This article is from
Creation 30(4):32–33, September 2008

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Picture Gorge

Picture Gorge shouts sudden cataclysm


Probably you have heard the expression, ‘Seeing is believing’, but is that always true? In fact, quite often it’s the other way around: ‘Believing is seeing’. This is true of geology, for example. Geological evidence does not speak for itself, and so it must always be interpreted. And how we interpret that evidence is always influenced by our beliefs.

A good example of this is found on a roadside interpretive sign near the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in central Oregon. This is where the John Day River flows through a water gap1 called Picture Gorge. It’s about 300 m (1,000 ft) deep, with nearly vertical walls of basalt.

Photos by Steve Wolfe Picture Gorge sign
The National Park Service interpretive sign alongside the highway viewing area states, ‘To many, the sharp, steep walls of Picture Gorge suggest a sudden cataclysm and not the slow, relentless forces that actually shaped it.’ The evidence is that the gorge was cut rapidly, but they don’t see it.

According to the standard uniformitarian interpretation, the basaltic lava flowed over this area about 16 million years ago. After that, the river slowly cut down through these lava flows over millions of years to form the gorge. But how could a river flow through a long range of hills? You would expect water to flow around.

The creationist interpretation, however, does not have these sorts of problems. In that view, the gorge was carved by deep water as it was running off the earth during the recessive stage (where the water runs off) of the global flood, as mountains and continents were uplifted and ocean basins subsided. In other words, the gorge was carved rapidly and recently. And that is what the evidence so obviously suggests.

‘To many, the sharp, steep walls of Picture Gorge suggest a sudden cataclysm and not the slow, relentless forces that actually shaped it.’—National Park Service interpretive sign

Alongside the highway viewing area for Picture Gorge is a National Park Service interpretive sign which states, ‘To many, the sharp, steep walls of Picture Gorge suggest a sudden cataclysm and not the slow, relentless forces that actually shaped it.’ Note that they think it looks sudden.

A creationist road guide to the John Day area aptly states that denying such clear evidence for catastrophe ‘is blind adherence to uniformitarianism. Millions of years would break down the steep walls seen here.’2 This is an example where seeing is not believing.

But why would people deny the obvious evidence of a ‘sudden cataclysm’? Perhaps it is because that suggests something out of the ordinary, something much bigger than their geological philosophy allows. A catastrophe so large suggests a disaster of biblical proportions, and that has big implications.

Such evidence, pointing to enormous watery catastrophe, provides strong confirmation that Noah’s Flood actually took place, as the book of Genesis says. It can be added to the many other evidences for the trustworthiness of the Bible. And if the Bible is true, then there must be a Creator who made us in His image and to whom we are accountable. And if God sent the Flood as a judgment on the sin of the world at that time, we can expect that God will judge the sin of the world today. Our fallen human nature recoils at that idea.

Scripture directly describes this stubbornness to believe in Noah’s Flood in 2 Peter 3:3–6, where it says that some are ‘willingly ignorant’ of the global Flood. In Isaiah 54:9, God promised that ‘I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth.

This indicates that it was not just a local flood, because if it was, then every time there has been a local flood, God has broken His promise. It also reassures us that God will not judge the entire earth by water again.

2 Peter 3:7 goes on to warn us that just as there was a global judgment in the past by water, there will be a global judgment in the future by fire. In Noah’s day, all but eight people missed the boat. The good news today is that there is still time for us to change before God’s judgment by fire. You don’t have to miss the boat. Jesus said, ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved’ (John 10:9). He also said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6). Just as the Ark was the only way to escape the Flood, Jesus is the only way for us to be saved.

When visiting national parks and monuments, keep in mind that interpretive signs are just that—someone’s interpretation of the evidence. And those interpretations are based on the prevailing naturalistic philosophy of uniformitarianism, which won’t acknowledge Noah’s Flood no matter how strongly the evidence shouts catastrophe. Different starting assumptions lead to different conclusions, even when examining the same evidence. ‘Believing is seeing!’

Posted on homepage: 10 November 2009

References and notes

  1. A water gap is ‘a pass in a mountain ridge through which a stream flows or formerly flowed.’ (Bokovoy, D., Coffin, H., and Hergenrather, J., Road Guide to the John Day Area of Central Oregon As Viewed from a Creationist Perspective, Creation Research Society, p. 59, 2004.) See also: Oard, M., Do rivers erode through mountains? Creation 29(3):18–23, 2007; <creation.com/watergaps>. Return to text.
  2. Ref. 1, p. 35. Uniformitarianism is the belief that geologic processes have normally occurred at the slow, gradual rates we observe today, with occasional regional catastrophes, but certainly nothing on the scale of a global Flood. Return to text.