Friday, February 20, 2015

Ken Ham, Andrew Snelling, Creationism and the Challenge of Modern Geology

Recently, a story showed up in the science dailies about evidence supporting rapid canyon formation in Iceland.  First, the story that the BBC ran:
The Jokulsargljufur canyon, 28km long and up to 100m deep, is home to Europe's most powerful waterfall. By analysing the chemistry of rocks in the canyon's walls, the researchers constructed a timeline of how the canyon was shaped over time. Most changes seem to have taken place during three brief but brutal periods. Interestingly, these key flooding events occurred two, five and nine thousand years ago - separated by millennia of relative stability. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists say their findings demonstrate the importance of brief but cataclysmic events in shaping landscapes.
What the story goes on to say is that each brief, but brutal period may have been a matter of days.  This is fascinating but is not unique.  A similar even occurred in eastern Washington State in the late Pleistocene when there were a series of massive floods that carved out huge areas, creating the scablands.  Consequently, while this report is interesting, there is clearly a precedent for rapid movement of sediment by fast-moving water. Another example of this is the Canyon Lake Gorge, in Texas, which was formed in one very large flood, in 2002. 

Fast, torrential floods carving huge canyons quickly out of solid rock. This was too much of an opportunity for Ken Ham to pass up. Very shortly, his post titled Secularists Say Landscapes Can Form in Days came out. (Aside: note the title.  Ham has dispensed with all pretenses of being inclusive, now considering anyone who supports an old earth and the standard geological model a “secularist.”  There can be no room in Bible-believing Christian circles for those not espousing the young earth view.  Organizations like the Association of Christian Geologists are dismissed out of hand.) Ham writes:
Researchers studying Europe’s most powerful waterfall and the canyon containing it reportedly reached the conclusion that they were “created in a matter of days by extreme flooding.” Rather than being the result of slow-and-gradual processes, these researchers believe that a series of extreme floods several thousand years apart formed the waterfall and the canyon catastrophically. They say that these “findings demonstrate the long-term impact that extreme flood events can have on landscapes.”

The leader of the study apparently stated, “We think of natural environments as being formed over thousands of years, but sometimes they are shaped very suddenly. This insight into one of Iceland’s magnificent landscapes helps us better understand these processes, and illustrates their legacy.”

Of course, we have already known that because the Bible tells us that we live on a young Earth. Geological features cannot take millions of years to form slowly and gradually because the planet isn’t that old! When we start with the Bible we know that we live on a young Earth that was radically reshaped by a massive catastrophe, the global Flood. The Flood and its aftermath explain many of the geologic features we see today.
First, it is intellectually dishonest to accept only the sections of someone's argument that you agree with and dispense with the rest.  This is, charitably, cherry-picking the data.  Ham is quite willing to agree that the Jokulsargljufur canyon was formed very quickly, but not that it represents several episodes thousands of years apart.

Ham then calls on Andrew Snelling, the resident geologist, who figured into my last post. In response to the story, Snelling writes:
This is a brief reminder that even uniformitarians are finding that the actual observational data can only explain the formation of landforms such as canyons and massive waterfalls by catastrophic floods, not the present-day slow-and-gradual geologic processes. Of course we disagree on the timescale, but agree this canyon and waterfall in Iceland were carved after the Ice Age, the one short Ice Age that occurred after the Genesis Flood. And rather than floods being thousands of years apart, they would have been only years to decades apart. Of course, this canyon formed in hardened basalt layers in contrast to the soften volcanic ash layers at Mount St. Helens, but it still resulted from catastrophic floods which carved through the solid rock as though it were soft!
Uniformatarians aren't finding anything of the sort. Snelling is clearly putting up a straw man argument by claiming that geologists conclude that canyons can only form rapidly.  There are quite a few canyons around the world that show evidence of having been formed over quite a long period of time and geologists know it. Even the geologically recent Grand Canyon has likely been forming over the last six million years. By the way, for scale purposes, the Jokulsargljufur Canyon is 300 feet deep. the Grand Canyon, which would have to have been formed in the same, rapid fashion, is, from the top of the north rim to the canyon floor, 5500 feet, or over eighteen times as deep as the Jokulsargljufur Canyon.  Its only known water source is the Colorado River. 

But the logical errors continue.  In order for their world-wide flood model to work, flood geologists must use the “part to whole” fallacy.  In other words, what is happening at the Jokulsargljufur canyon would have to be happening all over the world.  Not just canyon formation but all rock formation, everywhere.  While it is quite possible that, in some instances, magmatic rock can form quickly, its formation is very easy to spot because it is very distinctive.  But it is the only kind of rock that can form quickly.  Metamorphic and sedimentary rock, which are also quite distinctive in their appearance, take considerably longer to form.   Further, it is estimated that up to 70% of the planet's stratigraphic rock formations are sedimentary, in origin and these formation leave extensive layering.  These rocks form by means of wind, water action, glacial action and other slow processes.  They do not form quickly.  Metamorphic rock forms even more slowly than sedimentary rock because it can only form under considerable heat and pressure.  In the context of a world-wide flood, how would these rocks, which require heating to between 150° and 200°, have formed in the first place? Ham and Snelling are suggesting, in this model, that the geological column settled, hardened into rock by an as-yet undetermined very rapid heating process, and Then incised the canyon over the still-hardening rock.  They provide no explanation for how this would happen.

It is disappointing to see that, in their zeal to disregard the work of mainstream geologists and brand them all as “secularists,” a term that is surely pejorative in this context, they present arguments that fail to stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny.  This is part and parcel of young earth creationism and this example represents only a microcosm of the insurmountable problems that it faces.  It is almost as if they feel that their devotion to their understanding of scripture should be enough to sway the reader into supporting the young earth model...just don't look too closely. 



  1. The 'theorising' of Snelling (or so I have assumed - since sending my last email on this topic - was the case).

    It can't have been 'pre-flood' because the flood and (unbiblical) associated volcanism would have destroyed the canyon;
    It can't have been during the flood because there is evidence of three separate extreme flooding events caused by melted ice;
    It can't have been during the alleged 'post-flood ice age' because the glacier ice would have bee too extensive for any eruption to melt it and cause any extreme flood event;
    So it must have been three extreme flood events within the past 4,000 years or so - 'post ice age'.

    I think Snelling accepts the scientific explanation that three devastating extreme short-lived floods, caused by massive volcanic eruptions melting the Vatnajokull glacier, formed this Icelandic canyon and the waterfall. As the PNAS paper - see 'Significance' - stated there were extreme flood events "during which the flow depth exceeds the threshold for erosion through plucking rather than abrasion":

    So - although it is difficult to know the mind of a hardened YEC - I don't think Snelling is proposing some 'alternative' model along the lines you describe (for THIS event at least which he admits was NOT caused during Noah's flood). Though he needs one for a flood/receding flood-generated Grand Canyon.

    I'll also flag this blog here:

    Pity Snelling has no evidence for his conjectures. Not that that ever stops Answers in Genesis.

    I seem to recall a previous instance where the YECs were forced to admit that a catastrophically formed canyon (I believe in Hawaii) 'could not' have been formed during the 'Genesis flood' and therefore 'must' be more recent than that. (Incidentally GeoChristian also flagged this story on his new Facebook page last week:

  2. I think you might be correct about what Snelling is theorizing, however, there still remains the "part to whole" problem, since he is explicit that this is the only way that canyons can form and Ham wastes no time bashing mainstream geologists who think otherwise. New post.