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Flood geology is a branch of "creation science", used mostly by adherents of young Earth creationism (YEC) to advance their belief that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. It asserts that the Biblical Great Flood was an actual historical event and attempts to interpret geology in terms which make it consistent with the flood myth.
Geology as a branch of science developed and evolved to its present form in the 19th and 20th centuries. Prior to this the Ussher chronology supplied an accepted age of the Earth in most of the Western World — this was due to the dominance of religion and the lack of any real evidence to state otherwise. With the 1907 development of radiometric dating, the 19th-century close examination of fossil records and rock strata, and the development and refinement of the technology required to study these features, it became very clear that the Earth was, in fact, much, much older. Some of the earliest estimates based on scientific reasoning and evidence put the Earth between 20 and 400 million years old — but even that was too young for geologists and biologists who were getting to grips with both evolution and the ages of rocks. This has nothing to do with "destroying God" (as many creationists may claim); it is simply the case that evidence came along and threw out the old consensus on the age of the Earth. This is often handwaved by organisations such as Answers in Genesis, which claim that a conclusion is dependent on a "worldview": a secular scientist will look at rock strata and see age, a True Believer will see Noah's flood.
Science doesn't generally return to outdated and disproved ideas. This is because evidence is used to disprove theories (see falsifiability) and so old theories are often incompatible with new evidence. So any old theory that is resurrected invariably appears in a slightly mutated form that must explain the new evidence. As the idea that the Earth was less than 10,000 years old was very much discounted by evidence, flood geology faces a remarkably difficult task; it must reconcile an old idea (that the Earth is young and everything is explained by a global flood) with the very evidence that was used to firmly discount it. Flood geology is, therefore, obliged to ignore the majority of geological evidence and to misinterpret the rest.
Soft-sediment deformation is an argument used by creationists to support their belief in the reality of a Global Flood. The argument posits that because some sedimentary rocks appear to be bent in shape (e.g., the Kaibab Upwarp in the Grand Canyon) all convoluted strata were deformed during the period immediately after the Biblical flood, when their constituent sediments were still soft and wet. This is in contrast to the accepted theory that rocks, which may be hard, can deform over millions of years when subject to heat and compressional tectonic forces.
In real geology, soft-sediment deformation structures mean sediment got into cracks in an older rock and deformed it.
In orthodox geology, rock strata that are under constant pressure for millions of years can undergo plastic deformation, and no longer act like brittle rock. Thus, given sufficient time and stress, rock will begin to change shape. This concept seems alien at first glance as the, sometimes extreme, bending of apparently solid rock defies common sense. It is common to find fossils embedded in such strata that have also become deformed as they were squeezed along the direction of stress.
Issues with the creationist interpretation
Young-Earth Creationists assume that the world is less than 6000 years old and that it is unlikely that rock could be distorted in that little time unless it was soft. Obviously, rocks generally aren't soft and the world is far older than 6000 years. Indeed, the deformation of rock strata — because rock is emphatically not soft and malleable — is one of the key pieces of evidence that shows the age of the Earth is much older than the 6000 to 10,000 years claimed by those in the YEC movement. It is not, however, circular reasoning to say that the Earth is millions of years old and therefore orthodox geology is correct, as a lot of other evidence supports the idea of an older Earth; the slow deformation of rock strata is one phenomenon which has been independently observed and which happens to fit perfectly with the facts of other observations and explanations or predictions of other theories.
If rocks could be soft enough to undergo these sorts of alterations in 6000 years (or during the putative Flood), we'd certainly see some examples of it happening now — but not so. Soft-sediment approaches also don't explain the observations where rock has deformed but has since weathered away and had new layers added to it, creating discontinuities in the strata. Also, the observation of fossils within such structures (and the fact that fossilisation processes are inconsistent with flood geology) and how they are deformed are not consistent with soft-sediment.
Advocates of flood geology generally use the flood as an explanation for the existence of the geologic column, and indeed any geological phenomena or feature. It proposes that the age of the Earth as shown by rock strata is only apparently old, an illusion caused by looking at it through a secular worldview. Thus, while a scientist may spend years developing and testing theories through evidence, a flood geologists simply knows that the "flooddidit" — an attitude similar to goddidit as found in other Biblical literalist beliefs and religious apologetics. Flooddidit is invoked to explain geological features as different as the Grand Canyon and the Sahara Desert. Naturally, there are numerous inconsistencies with using flooddidit this way, as a global flood should have morphed and shaped rock formations globally the same way. This is not observed, but this is rarely a problem for flooddidit advocates.
Fossils are found in geological strata with older organisms at the bottom and newer organisms at the top. Not by coincidence, this also matches up with evolutionary theories; the less developed organisms are found lower in the rock strata while their descendants are found above. Flood geology often tries to solve this problem by invoking a form of "sorting" during the flood. YEC belief necessitates that all animals found in the fossil record were alive and interacting at the same time — including dinosaurs and people. The fossil sorting is stated to be because smaller, less developed animals couldn't outrun the flood waters so are found buried at the bottom, while the more advanced animals are found at the top because they could outrun the flood waters.
Obviously, the flood geology explanation for fossil sorting is ludicrously at odds with evidence. Firstly it neglects that fossils are sorted by their ability to escape flood waters would mean animals are found in that order in the fossil record. This is not observed to be the case, with animals of different sizes and physical ability being scattered throughout the geological strata — there seems to be no ordering by physical ability. Secondly, such a theory would suggest only a statistical tendency. That is, there is a chance that some animals that would otherwise have been capable of outrunning flood waters would still fall early and drown, while those that wouldn't outrun the waters may have been lucky enough to be in the right place to get a bit further than the rest. In reality, the fossil record shows absolutely no fossils out of order. Organisms never appear in more recent rock than their descendants. Similarly, mass extinction events such as the KT boundary provide very fine lines that cut off the fossil record — this is incompatible with the idea that all rock sediment was laid down only a few thousand years ago in a massive flood.
Finally, there is the slight problem of plant fossils, which also follow a progressive order from the simple to the complex. Beginning with simple algae at the very bottom, followed by ferns, lichens and such, then land plants, then plants with seeds, then flowering plants and so on. And not only that, but they also follow the kind of geographic distribution expected of evolution when paired with plate tectonics. Creationists have never even attempted to address this thorny issue, choosing instead to avoid it altogether.
Erosion is a slow process in conventional geology — unless the rock is soft and the weather particularly severe, but these cases are outlying exceptions. This is all due to the hardness of rock and the fact that we can observe the rate that it erodes under rain now. The flooddidit idea proposes that despite this, all erosion features can be explained by the flood. This applies equally to rock that is eroded to rock that isn't eroded — a proposition that flies in the face of both science and good sense. The high levels of erosion seen in hard rock formations is chalked up to the speed of the flood waters. Indeed, fast water can be quite powerful and water cutting jets can slice through objects with high efficiency. However, the Grand Canyon, for example, isn't a small board of MDF being hit by a precise sub-millimeter wide jet of water traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. Even in a flood of global proportions, the water could not travel fast enough (it can only work under gravity) and the rock is simply not soft enough for it to form in anything less than millions of years.
Secondly, erosion due to the flood is incompatible with rock sedimentation being explained by the flood. A global flood that would explain both sedimentation and massive erosion would cause both processes to occur simultaneously. There should be more sediment put down at a near equal rate to the erosion removing it — therefore features where erosion has revealed the sedimentation layers should not exist. Conventional geology is able to explain that sedimentation occurs first and erosion cuts in afterwards to expose the layers, and also explains more distorted features such as uncomformities — which flood geology is unable explain.
Uniformitarianism is the overarching scientific principle that physical laws are invariant with respect to space and time — or with less technobabble, they don't change. This is a sound principle because it is what is observed and also the simpler explanation given that the laws lack any causal motivation to change. With respect to geology it states that the way we see sedimentary rocks laid down today is the same mechanism that caused them to be laid down a hundred, a thousand, a million or a billion years ago. It states that erosion and weathering is the same. And while it doesn't dismiss the impact of single massive events (from glacial flooding to meteor impacts) generally what is seen today is the result of slow and steady processes rather than massive catastrophic events. Because this assumption invariably leads to a 4.5 billion year old Earth, flood geology says balls to this assumption. Uniformitarianism isn't just an assumption used to generate the billion year age of the Earth, as creationists claim, but is a founding principle of physics; as said before, you need to have a good reason to say the laws of physics change over time (or space), and evidence that they do.
In order to prove a 6,000 year old Earth, flood geology abandons uniformitarianism but doesn't really replace it with anything consistent. Instead, what is normally explained with slow processes and a uniformatarian view is explained with special pleading and flooddidit. This ranges from radioactive decay, which was "somehow" faster during the flood, to continental drift, which must have been practically supersonic during the flood, to magnetic field reversals, which just oscillated wildly during the flood for no other reason than it was the flood. Flood geologists will defend this sort of thing as merely just rejecting an assumption (much in the same way theological presuppositionalism works) but without solid evidence or explanations about how and why these rates arbitrarily changed to give an illusion of a 4.5 billion year old Earth, the creationists are doing nothing except making things up.
Less commonly but more hilariously, flood geology is invoked as an explanation for the appearance of an old Earth in radiometric dating. This is a specific version of flooddidit and the rejection of uniformitarianism; so the rate of radioactive decay was somehow faster "back then". The hilarious part comes if such assumptions are taken to their logical conclusion. The decay of radioactive elements (uranium, potassium and thorium) is a slow process taking billions of years, accompanied by the release of heat, and supplies enough energy to keep the Earth's core liquid. Flood geology suggests that most of the decay happened in a short time frame, at least a million times faster. During this time, the natural radiation would be higher than 1 lethal dose per day, and the released heat would be enough to melt the earth completely, if not boil it.
Unfortunately flood geology has never been used to discover any resources of value to man (oil, gas, water, iron, copper, etc.) in the way that secular, old-Earth geology has been able to do. Despite this, one company (Zion Oil) is attempting to find oil in Israel based on an interpretation a Biblical passage, although using conventional secular technologies.
- Global flood
- Global flood chronology
- Noah's Ark
- Hydroplate theory
- Creation geophysics
- Henry M. Morris — one of the popularizers of flood geology