September 25, 2020

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (2)

Grand Canyon. Photo by Aftab Uzzaman

Grand Canyon. Photo by Aftab Uzzaman

Note from CM: We welcome back Michael McCann, aka Mike the Geologist, to do a series blogging through a book about the Grand Canyon, one of earth’s great natural wonders. Young earth creationists have tried to explain this magnificent geologic marvel by appealing to a great worldwide flood in the days of Noah. Let’s see how their arguments hold up.

This is the second post in the series.

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.


Part 1 of the book is entitled “Two Views”.  Chapter 1 is “Introduction”, Chapter 2 is “What is Flood Geology”, Chapter 3 is “Time Frame of Flood Geology”, and Chapter 4 is “Time Frame of Modern Geology”.

The introduction takes us for an overview of the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry at River Mile 0, the beginning of the canyon to River Mile 277 where the Colorado River empties into Lake Mead.  The park covers 1,904 square miles.  Geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell completed the first documented traverse of the canyon by boat in 1896.  It was nearly a century later that 25 year old river guide Kenton Grua traversed the canyon on foot in 1976.  Before 2015 more people had stood on the moon (12) than had traversed the canyon on foot (8).  Think about that for a minute and contemplate how complicated and wild the Grand Canyon is.


View from Mather Point

The conventional geologic understanding of the origins of the Grand Canyon recognizes deep time periods of major land changes, including rising and falling sea levels, tectonic or continental uplift and subsidence, long periods of both deposition and erosion, faulting and folding of the strata, and finally, the carving of the canyon by the Colorado River and its tributaries.

In opposition to the conventional geologic understanding, Young Earth Creationists (YEC) promote a view that makes two bold claims: (1) a biblical view leads necessarily that the Grand Canyon and its rocks were created in recent events associated with Noah’s Flood and; (2) that an unbiased view of the scientific evidence proves a global deluge.  Those who hold to a YEC view are generally referred to as “flood geologists”.  Ironically both flood geologists and conventional geologists both concur that the Grand Canyon formed by natural processes, and are subject to scientific inquiry.

Chapter 2 lays out the basic viewpoint of flood geology and its modern history; for it is a modern viewpoint.  Geology became a true scientific discipline beginning in the nineteenth century.  The Catastrophists or Diluvialists (the original flood geologists) argued with the Uniformitarians (the best known of whom were James Hutton and Charles Lyell).  Note this was some 50 years before Charles Darwin and the Origin of the Species; so the canard that modern geology was formed to support evolution is false.  These men argued back and forth on the basis of the observed rock record until by the beginning of the twentieth century the Catastrophists had largely conceded to the Uniformitarians.  The fact that both groups were largely made up of Christians, and often were Christian ministers, is also mostly overlooked.  The book points out that few readers are aware that the widespread rejection of Noah’s flood as a major geologic episode and the likely antiquity of creation beyond 6,000 years did not concern most conservative biblical scholars and theologians at that time.  Evidence of that is found in the Fundamentals, which were written by conservative Christian pastors and seminary professors between 1910 and 1915.  These essays, which were the foundation of the fundamentalist movement, acknowledged the possibility of an ancient creation and did not challenge the philosophical basis of uniformitarian geology.

In 1864 Ellen G. White (1827-1915), founder of Seventh Day Adventists, published a series of “visions” that basically set forth Noah’s Flood as both literal and global.  An apologist for Adventist theology, George McCready Price (1870-1963) promoted his reinterpretations of geologic strata to conform to a single global deluge.  He sought, but did not receive, support of his views from Christian professional geologists of his day.  I remember, when I was in undergraduate school, finding some of his “tracts”.  He was considered a “crank” by geologists, Christian and non-Christian alike.  That is until Bible professor John Whitcomb and engineering professor Henry Morris co-authored the book “The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications” in 1961, recycling and expanding on Price’s theories (but giving little credit to Price himself, because, you know, Seventh Day Adventists, Ellen G. White and… VISIONS).   Their book established the modern Young Earth Creationism movement, especially among fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals.  But the dirty little secret about YEC is that it is a modern construct and based on the spooky visions of Ellen G. White.

The book then lays out the basic principles of Flood Geology:

  • Based on a (selective) literal reading of Genesis. (The Statement of Faith signed by all AiG “scientists” and other employees says in part: “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”)
  • The Earth was created 6,000 years ago in 6 literal 24 hour days
  • The Noachian Flood happened 4,500 years ago- all civilizations discovered by archeology must fit into the last 4,285 years.
  • No rain fell on the planet before Noah’s Flood.  Then rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights and the “fountains of the deep” broke forth their water.
  • All the planet was flooded to the tops of the highest mountains.
  • All tectonic mountain building, continental movement, and major volcanism occurred in the year following the flood.
  • The majority of the sedimentary rock record was deposited.
  • No death or decay occurred before the fall of Adam and Eve, therefore the fossil record must date to sometime after the fall.
  • All terrestrial life, animal and human, except for what was on the ark, was extinguished.

Click on picture for larger image

I’ve reproduced Figure 3-2 from the book.  This will be a key figure in this discussion series.  It covers the strata not only in the Canyon, but north through the Grand Staircase up to Bryce Canyon.  The book is filled with these simple but illustrative figures that are very layman-friendly.

Flood geologists make the Grand Canyon the showcase for their view that most of the sedimentary rocks on the planet formed during Noah’s flood, only a few thousand years ago.  They say they know this because of the revealed truth of the Bible-God’s Word.  They also assert their claims are scientifically defensible.  But remember the statement of faith quoted above: “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”  So which is it?  Are you going to defend your theory by the scientific method or are you going to make a faith claim?  The value of this book is that because flood geologists argue that their geologic interpretations are in fact testable by scientific investigation this book will evaluate the claims of flood geology on their scientific merits.  Each of the bulleted “basic principles of flood geology” outlined above has physical, measurable, testable implications in reality.  This book illustrates that reality.

Chapter 2 discusses the time frame of flood geology and Chapter 3 discusses the time frame of modern geology.  At the base of the canyon are the metamorphic and igneous rocks of the crystalline basement.  Igneous rocks are the cooled rocks of magma (molten rock that has not been extruded onto the surface) and lava (volcanic rock extruded on the surface).  Metamorphic rocks can be any rocks that have been re-crystallized by extreme heat and pressure.  A stack of tilted sedimentary rocks overlaps on top of the crystalline basement rocks and are known as the Grand Canyon Supergroup.  In the flood geology timeline the basement rocks and the Supergroup are considered pre-flood i.e. deposited, hardened, tilted, and intruded by lava between the third day of creation and Noah’s Flood some 1,650 years later.  If you un-tilt the Supergroup its total thickness would be about 12,000 feet.  The Supergroup layer only contain fossils of single cell organisms, mostly stromatolites (algal mats).


Grand Canyon Geologic Column


Stromatolites in Shark Bay, Australia

The absence of ferns, flowering plants, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, sharks or other multicellular organisms in over 12,000 feet of sediments is never explained.  In the modern geology timeline the Supergroup age is Proterozoic or Pre-Cambrian, older than 525 million years (1,250 million years to 740 million years old), and the absence of other fossils other than algae is because they didn’t yet exist.

The tilting, erosion, and faulting of the Supergroup and deposition of the overlying horizontal layers was Early Flood (first 150 days).   Flood geologists recognize a single “supercontinent” existed before the flood that was violently fractured and thrust apart leading to the planet’s current arrangement when “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11) in less than a year.

The deposition of the Grand Staircase, the strata from the top of the Grand Canyon rim north to Bryce Canyon took place Late Flood (Day 151 to one year) while modern geology dates these rock as Mesozoic era (250 million to 65 million years).  To quote from the book: “Leading flood geologists understand the wording found in Genesis 8:3 and 8:5, “the water receded steadily from the earth…”, and, “the water decreased steadily…” to mean that the late flood period was characterized by waters rushing back and forth with an action resembling violent tidal fluctuations.  The resulting currents were forceful enough to strip away thousands of feet of sediment in some areas and create equally huge deposits in other places.”  Bear in mind that if that scenario is true then many kinds of dinosaurs somehow survived the initial onslaught of continent sweeping tsunamis (which according to a video in the Creation museum were large enough to be seen from space) and the months of inundation that followed to leave FOOTPRINTS in hundreds of differently freshly deposited layers as well as many EGG-FILLED NESTS.

To quote from the book, “Consider the implausible sequence of events required for this ‘escape hypothesis’.  Early in the flood, giant waves circled the Earth, scouring parts of continents and in other parts dumping sediment in massive deposits thousands of feet thick.  Changing currents and continental upheaval caused these newly formed deposits to rise above sea level, while new waves raged over previously unflooded land to sweep off dinosaurs.  Some dinosaurs swam or clung to floating debris long enough to gain footing on the freshly uplifted muck at multiple places around the globe, with sufficient numbers still alive at each location to establish nesting grounds.  But shifting currents and tectonics then redirected waves to bury these hapless communities repeatedly within several more thousand feet of sediment.”

Bryce Canyon and the higher Cenozoic rock layers are considered to be Post-Flood.  There are thousands of feet of “post-flood” sediments above the Claron Formation in the western U.S.  Great sequences of “post-flood” rock are also found in other parts of the world, all deposited without the benefit of catastrophic upheavals and global inundation.  Finally, the carving of the canyon is also said to have occurred post-flood.


Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

So why the wildly implausible scenarios with floating dinosaurs and Indianapolis-500-speed continental drift?  Because: “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”  Therefore, “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”, and Occam’s razor (and us compromising Christians) be damned.

Now some sauce-for-the-goose-sauce-for-the-gander atheist reading this may be tempted to ask me why I accept the wildly implausible scenario of some itinerant Jewish rabbi rising from the dead after 3 days in a tomb merely because some ancient document says so.   After all, science has demonstrated that doesn’t happen either. Why do you, Mr. Geologist, get to pick and choose?

Fair question, and I understand the impetus of the YEC crowd to want to link Genesis 1-11 with First Corinthians 15:12-19:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But I’ve already rambled on enough in this essay to now engage in apologetics and genre classification argumentation.  It will have to suffice for now to say if you can’t see the difference in a one-off event and a series of natural processes that are observable today your focus way is too narrow.

• • •

Photo by Aftab Uzzaman on Flickr. Creative Commons License.


  1. I love this stuff, but I have to get out the door. See you this evening.

  2. The Occcam’s razor quote was supposed to read, “Therefore, “entities must (not-crossed out) be multiplied beyond necessity”, and Occam’s razor (and us compromising Christians) be damned.” Somehow, when going from Word to the blog the cross-out got removed.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Now some sauce-for-the-goose-sauce-for-the-gander atheist reading this may be tempted to ask me why I accept the wildly implausible scenario of some itinerant Jewish rabbi rising from the dead after 3 days in a tomb merely because some ancient document says so.

    Uh, Mr Geologist, every time I’ve heard that particular line it’s been coming from a Born-Again YEC Christian accusing non-YECs of Heresy and Apostasy. Search “Creation Wars” in the IMonk archives and it always pops up somewhere in the comment threads.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Their book established the modern Young Earth Creationism movement, especially among fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. But the dirty little secret about YEC is that it is a modern construct and based on the spooky visions of Ellen G. White.

    The one and the same Ellen G White who these same Born-Agains denounce as a Satanic CULT Leader.

    (Ellen G White was known to have had a serious head injury as a child and may have been suffering low-grade mercury poisoning from her father’s hatmaking; there’s speculation her visions might have had a medical origin, not supernatural.)

  5. Fundamentalism and to a less extent Evangelicalism are post-factual religions. They just know things to be true. They were birthed out of modernism, idk if they’ve moved into post-modernism or something else. But articles like this…while good…will only affect the 20% or so with doubts. The majority won’t care, unfortunately.

    Another good post, Mike.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The majority won’t care, unfortunately.

      And a number of those will react by Doubling Down and SCREAMING LOUDER. Don’t know the proportion of those, but Loud Fringies have a way of defining a movement.

  6. But the dirty little secret about YEC is that it is a modern construct and based on the spooky visions of Ellen G. White.

    This is what broke me. I even remember the moments, if not the exact day. Sitting in the back of class at University, reading iMonk posts about Creation (circa 2009/2010), yet going to the cult church regularly and being president of their student group that would bring in YEC apologists to conduct seminars year after year. A few things hit at once:

    1. Creationists contradicted themselves and would admit they were wrong, correct themselves, then repeat the same errors year after year as fact
    2. Creationists lied about what I was directly learning from original source material in class
    3. The revelation of it all being dreams from Ellen White, which clashed with my “sola/sole scriptura” worldview, despite being in a charismatic ministry

    The first few points all hit me at once sitting in a boring history of rhetoric class. The last point, I came home, ignored my homework, and sat on the couch for 6 hours straight reading anything and everything I could about the history of Ellen White and creationism and the rest. And by the end of it, I knew it to be false. Everything else came later.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Come to think of it, wasn’t the whole idea of The Rapture traced back to dreams and visions of a teenage girl who somehow got the ear of John Nelson Darby?

      As for Ellen White, what I remember of her was that she took the Adventist Movement (which was fragmenting after their SCRIPTURALLY-calculated End of the World date failed — again!) and reorganized it into the current Seventh Day Adventists (with Sabbath — NOT Sunday — Keeping as their tribal identity mark). Being a 19th Century woman, she also absorbed the Vegetarian = Spiritual meme common at the time among offbeat religious movements, and claimed visions (which might have been influenced by one or more medical conditions) which either she, her followers, or both took as Fact.

      Just last night I observed SDA literature (a thin paperback called “THE NATIONAL SUNDAY LAW”) stacked on the counter of a local Chinese steam-table fast-food place; I recognized it because one got shoved under my door a couple years ago.

    • Stuart- have you ever read “the testimony of Glenn Morton”? Google it, I won’t clog the moderation with the link. He was a physics graduate who worked as a geophysicist looking at seismic data. He used to be a convinced YEC and wrote 20+ articles for ICR. He then took a job in the oil industry so he could observe first hand geologic data as it was gathered. The actual data shook him to the core (heh) and he tried to share what he was finding with other YEC. They would have none of it. He had a crisis of faith and flirted with atheism but recovered. He reminds me of you. Don’t underestimate your influence with your former fundy buddies. They are listening to you even if they won’t admit it right now.

  7. Very good post; enjoyed it.

    • I’ve bought the book; just need to make myself take the time to read it. I have piles (literally) of books sitting around, that at the moment of purchase I considered to be compellingly interesting. I am probably backlogged for the first couple centuries of eternity. I should probably start with the ones that are about writing, grammar and punctuation.

  8. The Catastrophists or Diluvialists (the original flood geologists) argued with the Uniformitarians (the best known of whom were James Hutton and Charles Lyell). Note this was some 50 years before Charles Darwin and the Origin of the Species; so the canard that modern geology was formed to support evolution is false.

    That seems noteworthy. Best to immediately dispel the notion that modern geology is the result of some sort of an evolution conspiracy.

  9. Thanks for this, Mike the G. Excellent material for arguing points to counter the YEC mantra.

  10. Let me get this straight – According to this brand of YEC:
    1. The Grand Canyon was formed by completely natural causes.
    2. The flood circa 4500 BC covered the mountains.
    3. The world was created circa 6000 BC.

    ….therefore: Either all mountains in the earth were ALSO formed, completely by natural causes, in a mere 1500 years, OR….

    The mountains were present at the original creation when God created the world with the appearance of age.

    So “appearance of age” can apparently count for some things and not for others?

    • It’s worse than that. According to some YECs, the mountains acheived their current height during the year long flood period. The tectonic collisions that built, for example, the Himalayas happened in less than a year!!

      • So, Mike, back to last week’s discussion.

        I’m comfy with the idea that the layers of the earth were laid down over millions of years. I would go as high as billions, all to the glory of God (Carl Sagan would have said, “Billlllllions and billllllions,” without giving glory to God, but that’s another matter). But, it’s the missing “stuff” that interests me. The layers of this butte over here correspond with the layers of that mesa over there, miles away. The pillars sticking up all over the Four Corners area that have the same layers, with miles of nothing in between. Where did all of that “stuff” go? And how long did it take? If the wind had taken it, as a Navajo man suggested while I was in Monument Valley, why didn’t it pile up in dunes?

        We’ve heard that the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon. Maybe, but how big was the river when it did that? How much water? 100,000 times more than its current flow? A hundred million? And what about the surrounding areas where the Colorado ain’t? Is all of the missing stuff somewhere in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California)?

        Fringe question, for extra points: Could an extreme amount of water have come from outer space? No. Don’t laugh. Water is merely hydrogen and oxygen, two common elements. Could an icy meteor shower have occurred world-wide, or at least regionally? Oh, say, for 40 days and 40 nights? All evidence of the event would have been destroyed as it melted upon entry of the atmosphere and flowed off somewhere, say downhill, naturally, carving out canyons and scraping the American Southwest. Or was it glacial ice-melt water, getting unplugged by some geologic shift or climactic event?

        I’m not getting any of this from Ken Ham. Ken Ham thinks I’m a heretic. Like Donald Trump, I’m just askin’.

        Off topic, but they discovered a new dinosaur over in China, while blowing up rocks with dynamite. Nearly finished off the dino too, though he’s been dead anyway for a while.

        Great discussion. Thanks as always.

        • Ted: the last chapters deal with the carving of the canyon; so I’m going to ask you to wait a little bit. But just to give you some hints; we know where the sediment from the carving of the canyon went. Also at the end of the glacial epoch, as they melted and retreated there was a lot more water than the present.

          • OK, now we’re getting somewhere. I live where there’s a lot of glacial carving, but it’s very different from the Grand Canyon area. And a lot of the sediment stayed local, offshore and hundreds of feet deep in places. Lobsters love it, by the way.

            I’ll try to be patient.

      • Oh, and speaking of the Himalayas—I used to plow snow for the town, with one of those typical highway plows, you know, with the 14-foot plow in front and the 10-foot wing on the side, rigged diagonally to push the white stuff to the right. I would often stop at a certain point in the woods where I hadn’t plowed yet, get out and stick a tape measure in the snow just for curiosity. During a storm with really wet snow, as we often have on the coast and islands of Maine, the snow would wrinkle up ahead of the plow as it got pushed off ahead. It looks interesting with the headlights over it and the shadows.

        So, when I got a topographical map I saw India, pushing up the Himalayas to the north and east, just like a snowplow, and the Ninety East Ridge trailing behind in the Indian Ocean, just like a snowbank, and as a man who believes in continental drift, I connected a few dots. All to the glory of God. I mean, this is cool, and I don’t blame you for becoming a geologist.

        Ken Ham don’t have a clue. He should have been a lawyer.

  11. It was stuff like this that caused me and my buddies doubt in the 1980s.

    We went to University all primed by the YEC crowd and then studying geology convinced me otherwise. I was a tough customer, the best student in the class always asking questions (which the prof gently answered).

    I still remember the day when I had a question that I knew had him about continental drift – it was ‘If continental drift is true then you would expect to find rock formations in South America and Africa that are common, around where the continents are joined.’ He replied ‘thats right! And you do!’

    My YEC ship sank that day and when I continued into historical and structural geology it confirmed it.

    But the YEC crowd is still around at a church near you, ready to indoctrinate your congregation.

    • I have a geologist friend who said that about the rock formations in Labrador and Scotland. He says it’s like if you took a sheet of paper and tore it in two, and showed it to someone, they might assume that the two pieces were once joined, or they might say it was circumstantial evidence—but if it were a page of a newspaper, and words on one half aligned with words on the other so you could read them, there would be no doubt. That’s what the formations are like across the Atlantic.

  12. Good news, everyone!!

    In just a few very short months, YEC will be the default science stance in America when the Scopes Trial gets magically overturned.

    It’s a’coming.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Channeling Mick the Lip here 00
      “The sound of marching charging feet, oh boy!

  13. About how many folks are there that but into this young earth theory? 10,000?

  14. Sorry, buy into this theory? Can’t they just take a geology class and learn something?

    • My fairly uninformed guess would put that number at about 10,000,000.

    • AIG claims to have all the answers to what the geology class tells you. Many answers are middle school level and fall apart when stressed but that doesn’t keep the YEC folks from putting these answers forth as a rebuttal to your class.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says


        “I have more faith in the Rock of Ages than the Age of Rocks.”

        “Vain imaginations of Men or WORD OF GOD?”

  15. My wife and I thought we would step off the trail just to look around the corner which seemed to be less then half a mile away. We did that. Then we simply turned around and walked directly back to the trail except that the trail was nowhere to be found. In no time we were walking along what, to inexperienced climbers, seemed like a sheer cliff. We were grabbing hold of little sprigs and roots while shale and gravel slipped out from under our feet and careened down below. Harrowing. Thought we might need rescue but finally found the trail again at which point I was summarily cursed and told never to take her on any of my excursions. It’s an awe inspiring and potentially scary place. An apt description of most of God’s handiwork.

    • Mike, you might say it wasn’t shale that slipped out from under our feet but whatever the heck it was it wasn’t staying in place.

      • Depends where you were, but there are plenty of shale units in the GC. And shale can be very treacherous to walk on- well you know that now LOL.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I was at the Grand Canyon a few years ago. Rode the rails in & out, in retrospect I should have overnighted on the Rim at the El Tovar and gotten more wander-around time. The experience was tempered (and partially spoiled) by the Creation-vs-Evolution tapes that kept running in my head all the time.

  16. Seeing the picture of the Grand Canyon reminded me of the little story I told but I realized that could seem ambiguous as a response to the post. The fact is, God is all over that canyon, just over a slightly longer period of time.

  17. Aren’t the dinosaurs supposed to be in the Ark, in eggs, not splashing around outside?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Not at Ken Ham’s Ark Experience (and the similar animatronic Ark at that Texas mega).

      T-rexes and Velociraptors in their stalls, peacefully chowing down on steaming piles of fresh produce.