Chapter 9

Plate Tectonics

by Roger Patterson on February 10, 2011

The motion of the earth’s crust is accepted by uniformitarian and creationist scientists alike. The difference lies in the time frame over which the movement has happened.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.
Genesis 7:11–12

What You Will Learn

The motion of the earth’s crust is accepted by uniformitarian and creationist scientists alike. The difference lies in the time frame over which the movement has happened. Current seafloor spreading, magnetic reversals recorded in the seafloor crust, similar rocks and fossils across ocean basins, and the puzzle-like fit of continents are evidences that appear to be explainable in slow-and-uniform terms over billions of years. However, these evidences can be better explained by the rapid and catastrophic movement of the plates during the Flood. Computer modeling has shown that the continents could have separated in a matter of weeks—millions of years are not required. The key is the runaway catastrophic rate of sinking of the pre-Flood ocean floor crust after it broke up. Additionally, the catastrophic plate tectonics model provides a mechanism for the rainfall during the Flood and the presence of fossilized marine creatures atop mountains and rock layers spread across the continents.

What Your Textbook Says about Plate Tectonics

Evolutionary Concept Prentice Hall Glencoe Holt Articles
Plate collisions over millions of years have resulted in the formation of mountain ranges around the world. 9, 332, 372 T420, 440, T441, 444, T522D, 526, 532–534, 546, 606–607, 614–615, 626–627, 638 256, 280–283, T282 9:1
The continents formed gradually over millions of years. T64D, T251, T278D, 320, T322, 322, 325, 382, T392D 476, 478, 530, T576D, 580, T582, 582–583, 594–595, 605, 607–608, T624C, T626 T237D, 255, 257, 259–300 9:1
The earth’s plates move gradually and continuously over billions of years. 10, T246C, 248, 252–254, 271 440, 443–444, 463, T497, T522C–D, 532, 546 T237D, 239 9:1
Magnetic reversals show that the seafloor has been spreading over millions of years. 265–267, 272–273, T392C, 404 450–454, 456 242, 245, 322 9:1
Supercontinents formed and split apart over millions of years. 250, T260, 370, 372–373, 377–379, T379 T442, 444–445, 583, 601–602, 612, T624C, 625, 626, 649 258–259, T259, 698 9:1
Climates have changed as plates have shifted over millions of years. T124D, T246D, 251 446–447 225, 240, 643 9:1
Hot spots form ocean islands and other features over millions of years. 268, T278C T470D, 487, 636–638 9:1

Note: Page numbers preceded by “T” indicate items from the teacher notes found in the margins of the Teacher’s Edition.

What We Really Know about Plate Tectonics

Contrary to what is presented in the textbooks the concept of moving continents was first proposed by Antonio Snider in 1859. Snider started from Genesis 1:9–10:

Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good

This passage seems to indicate that all of the land was originally in one place since the seas were in one place. He also used the apparent jigsaw puzzle fit of the continents to support his theory of the movement of the continents during the Flood. His work was not recognized by the scientific community.

The textbooks, and other sources, credit Alfred Wegener for developing the theory of continental drift. Wegener’s theory was based on uniformitarian principles and several lines of evidence. He was able to correlate fossils and rock layers across the ocean basins to support his theory. However, the idea was rejected by the scientific community until after his death. There was no known mechanism that could explain how the continents could move through the ocean rocks.

Glencoe 444

Glencoe 444

Creation geologists agree with uniformitarian geologists that the continents were originally grouped together. The Bible suggests this happened at Creation about 6,000 years ago and again during the Flood about 4,300 years ago, while secular scientists believe this happened twice over the last 800 or so million years of earth history.

Evidence in favor of the movement of the earth’s plates slowly accumulated, and Wegener’s theory became widely accepted as it seemed to explain the bulk of the data. The mechanism that Wegener was not able to identify was determined to be the movement of the plates that include not just the continents, but the ocean floor. New ocean floor was created in rift zones along ridges which pushed the old ocean floor down into the mantle under the less dense continental plates. This process of seafloor spreading has been measured, and the current rate of movement of the continents ranges from 1.5–6 inches per year.

Uniformitarian geologists have used this rate and radiometric dating to suggest that the continents were all in one location as supercontinents—800 million years ago in Rodinia and 180 million years ago in Pangaea respectively. Most creation scientists do not disagree with the concept of Rodinia and Pangaea, but the timing is another issue. Based on the dates determined from Scripture, the continents were together before and during the Flood about 4,300 years ago. Once again, it is the same set of facts viewed from a different starting point that leads to the interpretations of the past events.

The model now espoused by many creation scientists is called catastrophic plate tectonics and is closely related to the Flood. Rather than the slow continental drift suggested by secular geologists, the biblical explanation can be thought of as continental sprint. Rather than acting over millions of years to shape the earth’s continents, the originally created continents separated in a matter of weeks, collided, and then separated again during the Flood to arrive at their current positions. This may seem like a radical claim, but computer modeling has demonstrated the feasibility of this model. Dr. John Baumgardner, with the cooperation of others, has used this world-class computer modeling to show how the subduction (sinking into the mantle) of the ocean floor could have happened at a runaway pace. As the region of cold ocean crust near the continents began to sink into the mantle, it pulled the rest of the seafloor with it just like a conveyor belt. New magma rose up replacing the old along what are the mid-ocean ridges today. In just a matter of weeks, the continental plates could have separated and settled near their present positions.

Not only does this model explain the evidence for plate tectonics, it also provides explanations for the processes involved in the Genesis Flood. The Bible speaks of the breaking open of the fountains of the great deep and the opening of the windows of heaven as it rained for 40 days and nights. As the magma rose to replace the spreading seafloor, it would have produced massive jets of steam carrying large amounts of water high into the atmosphere. This matches the description in the Bible and provides a mechanism to explain where all of the water for the Flood came from.

Another effect would be flooding across the continents. As the hot, lower-density magma rose, the new ocean floor would have floated higher than the original ocean crust, displacing the water and forcing it onto the continents. This explains how marine creatures were deposited in thick and extensive layers across the continents and how fossils of marine organisms wound up on the tops of the mountains. As discussed in earlier chapters, the secular uniformitarian model has great difficulty explaining these features.

As the rapidly moving continental plates collided with one another, mountain ranges were produced and forced upward. At the same time, the new seafloor would be cooled and the ocean basins became deeper. The water flowing off the continents would have created massive erosional features and deposited that material onto the continental shelves and the newly formed seafloor.

Despite claims by uniformitarian scientists that the Bible’s timeline does not allow for enough time to produce the features we see today, explanations from a biblical perspective make sense of the evidence. It is possible to explain the evidence with models based on biblical truths and within the young-earth timeline of 6,000 years. Conclusions depend on starting assumptions.

Reference Article Summaries

9:1 Can catastrophic plate tectonics explain flood geology?


The study of plate tectonics is an interpretation or model of how the plates of the earth have moved in the past. The earth’s crust is made of plates of different types of rock. Continental plates are made of granites and sedimentary rocks and the ocean plates are made of basalt. All of these plates float on the mantle below. Plates can be deformed by rifting, faulting, compressing, and subducting under another plate. Rifting occurs when plates move apart, such as along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the East African Rift. Transform faulting happens when plates slide horizontally past one another in places such as along the San Andreas Fault. Compression occurs when plates move toward one another. Ocean plates will plunge below continental plates, but continental plates collide to form mountains like the Himalayas.

In 1859 Antonio Snider used Genesis 1:9–10 and the close fit of western Africa and eastern South America to suggest that a supercontinent split apart catastrophically during the Flood. Over time, the continents moved into their present positions. His theory was unnoticed, and the theory of continental drift was later proposed by Alfred Wegener. His theory was spurned for 50 years by most geologists, and it was called pseudo-scientific fantasy that violated basic principles of physics. Today, plate tectonics involving continental drift is the ruling perspective.

The mapping of the seafloor, measurement of the seafloor’s magnetic field directions, radiometric dating, and detection of earthquakes using seismometers all led to an acceptance of the theory. The correlation of fossils across ocean basins, the pattern of seafloor magnetic reversals, and the locations of earthquakes and mountains, along with other evidence, were also elegantly explained by the theory.

Uniformitarian geologists take the vast ages for granted when describing continental drift. Assuming that the rate we see today has been constant, the continents must have been moving for hundreds of millions of years. However, many observations suggest a rapid movement. The seafloor surface appears to have a smooth zebra-striped magnetic pattern, but drilling into the basalts reveals past rapid and erratic changes. This is consistent with the rapid extrusion of the basalts and rapid magnetic reversals during the Flood. The lack of compressional features in ocean trench sediments also points to their rapid deposition at the end of the Flood.

Snider’s original proposal of continental sprint, rather than the uniformitarian idea of continental drift, has been supported by computer modeling and explains the evidence better. The catastrophic plate tectonics model begins with a pre-Flood supercontinent, Rodinia. Some sudden trigger cracked the ocean floors next to this cold continent. This caused large blocks to move down into the mantle pulling the ocean floor with them, triggering a runaway subduction event that replaced the entire ocean floor in a matter of weeks. As the crust sank, the mantle rock was displaced and rose along rift zones within the oceans, creating new sea floor.

As this hot magma encountered the ocean waters, great jets of steam were produced, perhaps explaining the “fountains of the great deep” described in Genesis 7:11 and 8:2. This would have caused global rainfall for the duration of the 40 days and nights described in Genesis. The new, hot ocean floor would float higher than the old, cold floor and cause the ocean basins to rise, displacing their waters to flood over the continents. This explains why vast layers of sedimentary rocks containing marine creatures are spread across the continents, something slow-and-gradual processes cannot explain. The rapid replacement of the ocean floor would account for the erratic magnetic reversals recorded in the rocks.

Once the old ocean floor had been subducted, the process slowed and the new ocean floor rocks cooled. As they cooled, they would become more dense and sink, allowing the water to flow off of the continents and into the new deeper ocean basins. The continents would have risen including the newly formed mountains that resulted from the collisions of the plates during the Flood. The gradual rates of current plate movement could not have provided enough force to create mountains, but the catastrophic collision in a runaway model would rapidly buckle the strata and push up high mountains.

Plate tectonics is not directly mentioned in the Bible, but Genesis 1:9–10 suggests that all of the land was once connected, whereas the continents are now separated. The catastrophic plate tectonics model and continental sprint during the Flood can explain this. The model also explains, in a consistent manner, the global flooding and rain described in Genesis. Starting with the Bible, an explanation for the global Flood and the movements of the continents can be provided within the biblical time frame—not billions of years.

Questions to Consider

  1. How do slow and gradual processes create enough force to lift mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas?
  2. Aside from uniformitarian assumptions, is there any reason that the continents drifted apart, or could the movement have been much faster?
  3. How do we know that the rates of plate movement have always been similar to the rates of today?

Tools for Digging Deeper

Footprints in the Ash by John Morris and Steve Austin

Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (Technical) by Steve Austin

The Missoula Flood Controversy (Technical) by Mike Oard

The New Answers Book by Ken Ham et al.

The New Answers Book 2 by Ken Ham et al.

Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth Volume 1(Technical) by ICR

Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth Volume 2 (Technical) by ICR

Thousands . . . Not Billions by Don DeYoung

Evolution Exposed: Earth Science

In this follow-up to the best-selling Evolution Exposed: Biology, students will learn how to respectfully counter the evolutionary bias and indoctrination in astronomical and geological evolution.

Read Online Buy Book

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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.