of course, because our experience shows and our philosophy postulates that 'all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation'! This is what we call our 'principle of uniformity,' which asserts that all things even from the earliest beginnings can be explained essentially in terms of present processes and rates. Even the Creation itself is basically no different from present conditions, since these processes are believed to have been operating since even the 'beginning of the creation.' There is no room for any miracle or divine intervention in our cosmology; therefore, the concept of a future coming of Christ in worldwide judgement and purgation is merely naive!12

Thus, at least in the view of Whitcomb and Morris, the principle of uniformity is an unbiblical principle.

The solution to all of this is to accept the principle of catastrophe and to reinterpret the data of geology in terms of it. Now for catastrophists the catastrophic principle involves the idea of global catastrophe. This catastrophe, or at least one of the catastrophes, is generally regarded as Noah's flood13 which supposedly inundated the whole Earth for about a year. During this period there was catastrophic sedimentation, volcanic activity, and mountain building. The catastrophic philosophy is believed to offer at least as good if not a superior explanatory principle for accounting for such phenomena as fossil graveyards, sediments, the mode of fossilization, polystrate trees, mountains, volcanoes, and the like. 

Modern flood catastrophists do not really understand the principle of uniformity as it is generally used by geologists today.

Thus Burdick, for example, says that

many of the vexing problems of stratigraphy would be solved if we simply took the evidence we see at face value instead of attempting to fit it into the concept of uniformitarianism made popular by Sir Charles Lyell. Lack of space forbids a discussion of all the simplifications resulting from a return to catastrophism.14

Rupke argues that the polystrate fossils "constitute strong arguments in favor of cataclysmal deposition, and, generally, support catastrophism as a scientific principle to interpret the earth's history.15 From the remainder of his paper it is evident that his cataclysm is the flood. And constantly we read statements like "The Flood seems to be a reasonable explanation for the deposition of widespread chert blankets"16 and

it is highly consonant with the whole character of the catastrophic action attending deposition of the Deluge sediments to infer that the processes of compaction, cementation, drying, etc. leading to final lithification could have been accomplished quite rapidly.17

Many catastrophists would also maintain that the principle of catastrophe, unlike the principle of uniformity, is a biblical principle.18 It is maintained that the Bible teaches a purely miraculous creation which took only 144 hours, a fall of Adam with catastrophic implications, and a catastrophic worldwide deluge. Thus Christian geologists in particular are urged to give up the principle of uniformity and adopt the principle of catastrophe.

Flood Geology's Understanding of Uniformitarianism

Just precisely what is it about the principle of uniformity to which flood catastrophists object? What does the catastrophist understand by the principle of uniformity? Again we need to turn to their writings for the answer.
In his discussion of uniformity Steinhauer 

suggests that it is possible for the assumption of uniformity to be overextended and overextrapolated, leading to a simplistic or even grossly inaccurate view of the universe. This is indeed the case when scientists propose that those process rates and conditions presently observable have always operated in the same way or with the same intensity.19

Steinhauer asks us to consider this assumption that process rates and material conditions are uniform and invariant when viewed on a global scale. He argues that process rates depend on material conditions so that as the latter vary so must the former. Process rates cannot thus be uniform since material conditions have varied. He gives us examples such as human population growth to show us that the rates of global phenomena do change. This assumption of a uniformity of process rates is a "titanic extrapolation, a blind leap of faith that contradicts what is observable in the universe. A few scientists have recently become aware of this leap and abandoned it.20 In another paper Steinhauer states that

evidence comes from every quarter that the history of Earth's crust is one of trauma and cataclysm. Geologists have assembled a great volume of facts supporting global catastrophism. This is in spite of the domination of their science by the uniformitarian axiom of a peaceful Earth history.21

Elsewhere he says "some kinds of sediment are not being formed today, which contradicts an axiom of uniformitarianism.''22

Nevins has also discussed uniformity at great length. He charges that "the possibility of catastrophic events during this evolutionary development is rejected. Characteristic of this limited thinking is the reliance on the Principle of Uniformity as a basic assumption."23 He says that "the Principle of Uniformity sternly rejects any catastrophic event like the Flood."24 Nevins then goes on to discuss at great length an aspect of uniformitarianism that has recently been termed substantive uniformitarianisrn.25 Basically substantive uniformitarianism is the idea that the processes and process rates of the present may be extrapolated indefinitely into the past and that geologic phenomena may be sufficiently accounted for in terms of a uniformity through time of processes and process rates. Such process rates are very slow and not cataclysmic since modern day rates are presumably rather slow in general. In opposition to substantive uniformitarianism, Nevins says that the fossil record indicates "rapid changes of environments rather than... slow and uniform change."26 Also,

evidence of continental glaciation shows that a colder climate existed at one time. There is abundant geologic evidence of former catastrophic events. Rock formations show current structures which indicate that transcontinental flood conditions once prevailed. Critics of substantive uniformitarianism have found fossil graveyards, trees buried by massive lava flows, frozen mammoths in Arctic regions, and many other exceptions to a strict adherence to the substantive uniformitarian view. The great mass of evidence indicating catastrophe has been largely ignored by geologists.
Actually, the assumption that process rates must be uniform is without scientific backing. There is no scientific law which requires a natural event always so proceed at constant rate. A scientific law only describes an event under a fixed set of conditions and as conditions vary so does the rate. Conditions, not scientific law, determine the rate of a process.27

Finally, Nevins says that "the substantive uniformitarianism of Hutton and Lyell was an a priori assumption formed not upon evidence but upon a preconceived opinion of how nature must ideally operate if we are to study it by inductive means."28 And

the principle of simplicity and consideration of the evidence of the fossil record logically establishes a catastrophe similar to Noah's Flood recorded in Genesis. This hypothesis, however, must be carefully tested only from evidence contained in the rocks. By no means should the old argument of Lyell (substantive uniformitarianism) be used to deny the reality of the Flood .29

In his paper on the Sisquoc diatomite beds, Northrup gives us an inkling of his understanding of uniformitarianism when he discusses fossilization.

It is deposition of fossils in the normal bedding plane of the diatomite that first suggested that these fishes and birds had simply fallen to the bottom after death, to be slowly covered by the slow 'rain' or 'snow' of diatom structures from the waters above. There are several factors, however, that make this simple uniformitarian explanation impossible.
First, the perfect condition of the bodies of the fossilized fish repudiates slow deposition. . The supposed gradual deposition of millions of carcasses, untouched by other bottom feeding fishes, and their painfully slow burial by the postulated 1/1500 to 1/2 inch per year deposition rate simply is not possible. . Secondly, there are fossils found which show that the rate of deposition was extremely rapid. Some are clearly deposited by a violent action which has torn scales and even removed fins from the body.30

For Whitcomb and Morris, the idea of uniformity is essentially that

geomorphic processes which can be observed in action at present, such as erosion, sedimentation, glaciation, volcanism, diastrophism, ctc,-all operating in essentially the same fashion as at present-can be invoked to explain the origin and formation of all the earth's geologic deposits. The doctrine of uniformity thus is supposed to render unnecessary any recourse to catastruphism, except on a minor scale.31

Modern flood catastrophists are really uniformitarians who have falsely interpreted the geological evidence.

Further on they say "Historical geology purports to explain all of the earth's geologic formations in terms of the essentially uniform operation of processes of nature that are now occurring and can be studied at the present time32 and

Thus it is now believed that the present-day geomorphic processes (including erosion, deposition, volcanism, diastrophism, etc.), acting essentially in the same manner and at the same rates as at present, can suffice to account for all she earth's physiographic features when properly studied and correlated.33

Finally they say "It is processes such as these which the uniformity concept asserts can explain the earth's stratified and massive rock formations. Our basic objection to this contention, however, is that the character and rates of activity of the processes cannot have been the same in the past as in the present."34

It is quite clear from these selections and indeed from most flood catastrophist writings that uniformitarianism is generally understood as meaning substantive uniformitarianism-the idea of uniformity of processes through time and also uniformity of intensity or rates of processes through time. The processes and rates are basically those presently observable. As a result catastrophists seem to think that uniformitarians postulate very slow process rates and a very peaceful Earth history in which there are virtually no catastrophes. Indeed flood catastrophists almost seem to think that uniformitarians a priori reject the very possibility of great catastrophes. And they seem to think that uniformitarianism means that there must be forming in the world somewhere today an example of every kind of rock found in the geological record since the present is the key to the past and present process rates were the same in the past. They seem to think, therefore, that since chert is supposedly not forming in the world today,35 uniformitarianism is somehow contradicted. They seem to think that very rapid, violent processes are inconsistent with uniformitarianism. They seem to think that evidence for catastrophe is inconsistent with uniformitarianism.

Modern Geology Rejects Substantive Uniformitarianism

Now substantive uniformitarianism, as we have seen, has been attacked repeatedly by modern day catastrophists because they seem to think it is the principle to which modern geologists subscribe. The subtle implication is that, since substantive uniformitarianism is incorrect, therefore flood catastrophism is probably correct, as if we had to choose between these two alternatives alone. Now the fact of the matter is that substantive uniformitarianism is an incorrect principle. It is not in accord with the facts of nature. There are many geologic phenomena which cannot be accounted for in terms of uniformity of rates through geologic time. So, for example, the earlier part of solar system history and of Earth history was a time of far more intense meteorite bombardment than at present. Volcanic activity of the moon certainly was far more intense early in its history. Such activity on the moon is virtually extinct now. Core formation in the Earth has no doubt virtually ceased. Such a process may have been extremely rapid during the earliest stages of Earth history. Continental drift may not have occurred at all dufing early Earth history, whereas it does occur now. Glaciation rates have certainly varied enormously through time. Thus catastrophists like Nevins are quite right when they charge that the viewpoint of substantive uniformitarianism is an imposition on nature as to how it should behave. At least this is so to the extent that substantive uniformitarianism becomes an a priori principle which we impose on nature before actually looking at the evidence contained in the rocks.

It may well be that Lyell and some other geologists of his time and of succeeding years adhered to what might be termed substantive uniformitarianism. It is even possible that many geologists rejected the very possibiility of great catastrophes on principial grounds even before studing the phenomena of the rocks carefully enough. Perhaps Lyell may have been guilty of this to a certain extent.36 But as time went on Lyell gradually backed away from his earlier position and began to recognize that the rates of processes had varied through time much more than he had recognized previously. It is even possible that a few geologists today cling to substantive uniformitarianism and would reject the possibility of major catastrophes in Earth history. All this is somewhat irrelevant, however.

Flood catastrophists spend considerable effort in beating a dead horse, because it is highly questionable whether any significant number of geologists has held to anything like substantive uniformitarianism for a number of years.

The fact of the matter is that flood catastrophists spend considerable effort in beating a dead horse, because it is highly questionable whether any significant number of geologists has held to anything like substantive uniformitarianism for a number of years.37 The geologic community does not think in terms of substantive uniformitarianism.

When a geologist goes out to look at rocks he does not go out with a preconceived notion that present processes must always have operated at the same intensity throughout history. Nor does he go out with a preconceived notion that a great catastrophe (or several of them) cannot have happened. If geologists do not subscribe to the flood geology theory, it is likely that they are persuaded that the totality of the evidence argues against it, not because they approach geology with a preconceived idea as to what rates of processes must have been like. Geologists hardly feel that sedimentation and burial of fossils must always and everywhere have been excruciatingly slow, peaceful, and non-violent. Geologists hardly feel that just because chert and dolomite are not formed to any significant extent today that this poses a serious threat to the uniformity of nature. Geologists hardly rule out the possibility of great catastrophes.

The flood catastrophists have noted that a few scientists have seen the weakness of substantive uniformitarianism and have given it up. This is an understatement of tremendous (shall we say catastrophic!) magnitude. The geologic community had given it up long ago. One might even question whether the geologic community as a whole ever did enthusiastically adhere to substantive uniformitarianism. The brand of uniformitarianism of which flood catastrophists accuse geologists is not generally held. Catastrophists attack a straw man.

Methodological Uniformitarianism

If the geological community has abandoned substantive uniformitarianism, however, are we not then driven into the camp of the catastrophists, as they would seem to imply? By no means. Modern geologists are still uniformitarians. They generally adhere to what Gould has termed methodological uniformitarianism.39 Briefly stated this is simply the idea that the laws of nature are invariant in time and space40 and that Earth processes of the past behave in accord with those laws just as they do now. Catastrophists have been far more reticent about attacking this aspect of uniformitarianism than substantive uniformitariansim and with good reason, for to attack this principle is to begin undermining the very foundation of science itself. In fact Morris has said that "true uniformity has to do with the inviolability of natural law (e.g., the laws of thermodynamics), and not to the uniformity of process rates."41 Elsewhere Morris speaks of methodological uniformitarianism as the true uniformitarianism.42 Steinhauer has some reservations about methodological uniformitarianism to the extent that it excludes divine intervention into the world, but recognizing that there must be some kind of uniformity in order to make science possible, he substitutes a scriptural principle of uniformity which again stresses the regularity of nature and the laws which God has implanted into the structure of the universe.43

The Christian geologist who adheres to the principle of methodological uniformitarianism in his scientific work must not, of course, make it a complete philosophy of life. To adhere to methodological uniformitarianism for geological study does not mean that I must reject the possibility of all miracles. I do believe that God has performed miracles in which He suspended His laws, but I still accept the idea of uniformity of law in the universe since God first created the initial stuff of the universe. God

A firm commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible does not require flood catastrophists to believe the theories of Creation and the Flood to which they doggedly hold.

is very economical with miracles. Miracles in the Scripture are usually closely tied in with the history of redemption and have little if any bearing on geological history. The catastrophists have not proved from the Bible the contention that creation, the fall, and the flood were shot through and through with all kinds of miracles in which God dispensed with the laws of nature as definitely as is the case with, say, the floating axehead and the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When I look at rocks, I have no reason to believe from the Bible that what I am looking at is the result of a whole series of miracles.44 In order for geology to be a science we must operate with methodological uniformitarianism. But this does not compel us to reject God or the supernatural.

If we are to look at the Earth's past scientifically, we must interpret the formation of rocks and landforms in terms of processes which are either known to us now or are somehow conceivable in terms of the laws of nature. Processes analogous to those of the present may be consistent with such laws. The rates of those processes must be consistent with the laws of nature although not necessarily constant throughout time and not necessarily even slow. This is all we ask of methodological uniformitarianism. The processes and rates and material conditions are inferred from the evidence of the rock record. None of this implies an a priori rejection of catastrophes of a global scale. If there have been such catastrophes, all we ask is that those catastrophes be interpretable in terms of the laws of mechanics, dynamics, optics, meteorology, chemistry, electricity, and so on. Methodological uniformitarianism cannot a priori reject the flood geology theory without looking at rocks. After all floods are processes which occur in nature in accordance with laws. It is clear from their writings that catastrophists generally try to interpret the Flood in terms of natural law even though the Flood was sent as a divine judgment.45 There is little attempt to treat the Flood as a pure miracle in which natural law was suspended.

Flood Catastrophists are Uniformitarians

Modern flood catastrophists are really proceeding on the same principle as modern geologists. We both accept the idea that rocks should be explicable in terms of processes that behave in accord with the laws of nature. It is clear that catastrophists are talking in terms of a modern day observable process, a flood, and that this flood behaves in accordance with natural laws. The only difference is one of scale. But they expect their flood to do things that floods do. And so we find statements such as the following by Nevins in reference to certain layers of rock rich in fossil clams:

How was this clam layer formed? The best explanation seems to be that the clams were washed into their present location and buried alive. If the clams had died prior to burial, the shells would have been open rasher than tightly closed. The clams most have been transported because they could not have lived amassed in the layer in which they are found. Turbulent and flowing water seems to be the only mechanism which could rapidly transport and deposit heavy objects like clams. Some catastrophe like she Flood seems to be a most reasonable explanation.46

In spite of the appeal to catastrophe, this is uniformitarian thinking if ever there were such. The appeal is not to the unknown and the unknowable, but the appeal is from the geological evidence to experience with modern day processes, i.e., washing, the way clams die, turbulent transportation in water, and so on. Nevins' appeal is to knowable and known processes with which we have experience in the modern world, processes that he expects to have behaved in the past as they behave today because they obey the laws of nature.

Also notice what Nevins says in regard to graded bedding and turbidites,

It is noteworthy that the Flood would have generated turbidity currents as well as conditions very similar to turbidity currents. The waters of the Flood would have stirred up a heavy and viscous load of sediment. When the turbidity of the waters decreased, very rapid deposition would have occurred over vast areas. Minor oscillations in current would have introduced new sediment which could have been deposited on previous beds producing the characteristic repeating graded beds.47

Notice how frequently "would have" is used. Again Nevins can say "would have" with some degree of confidence because in uniformitarian fashion he is appealing not to some unknowable miraculous occurrence but to his experience with present day observable phenomena and processes. Nevins' flood acts the way we would expect flooding waters to behave. It produces the kinds of phenomena we would expect a great flood to produce.

Or take this statement from Whitcomb and Morris regarding the formation of evaporites from brines:

...perhaps it is not too presumptuous to suggest that these unusual brines may have been generated during the volcanic upheavals accompanying the Deluge and that unusual conditions of vaporization and separation of precipitates may likewise have been caused by the locally high temperatures accompanying these same upheavals.48

Again it is clear that we have no appeal to miracle, but uniformitarian construction of a hypothesis appealing to knowable processes which operate in accord with natural laws. When we speak of high temperatures generated by volcanic activity, and of vaporization of water and precipitation of chemicals caused by those high temperatures, we are arguing on the basis of our experience of present processes, and in so doing we are doing what any modern uniformitarian geologist does.

This is not to say that flood geologists are consistent uniformitarians, for they are not, but they are uniformitarians nonetheless. They are not always consistent in making reasonable inferences from the geological data in terms of natural processes and laws. We find them making their most reasonable inferences when the data seem to support their preconceived flood hypothesis. Then they become quite consistent uniformitarians when it is so convenient. But we find them making their most outrageous inferences when the data flatly contradict their flood hypothesis. Even then their false reasonings are cast in terms of natural laws and they argue in terms of what "would have" happened. Thus when it is not so convenient, flood catastrophists become less consistent, but even then they cannot escape being uniforinitarians.

Some further examples should help to illustrate that this is so. As we saw earlier, Northrup argued that dismembered fossil fishes implied turbulent water action and rapid burial. Very well preserved fishes also implied rapid burial. He thought all this was against uniformitarianism, but it is not. It is very good uniformitarian thinking in spite of the fact that he attributes this violence and rapidity of deposition to the Flood. It is uniformitarian because he argues from evidence to what would likely happen in the world today. Very turbulent water action and rapid burial probably would dismember some fish and preserve them from predation of scavengers. Flood catastrophists are often very consistent uniformitarians when dealing with stratigraphy. Sometimes one gets the impression that they think stratigraphy is the only aspect of geology.

The consistency of their uniformitarianism deteriorates when we move into other aspects of geology. For example, Barnes maintains that the Earths magnetic moment has steadily and exponentially decreased from an astronomically high value at creation only a few thousand years ago to its current value.49 He wants to show that the Earth is very young. Of course, one could counter that the evidence from radiocarbon dating alone shows that the Earth has been in existence much more than just a few thousand years, thus bringing into question the whole idea of recent creation. But, reasoning in uniformitarian fashion, Barnes argues that increased values of the magnetic moment in the past would increase the shielding effect of the Earth from cosmic rays. Since cosmic rays would be deflected away from the Earth's atmosphere, there would be less carbon 14 production in the upper atmosphere. This, in turn, would completely upset radiocarbon dating. Other flood catastrophists such as Whitelaw have expressed similar ideas.

 They criticize the validity of radiocarbon dates because of what Earth's magnetic field would do to cosmic ray production during the Flood. Now Barnes, Whitelaw, and the other catastrophists have not done a good job of interpreting the scientific evidence in this area. Their inferences and conclusions are wrong because they have neglected abundant archaeological and geological evidence from the field of paleomagnetics which clearly indicates that the Earth's magnetic moment has not decreased exponentially from the beginning but has fluctuated greatly throughout time. Yet in spite of their distortion of and ignoring of the total magnetic evidence the catastrophists have unavoidably reasoned from the evidence which they choose to consider in a uniformitarian manner. They constantly stress the causal interrelationship between the magnetic field, cosmic rays, and carbon 14. Barnes, Whitelaw, and the others speak in terms of such causal interrelationships not only at present but in the past as well. In other words they accept the idea that the same laws of magnetics that are in existence now were in existence in the past and that cosmic rays and radiocarbon production responded in accordance with those laws. This kind of thinking clearly makes uniformitarians out of the catastrophists. They are arguing in the same way as modern geologists do except that they ignore or distort the evidence which contradicts their most fundamental world hypothesis.

Why the Big Difference of Opinion?

One would think that if modern geologists do not, as many perhaps did years ago, insist that rates of processes be slow so that no global catastrophes are needed, and if we have no a priori principial objection to the possibility of a global catastrophe, and if flood catastrophists and modern geologists both argue essentially from methodological uniformitarian premises, then there would not be such a great rift between us. Why do we see the history of the Earth so very differently? I think the answer is basically simple. The flood catastrophists are unwilling to read the totality of the available evidence properly.50 They are unwilling to abandon their hypothesis even when the evidence has made it untenable. They have ignored or distorted a vast body of evidence which is contrary to their preconceived notion of what Earth history is like. They have focussed only on what is favorable to their own theory. They claim continually to argue from the evidence, from the facts of nature, but they ignore what is inconvenient for them. It is true that many phenomena of the sedimentary rock record might be interpretable in terms of a great flood. But many of the phenomena to which they appeal, such as fossil graveyards and graded bedding, are easily explicable in terms of much smaller scale processes than global catastrophic floods. More importantly flood catastrophists have ignored abundant evidence of glacial deposits, lake deposits, desert deposits, delta deposits, shore deposits, reef deposits, and evaporate deposits in the rock record. The presence of these argues completely against a global flood having deposited almost the totality of the sedimentary rock pile. Catastrophists have ignored the evidence from heat flow from cooling magmas, metamorphism, and the kinetics of mineral formation. They have tried desperately to make the evidence from radiometric dating say something opposite from what it does say. Although a fraction of the geological evidence might suggest the global flood, the overwhelming totality of the evidence argues mightily against it.51 I would impress upon the flood catastrophist that a firm commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible does not require them to believe the theories of Creation and the Flood to which they doggedly hold. The data of the Bible certainly do not demand that we hold to these views. I wish that all Christian scientists could learn to relax a little bit and stop being afraid that somehow or other some scientific evidence will disprove the Bible. Let's not be afraid to follow the evidence that God has put into His world.

Failing this, the only recourse that flood catastrophists have to save their theory is to appeal to pure miracle and thus torpedo the very possibility of historical geology.


'The sense in which I use the terms "uniformity" and "uniformitarianism" will become clearer through the paper. There has been a great deal of discussion of the meaning of these and allied terms and of the statement, "The present is the key to the past" among geologists. No doubt many geologists would reject my using the terms "uniformity" and "uniformstarianism" as I do. But this is basically irrelevant because I am not so much interested in terms as I am in principles, and the principle which I enumerate and call uniformitarianism is one that is nearly unanimously agreed upon by geologists. For some interesting discussions of the idea of uniformitarianism see  G. Simpson, "uniformitarianism. An Inquiry Into Principle, Theory, and Method in Geohistory and Biohtstory," in M.K. Uecht and W. C. Sleere, eds., Essays in Evolution and Genetics in Honor of Theodosius Dobzhansky, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1970, p. 43-96; and also R. Hooykaas, "Catastrophism in Geology, Its Scientific Character in Relation to Actualism and uniformitarianism," Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van wetenschappen, afd. Letterkunde, Med. (n.r.), v.33, 1970, p. 271-316. Both these papers have been reprinted in CC. Albritton, Jr., ed. Philosophy of Geohistory: 1785-1970, Dowden, Hutehinson, and Ross, Strondsburg, Penn., 1975,386p.
2in this paper I am using the term "eatastrophist" in reference to those who believe that Earth history has been overwhelmingly dominated by a very few global catastrophes, primarly the flood. I hesitate to do this since modern geologists certainly believe in the existence of past and present catastrophes and therefore might legitimately be called catastrophists. With tongue very much in check we might call the former oligomacrocatastrophi.sts, those who believe in a few big catastrophes, and the latter polyrnicrocatastrophists, those who believe in a lot of little catastrophes! Even the latter term is really unsatisfactory because many modern geologists think there may also have been very large if not global catasrophes.
3We are here thinking of such men as John C. Whitcomb, Henry M. Morris, Donald W. Patten, Melvin A. Cook, Duane Gish, and most members of the Creation Research Society.
4For Northrup, "evolutionary macrochronological" is the same as "uniformitarian."
5B.E. Northrup, "Franciscan and Related Rocks, and Their Significance in the Geology of Western California:" a book review, in G.F. Howe, ed., Speak to the Earth, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975, p. 253.
6B.E. Northrup, "The Sisquoc Diatomite Fossil Beds," in G.F. Howe, ed., op. cit., p.3.
7F1.M. Morris, "Sedimentation and the Fossil Record: a Study in Hydraulic Engineering," in W. E. Lammerts, ed., Why Not Creation?, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970, p. 123.
8E Nevins, "A Scriptural Groundwork for Historical Geology," in D.W. Palten, ed., Symposium on Creation V, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 97.
9L.C. Steinhauer, "Is Unformily Meaningful?" in D.W. Patten, ed., Symposium on Creation F, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1975, p. 89.
10J.C. Whitcomb and H.M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadelphia, 1962, p. 143.
11Ibid., p. 165.
12Ibid., p.452.
13Those who hold to the gap theory also propose the existence of global catastrophes, but these are associated with the supposed judgment of Lucifer in Genesis 1 rather than with she flood of Noah.
14C. Burdick, "Streamlining Stratigraphy," in W.E. Lammerts, ed. Scientific Studies in Special Creation, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971, p. 125.
15N. A. Rupke, "Prolegomena to a Study of Cataclysmal Sedimentation." in WE. Lammerts, ed., Why Not Creation?, p. 164.
16.E. Nevins, "Stratigraphic Evidence of the Flood," in D.W. Patten, ed., Symposium on Creation 111, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, p. 613.
17Whitcomb and Morris, op. cit., p. 408.
18See e.g., L.C. Steinhaner, "The case for Global Catastrophism," in D.W. Patten, ed., Symposium on Creation V, p. 99-109.
19Steinhauer, ''Is Uniformity Meaningful'?," p. 85.
20Ibid. p90.
21Steinhaner, "The Case for Global Catastrophism," p. 106-107,
22Ibid., p. 107.
23Nevins, "A Scriptural Groundwork for Historical Geology," p. 80.
24Ibid., p. 81.
25J Gould, "Is Uniformitarianism Necessary?," American Journal of Science, v. 263, 1965, p. 223-228. In this very important article Gould has carefully distinguished between substantive uniformitarianism and methodological uniformitarianism. The meaning of these terms is explained in the text of our paper.
26Nevins op. cit., p. 88.
27Ibid., p. 88.
28Ibid., p. 90.
29Ibid., p.99.
30Northrup, "The Sisquoc Diatomite Fossil Beds," p.7-S.
31Whitcomb and Morris, op, cit., p. 130-131.
32Ibid., p. 136-137
33Ibid., p. 137.
34Ibid., p. 200.
35Actually, an example of modern day chert precipitation has been reported. See M.N.A. Peterson and C.C. von der Borch, "Chert: Modern Inorganic Deposition in a Carbonate-precipitating Locality," Science, v. 149, 1965, p. 1501-1503.
36In saying this I want to make clear that LyrIl did not first dream up the idea of uniformity and then go and force it on the rocks because of some philosophical revulsion to catastrophism. Lyell was first attracted into geology by the Oxford geologist, William Buckland, a leading catastrophist! Lyell thus probably started out under the catastrophist influence but the many field studies and observations he carried out on past geological phenomena and present processes in the decade prior to the publication of Principles of Geology led him to the realization that operation of present processes could more easily account for geological facts than the cataclysmic hypothesis. For a helpful paper see L.G. Wilson, "The Origins of Charles Lyell's Unuformitananism," in C.C. Albritton, ed., Uniformity and Simplicity, Special paper 89, Geol. Soc. America, New York, 1967, p. 35-62.
37Three recent introductory texts make this quite clear. See, for example, F. Press and R. Siever, Earth, W.H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1974, p. 6162. They say, "Uniformitarianism, as we understand it today, does not hold that the rates of geological processes or their precise nature had to be the same." See also S. Jndson, KS. Deffeyes, and R.B. Hargraves, Physical Geology, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1976, p. 1819, and R.F. Flint and B.J. Skinner, Physical Geology, 2nd ed. John Wiley, New York, 1977, p. 84-85. The latter text says, ''The more we learn of Earth's history, the more we must question whether the rates of all cycles have always been the same as they are now. The evidence seems against constancy, and some rates may once have been more rapid, others much slower."
38Just to see what a colleague would say, I asked him if he rejected the possibility of global catastrophes on a priori principial grounds. He said no. Then I said, "So then you would reject catastrophes because of the geological evidence." He replied that that wasn't true either because he had seen many catastrophes. I said that those are only small-scale catastrophes. He then said that he thought anything was possible and that he thought there might have been great catastrophes in the past. For example, he thought the Earth passing through a comet's tail might have some devastating effects and thus be considered as a global catastrophe. This is hardly a rejection of catastrophes, and yet my colleague also thinks of himself as a nniformitarian!
39Gould, op. cit.
40Naturally one could write at great length about the meaning of this statement. I do not mean to imply that every law is everywhere and always applicable. There are many situations where, for example, the ideal gas law does not pertain to the situation. All the statement blends to say is that God created a lawbound universe in which the laws of the past are continuous with those of the present. This could even mean that as the configuration of the universe changes, some laws have systematically varied as a function of time just as some laws are a function of scale. But this only means that the law which is varying is dependent on a higher, more over-arching law.
41H. M. Morris, "Science versus Scientism in Historical Geology," in WE. Lammerts, ed., Scientific Studies in Special Creation, p. 109.
42Ibid., p.111.
43Steinhauer, "Is Uniformity Meaningful?,'' p.92.
44I have attempted to develop this point at great length in my book, D.A. Young, Creation and the Flood, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1977, 217 p.
45An example of this is Patten's attempt to explain catastrophes in terms of errant movements of bodies within the solar system.
46Nevins, "Stratigraphic Evidence of the Flood,'' p. 37.
47Ibid., p.43
48Whitcomb and Morris, op. cit., p.41?.
49T.G. Barnes, "Decay of the Earth's Magnetic Moment and the Geochronological Implications," in G.F. Howe, ed., Speak to the Earth, p. p. 300-313.
50My impression is that flood catastrophists feel that the Bible can't possibly not be teaching the views they hold on creation and the flood. I almost teem to detect a fear that nature might really be saying something different from what they think the Bible is saying and that, if this is the case, the Bible would be wrong and the whole Christian faith would fall to the ground. Hence a struggle to prop up the faith by "reinterpreting" the evidence. I sincerely hope lam wrong, but this is what I tense.
51By no means does this mean that I necessarily do not think the flood was global to some extent. It only meant I reject the common catastrophist viewpoint which sees nearly all sedimentary rocks formed as a result of the flood. In my judgment if the flood truly was global then we ought to look for the evidence where we might expect to find it, namely, among Pleistocene or Recent deposits. Even then, I'm not sure how well we could recognize it.