Uniformitarianism and the Geologic Column

Uniformitarianism and the Geologic Column

Author: Curt Sewell
Subject: Creation Overviews
Date: 11/8/1999



The “Geologic Column” is a set of presumed ages, shown above. It’s based on “index fossils” of mostly-extinct creatures. These have been put in a sequence that’s used as the primary method of dating other samples, as new ones are uncovered. This set is made up of many small portions, scattered over the world, correlated with each other through similarities.

Such charts are drawn with the oldest parts at the bottom. The rocks that contain identifiable fossils are divided into eras, named according to the presumption of evolution and the idea that depth indicates age. The oldest era of distinct fossil life is called Paleozoic (meaning “ancient life”), followed by Mesozoic (“middle life”), and finally by Cenozoic (“recent life”). Notice the belief in a succession of life forms. Eras are divided into periods, named for the geographical regions where they were first found and studied. The periods are further divided into epochs, but we usually hear of named epochs only in the most recent Cenozoic era.

This classification system is based on the theory of uniformitarianism, first proposed by James Hutton in his “Theory of the Earth” in 1795. This was developed further by Charles Lyell in “Principles of Geology,” first published in 1830. That book had a profound influence on Charles Darwin; he read it several times while on the Beagle cruise. Darwin mentioned in several of his writings how it excited him and changed his entire outlook on life, giving him the ideas that led to his theory of evolution.

Hutton’s book “Theory of the Earth” is credited with introducing the concept that changed the outlook of science. Prior to its introduction, almost everyone thought that one great catastrophic flood, or maybe a few, was responsible for shaping the geologic features of the earth around us, and that this had occurred less than about 10,000 years ago. The Jewish Scriptures, or Old Testament, clearly taught this, and was believed by most to be reputable history. But many Middle Ages philosophers, during the “Age of Enlightenment” and “Age of Reason,” chafed at the idea of a personal God, with His rules that interfered with human behavior, and His threat of judgment. They welcomed Hutton’s idea, which offered a materialistic way of explaining earth’s development without any reference to God.

Hutton persuasively argued that processes which appear weak and slow-acting (such as slow uplift and subsidence of land surfaces) could, given enough time, produce effects (such as shifting ocean areas) that resembled those resulting from huge catastrophes. At about the same time an English engineer, William Smith, who built canals and railroads, noticed that deep cuts through the earth’s surface revealed many fossils located within various strata of rock. He saw an order in the vertical sequence of the fossils, and proposed that they had once lived in shallow seas, had died and been covered by sediments, then had fossilized. Smith became known as “Strata Smith,” and drew England’s first geologic maps.

Hutton’s writings were cumbersome and hard to read. It remained for Charles Lyell to take the ideas of Hutton and Smith, and develop these arguments into popular form. His work attracted wide support, and he’s credited with founding the modern science of geology. His “Principles of Geology” went through eleven editions between 1830 and 1872.

There’s a strong dependance on circular logic in this dating system. Uniformitarianism says that everything has developed very slowly, through strictly natural processes, with no supernatural intervention. It says that a fossil buried in a stratum below some reference stratum must be much older than that reference. Evolution says that the older fossils were ancestral to the younger ones, and that evolutionary development took place through a long series of favorable mutations. Natural selection would choose which mutation to keep and which to discard — this would take a very long time. In practice, index fossils are used to date a new rock stratum, but at the same time a new fossil is dated according to the age of the rock stratum in which it’s found. This is circular logic at its worst!

J.E. O’Rourke wrote in American Journal of Science, Vol. 276, Jan. 1976, pg. 47,

“The intelligent layman has long suspected circular reasoning in the use of rocks to date fossils and fossils to date rocks. The geologist has never bothered to think of a good reply, feeling that explanations are not worth the trouble as long as the work brings results. This is supposed to be hard-headed pragmatism.”

Thomas H. Huxley (sometimes called “Darwin’s bulldog) said, in his 1869 anniversary address to the Geological Society of London,

“Biology takes her time from geology. The only reason we have for believing in the slow rate of the change in living forms is the fact that they persist through a series of deposits which geology informs us have taken a long while to make. If the geological clock is wrong all the naturalist will have to do is to modify his notions of the rapidity of change accordingly.” (Cited in Ian Taylor’s “In The Minds of Men,” page 309.)

A Christian should realize that acceptance of this evolutionary dating scheme involves rejection of the Bible’s clear teaching that the earth was created by God in six days, no more than about 10,000 years ago. The naturalistic teachings of evolution and an ancient earth are based on the belief that parts of the Bible aren’t really true. They say that since God is outside of the realm of natural science, we must reject the thought that He ever actually did anything physical that would affect what we see in the world today. Thus we see that the bases, or foundations,for these two beliefs are incompatible. Compromise positions such as “theistic evolution” or “progressive creation” don’t make sense, logically.

Creationists suggest a totally different way of looking at the fossil record. We believe that almost all of the sedimentary fossil-bearing rocks covering the earth’s surface were deposited as a direct result of the Great Flood of Noah. Those small marine creatures at the lowest depths of the ocean when the Flood began were in a position to be quickly covered with the initial surge of sediments. (These are the ones that evolutionists say must have lived first.) Other kinds of creatures such as birds, land-dwelling mammals, etc. could have escaped the earliest devastations of flooding. This is an easy, natural explanation for the separation of fossils into groups.

Evolutionists say that these groups are caused by the different eras in which they lived; creationists say that the grouping is the result of the environment in which they lived, in addition to the mobility of each kind of creature. In particular, humans are at the peak of complexity, with more intelligence, more mobility, more ability to escape the flood (and they didn’t live at the bottom of the ocean), so they were buried later and higher. Clams and gorillas don’t normally live side-by-side, for example, so they wouldn’t be found buried in the same strata.

The Bible says that all of the different kinds of plant and animal life-forms were created within a few days, and thus all lived at the same time. The Bible also suggests the Flood began with the “breaking open of the fountains of the deep” (probably undersea volcanoes), and this was quickly followed by a 40-day deluge of rain. The entire earth surface, even the mountains, was completely covered with water for about a year. This upset the static equilibrium of the continents, caused uplifts and subsidences, and floodwaters must have surged violently back and forth before finally reaching a condition something like we see today. In the final stage of recovery, a giant “Ice Age” occurred. This will be discussed in a later Creation Bits issue.

Separation of fossil types was guided by several factors — the environment in which various creatures lived, and the mobility of different kinds of creatures — not by which era of “geologic time” that each one lived in. The fossil record is more consistent with the Biblical account than with the evolutionist’s Geologic Column.

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