Biblical Evidences

Interpreting the
Geologic Column

Mark Mayberry


As stated elsewhere in this special issue of Watchman, Hill Roberts believes that God conceived of the plan of creation in six literal days, but then took billions of years implementing that plan. In other words, God spent six days thinking and 4.5 billion years acting. This view is reflected in Hill's general treatment of the geologic column. When I attended a Lord I Believe Seminar in the spring of 1996 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, it was obvious that Hill accepted the standard geologic column and tried to adapt the Biblical account of creation to it. He believes that the geologic column is a record of God's progressive creation of life.

This approach was not limited to the adult class. Our 4th grade son came home with a "Challenge Page" handout that asked students to correlate the fossil record with the Genesis account of creation. One side of the page shows the standard geologic column that can be found in nearly every evolutionary textbook. The other side of the page contained blank lines. The header says, "Can you match the fossil record with the Genesis Record?" Again, this clearly implies that the geologic column is a record of the progressive creation of life.

Why should those of us who believe the Bible accept the geologic column as a starting point for our discussion of origins? The Bible affirms the flood of Noah was catastrophic in scope (Gen 7:19-24; 2 Pe 3:5-7). There are many books penned by creation scientists who effectively argue that Noah's flood laid down most, if not all, of the fossil record. However, Hill Roberts is not counted among that number. In fact, he disavows both "creation science" and "flood geology." At the Lord I Believe Seminar that I attended in 1996, during the question and answer session that followed Rod Summers' "Discussion of Time," Hill specifically rejected the idea that the flood could have laid down the fossil record. "Limestone does not form under flood conditions," he said. Moreover, he said the flood could not explain the distinct fossil layers: "If you grind up distinct objects in a blender, you get one uniform mixture rather than distinct separate layers."

I have read many books and articles published by the Institute for Creation Research over the years. It seems to me Hill's rejection of their position is based on a cursory reading of criticisms leveled by evolutionists against the concept of flood geology rather than a careful examination of the writings of flood geologists like Henry Morris, Steven Austin, etc.

In his presentation on time, Rod Summers' showed a picture of a large fossilized fish embedded upright in layer after layer of rock. If you explain the geologic column by saying that sediment was laid down gradually over thousands and thousands of years, how was that fish preserved intact? If it had fallen to the bottom of the ocean, and gradually been covered with sediment, its remains would have decayed or been devoured. The only logical way one can explain this particular fossil, or for that matter, large fossil beds, is that they were rapidly buried and the resulting sediment was then subjected to massive amounts of pressure, converting it to stone. This, my friends, is exactly the type of conditions that would have existed in Noah's flood.

As Viewed From An Evolutionary Perspective

Nearly every science textbook that deals with evolution includes a standard geologic column that purports to show the progressive development of life over the different eras, periods, and epochs. Older fossils at the bottom lie at the bottom of the column, while more recent fossils are at the top. The fossil record serves as the backbone of the theory of evolution, supposedly revealing the gradual development of all life forms from simple beginnings, through the various geologic ages. Single-celled organisms supposedly evolve into marine invertebrates, which in turn evolve into fish. The fish eventually produce amphibians and then reptiles. These give way to birds and mammals, and finally man.

Surely, evolution is true because the fossil record proves it. Yet, on closer examination, the geologic record is fragmented, incomplete and contradictory. In fact, the geologic column exists in only one place: textbooks. Nothing approaching a complete geologic column can be found anywhere on the earth.

In fact, "If a pile were to be made by using the greatest thickness of sedimentary beds of each geologic age, it would be at least 100 miles high. ...It is, of course, impossible to have even a considerable fraction of this great pile available at any one place. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado, for example, is only one mile deep."(1)

In any given location, only a few systems will usually be found. Those that are found often have important segments missing, but without any evidence of erosion. Furthermore, it is not unusual for strata to be out of the approved order, with "old" strata, resting comfortably on top of "young" strata. All of this, by the way, is quite inconsistent with the theory of uniformitarianism.(2)

Therefore, we must recognize that the geologic column is simply a statement of evolutionary dogma, not geologic or paleontological fact. It assumes the very thing it seeks to prove. The Encyclopedia Britannica affirms the truth when it says, "The end product of correlation is a mental abstraction called the geological column. It is the result of integrating all the world's individual rock sequences into a single sequence."(3)

Please don't misunderstand. A trend does exist in the rocks that is superficially in harmony with the column. For example, when fossils of dinosaurs and trilobites are found in the same location, the dinosaurs are usually on top. But this trend is only part of the story, and can be explained in ways other than the standard evolutionary timetable. David Raup, Professor of Geology at the University of Chicago, said, "The fossil record of evolution is amenable to a wide variety of models ranging from completely deterministic to completely stochastic."(4)

As Viewed From A Creationist Perspective

The geologic data could also be viewed from a Biblical perspective, using the model developed by Creation Scientists and advocates of Flood Geology. From this standpoint, a substantial portion of the earth's crust geology must be explained in terms of the destructive impact of the flood of Noah. In the words of Henry Morris, "The geologic column does not represent the slow evolution of life over many ages, as the evolution model alleges, but rather the rapid destruction and burial of life in one age, in accordance with the creation model."(5)

Most of the earth's crust is covered with stratified rock, laid down by volcanic or aquatic action. This is exactly what one would expect from a universal flood that covered the entire earth. Instead of assuming that the geologic column was laid down over long periods of time, Creation scientists argue it was deposited rapidly and catastrophically. Instead of saying that the fossil record sequences demonstrate evolution, flood geologists affirm it demonstrates the burial of life in distinct ecological zones. In the words of Don Patton, "It is much easier to defend a picture of different communities of life forms existing contemporaneously, segregated by ecology, which were buried in that segregated condition. The resulting fossil record would, necessarily, record different life forms in different places, not unlike what we observe today."

How Do You Date The Fossils & Rocks?

But the question remains, "How do you determine the age of a rock? How do you date the fossils?" An older textbook provides a classic summary of this process: "By application of the principle of superposition, lithologic identification, recognition of unconformities, and reference to fossil successions, both the thick and thin masses are correlated with other beds at other sites. Thus there is established, in detail, the stratigraphic succession for all the geologic ages."(6)

"One of the major principles of stratigraphy is that within a sequence of layers of sedimentary rock, the oldest layer is at the base and that the layers are progressively younger with ascending order in the sequence. This is termed the law of superposition and is one of the great general principles of geology. Ordinarily, beds of sedimentary rock are deposited more or less horizontally. In some regions sedimentary strata have remained more or less horizontal long after they were deposited."(7)

However, there are numerous and extensive areas where the strata are supposedly in the wrong order. Therefore, you cannot always date the fossil layers by their particular order because evolutionary geologists say "older" rock is often on top of "younger" rock.

It is interesting to note that this "fact" is at odds with the theory of uniformitarianism, which states that the present is the key to the past. We don't see overthrusts happening today. Furthermore, we cannot adequately explain how they would have occurred in the past. Nevertheless, we are told it happened many times.

At one time it was believed that different types of rock (granite, sandstone, shale, etc.) were formed in different ages, but this idea is no longer accepted. Today it is acknowledged that all kinds of rocks can be found in all the so-called geologic ages. Moreover, all kinds of minerals and metals can be found in all ages. All kinds of geologic structures can be found in all ages. Even coal and oil have been found in rock systems from almost every so-called geologic age. In other words, nothing about the type of rock or the contents of the rock can determine the age of the rock.(8)

Sedimentary deposits are generally laid down in horizontal succession, somewhat like layers of an onion. As long as the successive layers are parallel, the deposition process can be assumed to have been continuous. However, sedimentary layers are not all neatly in order. "In regions where the rocks have been strongly deformed through folding or faulting, the original altitudes or strata may be greatly altered, and sequences of strata that were once essentially horizontal may now be steeply inclined or overturned."(9) All this greatly complicates scientific efforts to provide a correct sequence to the rock layers.

An unconformity is an interface between adjacent formations marked by "nonconformable" strata above and below. Unconformities indicate some significant interruption in the deposition process, with a period of erosion in between. Such breaks in conformity probably result from folding or faulting, uplift or tilting of the lower formation before the beginning of the sedimentary deposition of the upper strata. Then at some point, new layers of sediment are laid down on top of the convoluted layers. Such unconformity represents a gap in time of unknown duration, at least in a local geologic column.

However, such local unconformities cannot be used to identify the boundary between geologic ages. As K. Hong Chang points out, "Many unconformity-bounded units have been erroneously regarded as lithostratigraphic units, even though they are characterized not by lithologic unity but by the fact of being bounded by unconformities... Similarly, many unconformity-bounded units have been erroneously considered to be chronostratigraphic units, in spite of the fact that unconformity surfaces are apt to be diachronous and hence cannot constitute true chronostratigraphic boundaries."(10)

In commenting on this quote, Morris & Parker say, "If an unconformity surface is 'diachronous,' that means it cannot be an 'isochronous' surface." Thus, as shown on Figure 47, the unconformity surface cuts across the isochronous surface, which is the true time-marker. As Chang says, unconformity surfaces 'cannot be true chronostratigraphic boundaries.'"(11)




Continuous Deposition Of Rock.


Continuous Passage Of Time.


Change Through Time, Unequal, Across Time.


Same Through Time, Equal Time.

The geologic column is built by correlation. According to L. Don Leet of Harvard University & Sheldon Judson of Princeton University, "Because we cannot find sedimentary rocks representing all of earth time neatly in one convenient area, we must piece together the rock sequence from locality to locality. This process of tying one rock sequence in one place to another in some other place is known as correlation, from the Latin for 'together' plus 'relate.'(12)

But how are rock layers correlated? "Although correlation of strata over modest distances often can be accomplished by tracing particular beds from place to place, correlation over long distances and over the oceans almost invariable involves comparison of fossils."(13) Thus a particular stratum can be traced over a vast area simply by noting its "index fossils."

Please note that evolution is first assumed, and the fossil record is then interpreted in this light: "The part of geology that deals with the tracing of the geologic record of the past is called historic geology. Historic geology relies chiefly on paleontology, the study of fossil organisms... The geologist utilizes the knowledge of organic evolution, as preserved in the fossil record, to identify and correlate the lithic records of ancient time."(14)

Evolutionists use circular reasoning when discussing the geologic column and the age of the various rock layers: They date the rocks by the fossils, and the fossils by the rocks. The fossils are the means by which rocks are assigned a geologic age. The assumption of evolution is the basis upon which fossils are used to date the rocks. The fossils, on the other hand, provide the main evidence for evolution. Leading scientists acknowledge this inconsistency:

R. H. Rastal of Cambridge University once said, "It cannot be denied that from a strictly philosophical standpoint geologists are here arguing in a circle. The succession of organisms has been determined by a study of their remains embedded in the rocks, and the relative ages of the rocks are determined by the organisms that they contain."(15)

Niles Eldredge of Columbia University said, "And this poses something of a problem: If we date the rocks by their fossils, how can we then turn around and talk about patterns of evolutionary change through time in the fossil record?"(16)

Dr. Tom Kemp, Curator of the University Museum at Oxford University, said, "A circular argument arises: Interpret the fossil record in terms of a particular theory of evolution, inspect the interpretation, and note that it confirms the theory. Well, it would, wouldn't it?"(17)

Simply put, evolutionary geologists say, "This is a primitive fossil because it is found in an old rock." Well, how do we know it is an old rock? They answer "It is an old rock because it contains a primitive fossil."

Morris concludes, "Thus, although the fossil record has been interpreted to teach evolution, the record itself has been based on the assumption of evolution. This message is a mere tautology. The fossils speak of evolution, because they have been made to speak of evolution. Furthermore, the universal prevalence of gaps, instead of transitional forms, in the fossil record shows that even this message is only a skeleton outline, with no substance."(18)

Geologic Arguments For A Young Earth

2 Pet 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: (KJV)

2 Pet 3:6 by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: (ASV)

2 Pet 3:6 through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (RSV)

2 Pet 3:6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (NAS)

2 Pet 3:6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. (NIV)

2 Pet 3:6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. (NKJ)

"Surely, with so much authoritative opinion (and much more could be cited, if necessary), we are warranted in considering catastrophism as an alternative interpretation of the geologic strata. We shall find not only that there is no type of geologic feature which cannot be explained in terms of rapid formation, but that there are in fact a great many such features which can only be explained that way. Furthermore, we shall show reason for believing that all these features were formed essentially consecutively and continuously, so that the entire complex form known as the geologic column can be understood in terms of relatively rapid formation. The 'immensity of time' demanded by uniformitarianism and evolutionism is by no means demanded by the actual facts of the geologic strata." (Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, p. 91ff.).

Morris continues, "And now, finally, we begin to recognize the real message of the fossils. There is no truly objective time sequence to the fossil record, since the time connections are based on the evolutionary assumption, which is the very point in question. The relative positioning of the folliliferous strata, therefore, must be strictly a function of the sedimentary and other processes which deposited them. Apart from the time requirements of the evolutionary assumption, there is no objective reason why we cannot seriously consider whether these strata were deposited rapidly and massively, rather than slowly and sporadically."(19)

According to standard evolutionary theory, it is the fossils which "date" the rocks, and which distinguish one "geologic age" from another. It is the fossils which provide the main evidence for evolution. Yet it is the fossils which speak most clearly of rapid formation.(20) "In fact the very existence of fossils necessarily speaks of rapidity of formation. Fossils are not produced by slow uniformitarian rates of sediment deposition."(21)

There is plenty of evidence of rapid deposition and burial: the preservation of bones and even soft parts, vast fossil graveyards, polystrate fossils, the formation of casts or molds, petrifaction, cementation of tracks and other impressions, rapid freezing of Woolly Mammoths, carbonization of coal, etc. The sedimentation following the Mount St. Helens eruption also lends credence to the catastrophic model.

Geologic Arguments Against A Young Earth

Some uniformitarian geologists still maintain that some formations must have required long periods of time. These include coral reefs, evaporates, lake deposits, glacial deposits, and desert deposits. While they are difficult to interpret catastrophically, it is at least possible to interpret them this way. Please see Science, Scripture, and the Young Earth for more details.

Old earth advocates also point to the results of radiometric dating methods, but these are based on faulty assumptions. (A thorough examination of this issue must be reserved for another time.)

Which Approach Best Fits The Facts?

This approach was first formulated by the English geologist Sir Charles Lyell in his two-volume work Principles of Geology (1830-33). The doctrine of uniformitarianism affirms that the natural processes seen operating in the present can be assumed to have operated in the past at the same gradual rate. Lyell maintained that the earth's surface is undergoing constant change, the result of natural forces operating uniformly over long periods. This position says the fossil record was slowly laid down over vast geologic ages. It is associated with traditional Darwinian evolution. This view is being abandoned today because it just does not fit the facts.

Many modern evolutionary geologists have turned away from classical uniformitarianism to a view which still adheres to long ages, but says catastrophism is a prominent feature of the geologic column.

Dr. Derek Ager, Head of the Geology Department at Swansea University in England, and past president of the British Geological Association, has devoted an entire book to this subject. After discussing a wide variety of geologic formations and features which he says all illustrate catastrophes, Dr. Ager concludes his book as follows: "In other words, the history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror."(22)

Also consider the words of Professor Robert Dott, of the University of Wisconsin, in a speech presented to a gathering of Paleontologists and Mineralogists in June, 1982: "I hope I have convinced you that the sedimentary record is largely a record of episodic events rather than being uniformly continuous. My message is that episodicity is the rule, not the exception."(23)

Although Dott believes that the geological record is almost exclusively a record of catastrophe rather than uniformity, he deliberately chose the word "episodic" rather than "catastrophic" to describe his views. He continued, "What do I mean by 'episodic sedimentation?' Episodic was chosen carefully over other possible terms. 'Catastrophic' has become popular recently because of its dramatic effect, but it should be purged from our vocabulary because it feeds the neo-catastrophist-creation cause."(24)

As David Raup said, "...contemporary geologists and paleontologists now generally accept catastrophe as a 'way of life' although they may avoid the word catastrophe... The periods of relative quiet contribute only a small part of the record."(25)

This approach says that the geologic column records multiple geologic catastrophes rather than slow, gradual processes. Although vast periods of time lapsed between catastrophes, they curiously left no trace.

This approach argues for the rapid deposition of the fossil record in a relatively short period of time. It is closely associated with Henry Morris and the Institute for Creation Research.

After reviewing the circular reasoning that evolutionists use in dating the rocks, Morris states, "Now, since the only real way to determine the geologic age of a rock or fossil deposit is based on the assumption of evolution, and since that assumption is wrong, we can conclude that there is no legitimate way to differentiate the ages of different deposits. For all we can tell otherwise, they could all be essentially the same age. In fact, that is exactly what they are -- all laid down at essentially the same period of time in history, as we shall see."(26)

As already noted, modern evolutionary geologists like Ager and Dott have acknowledged that all types of geologic deposits were formed rapidly, rather than slowly and gradually. Even deposits like coral reefs and evaporates can be shown to fit satisfactorily into a catastrophic model.

"Now, if every geologic deposit was formed rapidly and catastrophically, the only remaining question is whether they were all part of the same worldwide cataclysm, as the Bible implies ("the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" -- 2Pe 3:6), or were many different local catastrophes separated by long ages when nothing was deposited, as Ager and other neo-catastrophists allege."

"In any local 'geologic column,' there may be one or more 'unconformities,' each of which represent a time gap, when the deposition of sediments stopped at that location and the previous deposits were then subject to erosion and transportation to some new spot. There are many such time gaps in the earth's crust, each of unknown duration."

"However, there are no worldwide unconformities, and this is very significant. This means that there is no worldwide time gap represented in the deposits of sedimentary rocks and their associated fossils. Even though deposition may have stopped for a while at certain points, it picked up elsewhere. That is, deposition of sediments continued somewhere in the world -- shifting from place to place, perhaps, but going on somewhere -- during the entire time the sedimentary formations were being laid down... In other words, there are no synchronous worldwide unconformities in the geologic strata and, therefore, no worldwide time gaps in the processes of sedimentary deposition which produced the worldwide geologic deposits. This means the whole worldwide column of sedimentary rocks and their contained fossils was being formed continuously, without a time gap anytime in the process... The fossiliferous geological formations of the earth's crust are not a record of the evolution of life over many geological ages, but of the cataclysmic worldwide destruction of life in one age. This is the necessary inference from the plain statements of Scripture, and is the most obvious inference from the geological evidence, as well."(27)


There may be some problems in reconciling certain geologic features with the catastrophic model of geology, but far fewer than the problems that are created by adopting a uniformitarian model. Please remember that there are problems with every theory. The best theory is the one that can be explained with the fewest secondary assumptions.

Creation Scientists may have difficulty explaining dried and cracked mud between the rock layers in the Grand Canyon. However, their task is much easier than that of uniformitarian geologists who must explain fossilized trees standing erect in layer after layer of rock, and yet showing no signs of weathering or decay on the upper portion of the tree.

We should not be surprised that evolutionists are opposed to the concept of flood geology. I dare say their opposition is to a large degree philosophical. Their naturalistic world-view eliminates the very concept of God. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that they would oppose any interpretation of geology that would support belief in a worldwide, catastrophic judgment of God upon sinful humanity.

Our philosophical viewpoint greatly determines how we perceive life. If we begin with the conviction that GOD IS, life has purpose and meaning. However, if we start with the assumption that GOD IS NOT, life is devoid of purpose and meaning. The "death of God" is the central premise of the great modern theoretical disciplines of science, politics, human behavior, and philosophy. Atheism has dominated the creeds of Evolution, Communism, Fascism, Existentialism, Positivism and even Freudianism. Each of these fields of study are based on the premise that life is not the product of design, but of mere contingency. Man is not the consummation of God's creative handiwork, but rather a curious accident that occurred in the backwaters of the universe. If scientists assume that God does not exist, then they will derive some naturalistic way of explaining the origins of life, and the development of the earth, the geologic column, etc.

Why should we automatically adopt the standard geologic column as our starting point when it is based on the assumption of evolution? There is an alternative view of the geologic record that deserves serious consideration. Although further research is needed, Flood geology provides a good framework for interpreting the fossil record. More importantly, it is consistent with the Scriptures. May God bless us as we try to interpret his physical revelation in light of his spiritual revelation.

1. 1O. D. Von Engen and Kenneth E. Caster, Geology, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952), p. 417.

2. 2John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1961, 1985), p. 271-272.

3. 3Encyclopedia Britannica, (1985), s.v. "Geochronology," p. 779.

4. 4David M. Raup, "Probability Models in Evolutionary Biology," American Scientist, Vol. 166 (Jan./Feb., 1977), p. 57.

5. 5Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974), p. 112.

6. 6O. D. Von Engeln and K. E. Caster, Geology, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952), p. 417-418.

7. 7Encyclopedia Britannica, (1987), s.v. "Earth Sciences: Earth History," p. 590-591.

8. 8Henry M. Morris & Gary E. Parker, What is Creation Science?, Rev. ed., (El Cajon, CA: Master Books, 1987), p. 235).

9. 9Encyclopedia Britannica, (1987), s.v. "Earth Sciences: Earth History," p. 590-591.

10. 10Hong Chang, "Rethinking Stratigraphy," Geotimes, Vol. 26 (March 1981), p. 23.

11. 11Henry M. Morris & Gary E. Parker, What is Creation Science? (El Cajon, CA: Master Books, 1987), p. 237-239.

12. 12L. Don Leet & Sheldon Judson, Physical Geology, p. 181.

13. 13Encyclopedia Britannica (1987), s.v. "Earth Sciences: Earth History," p. 590-591.

14. 14O. D. Von Engeln and K. E. Caster, Geology, p. 423.

15. 15R. H. Rastal, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1957, Vol. X, p. 168.

16. 16Niles Eldredge, Time Frames, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), p. 52.

17. 17Tom Kemp, "A Fresh Look at the Fossil Record," New Scientist, Vol. 108 (December 5, 1985), p. 67.

18. 18Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, p. 96.

19. 19Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, p. 96.

20. 20Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, p. 95.

21. 21Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism, p. 97.

22. 22Derek Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley Publishers, 1981), p 106-107.

23. 23Robert H. Dott, "Episodic View Now Replacing Catastrophism," Geotimes, November, 1982, p. 16.

24. 24Dott, p. 16.

25. 25David M. Raup, "Geology and Creation," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, (Vol. 54, March 1983), p. 21.

26. 26Henry M. Morris & John D. Morris, Science, Scripture, and the Young Earth, (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1989), p. 58-59.

27. 27Henry M. Morris & John D. Morris, Science, Scripture, and the Young Earth, (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1989), p. 58-62.

e-mail this author at

Return to Watchman Front Page

return to April 1999 index