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Journal of Creation 31(2):84–93, August 2017

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Not enough rocks: the sedimentary record and deep time

by and Michael J. Oard

Since its inception, uniformitarian geology has argued that the Genesis Flood could not have deposited the volume of sedimentary rocks found in Earth’s crust. This rhetoric has effectively diverted attention from the problem the sedimentary record creates for uniformitarian geology. An actualistic comparison of observed modern sedimentation rates to the total volume of Earth’s sedimentary rock demonstrates that the real volume is surprisingly small relative to modern rates. This problem is reinforced by observed rates of erosion, which should have produced a much greater volume of rock than observed. Auxiliary explanations are advanced to account for these discrepancies, but the fact remains that the volume of the sedimentary record is no friend of uniformitarians. This discrepancy offers them three unpalatable choices: (1) Earth is not billions of years old, (2) the rock record is not a representative record of history, or (3) actualism is a poor forensic assumption.

Figure 1. While stratigraphy focused on the paradigmatic debate between uniformitarianism and the Flood (A), geologists ignored the five actual logical options (B). This obscured three options, and a fourth—the possibility of a supportive relationship between the Flood and the rocks— was rejected a priori (C). Thus, geologists have wrongly concluded that the sedimentary rock record unilaterally supports deep time (D).

What is the relationship between the sedimentary rock record and Earth’s past? It is not presently clear, thanks to a long history of polemics against the Genesis Flood and for gradualist deep time:

Much more persuasive was … the huge piles of Secondary[1] strata that were being described in certain parts of Europe. A century earlier, when such rocks had yet to be studied closely, it had been quite plausible to suppose … that the entire pile of sediments could have been laid down all at once… . However, once the sheer thickness of the Secondary formations was fully appreciated, and detailed fieldwork suggested that many of them must have been deposited layer by layer under tranquil conditions, that kind of diluvial interpretation was quietly abandoned by most savants.2

In other words, there are ‘too many rocks’ for the Flood. In a short time, this questionable argument3 became a rhetorical flourish, resonating with the public via the visual appeal of large-scale outcrops, like those at Grand Canyon or in the Alps. Despite logical rigour, many Christians have also been successfully diverted from uniformitarian problems by this old argument:

The question is whether minimally seven miles of fine-grained sediments and volcanic rocks accumulated in only one and a half millennia [sic]. We would be talking about an average sedimentation rate of about 20 feet per year for 1,656 years! If these rocks were all deposited during a one-year planetary Flood, however, then the sedimentation rate was seven miles or at least 36,000 feet per year! Do Flood geologists really expect anyone to believe that?4

Such polemics preclude an objective examination of the relationship between rocks and history. Logic allows five possible relationships between the sedimentary record and the opposing paradigms of natural history (figure 1). Since uniformitarian rhetoric has long obscured these, let us reverse the argument and examine how well secular history explains the sedimentary record.

In evaluating any relationship between the sedimentary rock record and Earth’s past, the hard data available include: (1) estimates of the total volume of sedimentary rocks, and (2) observed sedimentation rates in modern settings. Observed sedimentation rates should produce a much greater volume of sedimentary rock over deep time. This problem puts secularists in a corner. They must choose between: (1) a younger Earth, (2) an unrepresentative historical record, or (3) the rejection of actualism and its claim that modern processes are alone representations of the past. Any of these choices is fatal to pure uniformitarian geology.

Earth’s sedimentary record—the big picture

Figure 2. Oceans and submarine continental margins occupy most of Earth’s surface area (left), but the bulk of Earth’s sedimentary rocks occur on the continents (right), according to Ronov.5

The first factor is the volume of Earth’s sedimentary record. Despite its complexity, it can be examined as a whole, and has been by geologists. Ronov5 described the sedimentary rock record as the ‘stratisphere’—the sedimentary and volcanic outer shell of Earth’s crust, occupying some 11% of the crust by volume. Geologists estimate a range for this ‘stratisphere’, but many6 cite Ronov’s estimate of 1,100,000,000 km3. Ronov5 differenced maps between the land surface and the igneous and metamorphic basement to obtain a total volume, and then fleshed it out with voluminous lithologic data from wells, cores, and the literature. His detailed work examined rocks by lithology, age, and depositional environment. In doing so, he included all sedimentary rocks (including sediments and metasedimentary rocks) of the Archean, Proterozoic, and Phanerozoic eons. Although most Archean rocks are igneous or metamorphic in lithology, Ronov included those he deemed to have been at some time sedimentary.

The sedimentary record is marked by several interesting discontinuities. The most obvious is the disproportionately high volume on the continents and continental margins. Together, they contain 82.8% of sedimentary rocks, even though they occupy less than 42% of the total surface area. Ronov estimated Earth’s total surface area to be 510,072,000 km2, with a little more than 29%, or 148,940,000 km2, as dry land. Of the 361,132,000 km2 under water, 12.7%, or 64,779,144 km2 comprised continental margins (figure 2).

Figure 3. Comparison of calculations of Ronov5 and Blatt et al.9 for the average thickness of sedimentary rocks on continents, continental margins, ocean floors, and the entire planet. Ronov’s estimates are shown in the darker patterns and font.

After estimating the distribution of Earth’s sedimentary rocks, Ronov calculated the average thickness of the sedimentary shell in a variety of crustal settings. On continents, he estimated the average thickness to be 5 km. This decreased to 2.5 km on the continental margins, and 0.4 km on the sea floor (figure 3). His averages include everything from exposed continental shields to deep basins like the Southern Caspian Basin, where the sedimentary column thickness reaches 25 km,7 and the western Gulf of Mexico, where it locally exceeds 16 km.8

Others have estimated significantly lower average thicknesses and volumes. Blatt et al.9 estimated an average thickness of 2.7 km on continents and 2.8 km on continental margins—an increase from Blatt’s10 earlier estimate of 0.82 km globally, 1.82 km on the continents, and 0.24 km on the ocean floors. Nelson11 reported a continental average of only 1.8 km, very similar to that of Blatt.10 One difference in these estimates may be that Ronov5 focused on the entire section above igneous and metamorphic basement, including metasedimentary rocks. However, the likely cause of the varying measurements is simply the difficulty of the task.

Modern sedimentation rates are too high

The second data point is the range of observed rates at which sedimentary rocks accumulate. That too can be difficult to determine, due to observational limits and because modern rates vary by up to eleven orders of magnitude.12,13 These processes range in magnitude from a clay particle settling in the ocean to mass wasting events, and in time from a single wave on a beach to the infilling of a large cratonic basin. Unfortunately, many ‘observed’ rates are often inferred rates, based on measurements of stratal thickness and dates for the base and top. This, of course, is circular—it assumes uniformitarian deposition between the deep-time dates of the top and bottom. Moreover, observations showing that much sedimentation is the result of disproportionately rare, high-energy events call into question the old gradualist model of sedimentation. Bailey and Smith14 question if there is any significant continuous deposition represented in the rock record, agreeing with Ager15 that there is “more gap than record”, and although Miall12 admits that the record is a set of ‘frozen accidents’, he still affirms confidence in uniformitarian stratigraphy.

In fact, uniformitarian sedimentation rates appear to be a product of faith overcoming fact. Geologists can measure modern rates, and make good inferences about others, but these are routinely much higher than those considered ‘typical’ for geologic history. In fact, Sadler13 posited a power law decrease in the rate of sediment accumulation back through time because of these kinds of observations. And others16 recognize the necessity of this auxiliary hypothesis to lower ‘older’ rates. The unspoken assumption is deep time. When that condition is ignored, observed ‘high’ rates appear more normal than believed.

Sedimentation vs accumulation rates

The journey from sediment to preserved sedimentary rock involves several physical factors that can reduce the volume of freshly deposited sediment. These include compaction, dewatering, dissolution, and other diagenetic changes, such as changes in clay mineralogy. Diagenesis refers to all chemical, physical, and biological changes in sediment after deposition. In addition, large-scale physical factors, such as uplift and erosion, affect the final volume. Erosion is usually assumed to be the primary reason for the reduction in expected volume.17

Because sediment can be transported, deposited, and re-eroded and transported again relatively quickly, most geologists see accumulation as being most directly related to the rate of subsidence of sedimentary basins, which produces what is called accommodation space. Modern sedimentation rates suggest that particles are supplied in excess of this space; the final product is a function of how much and how quickly the basin’s crust subsides to capture and preserve the sediments cycling through that area. Bailey18 referenced Smith’s19 concept of a self-organized ‘Stratigraphy Machine’ that teeters on the edge of chaos, allowing occasional preservation and accumulation of eroded waste as sedimentary rocks.

Scale creates enough complexity to obscure the basic point that there are not enough rocks. Given uniformitarian history, we will examine the gross aspects of the record in terms of what this ‘Stratigraphy Machine’ might produce over 4.5 Ga.

A shortcut: comparing a variety of rates to accumulated thicknesses

When comparing the data points of observed sedimentation rates to the global volume of the sedimentary record, we use thickness as a surrogate for volume, since most sedimentary processes produce local geometric bodies of limited volume, but measurable thickness. Before examining modern rates, we first must find a way to relate a range of thicknesses to a variety of rates. This sets boundaries, creating a theoretical template against which measured and interpreted rates can be calibrated, and by which thickness ranges for particular periods of time can be quickly matched to minimum rates.

Figure 4. Comparison of accumulations shown as average thicknesses for a range of sedimentation rates. Superscript notes for comparison: 1 = Earth’s average of 2,200; 2 = Continental average of 5,000 m; 3 = Ocean floor average of 400 m.5 Grey box in centre: Earth’s greatest known thickness of sedimentary rocks in the South Caspian Basin—a minimum of 10 mm/1,000 years for 2.5 Ga. Note that higher rates result in thicknesses far in excess of any observed rates; those of just 1 mm/year (1 m/1,000 years) result in an average of over 4,500 km, or nearly 15 million vertical feet of sedimentary rock!

Figure 4 shows seven hypothetical rates, ranging from 0.1 mm/1,000 years (ka) to 10,000 mm/ka. Although all rates are normalized to mm/ka, resulting thicknesses are presented in accumulated metres of sediment for the four left columns, and accumulated kilometres of sediment for the right three columns for convenience. For the same reason, headers also include conversions to cm and m.

Figure 4 shows that a rate of 0.1 mm/ka is very low and supplies a total thickness of sediment less than 0.5 km over deep time. A rate of 1 mm/ka more than doubles the 2.2 km thickness of Ronov’s ‘stratisphere’. One of 10 mm/ka would fill the South Caspian Basin in about 2.5 Ga, and once rates move into ranges of 100–10,000 mm/ka, the resulting total thickness would range up to tens of thousands of km! At a rate of 1 m/ka, the total thickness of the accumulated record would be over 4,500 km, and today’s 2.2 km average would thus represent only 0.05% of that record.

Observed rates range across this spectrum but are on average much higher than required to supply the gross rock record. High rates create problems for uniformitarian geologists, even when lower inferred rates (assuming deep time) are used. For example, Schwab20 estimated rates at a variety of basins (assuming deep time) reaching into hundreds of mm/ka. Although the rates in basins are higher than those outside basins, no basin reaches the predicted tens to hundreds of km, and such thicknesses call into question the necessary erosion or compaction needed to reduce that thickness. Sporadic accumulation, erosion, and subduction are the most common auxiliary hypotheses to explain the discrepancy, but the point is that there is a discrepancy of such magnitude to explain in the first place. That calls into question the relationship shown in figure 1D.

Although actual sedimentary processes are complex, the range of rates is sufficient to demonstrate that at any rate exceeding 1 mm/ka the present volume of sedimentary rocks represents a very small fraction of those ever deposited. This theoretical envelope helps us understand both modern rates and ancient thicknesses.

Reported sedimentation rates

Although sedimentation rates in the past cannot be measured, there are a surprising number of scientific observations and measurements of sedimentation occurring today. There are two classes of these: (1) actual observations and measurements, and (2) inferences in the ‘recent’ past based on stratigraphic methods, usually radiometric dating.

Figure 5. Samples of modern sedimentation rates from a variety of depositional settings.9,12,21–26,28–37 Note some rates were measured and others inferred for ‘recent’ history using stratigraphic methods that assume deep time. Almost all modern rates far exceed those expected for ancient sediments based on volume of strata. Measured rates are usually far higher than those that infer rates based on deep time.

A sample of these is shown in figure 5. Some are of ongoing processes; others were unique events. However, geologists have stated that the unusual events are those most likely to be preserved—Ager15 called them ‘frozen accidents’. An additional column is included to normalize all rates to figure 4’s measurements in mm/ka. What is immediately apparent is that modern rates are much higher than those proposed for the past, and that actual observed rates tend to be much higher than those that presuppose deep time and use stratigraphic methods. For example, Coleman21 observed crevasse splay deposits forming at rates of 300,000 mm/ka in the Mississippi delta. But, assuming they formed during the 2.5 Ma of the Pleistocene, he concluded that deltaic deposits in the Gulf of Mexico formed at ‘only’ 1,440 mm/ka.

But even rates that assume deep time are quite high, like those reported in the Mediterranean Basin by Cita et al.22 They calculated rates of 90–300 mm/ka for sediments below and above the Messinian ‘evaporites’ and rates of 1,000,000 mm/ka for the ‘evaporites’ themselves! Even processes assumed to be slow—like coral reef growth—are not. Based on modern observations, Roth23 noted rates of up to 414,000 mm/ka for reefs, and Read and Snelling24 thought that the Great Barrier Reef of Australia was growing at a rate of 15,300 mm/ka. Overbank flooding on the central Amazon River produced rates of over 12,000,000 mm/ka, and even assuming deep time, Kuehl et al.25 estimated deposition on its delta was proceeding at rates up to 100,000 mm/ka.

In 1964, construction on the Aswan Dam reached the point that the river began infilling the new Lake Nasser, which reached an aerial extent of over 5,000 km2. Based on the nearly 5 billion cubic metres of sediment deposited since 1964, the sedimentation rate in the lake is approximately 18,800 mm/ka. And this rate is small compared to that in Lake Mead, which, over the past 80 years, has reached nearly 250,000 mm/ka. Catastrophic events, such as the levee break in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina,26 or the lahars on the North Fork of the Toutle River after the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens, have yielded rates in the billions of mm/ka.

Some of these are clearly unusual and highly localized events and processes, yet every modern rate is much higher than those proposed for the past. The uniformitarian principle would lead us to apply what is seen in the present to the rock record. Figure 4 shows that rates exceeding 1 m/ka would result in a complete rock record of thousands of kilometres in 4.5 Ga. The difference between those values and the approximated < 2 km is stark. Uniformitarian geologists claim that historical rates were lower, but it is hard to conceive of rates being several orders of magnitude lower, especially with the evidence for large, rapid deposition in the rock record. They offer a variety of explanations for the much lower volumes of historical strata,27 but the fact remains that explanations are required, and that present-day observations do not approach these historical low rates, even when deep time is assumed and rates estimated in environments like the abyssal ocean floor.

Continental erosion rates and volumes: another perspective

Another way to approach the problem is to examine the rate at which sediment might be formed by erosion. Do modern erosional rates reflect elevated depositional rates, or do they align with ancient sedimentation rates? Like sedimentation rates, we will examine erosion on a gross scale and ask how much time would be needed to erode the volume of the present-day continents to sea level.

Figure 6. Hypsometric curve showing area of Earth above and below sea level. Total land area multiplied by average exposed land elevation yields average volume to be eroded of ~124 million km3.41

Land above sea level averages 835 m in elevation and occupies over 148 million km2.38 That yields a volume of nearly 124 million km3. Figure 6 shows the present relationship between land and sea in a hypsometric curve, showing the far greater volume of the world’s oceans to dry land. Only a rough calculation is possible; erosion would slow as gradient decreased and isostasy would uplift continental crust as it thinned, but geologists have provided estimates of how long it would take to erode the continents to sea level using observed rates of denudation. This, in turn, would be an estimate of how long it would take to turn 124 million km3 of crustal rock into sedimentary particles. The first step in this analysis is to examine present-day erosional rates.

Blatt et al.9 and many others have studied erosion in a variety of settings. Erosion rates depend on many variables and are difficult to estimate.39,40 Blatt et al.41 reported erosion rates ranging from 41–48 mm/ka in the Appalachians, rates ranging from 70–910 mm/ka in the Alps, and up to 720 mm/ ka in the Himalayas. The erosion rate in the Himalayas has recently been calculated to be much higher.42 They noted that 5–10% of the continental mountainous terrain supplies 80% of erosional load; erosional rates increase with increasing slope at an exponential rate.43

Chen et al.44 found an average landslide erosion rate of 2,650–5,170 mm/ka for one basin in Taiwan. This is high, but represents basin erosion in a mountainous area with occasional extreme events. The Teton Mountains of northwest Wyoming provide an example of a similar modern setting with lower precipitation. Hillslope erosion was calculated at 800 mm/ka, while the basin averaged 200 mm/ka.45 Yet all these rates are much higher than the long-term rates based on cosmogenic isotopes (which assume deep time), thought to be 20 mm/ka.

Another modern study was performed for a mountainous region with low precipitation and negligible human impact; the northeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau.46 Over an area of 3,000 km2 with a mean elevation of 4,000 m, the rate was estimated at 80 mm/ka for the arid to semi-arid region that gets most of its precipitation from summer storms. This rate incorporated all three fluvial erosional parameters: suspended load, bed load, and dissolved load, but it is still much higher than ‘long-term erosion rates’ that assume deep time.

Figure 7. Modern erosion rates from a variety of settings.9,46—49,51,52 Some are inferred using the assumption of deep time; others are measured or inferred independent of deep time.

An accurate measure of actual erosion was found by Lazzari et al.47 They measured the accumulation of sediment at a dam at the exit of a basin when the reservoir in southern Italy was drained. The basin has medium to high relief, and landslides are the dominant erosional mechanism. This study provides a representative rate for the Mediterranean area. Based on 38 years of storage and assuming a density of 2.5 g/cm3 for the eroded rock, their erosion rate was 645 mm/ka. A variety of erosion rates are shown in figure 7.

If we apply the minimum rate of Blatt et al.41 of approximately 40 mm/ka to the average continental elevation of 835 m, the total volume would be gone in a little more than 21 Ma. This corresponds to estimates of scientists who have calculated that complete denudation would take between 10 and 50 Ma. Roth48 evaluated similar estimates and assumed total denudation within 10 Ma. His estimate was based on the quantity of suspended load in rivers flowing into the ocean.49 Other variables could change these estimates. Human activity seems to have increased erosion, but that contribution to the suspended load deposited on deltas is unknown, since dams restrain erosion. Even if human activity has halved the natural erosion rate, the time needed to completely erode the continental volume remains at only 20 Ma. This does not account for bedload and dissolved load entering the oceans or for coastal erosion. Discharge during floods—which account for the bulk of sediment transported—is often not measured.50 Unknown variables could increase erosion. On the other hand, the decreasing gradient would significantly decrease the erosion rate. If we use elevated rates shown in figure 7, such as hundreds of mm/ka, the time needed to erode the continents could be as little as one million years. Isostatic and tectonic uplift would offset the decrease in rate from the decrease in gradient. At any rate, the maximum feasible erosion rate of the continents’ volume would be less than 50 Ma.

Continental crust has an average density of 2.7 g/cm3. Sedimentary rocks have lower average densities, due to space occupied by porosity as a function of grain packing, and to differences in mineralogy. For that reason, the minimum amount of sediment derived from the 124 million km3 of continental crust would be at least the same, and most likely greater, ignoring chemical dissolution and precipitation. While rocks can be changed from one type to another, their matter cannot simply appear or disappear. Therefore, continental denudation would yield a minimum of 124 million km3 of sedimentary rock.

If we assume Ronov’s5 estimate of the volume of the global sedimentary record of 1,100 million km3, then the 124 million km3 from today’s continents would yield about 11% of the total sedimentary record, and would thus require nine episodes of uplift and denudation to produce the global sedimentary rock record. Given Roth’s rate of 10 Ma,51 it would then take 90 Ma to reproduce the volume of the rock record. At a slower rate of 50 Ma, it would take 450 Ma to reproduce the rock record. These are estimates based on uniformitarianism—the extrapolation of present-day processes and their rates. This principle is what geologists continue to assert as their fundamental principle.12 Earth’s sedimentary rocks could then have formed in as little as 2% of deep time or as much as 10%. Either way, erosion rates indicate that only a fraction of deep time would be needed to produce the rock record.

Discussion: the sedimentary record and time

Since the earliest days of geology, the sedimentary rock record has been viewed from the perspective of its purported incompatibility with the Genesis Flood. Geologists claimed that the volume of rock was too great to have been deposited in a year-long flood, but then drew the flawed conclusion that if the sedimentary record does not support the Flood, it automatically supports uniformitarian deep time (figure 1). That was a case of belief driving interpretation. The inherent circular reasoning in that train of thought remains an unacknowledged flaw of ‘historical science’.

Geologists have become so accustomed to arguing in this circle that they rarely, if ever, re-examine their assumptions. If one assumes uniformitarian history, then one will automatically conclude that the sedimentary record ‘proves’ uniformitarianism, and the circle perpetuates itself. This circular reasoning is evident at all scales; even calculations of rates based on a measured thickness and stratigraphic ages of the top and base show this flaw. Schwab20 compared depositional rates of 75 basins, but in every case he derived rates from a thicknesses/time calculation that assumed uniformitarian history. Needless to say, his ‘rates’ were much lower than those observed today.

Furthermore, the uniformitarian method assumes gradual slow deposition and often ignores field realities. Reed53 showed how this kind of ‘rate’ calculation could not explain field features of basalt flows at the Midcontinent Rift System. Supposedly, these flows took more than 21 Ma to form, but the physical constraints on the flows and the sizes of their vents indicate actual emplacement of each flow in hours, similar to those of the Columbia River Basalt. In Kansas, the basalt flows—the actual rock record—would require ~120,000 years of ‘dead time’ between each flow in order to reach the assumed 21 Ma. And yet all evidence of erosion between subsequent layers is lacking to support that ‘dead time’. The basalts are merely flow atop flow. More than 99.99% of deep time is thus unrecorded by the actual rock record in that case.

In similar cases, where thick sections of sedimentary rock formed quickly or where the bulk of the stratigraphic section is composed of hiatuses, the same problem occurs. And these sedimentary layers also show little, if any, evidence of erosion between one layer and the next. The physical evidence to support the claims of deep time between the layers is missing, just like between the lava flows described above.

Geologists, committed to uniformitarian deep time, thus demonstrate themselves to be dogmatists, not empiricists. Clues to that dogmatism were manifested early on, with an unwavering support for deep time, even when its quantity was increasing by orders of magnitude between the mid-18th to mid-20th century. Buffon challenged biblical history with a 75,000-year-old Earth. Werner thought it over a million, and Kant, in 1790, estimated many millions of years.54 In 1860, John Phillips placed the base of the Cambrian at 96 Ma and Darwin estimated that natural selection would require a billion years to produce the tree of life. Kelvin restrained these speculations with physical calculations that ranged down from 400 Ma in 1863 to 24 Ma in 1897. But Holmes (1913) used a radiometric geochronology to set Earth’s age at 1.6 Ga, and Claire Patterson calculated the current accepted date of 4.55 Ga in 1953.55 Even though the jump from Buffon to Patterson was nearly four orders of magnitude, stratigraphers were always able to reconcile that remarkable range of ages with uniformitarian sedimentation, simply because their frame of reference was ‘anything but the Bible’. The stratisphere5 was shoehorned into tens of thousands of years and then stretched to fit billions, all the while telling the same story—no Flood. If today’s sedimentary record is supposed to illustrate billions of years, those earlier accommodations were impossible, and thus the original reasons for rejecting the Flood are shown to have been subjective and flawed.

In evaluating the relationship between the sedimentary rock record and Earth’s past, the hard data available are limited to estimates of the total volume of Earth’s sedimentary rocks and observed sedimentation rates. The severe disjunction between these two empirical data points yields one inescapable conclusion—there are far fewer sedimentary rocks on Earth than should have been deposited over 4.5 Ga. Uniformitarian geologists facing this reality have only bad options to explain the discrepancy. One is higher rates on a younger Earth. That is unacceptable. The other, and most commonly used, is that the record is mostly missing sections, thanks to erosion. However, the unintended consequence of this solution creates the question-begging scenario of an unrepresentative record. That strikes a blow at the heart of the idea that earth history is known with scientific certainty. The only other option would be for geologists to accept the discrepancy between rates and volume as an indication that their core method of actualism is wrong.

Attempts to work around this problem abound, although many geologists like Ager15 simply seemed to accept it as a feature of the rocks and ignore the consequences. Others are more concerned and advance explanations. Rocks were eroded.13 Rocks were subducted. Rocks did not have sufficient accommodation space, or sediment accumulation rates have increased over time.12 Rates today are anomalously high. Any or all may be correct, but all these ideas reason in a circle, refuse to consider the possibility that the assumptions of deep time and uniformitarianism might be the problem, and argue from a lack of evidence, thanks to the fact that most of Earth’s history is written on the blank pages of hiatuses in the record.

Before evaluating any of these hypotheses, it is first essential to understand the role of the assumptions that drive them. The stated bedrock of modern geology is the actualistic method of uniformitarianism, but more often than not that assumption is a hindrance because modern geological environments are not good analogs for the rock record. Auxiliary hypotheses are tools such geologists use to work around actualism, not use it. This demonstrates that the real bedrock of modern geology is negative—it is a convoluted attempt to dismiss divine providence from history, beginning with the Genesis Flood.

The volume of the sedimentary record does not support the 4.5 Ga of uniformitarian geology. Because these geologists have historically been fixated on the relationship between the volume of rocks and their estimates of what could be deposited during the Flood, they are belatedly realizing that the rock record is not kind to uniformitarianism. Since diluvialists are not similarly constrained by actualism or by pristine empiricism, one could argue that the rock record is much less kind to uniformitarianism than to diluvialism. For the purposes of this paper, however, it does not matter whether the Genesis Flood can explain the rocks. The issue before us is that uniformitarianism cannot. If the rocks justify only a small part of history, then the history of secular geology cannot possess the certainty assigned to it. Forensic confidence in the rock and fossil records is therefore misplaced. Absent the revelatory record of the Bible, uniformitarian geologists—advocates of empiricism and actualism—are left with data that convey very little about the past. Ironically, geologists who are quite comfortable lowering observed rates to justify their uniformitarianism are completely unwilling to consider higher rates and larger scales associated with the Flood, even though the logic is the same.


Geologists since the 18th century have argued that the sedimentary rock record supports their paradigm of uniformitarian deep time because there are ‘too many rocks’ for the one year Flood. But the triumph of deep time was premature; it masked the fact that the sedimentary rock record does not support uniformitarian history. The gross volume of Earth’s sedimentary rocks is not supported by the sedimentation rates observed in the present. At the most fundamental level, the gap between the sedimentary record and the proposed 4.5 Ga history of our planet suggests that either the actualistic principle is not a good method or that the volume of sediments on Earth was produced in much less than 4.5 Ga. That leads to two unpalatable options for uniformitarian geologists: (1) that Earth is much younger than 4.5 Ga, or (2) that the existing record is not representative of the past. The rock record constitutes a very poor forensic buttress for uniformitarianism. Consequently, the fossil record contained in these rocks is likewise deficient and is an equally poor support for evolutionary history. Stratigraphic methods that assume gradual and continuous sedimentation, like cyclostratigraphy, are also in trouble. The supposed happy marriage between uniformitarian deep time and the sedimentary record is in more trouble than people think.

Posted on homepage: 26 October 2018

References and notes

  1. ‘Secondary’ was the term introduced by Arduino to describe indurated sedimentary rocks of the Southern Alps. Return to text.
  2. Rudwick, M.J.S., Bursting the Limits of Time: The reconstruction of geohistory in the age of revolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, p. 123, 2005. Return to text.
  3. Reed, J.K. and Oard, M.J., Three early arguments for deep time, part III: the sedimentary record, J. Creation 26(2):100–109, 2012. Return to text.
  4. Young, D.A. and Stearley, R.F., The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological evidence for the age of the earth, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL, p. 378, 2008. Return to text.
  5. Ronov, A.B., The Earth’s Sedimentary Shell, American Geological Institute Reprint Series 5, Falls Church, VA, 1983. Return to text.
  6. E.g. Boggs, S., Petrology of Sedimentary Rocks, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2009. Return to text.
  7. Priestley, K., Patton, H.J., and Schultz, C.A., Modeling anomalous surface-wave propagation across the Southern Caspian Basin, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 91(6):1924–1929, 2001. Return to text.
  8. Carroll, A.R., Geofuels: Energy and the earth, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2015. Return to text.
  9. Blatt, H., Middleton, G., and Murray, R., Origin of Sedimentary Rocks, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1980. Return to text.
  10. Blatt, H., Determination of mean sediment thickness in the crust: a sedimentologic method, Geological Society of America Bulletin 81:255–262, 1970. Return to text.
  11. Nelson, S.A., Occurrence, Mineralogy, Textures, and Structures of Sedimentary Rocks, www.tulane.edu/~sanelson/geol212/sedrxintro.htm, 18 April 2013. Return to text.
  12. Miall, A.D., Updating Uniformitarianism: Stratigraphy as just a set of ‘Frozen Accidents’; in: Smith, D.G., Bailey, R.J., Burgess, P.M., and Fraser, A.J. (Eds.), Strata and Time: Probing the gaps in our understanding, Special Publication 404, Geological Society, London, 2015. Return to text.
  13. Sadler, P.M., Sediment accumulation rates and the completeness of stratigraphic sections, The J. Geology 89(5):569–584, 1981. Return to text.
  14. Bailey, R.J. and Smith, D.G., Scaling in stratigraphic data series: implications for practical stratigraphy, First Break 10:57–66, 2010. Return to text.
  15. Ager, D.V., The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1973. Return to text.
  16. E.g. Miall, ref. 12, and Bailey and Smith, ref. 14. Return to text.
  17. E.g. Miall, ref. 12, Sadler, ref. 13, and Bailey and Smith, ref. 14. Return to text.
  18. Bailey, R.J., Review: Stratigraphy, meta-stratigraphy, and chaos, Terra Nova 10:222–230, 1998. Return to text.
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  23. Roth, A., Origins: Linking Science and Scripture, Hagerstown, MD, 1998. Return to text.
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  41. Blatt et al., ref. 9, p. 23. Return to text.
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  45. Tranel, L.M., Spotila, J.A., Binnie, S.A., and Freeman, S.P.H.T., Quantifying variable erosion rates to understand the coupling of surface processes in the Teton Range, Wyoming, Geomorphology 228:409–420, 2015. Return to text.
  46. Yizhou, W., Huiping, Z., Dewen, Z., Wenjun, Z., Zhuqi, Z., Weitao, W., and Jingxing, Y., Controls on decadal erosion rates in Qilian Shan: Re-evaluation and new insights into landscape evolution in north-east Tibet, Geomorphology 223:117–128, 2014. Return to text.
  47. Lazzari, M., Gioia, D., Piccarreta, M., Danese, M., and Lanorte, A., Sediment yield and erosion rate estimation in the mountain catchments of the Camastra artificial reservoir (Southern Italy): a comparison between different empirical methods, Cadena 125:323–339, 2015. Return to text.
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  52. Summerfield, M.A., Sub-aerial denudation of passive margins: regional elevation versus local relief models, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 102:460–469, 1991. Return to text.
  53. Reed, J.K., The North American Midcontinent Rift System: An Interpretation within the Biblical Worldview, Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AZ, 2000. Return to text.
  54. Rudwick, ref. 2, p. 124–129. Return to text.
  55. Rudwick, M.J.S., Earth’s Deep History: How it was Discovered and Why it Matters, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2014. Return to text.

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