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Rock layers and cave formations

Are creationists mistaken on how and how long they take to form?

Tas Walker Mud can settle from flowing water.
Mud can settle from flowing water.

This week’s correspondence deals with rock layers and cave formations. CMI’s Dr Tas Walker and Dr Emil Silvestru respond.

C.N. writes:

At the following url I found many questions that may be reasonable.

[Weblink removed as per feedback rules—Ed.] These people claim that creationists create a straw man in order to knock it over. How accurate are they in their claims relating to geology and Christian understanding of the science of geology?

CMI’s Dr Tas Walker responds:

Hi C.

That article is an extract from a 1995 book by Alan Hayward. It looks like it is a republishing of his earlier 1985 book Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies. In that chapter he misrepresents Flood geology. It’s called ‘attacking a straw man’. For example, in one place he says:

“There is one quite astonishing example of the unwillingness of ‘Flood geologists’ to consider the implications of their theory. The sedimentary rocks are arranged in clearly defined layers, or strata. But floods only produce neatly stratified deposits under special circumstances, and then only in a limited total thickness. Floods generate so much turbulence that they commonly mix everything up, and so deposit a gorgeous mishmash. As we saw in the previous section, ‘Flood geologists’ themselves have recognized this fact when discussing the origin of conglomerates.

“Stratified deposits, on the other hand, are usually produced by slow, long-continued sedimentation. It is possible to see them forming slowly today, in many places where muddy rivers discharge into lakes or the sea.

“Consequently, the universal existence of thousands of feet of strata in the sedimentary rocks is powerful evidence that they were laid down slowly, one at a time, and not all at once by one great Flood. The response of ‘Flood geologists’ to this evidence is quite inadequate.”

The form of the strata that are laid down depends on the size of the flood.

This is not correct. The form of the strata that are laid down depends on the size of the flood. The layers, or strata, are evidence of rapid water flow in the ‘upper plane bed regime’. See the article Rock language: is there such a thing? for what floods can do and what the deposits look like. Also see the article Mud experiments overturn long-held geological beliefs about the deposition of mud that demonstrates that Haywood’s idea that mud means the strata were laid down slowly is wrong.

Notice too how Hayward attacks the character of Flood geologists: “astonishing example of unwillingness to consider”. This accuses Flood geologists of being wilfully ignorant but nothing can be further from the truth. Hayward’s book drips with this sort of character attack on his opponents, and that influences his readers.

The article Geology and the Young Earth deals with some of the other claims that Hayward makes in other chapters of his book.

Rainy M. from the United States writes:

In the article “Caving in to reality”, Carl Wieland quotes the following:

“geologists don’t know how long cave development takes … ”

But this is completely mistaken. There are several independent methods of calculating stalagmite growth: U-Th dating, 18O and 13C isotope records, laminae counts, etc. These are highly corroborated by instrumental records of rainfall, temperature, etc. that affect isotopic composition and growth rate.

No geologist suggests (or assumes) that stalagmites take ‘millions of years’ to form. It’s typically hundreds to thousands of years, and this can be measured through multiple independent proxies.

CMI’s Dr Emil Silvestru responds:

Hello Rainy,

Since Carl Wieland quotes me in that article, I may as well answer your assertions. First, “know” means being certain and that is not the case with the age of speleothems. There is an abundant literature regarding radiometric dating on our website, so I will not directly deal with that here.

The 234U–230Th method applied to speleothems has yielded so many erroneous ages that we have lost count. Of course, the accepted dates are those that are in accordance with the standard long-age, evolutionary karstogenesis model. However, there are many uncontrollable variables, from contamination (never properly countered regardless the method), to recrystallization (which has long been ignored on a microscopic scale, most assessments being made on megascopic grounds).

There are two common-sense arguments for the inaccuracy of radiometric dating:

  1. The constancy of the dripping point. The absolute majority of stalagmite dripping points are stable throughout—according to radiometric dating—tens, even hundreds, of thousands of years. That means through one or several stadials and interstadials. Although it is standard dogma to consider stadials as low-to-no growth periods, it turns out that speleothems have never heard of such a rule and they grow pretty much the same through stadials and interstadials. That means that it is not only deposition that is active during those times, but so is the solution of the intricate infiltration paths. Therefore why is the dripping point not affected? It should wildly travel and change dynamics. They never seem to do.
  2. Corroborated with this is the case of numerous speleothems grown on show cave facilities, from concrete pavements to hand rails and even cabling. In other words we see speleothems forming quickly.
It becomes obvious that there is something wrong with the radiometric dating assumptions.

It becomes obvious that there is something wrong with the radiometric dating assumptions.

As for δ oxygen, the method is not so much used for dating as it is for paleoclimate reconstruction. And I know from my personal experience how many ‘offset’ paleoclimate records have been ignored because they didn’t fit other records. Of course one hears only of the ones that fit and are preserved.

Reconstructing the correct fractionation history is a notorious problem with this method. Moreover, the whole δ oxygen record (based on shell carbonate) has been questioned because of field data (The ‘cool-tropics paradox’ in palaeoclimatology, Rocks in the making).

I hope this clarifies the issue a bit. In an ideal world all these counter-arguments would have been presented side-by-side the other arguments, giving a more accurate depiction of the scientific process. But they have not been, because, obviously, this is not an ideal world …

Emil Silvestru, PhD (geology)

Published: 30 July 2011