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Catastrophism has always been an important part of creationist geology.
Catastrophism has always been an important part of creationist geology. In the 1800’s, due especially to the influence of James Hutton and Charles Lyell, emphasis shifted to the concept of slow, gradual accumulation of sediments, a concept called uniformitarianism.42 As Stephen Gould,43 who teaches the history of science at Harvard, points out, this new idea was accepted largely on the basis of philosophic preference (i.e., “faith”). Although Gould is an anti-creationist, he says: “Catastrophists were as committed to science as any gradualist; in fact, they adopted the more ‘objective’ view that one should believe what one sees and not interpolate missing bits of gradual record into a literal tale of rapid change.” (Emphasis added.)
Because of the objective evidence, a new group of evolutionary geologists has arisen. They call themselves “neo-catastrophists.” Derek Ager,44 past president of the British Geologic Association, says, “I have already declared myself an unrepentant ‘neo-catastrophist.’” He goes on to say that the geologic evidence reminds him of the life of a soldier, full of “long periods of boredom and short periods of terror.” It seems to me that the “long periods of boredom” are the contact lines between the strata (the absence of deposits where, presumably, all the evolution has occurred). The “short periods of terror” formed the fossil-bearing deposits themselves. It is rapid, large-scale processes that form the fossil-bearing deposits we actually observe.
Ager also interprets differences in geological formations as a result of “ecological expropriations,” a rapid process involving replacement of one existing kind by another, i.e., ecology not evolution. Ager knows that the creationists are going to make use of his work, and he’s absolutely right. We’re not arguing our case on the strength of his opinion, however, but on the evidence that he knows so well. The evidence suggests rapid deposition on a large scale: catastrophism.
Scuba diving along Australia’s Barrier Reef, I was startled and thrilled to find living crinoids (“sea lilies” or “feather stars”), sort of “upside-down starfish on stems.” These graceful creatures (looking like plants, except that they can walk on their “roots”!) were once so abundant that the Mississippian System (Lower Carboniferous) is sometimes called the “Age (Zone) of Crinoids.” I had found their fabulous fossils in Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska, but evolutionary teaching had assured me this great group was an evolutionary dead end, unfit to survive except in a few out-of-the-way places! How stunningly untrue! Here were dozens, in a variety of brilliant colors, alive and doing very well in the richest (and most competitive) life zone on earth!
Forms like these feather stars that were once abundant but now extinct, or nearly so, are called “living fossils.” Lampshells (brachiopods) are called “living fossils” because only a few genera survive of a group once so abundant they are sometimes called “fossil weeds.” The “oldest” continuously surviving animal (the one with the longest stratigraphic range) is the lampshell called Lingula, which, in an evolutionary sense, might be considered the world’s most successful animal, remaining completely unchanged while trilobites, dinosaurs, saber-tooth tigers, and other great creatures came and went around it!
The pearly Nautilus is called a living fossil because most members of its group, the squid-like cephalopod mollusks, have been eliminated by extinction. But why would evolution “do in” the nautiloids, the most complex (i.e., “most highly evolved”) of all invertebrates, especially since the “first” nautiloids continue complete and complex-and unchanged, from the “beginning” of fossil abundance (lowest Cambrian rock)?
While it was known only from a few fossil bones presumed to be millions of years old, the coelacanth (Latimeria) was hailed as a “missing link,” an animal caught in the act of evolving from fish to amphibian. But then they found coelacanths alive and well (“living fossils”) off Madagascar—100% fish in a totally deep-sea-fish environment, the end of this “fish story” as Scientific American once called it. As regularly happens, additional evidence disproved, rather than supported, evolutionary belief. (Joachin Scheven,45 one of Europe’s leading creation scientists, has a museum with spectacular displays of these and many other “living fossils.”)
Evolutionists have always been perplexed by “living fossils.” These creatures are clearly well-fit to survive; they were complete and complex from their first appearance; and they have remained unchanged throughout vast stretches of presumed evolutionary time.
Catastrophism helps us to understand the patterns of extinction we see when we compare living forms with their fossil relatives. A catastrophe would wipe out creatures regardless of their environmental fitness. Only those that happen to be in the right place at the right time when the catastrophe hit would survive. David Raup,46 well-known evolutionist, talks about this as “survival of the luckiest” in contrast to “survival of the fittest” (natural selection).
“Survival of the luckiest” would explain why present forms appear to be no more fit to survive than their fossil relatives. At best, only a few of each kind would survive, and these would possess less of the original created gene pool. Population-genetics textbooks even refer to these consequences of a “genetic bottleneck” as the “Noah’s Ark Effect.” That would help to explain why most groups existed in greater variety in times past than they do now—the opposite of evolutionary expectations, a reflection instead of the Biblical sequence: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe.
Giant forms seem to have been particularly hard hit by extinction. As fossils, we find giant dragonflies with wingspans over 2 feet (60 cm); giant fusilinids among the one-celled creatures (1/2 inch (12 mm) is giant for them); the giant reptiles, including some of the dinosaurs; even a giant beaver that reached six feet (2 m) in body length. (Imagine looking up into the face of a giant beaver. When he says, “I want that tree,” you respond, “Take it. It’s yours!”) Perhaps the giant beavers were for cutting down the giant trees. As I mentioned earlier, plants such as the club mosses or ground pines (lycopods), which grow only a few inches (centimeters) tall today, are represented as fossils (with the same kind of stem and “leaf” anatomy and reproductive structures) by trees reaching 120 feet (35 m) in height (the lepidodendrons).
Thanks to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, scientists have had a chance to observe, measure, and study catastrophic processes close up.47 The energy of the initial eruption was equivalent to that released by many atomic bombs. It blew off the top 1300 feet (ca. 400 m) of the mountain; produced a hot-blast cloud of 400°C moving at over 100 miles per hour (160 km/hr); generated mud flows tens of feet (several meters) thick, moving at 30 miles per hour (50 km/hr); and, as mentioned before, sheared off trees sufficient to build houses for an entire metropolitan area. My wife and I had the opportunity to fly up Mt. St. Helens, down into the crater, and out over the denuded mountainside and log jam in Spirit Lake—still awesome ten years after the first eruption. Yet, Mt. St. Helens was a “tiny” volcano that never even produced a lava flow!
What supplies the power for volcanic eruptions anyway? Water. Yes, water—superheated water found in the underground liquid rock called magma. If some crack develops to release pressure, the superheated water flashes into steam, generating colossal power—power to blow islands apart, power that dwarfs mankind’s nuclear arsenal. About 2/3 of what comes out of the average volcano is water vapor, what geologists call “juvenile water.” How much water could be released by volcanic processes? Most evolutionists believe all the earth’s oceans were filled by outgassing of volcanic water!
According to the Bible, the water for Noah’s Flood was first released when the “
fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7:11). Imagine volcanoes many times more powerful than Mt. St. Helens, going off all over the world at the same time. That may help you begin to imagine catastrophe on a Biblical scale! And it’s catastrophe on that Biblical scale that science needs to explain many of the physical features of our earth, such as the Grand Canyon.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.