The heritage trail at Siccar Point, Scotland
Commemorating an idea that did not work
High above the cliffs on the Scottish coast—60 km east of Edinburgh—is an interpretive billboard that overlooks a rocky point.1 It is part of a heritage trail opened in 2006, celebrating the life of James Hutton, a local farmer and physician who became known as the ‘father of modern geology’.2 He proposed the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism—that present geological processes are the key to understanding the rocks.
The locals are keen to capitalize on Siccar Point, claiming it is the most important geological site in the world.2 The story goes that these rocks led Hutton to conclude the earth was not made in six days. Rather, faulting and folding were important processes in the evolution of the landscape.3 The sign at the site says the rocks proved geological time was virtually unlimited, contrary to the few thousand years, which most people believed at that time.1
But Hutton did not discover deep time, he assumed it. That was partly because Hutton’s knowledge of geology in the late 1700s was seriously limited. He did not know that the lower Silurian rocks were turbidite beds, deposited rapidly from underwater density currents that sped across the ocean floor as fast as 100 km (60 miles) per hour.4 Neither did he know the upper strata were of a terrestrial origin, deposited from a vast expanse of fast flowing water that covered a large part of the continent, depositing thick, cross-bedded strata.5,6
But most significantly, Hutton assumed Noah’s Flood never happened. He did not appreciate the enormity of that global catastrophe, which involved faulting, folding, and immense deposition and erosion. During the Flood, the rocks at Siccar Point were eroded in days or weeks, not over millions of years.
Hutton is hailed as a father of modern geology for his philosophy of uniformitarianism, but ironically geologists now acknowledge that uniformitarianism does not work. Toward the end of his career, Derek Ager, professor of geology at Swansea, Wales, said of uniformitarianism, “We have allowed ourselves to be brain-washed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed ‘catastrophic’ processes.”7
Hutton’s friend (and popularizer) John Playfair, who accompanied him by boat to Siccar Point in 1788, is famous for his impressions of that trip. He is quoted on the sign. “The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”
However, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, it is unfortunate that Playfair did not connect his Bible with the world around him. A better response would have been, “The mind was sobered to look upon the enormity of God’s judgment at the time of Noah.”
References and notes
- Interpretation board, Siccar Point; geograph.org.uk/photo/2143249. Return to text.
- International interest in new James Hutton trail, Berwickshire News, 21 June 2006; berwickshirenews.co.uk/news/local-headlines/international-interest-in-new-james-hutton-trail-1-237894. Return to text.
- Siccar Point, Gazetteer for Scotland, 2011; scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst5590.html. Return to text.
- Fine, I.V. et al., The Grand Banks landslide-generated tsunami of November 18, 1929: preliminary analysis and numerical modelling, Marine Geology 215:45–57, 2005. Return to text.
- Browne, M., et al., Stratigraphical Framework for the Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) Rocks of Scotland south of a line from Fort William to Aberdeen, British Geological Survey, Research Report RR 01 04, p. 50, 2002; nora.nerc.ac.uk/3231/1/Devonian.pdf Return to text.
- For a detailed geological analysis of Siccar Point see: Walker, T., Unmasking a long-age icon, Creation 27(1):50–55, 2004; creation.com/siccarpoint. Return to text.
- Ager, D., The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, Macmillan, London, p. 70, 1993. Return to text.
- After this the landscape was eroded by ice sheets in the post-Flood Ice Age. Return to text.
(Also available in Czech.)
A reader has sent the following comment asking if it could be posted:
Anyone who is at all interested in this subject should read these two pdfs by the pre-eminent stratigrapher Andrew Miall, in which he argues that the old understanding of uniformitarianism is no longer adequate:
For example, in the introduction to his 2014 book, "Fluvial Deposition Systems", he says:
“We need a new approach to uniformitarianism, because of the disconnect, noted above, between those working on the modern and the ancient record. It could be argued that the analog method on which modern sedimentology is based, is no longer a satisfactory foundation for research into long-term geological processes. It was based on the long-standing, traditional Hutton-Lyell aphorism “the present is the key to the past”, and its obverse, “the past is the key to the present”. If the geological preservation machine systematically removes much of the modern record before it can become part of the ancient record, we need to be constantly alive to the potential for the bias this introduces into our interpretations.”
Note that Miall is not arguing for an overturn of the old age paradigm; rather he is acknowledging the difficulties of analogizing the past from the present.
Quite right, Tas. Of course, it was not his observations of these rocks which led Dr. Hutton to conclude that the earth (and the entire cosmos) was not made in six days - what led him to conclude this was his deistic mindset which came from the "Enlightenment" which he was a product of. He already disbelieved in the Genesis creation account BEFORE he looked at the rocks. That was his choice to write-off a miracle-working God a priori and he never really made any secret of it. The real tragedy, of course, is that Playfair, along with various other compromisers like Deluc, Cuvier and Buckland, welcomed this idea into the church. The fact that their geological knowledge was lesser than that which we have today only excuses them so much - as the likes of Kirwan, Young, Fairholme and Penn demonstrate, others saw through this.
And eventually, almost 150 years later, after all those years of unchallenged compromise, so did someone called Dr. Henry Morris. Praise God for him, his refusal to compromise, the movement which he has ultimately started, and all those at CMI, ICR etc. who carry the torch!
Playfair was Presbyterian. Cuvier was Lutheran. Lyell was Anglican. Darwin was Anglican. Hume was Presbyterian. So was pres-hume-ably Hutton.
These men were not compromising away their Christianity with an already existing ideology, they were sacrificing it to their take on what it meant to be a Protestant.
Actually they had compromised. They certainly rejected the Bible's history as being true. Just because someone grows up in a church does not mean they are a follower of Christ and accept what He taught. Teillard de Chardin was a Catholic priest but promoted evolution as the great creative force and the truth to which everything should bow. He was clearly not promoting othodox beliefs. Richard Dawkins was confirmed as an Anglican but he rejected that and is now the foremost advocate of atheism.
The chart in this article is very helpful - for 'laymen' and the general public. Graphics and comparisons between the 2 condense the big issues into easily understandable chunks.
Kudos and I recommend continued tweaking and refining of this kind of tool, to make them not too complicated, and not condescending with 'kids' graphics. This is the kind of thing us regular folks can use to make it clear in our own minds and help others engage as well.
This article is a good overview of Siccar Point and its misinterpretation by Hutton and secular geologists. For a more detailed technical discussion of Siccar Point, from a Young Earth Creationist point of view and understandable to the average person, I would recommend the excellent DVD video, "Set in Stone".
In light of the material presented in this video, which logically refutes the mistakes made by Hutton in his cursory and scientifically uninformed study of this formation, it is a travesty that the sign on Siccar Point Trail is still there, still indoctrinating tourists in Hutton's deluded interpretation and in the long ages, uniformitarian mistake in general. In particular, the video points out that the unconformity at Siccar Point of vertically tilted rocks, planed flat and then overlain by horizontal rock strata, clearly demonstrates that the planing of the vertically tilted strata must have been accomplished by a rapid catastrophic process, since it planed the vertical rock strata evenly flat, regardless of the variation of hardness in the different vertically tilted strata. A slow and gradual weathering (i.e. erosional) process would have left a very uneven surface underneath the later-deposited horizontal strata, as opposed to the even surface that is in fact observed there today.
I would like to see the authorities who are responsible for the current tourist sign be publicly confronted with this clear scientific evidence that logically refutes Hutton's slow-and-gradual interpretation of Siccar Point's formation. They should either explain how the vertically titled strata were planed flat by gradual weathering (other gradually weathered strata at Siccar Point demonstrate uneven erosion) or else they should remove the sign and stop misinforming the public.
We encourage readers who live in this region in Scotland to bring this information to the attention of your political and community leaders so that something will be done about signs such as these. Let's not just complain but do something about it.
And yes, the DVD Set in Stone is excellent. I've arranged to include it with the reccommended resources at the top of the page.
The Flood analysis makes much more sense.
However, I am uncertain as to the meaning of the 3rd stage in the sequence given in the chart, viz., "deep waters rushed from the rapidly-uplifted sediments and quickly eroded the surface". -- "rushed from" the sediments?
Could you kindly expand your description of what you think took place here?
This is sometimes called the recessive stage of Noah's Flood. Mike Oard has written a great book about it called "Flood by Design". You can find lots of other articles that deal with it by searching for topics such as "planation surfaces", "water gaps", and "quartzite boulders". There is a helpful article explaining the carving of Grand Canyon.
I like this bold affirmation of what really happened. Secular scientists and geologists merely imagine things that could've happened (just like evolution) and so ponder on ideas (creative thought) as to how things came into being via purely naturalistic explanations. There's one big problem with that, they don't have eye witness accounts, well they do, but are indeed ignorant of this.
Please continue to affirm Creation just how they boldly proclaim evolution and long ages. As once we get a foothold in the door, students and the like can hear an alternative to their 'just-so' storytelling fairytales and make an informed decision for oneself.
"However, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, it is unfortunate that Playfair did not connect his Bible with the world around him"
as always: the biggest problem for Christianity are these sold-out, compromised Christians who still insist on calling them-selves that.....
if you didn't have a veritable army of Christians of all stripes (including bishops, ministers, pastors and "televangilists") "going into bat" for evolutionary atheism, then, it's continued existence would be highly problematic;
no wonder those secular, atheistic humanists "in the know" shusshed up Dawkins when he started "cutting loose" on Christianity and the Church in general.....
mean-while, Lenin's descriptive "useful idiots" comes to mind!