Devils Tower and Bible glasses
We often receive questions about how the natural wonders of our world formed. Recently, a lady asked, ‘Do you have an explanation for the existence of Devils Tower in Wyoming?’
There is a wealth of material available today about the amazing natural features scattered across our globe. It is published in geographic magazines, in tourist brochures, on government signs, and increasingly, on the Web.1
It seems that 99% of the information provided about our natural heritage is interpreted in terms of millions of years. Increasingly, people are realizing that this contradicts the timeframe of the Bible and is thus incorrect. Yet they want to know the true story.
Fortunately, such publications also contain a large amount of good information, which can be easily reinterpreted from a Biblical perspective. But we need to understand how evolutionary geologists think, and how Noah’s Flood affected the Earth. It is also important to appreciate what has happened in the c. 4,300 years since then. Once we have these concepts in mind, we can take the evolutionary information and reinterpret it. Often this is relatively easy.
We must always remember not to put our faith in man’s interpretations, not even creationist ones, because these can change. Rather, we put our trust in the unchanging Word of God, the Bible. In other words, we do not use man’s fallible interpretations to ‘prove’ the infallible Word of God, but rather we use the Bible to judge man’s opinions.
Photo by Tom Wagner
Devils Tower is a spectacular landmark in north-eastern Wyoming, USA, which attracts visitors from around the world. Its near-vertical walls rise 264 m (867 ft) from its base to a height of 1,560 m (5,117 ft) above sea level.2 The monolith is an exciting challenge for rock climbers.3 Visitors delight in the beauty of the area, which was established as the Devils Tower National Monument in 1906.4 It is home to a myriad assortment of plant and animal life.
Because of its national significance and popularity, there is an abundance of information about it, including the following from the Web:
‘Devils Tower is a steep-sided igneous body and, possibly, an erosional remnant of a volcanic neck. It is made of magma that solidified at a shallow level (about 700 to 3,000 ft; 200 to 1,000 m) below the surface. Erosion then stripped the overlying layers of rock away.’1
The shape of the landscape around Devils Tower can reveal a lot about how it formed. Standing tall on its own, it was formed when magma (molten rock moving inside the Earth) was pushed into place underground. At that time, the land surface in the area was as much as 1,000 m (3,000 ft) higher. That’s 600 m (1,800 ft) higher than the current top of the tower. However, after the magma solidified, the surrounding land was eroded away. First, the land was cut flat to the level of the top of the tower. Then it was cut into a wide valley, which now surrounds the tower and is occupied by the Belle Fouche River.
The lava is thought to have solidified at a ‘shallow’ level because the mineral crystals in the rock are very small and form a fine-grained texture. Magma that solidifies at depth generally produces larger crystals, forming a coarse-grained texture.
The Web tells us further that ‘The rock at Devils Tower is about 40 million years old.’1
Of course, this part of the explanation is not correct because we know from the Bible that the Earth is only thousands of years old, not millions. An ‘age’ of 40 million years suggests that Devils Tower formed rather late in the ‘geological history’ of the Earth (see aside below). This implies that it was late in the global Flood of Noah, or afterwards.
The information continues, ‘The rock is called a phonolite based on its mineral composition, which includes anorthoclase, aegirine-augite, and sphene.’1
This is a technical description of the rock and its minerals. Phonolite is a fine-grained, light-coloured volcanic rock with a high content of the elements sodium and potassium. Its composition suggests that the lava was fairly ‘thick’. A dark rock such as basalt is formed from ‘thin’ lava that flows easily over the land surface once it erupts. After it has solidified, basalt forms a hard layer that usually resists erosion and remains as a flat plateau. Thick lava, on the other hand, tends to push into a massive lump and does not form a plateau. Some publications suggest that the tower was the neck of a volcano,1 but others say that the magma did not reach the surface.2
We discover further that ‘Devils Tower rises 1,253 feet (382 m) above the nearby Belle Fouche River.’1
Obviously, a huge amount of material has been eroded from above the top of the tower and from the valley surrounding the tower. We realize that the lava had to have solidified before the surrounding material was eroded. Otherwise, it would not have retained its plug shape.
The long columns are spectacular. Most are five-sided and taper from 2 m (6.5 ft) or more at the base to 1.3 m (4 ft) at the top.1 Columnar jointing is most prominent in thick volcanic lava flows. Some people imagine that large columns mean the rock cooled very slowly. However, it is important to realize that the columns are not large mineral crystals that grew slowly from the lava. Rather, they were formed when the rock cracked after it solidified and continued to cool. In fact, the rock has a fine-grained mineral texture, which suggests that it solidified quickly.
It is clear from the length of the columns that the whole body of rock was once a single pool of lava, not a series of small flows, one on top of the other. The lava eruption must have been quite rapid for the whole volume to accumulate before it started to cool and solidify. The columns characteristically sit perpendicular to the cooling surface. In this case, Devils Tower was cooling from the top before the surface was eroded.
Changing our glasses
We can now interpret Devils Tower from a Biblical perspective. Since there has been so much erosion, the Devils Tower was most likely pushed into place as Noah’s floodwaters were receding off the North American continent. From Biblical chronology, we understand this was about 4,300 years ago. The Bible says that the floodwaters covered the highest mountains all over the world (Gen. 7:19–20). After this, the crust of the Earth must have moved, causing the ocean basins to sink and the continents to rise. These huge Earth movements pushed up the Rocky Mountains, the Himalayas, and many other mountains around the world.
When the ocean basins started to sink, the water began to move off the land, initially in sheets thousands of kilometres wide. It may have been soon after this that the magma was pushed into place. Indeed, the massive movements occurring in the Earth’s crust probably melted rocks and squeezed the magma around, forming the tower. The long columns in the tower represent a single lava flow, which means that the entire volume of magma was injected quickly.
Originally, the land around Devils Tower was much higher. As the water flowed in wide sheets, it would have cut a wide, flat landscape, which is possibly why the top of the tower is so flat. It is also why the highest parts of the surrounding landscape are all about the same level. Also, the sheet flow would have cooled the rock from the top, causing the cracks, which produced the vertical columns.
Eventually, as the volume of receding floodwaters diminished, the water flow divided into very large channels and each of these continued to erode the landscape. One of the channels cut the wide valley around the tower that is now occupied by the Belle Fouche River. Devils Tower, composed of hard, volcanic rock, resisted the erosion and stood alone in the flooded valley as the receding waters flowed around it. Rapid erosion by deep, flowing water explains why the sides of the tower are so steep. If the erosion had happened slowly over a very long time, the top of the tower would have been much smaller than its base. Receding floodwater flowing around the tower may also explain why, from the top, it is shaped like a ‘teardrop’.2
The flow continued to diminish until the floodwaters were eventually gone (Gen. 8:14). Subsequently, the normal slow processes of erosion by rain, snow and ice have continued, just like we see happening today. In the 4,300 years since the Flood, we would not expect these slow processes to have greatly modified the valley or the tower.
It is always important to consider whether the ice sheets that covered parts of the continents during the post-Flood Ice Age5 may have affected the landscape. Devils Tower is over 300 km (200 miles) south of the most southerly extent of the ice sheet, so ice sheets were not involved in the formation of Devils Tower.
Receding floodwaters, first in sheets and then in wide channels, help us understand many of today’s landscapes. Evolutionary geologists try to explain landscapes by slow erosion over millions of years, using the sorts of processes we observe today. These explanations have major problems.
For example, even slow erosion would have caused the Devils Tower to have totally disappeared in a million years. And multiple freeze-thaw cycles would have quickly disintegrated those columns and the tower could not have lasted more than 100,000 years. Interestingly, a road sign nearby claims that all the surrounding land was eroded to a nearly-flat plain over a period of 40 million years. Yet, this alleged erosion hardly touched Devils Tower—a glaring inconsistency.
Once we understand how the receding waters of the Biblical Flood cut the landscapes of the world, sightseeing takes on a new excitement. With our new ‘glasses’, we can interpret our world from a Biblical perspective, and it makes wonderful sense.
Relative timing of geologic events
Photo by Tom Wagner
The millions of years quoted by geological publications come directly from the uniformitarian assumption that everything happened very slowly. Increasingly, uniformitarian geologists acknowledge that catastrophes occurred in the past, but they still assume there were millions of years between each one. Uniformitarian geologists do not allow for the geologic effects of a single global Flood.
However, although the millions of years quoted in geological publications are wrong, the relative order given for the geological events is usually correct. This is because the order is worked out from the relationships between the rocks in the field—not radioactive dating as many people imagine.
In our situation, the relative order of events is easily established. The sedimentary rocks surrounding Devils Tower were already deposited before the magma forming the tower was injected into place. The great erosion of the landscape occurred afterwards when the magma had solidified.
Radioactive dating is used to try to put precise numbers on these events. However, a radiometric date is accepted only if it agrees with ages expected from the order observed in the field. If the number disagrees with the field relationships, it is rejected.1
So, although creationists do not agree with the millions of years, it is helpful to appreciate the general sequence of the uniformitarian timescale. The relative size of the numbers reflects the field relationships, but we still need to be careful.
According to the evolutionary scheme, the Earth formed some 4,600 million years ago. The first appearance of diverse kinds of animals (The Cambrian Explosion) occurred some 540 million years ago, and the continents started to move apart some 200 million years ago. The Ice Age was ‘recent’, starting about two million years ago and ending about 10,000 years ago. Although the dates assigned within this evolutionary framework are wrong, they can be used as a guide to the relative sequence of events.
Thus, the 40-million-year ‘age’2 quoted for Devils Tower, though incorrect, indicates that it formed rather late in the ‘geological history’ of the Earth. This suggests it was late in the global Flood of Noah, or afterwards.
References and notes
- Woodmorappe, J., The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, ICR, El Cajon, California, 1999. Return to text.
- Some publications quote an ‘age’ of 60 million years (e.g. Ref. 2). For radioactive dating, the range of acceptable ages for an intrusion like Devils Tower is usually quite large. The precise number quoted will probably reflect the most recently published acceptable date. Return to text.
- Devils Tower, for example, is described on: Devils Tower, Wyoming, <volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/north_america/devils_tower.html>, 4 July 2001. Return to text.
- Geology fieldnotes, Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming, <www.aqd.nps.gov/grd/parks/deto/>, 4 July 2001. Return to text.
- Devils Tower, <www.nps.gov/deto/home. htm>, 4 July 2001. Return to text.
- Devils Tower National Monument, <www.nps. gov/deto/>, 4 July 2001. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, ICR, El Cajon, California, 1990. Return to text.