Defying deep-time dogma
Stunning stalactites in a pub cellar
In a charming little village called Salterforth in northern England, visitors can find the Anchor Inn (Canal Side Pub & Eatery). In the basement of this historic ‘watering-hole’, behind an old wooden door, is the pub cellar. Inside, growing downwards from the ceiling almost to the floor is a stunningly beautiful mineral formation consisting of hundreds of spectacularly long, slender stalactite ‘straws’, glistening in the semi-darkness. Also, growing upwards from the cellar floor there are stubby stalagmites—all of these structures seemingly defying deep-time dogma.
The pub originally dates back to 1655, but was rebuilt in 1795 when the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was constructed nearby. It is likely around this time that stalactites began to grow in the cellar, due to the canal waters raising the local water table, causing the ground surrounding the cellar to become moister than before. This means the stalactites I saw had been growing for a maximum of 224 years. The cellar is approximately 3½ m (12 ft) high; see photo. Since the longest stalactites reach to the floor, that gives an average growth rate of 16 mm (0.64 inches) per year. But at times it may have been much faster, of course—no one recorded measurements during the structures’ history to determine how fast they grew at different stages. These particular stalactites are hollow and tube-like, formed from dissolved lime from the cellar’s limestone blocks as water seeps slowly downwards inside them. This is why they are known as ‘soda straws’ (see photo). But why does all this defy long ages?
Not believing everything you’re told
On guided tours of caverns, people are typically told that formations of stalactites and stalagmites and the like (collectively known as speleothems) growing in the caves are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years old—contradicting the Bible’s history. In 2018, I was part of a tour being shown around a large cave system in the Province of Salerno, South Italy, called Grotte di Pertosa–Auletta (= Pertosa–Auletta Caves). During the tour, our guide stood next to a pillar formation consisting of a stalactite joining a stalagmite (similar to the Anchor Inn stalactites in height and composition). He confidently told his audience that this was “proof of a million years of history!”1
If this were true, it would mean most of the formations in the cave were vastly older than the biblical creation date of around 6,000 years. And if the cave guide is correct, then the history in the Bible is not. And here lies the problem—do we trust God’s Word?
When I was much younger, I visited a well-known tourist attraction in the UK, called Kent’s Cavern, a large cave system, in my home county of Devon. I remember the guide telling us that stalactites growing in the cave took 1,000 years to grow just an inch (25 mm). If true, many of the formations would be well over 100,000 years old. More recently, the BBC’s online Science Focus Magazine claimed, “Limestone stalactites form extremely slowly—usually less than 10 cm every thousand years—and radiometric dating has shown that some are over 190,000 years old.”2 Using these figures, the Anchor Inn stalactites would be in excess of 36,000 years old, an absurd result no one would argue for. Clearly, historical testimony determines that the true age of the Inn is 224 years, and this establishes a much speedier formation rate for the stalactites than the BBC’s figure. Therefore, the slow growth rates currently observed for many stalactites cannot be extrapolated uniformly backwards in time to calculate a date. So, when it comes to speleothem formations in caves for which we have no independent historical check, what should we believe?
Exercise critical thinking!
It is vital as Bible-believing Christians that we exercise both critical thinking and some healthy skepticism when it comes to claims of great age for cave formations that far exceed the Bible’s historical time frame. It helps to ask some simple questions, such as, was a cave guide present to witness the stalactite’s beginning? The answer is obviously no. Was someone there to observe and measure its growth rates throughout history to the present day? Again, the answer is no. We can only observe and measure growth rates in the present, which are dependent upon local conditions at the present time.3 Because most cave guides are committed to long-age thinking, they will likely extrapolate modern, slow rates and conditions back through time, often leading to ages far in excess of biblical reality.
This kind of thinking is called ‘uniformitarianism’, which assumes continuity of today’s processes way back in time, and thereby discounts a recent creation 6,000 years ago, or a global Flood 4,500 years ago. This is very like the attitude condemned by the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:3–6), in which scoffers discount a supernatural creation and Flood.
Only biblical history makes sense of stalactites
Because the Flood was a real event in Earth history, we would expect that catastrophic and rapid processes were involved in the formation of caves, different from today’s post-Flood conditions and rates. It is well known that speleothems grow more rapidly in moister conditions, such as would have applied on the waterlogged continents immediately following the Deluge. We would also expect another spurt of growth during the many decades of deglaciation towards the end of the post-Flood Ice Age, which would have released yet more water into the earth to do its rapid work of dissolving and redepositing minerals.4
Furthermore, the traditional belief that the caves themselves were formed by carbonic acid dissolving the limestone very slowly is being challenged by physical evidence that many caves and caverns were instead carved by sulfuric acid. This is produced from the oxidation of sulfides, and being a much stronger acid would have carved them much more rapidly than hitherto believed.5
So when we hear claims of great ages for cave formations far in excess of the biblical age of the planet, we can confidently assert that they are actually well explained from a biblical geological perspective. Past issues of Creation have featured many other photographic examples of present-day, observed growth rates of cave formations that similarly deal a death-blow to deep-time dogma.6
The stunning stalactite formation in the basement cellar of the Anchor Inn is yet another example to add to an ever growing list of creation-confirming, confidence-boosting evidence, affirming faith in the Bible as historic truth.
References and notes
- For a video guided tour (with English subtitles) see; youtube.com/watch?v=jpgGBi0uCPs, 13 Jul 2019. At 20:10-22:32 the guide explains how from present day measurements stalactites are dated at millions of years, and repeats the millions of years claim for the cave six times in his 25-minute monologue. Return to text.
- Villazon, L. How long does it take stalagmites and stalactites to form?, sciencefocus.com, 9 Nov 2019. Return to text.
- Observed growth rates in colder climates are often faster than expected, see: Lewis, D., Rapid stalactite growth in Siberia, Creation 32(1):40–42, Jan 2010. Return to text.
- Manning, A., Formation of Hamilton Cave, West Virginia, J. Creation 21(2):82–89, 2007. Return to text.
- See: Silvestru, E., The Cave Book, Master Books, pp. 36–37, 2008; see also: Oard, M., Rapid cave formation by sulphuric acid dissolution, J. Creation,. 12(3):279–280, 1998. Other acids from the decay of the billions of living things would have contributed, too. Return to text.
- See for example: Silvestru, E., Caves and age, How radioactive dating confuses the situation, Creation 34(1):46–48, 2012. Return to text.