The case of the ‘missing’ geologic time
Traditional evolutionary geology maintains that the deposition of sediments to form major rock layers often takes long periods of time. Once deposited, the sedimentation period involved is believed to have closed with a major change in climate and/or uplift of the ocean floor to form a new land surface. There often then followed, it is claimed, a lengthy time in which erosion of that land surface may have then removed large amounts of the previously deposited sediments. Such an eroded surface should be evidenced by gullies, stream and river canyons and valleys, and such like at the top of each major rock layer or layers.
Then it is supposed a new climatic regime began and/or the land subsided to again be covered by the ocean. Thus a new rock layer of perhaps an entirely different kind of sediment was then deposited. This new layer would be expected to bury and preserve much of the previously eroded surface at the interface between the lower rock layer and this newly deposited layer above.
In Grand CanyonTherefore, this accepted scenario for earth history involves many uplifts and subsidences of land surfaces. So where the rock layers of the earth’s surface are exposed to view, as they are in the Grand Canyon of Northern Arizona (USA), where there are numerous different sedimentary rock layers laid down one upon another, there ought to be many buried erosion surfaces found at the boundaries between the various individual rock layers. Indeed, the display on the Grand Canyon in the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff diagrammatically shows how the land surface in the Grand Canyon area must have subsided, been covered by the sea while sediments were being deposited, and then uplifted again with erosion taking place. This is depicted as happening at least five times during the development of the 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) of horizontal sedimentary rock layers now exposed in the walls of the Grand Canyon.
Creationists do recognize significant erosion surfaces between rock strata in the Grand Canyon, but unlike evolutionary geologists have concluded that these erosion breaks do not represent large time breaks. Indeed, evolutionists currently assign more time to these erosion breaks, where strata may have been eroded away on these erosion surfaces and therefore are now missing, than to all the 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) of horizontal rock strata present in the Grand Canyon today!
Where erosion can clearly be seen to have occurred at these breaks between rock strata in the Grand Canyon, creationists maintain that the erosion was very rapid, facilitated in many cases by erosion occurring in soft, ‘non-hardened’ rock. Consequently, rather than having a land surface exposed for enormous periods of time after an ocean retreated, the same Flood processes responsible for depositing the sedimentary layers were also capable of eroding significant thicknesses of both loose sediment and consolidated rock.
The nature of the debate concerning these so-called erosion breaks (technically known as unconformities) is brought into sharp focus in statements made by representatives of each viewpoint. For example, Dr. Davis Young, Professor of Geology at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Christian geologist who opposes the special creation/Flood approach, writes:
‘The presence of each unconformity is physical evidence that the Colorado Plateau (the area taking in the Grand Canyon) experienced consolidation of sediments, uplift, and possibly gentle tilting, weathering of the uplifted surface to form soil, and erosion by streams and wind before the sediments of the next formation (rock layer) were deposited. There must have been several of these episodes of consolidation, uplift, weathering, and erosion—a conclusion clearly at variance with the theory that the sediments were deposited during a year-long global flood.’1
On the other hand, Dr. Ariel Roth, Director of the Geoscience Research Institute at Loma Linda University, California, has written:
‘The difficulty with the extended time proposed for these gaps is that one cannot have deposition, nor can one have much erosion. With deposition, there is no gap, because sedimentation continues. With erosion, one would expect abundant channelling and the formation of deep gullies, canyons and valleys; yet, the contacts are usually "nearly planar." Over the long periods of time envisaged for these processes, erosion would erode the underlying layers and much more. One has difficulty envisaging little or nothing at all happening for millions of years on the surface of our planet. The gaps seem to suggest less time... The assumed gaps in the sedimentary layers witness to a past that was very different from the present. In many ways, that difference is readily reconciled with catastrophic models such as the Genesis flood that proposes the relatively rapid deposition of these layers.’2
Figure 1. Grand Canyon in cross-section showing the names given to the different rock units by geologists.
The Redwall-Muav Contact
One of the most dramatic of these so called erosional breaks in the Grand Canyon strata is that between the Redwall Limestone and the Muav Limestone beneath (see Figure 1). The Redwall Limestone is assigned by evolutionary geologists to the so-called Mississippian Period (or the Lower Carboniferous to Europeans and Australians), said to have been 310-355 million years ago,3 whereas the Muav Limestone is said to belong to the so-called Cambrian Period, believed to be 510-570 million years ago.4 That means that where the Redwall Limestone rests directly on top of the Muav Limestone there is said to be a time gap of at least 155 million years during which the land surface was supposed to have been exposed to the forces of weathering and erosion.
In many parts of the Grand Canyon and upstream in Marble Canyon there is a thin limestone layer known as the Temple Butte Limestone lying at this so-called erosion surface between the Redwall Limestone and the Muav Limestone. The boundary between the Redwall and the Temple Butte is generally planar (that is, ‘flat’ like the top of a table), and the Temple Butte Limestone has been assigned by evolutionists to the Upper Devonian Period, said to be 355- 375 million years ago.5 On the other hand, there is often good evidence of erosion, such as gullies and stream channels at the boundary between the Temple Butte and the Muav, as depicted in Figure 1 and illustrated in Figure 2. Note that there is an alleged time gap between the Temple Butte and Muav Limestones of over 135 million years during which the Muav land surface is alleged to have been exposed to those forces of erosion which made the channels and gullies. This raises questions as to why the Temple Butte Limestone is in channels and gullies in the Muav Limestone in some places, is a thin bed with planar boundaries with both the Redwall Limestone and Muav Limestone in other places, and yet is totally absent in many other places. Evolutionists would of course argue that where the Temple Butte is absent it has been eroded away before deposition of the Redwall Limestone.
On the North Kaibab Trail
Figure 2. A channel eroded into the Muav limestone and filled with Temple Butte Limestone. The Redwall Limestone can be seen above the channel-filled Temple Butte Limestone (Marble Canyon, upstream from Grand Canyon).
However, there is one place in the Canyon where diligent search has failed to find any evidence of erosion between the Redwall and Muav Limestones. The supposed 155 million years of geological time is not only ‘missing’, but appears to have never existed! The site is found on the North Kaibab Trail, which starts at Phantom Range on the Colorado River and climbs northward up to the North Rim of the Canyon. The trail crosses the boundary between the Redwall Limestone and the Muav Limestone, the spot being signposted by the National Park Service. The sign reads:
‘An UnconformityRocks of Ordovician and Silurian Periods are missing in Grand Canyon. Temple Butte Limestone of Devonian age occurs in scattered pockets. Redwall Limestone rests on these Devonian rocks or on Muav Limestone of much earlier Cambrian age.’
The sign also indicates by arrow that at this locality on the North Kaibab Trail the Redwall Limestone lies directly on Muav Limestone, the Temple Butte Limestone appearing to be absent.
Dr. Clifford Burdick was the first to point to the problems for evolutionists at this locality.6 Subsequently, a team sponsored by the Creation Research Society visited the area in 1986 to conduct investigations, and their report was published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly.7
They concluded that the supposed unconformity between Redwall Limestone and Muav Limestone is not at all apparent when one attempts to trace the contact along the North Kaibab Trail. Indeed, commencing from an area approximately 100 metres north of the National Park Service sign and investigating southwards about 100 metres past the sign, the two rock layers seemingly interfinger with one another. Their findings are summarized diagrammatically in Figure 3.
Figure 3. The Contact between the Redwall Limestone and the Muav Limestone on the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, as surveyed by Waisgerber, Howe and Williams (Reference 7).
If in fact this time break of more than 155 million years had occurred between the deposition of the Muav and Redwall Limestones, during which time erosion had taken place (including the deposition and removal of the Temple Butte Limestone that appears at this boundary in other parts of the Grand Canyon), then some or all of the following features should be in evidence:
- obvious erosion features incised into the top of the Muav Limestone;
- boulders and cobbles of eroded Muav Limestone at the base of the Redwall Limestone;
- the layering (bedding) in the Muav Limestone dipping at an angle to the layering in the overlying Redwall Limestone;
- the layering in the Muav Limestone being somewhat more folded than the layering in the Redwall Limestone:
- more complex joint systems developed in the Muav Limestone than in the Redwall Limestone;
- more faulting (that is, fracturing and displacement of the layering along fractures) in the Muav Limestone than in the Redwall Limestone; and
- a noticeable difference in the sedimentary material within each of the two limestones due to changes in the regional environments between the times of deposition of each of these two limestones.
So what is observed at the boundary between the Muav and Redwall Limestones on the North Kaibab Trail? As shown in Figure 3, below the signposted boundary layers of Muav Limestone occur within further layers of Redwall Limestone, as well as mottled Muav Limestone and a mica-bearing shale. Furthermore, the interlayered mica-bearing shale. Muav and Redwall Limestones grade abruptly southwards into other layers which are obviously Muav Limestone, by descriptive definition, and without any tell-tale signs of faulting that would have meant the Muav Limestone had been ‘pushed’ into that position. On the contrary, not even one of the seven expected features listed above can be seen at this supposed boundary. Instead, the actual observational evidence in the field supports the contention that continuous deposition occurred as the Redwall Limestone was deposited on top of the Muav Limestone, there being some interfingering and fluctuations during the postulated ‘changeover’ period. There is no buried erosion surface evident, so the facts strongly suggest that the Redwall Limestone was deposited immediately after, and about the same time as, the Muav Limestone. Consequently, at least 155 million years of geological time are ‘missing’ at this location.
Baffled Evolutionary Geologists
Now if it is apparent from the observational evidence that there is no break here at all, then what have geologists said about this boundary in the geological literature? Being on a long-established, well-used trail which is signposted by the National Park Service, one would have expected that a lot has been written about this location in the geological literature. However, only a few scattered remarks and one close-up diagram can be easily located.
Walcott in 1888 wrote, concerning various places where he saw Redwall Limestone resting directly on what today is called the Muav Limestone, that:
‘The line of unconformity is slight and often none exists except to the eye of the geologists looking at that exact horizon for it.’8
Notice the frank admission that no unconformity exists except to the geologist who is looking for it—another way of saying that often there is no unconformity at all!
Schuchert claimed in 1918 that: ‘The Redwall usually reposes disconformably on the Muav member of the Tonto formation of Cambrian age...’9.
Note that a disconformable relationship exhibits many of the seven features listed previously, but none is evident here on the North Kaibab Trail.
McKee and Gutschick in 196910 merely quoted Stoyanow’s 1948 one sentence statement:
‘The overlap of the Redwall Limestone on the Cambrian platform is well shown in the Grand Canyon sections.’ 11
McKee and Gutschick published a diagram of the North Kaibab Muav-Redwall contact showing a surface with wavy undulations, claiming that it was an ‘unconformity’ with an ‘irregular wavy surface of Muav Limestone’ having ‘relief of 1-2 feet in areas of channelling’.12 Yet field observations made by Waisgerber, Howe, and Williams indicate no such irregular wavy surface or chanelling relief.13
Fossil Dating At Fault
It would be very surprising if this Redwall-Muav contact on the North Kaibab Trail has not been studied by other geologists. However, no other reference to this location can easily be found in the geological literature. So why then do these evolutionary geologists insist there is a time break between these two limestones of at least 155 million years? The answer is, of course, that the Redwall and Muav Limestones have been dated according to the fossils they contain, which have already been assigned an evolutionary age. Dunbar and Rodgers state:
‘The relative importance of a hiatus is immediately evident if the beds above and below bear fossils by which they can be assigned their proper position in the instances this is the final and the only criterion that gives quantitative results for the large unconformities. In the Grand Canyon walls, for example, where Redwall limestone can be dated as Lower Mississippian and the underlying Muav limestone as Middle Cambrian, we know that the paraconformity [that is. the suspected erosion surface—A.A.S.] represents more than three geologic periods, yet the physical evidence for the break is less obvious than for that which separates the Toroweap and the Kaibab limestones, both of which are Middle Permian. Many large unconformities would never be suspected if it were not for such dating of the rocks above and below.’14
Similarly, Noble in 1914 experienced great difficulty trying to determine just where the Cambrian strata stopped and the Mississippian began in Bass Canyon (a side canyon to Grand Canyon) because fossil and rock data failed to suggest an unconformity:
‘Because of the lack of fossils and the failure to detect the line of erosion that would mark a division between the Muav Limestone and the Redwall in Bass Canyon it has been necessary to fix tentatively the base of the Redwall by means of lithology [rock type—A.A.S.]. The Muav Limestone is here overlain by alternating layers of calcareous [lime-bearing—A.A.S.] sandstone and dense blue-grey crystalline limestone, which have a thickness of 110 feet. These layers are taken arbitrarily as the base of the Redwall.’15
No Geological ‘Ages’, Just Noah’s Flood
It is obvious that in Bass Canyon, as well as along the North Kaibab Trail, this contact line is not easily discerned. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fossil content being interpreted as indicative of evolutionary ages, then line field evidence would overwhelmingly indicate that at these locations in Grand Canyon deposition of the Redwall Limestone followed immediately on from deposition of the Muav Limestone and thus at least 155 million years of so-called geological time is ‘missing’, because it never occurred!
Furthermore, if this is the case in these two locations in Grand Canyon, that is, if there was no significant time break between deposition of the Muav Limestone and the Redwall Limestone above it, then in those places throughout the rest of the Grand Canyon where the Temple Butte Limestone occurs between the Muav and the Redwall, the Temple Butte Limestone must have been deposited rapidly. Similarly, where there is evidence of erosion at the boundary between the Muav and Temple Butte, and the Temple Butte and Redwall, elsewhere through the Grand Canyon, then the forces of erosion responsible must equally have been of short duration.
‘Thus the observational evidence firmly indicates that at least 155 million years of so-called geological time never happened, invalidating the evolutionists’ whole concept of the geological column and the evolutionary progression of life. On the other hand, this evidence confirms the conclusions of creationists that these breaks and boundaries between rock layers in Grand Canyon represent very little time at all, and in some cases continuous deposition, as would be expected of events during Noah’s year-long Flood.
- Young, D.A., 1990. The discovery of terrestrial history. In: H.J. Van Till, R.E. Shaw, J.H. Stek and D.A. Young, Portraits of Creation, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 70, 72. Return to text.
- Roth A.A., 1988. Those gaps in the sedimentary layers. Origins, vol. 15, p. 90. Return to text.
- Cowie, J.W. and Bassett, M.G., 1989. 1989 Global Stratigraphic Chart with geochronometric and magnetostratigraphic calibration (compiled for the Breau of the International Union of Geographical Sciences). Supplement to Episodes,Vol. 12(2). Return to text.
- Cowie and Bassett, Ref. 3. Return to text.
- Cowie and Bassett, Ref. 3. Return to text.
- Burdick, C.L., 1974. Canyon of canyons. Bible-Science association, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Return to text.
- Waisgerber, W., Howe, G.F. and Williams, E.L., 1987. Mississippian and Cambrian strata interbedding: 200 million years hiatus in question. Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 23(4), pp. 160-167. Return to text.
- Walcott, C.D., 1888. Pre-Carboniferous strata in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, Arizona. American Journal of Science, third series, vol. 26, pp. 438-439. Return to text.
- Schuchert, C., 1918. The Carboniferous of the grand canyon of Arizona. American journal of Science, fourth series, vol. 45, p. 347-361. Return to text.
- McKee, E.D. and Gutschick, R.C., 1969. History of the Redwall Limestone of northern Arizona. Geological Society of America, Memoir 114. Return to text.
- Stoyanow, A., 1948, Some problems of Mississippian stratigraphy in southwestern United States. Journal of Geology, vol. 56(4), p. 314. Return to text.
- McKee and Gutschick, Ref. 10, p. 625. Return to text.
- Waisgerber, Howe and Williams, Ref. 7. Return to text.
- Dunbar, C.O. and Rodgers, J., 1957. Principles of Stratigraphy, John Wiley, New York, p. 127 Return to text.
- Noble, L.F., 1914. The Shinumo quadrangle: Grand Canyon of Arizona. U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 549, p. 66. Return to text.
I am indebted to the Institute for Creation Research for several opportunities to visit the Grand Canyon to study the strata first hand. ICR Professor of Geology Dr. Steve Austin has been of particular assistance, as has been his field guide, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (ICR Field Study Tour Guidebook), which I thoroughly recommend.