How do we handle conflicts between geology and the Bible?
A well-dressed man came up to me as soon as my talk was over. I had explained to the people who packed the auditorium in Bridgnorth, England, that the Bible records the true history of the universe. Thus, we should use the Bible as our starting point in science, especially sciences like geology that deal with Earth history.
‘I believe the Bible,’ my visitor said, ‘but how can we accept what it says when it contradicts scientific facts? It is clear from geology that the rocks did not all form in a worldwide Flood.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m a lecturer in chemistry at university. My geological colleagues tell me that the area all around was once a desert. You can see the sand dunes in the cliffs. How could there have been a flood here when it was a huge desert?’
Figure 1 (Bridgnorth, England). The above image shows sandstone cliffs around Bridgnorth, England which many think were once a desert. But the presence of water channels, and the angle of crossbedding, suggest otherwise. Australia’s Hawkesbury Sandstone was also once thought to have been a desert—but no longer.
Why a global Flood?
In the talk, I had explained how the Bible describes a global flood (Genesis 6–8). Noah would not have built an Ark 140 metres long1 for a local flood. Most animals would have survived a local flood, so Noah needn’t have worried about all the animals dying.2 Certainly, most birds would have survived a local flood. Without the animals, Noah could have managed with a much smaller boat, or none at all if he had simply migrated out of the area. However, it rained for almost six weeks (40 days)3 and the water kept rising for five months (150 days).4 The Bible is certainly describing something bigger than a local flood. The waters continued to rise until the highest mountains were covered.5 How could the highest mountains be covered in a local flood?
Anyone who takes the Bible seriously cannot escape the obvious—the Flood was global. My questioner now realized this and was concerned. How could there be a huge desert in England in the middle of a global flood?
Why a desert?
I had seen the spectacular red cliffs he spoke about with the large sand beds (Figure 1). They reminded me of similar sandstone cliffs in Australia (Figure 2). The geological handbook of the Bridgnorth area described the beds as sand dunes similar to the dunes ‘which can be seen today in the Sahara and other sandy deserts.’6 Interestingly, the sand formation around Sydney, the Hawkesbury Sandstone, was once thought to have formed in a desert environment, but not any longer.
It is important to understand how geologists think. Obviously, neither they nor anyone else alive today observed how the sand was deposited. So how do they know it was a desert? The fact is, they don’t. They simply use what they can observe to explain what they can’t. They use modern environments to explain how ancient rocks formed. The problem with this thinking is that Noah’s Flood was very different from the environments we observe today.
What stands out about the sand formations around Bridgnorth and Sydney is the colossal quantity of sand. The deposits are hundreds of metres thick and cover a huge area. The only place we find this much sand on Earth today is in a large desert. That’s what leads geologists to say that the rocks around Bridgnorth formed in a desert.
That’s also what the geologists thought about the Hawkesbury Sandstone in 1883.7 However, scientists did not always think the sand amassed in a desert. In 1844 Charles Darwin described the Sydney rocks as forming in a marine environment. However, in 1880 another scientist said they had been partly formed by glaciers. In 1883 yet another scientist said the rocks had partly formed in a lake.
Figure 2 (Sydney, Australia)
So, the various ideas about how the sandstone formed were tossed back and forth like shifting sands. In 1920 a geologist proposed that all the sand accumulated in a large lake. Thus, between 1920 and 1960 the lake interpretation was taught at the universities and presented to the public as fact.
However, by the 1960s, some geologists questioned how such large sand waves, which point to fast flowing water,8 could form in a lake. Accordingly, in 1964 it was proposed that the sand was deposited by a river. Yet the size of the deposits was still a puzzle, so in 1969 it was said that the sand was deposited by tides on a marine barrier in a river delta. But this didn’t make sense either.
Since the late 1970s, geologists have thought that the Hawkesbury Sandstone was deposited in a very wide river. Not only was the river wide, but also very long, extending over 2,000 kilometres north. Rock was eroded from either side of the river, transported thousands of kilometres, sorted into a uniform sand size, and deposited in the Sydney area. But how could normal rainfall sustain a fast-flowing, 250-km-wide river? The latest suggestion is that the river flowed intermittently.9 A huge lake upstream accumulated a large volume of water, which periodically burst through its ice dam. Massive flood waves, 20 metres high and 250 km wide roared downstream at enormous speed, delivering tonnes of sand into the Sydney area.
The Flood makes sense
Figure 3 (Bridgnorth, England—Ancient water channels)
This interpretation, which is becoming increasingly accepted, sounds very like the catastrophic Flood of Noah. Especially since there is no evidence of extended time-breaks in the Hawkesbury Sandstone. For example, there are no soil horizons or fossils of marine communities. We just see hundreds of metres of sand that have been deposited rapidly. This, of course, is what we would expect from the global Flood.
The sandstone around Bridgnorth has similar characteristics and is long overdue for reinterpretation. The cross beds are not windblown desert dunes but underwater sand waves. Geologists in England need to address the problems of the desert interpretation.10 For example, the angles of the cross beds are wrong for windblown dunes, and there is evidence for ancient water channels in parts of the deposit (Figure 3).
So, what should we do if a geological interpretation doesn’t fit with the Bible? Question the geological interpretation! Often we will need to re-examine the evidence directly. Frequently, even the ‘facts’ reported in geological books are not facts, but interpretations. When we carefully observe the evidence directly, and interpret it starting from the true history given in the Bible, we can confidently expect to find that the evidence fits the truth of the Bible, God’s infallible revealed Word.
References and notes
- Genesis 6:15. Return to text.
- Genesis 6:19–21. Return to text.
- Genesis 7:12. Return to text.
- Genesis 7:24. Return to text.
- Genesis 7:19–20 . The highest mountains at that time were covered, not the present-day mountains, which were uplifted as the floodwaters receded and afterwards. Return to text.
- Toghill, P., Geology in Shropshire, Swan Hill Press, Shewsbury, England, p. 143, 1990. Return to text.
- These and the other geological interpretations are documented in: Jones, D.C. and Clark, N.R. (Eds.), Geology of the Penrith 1:100,000 Sheet 9030, New South Wales Geological Survey, Sydney, pp. 14–16, 1991. Return to text.
- Allen, D., Sediment transport and the Genesis Flood—case studies including the Hawkesbury Sandstone, Sydney, CEN Tech. J. 10(3):358–378, 1996. Return to text.
- Woodford, J., Rock doctor catches up with our prehistoric surf, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 1994. Return to text.
- Austin, S.A. (Ed.), Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, Institute for Creation Research, California, pp. 32–35, 1994, explains carefully why similar sand deposits in Grand Canyon were accumulated underwater and not in a desert. Return to text.