Subject: a short course in flood geology [I am posting this for my husband, (Steve Watson)
From: Seanna Watson 1333884
Subject: a short course in flood geology
[I am posting this for my husband, (Steve Watson) who used to contribute
to this group when he had a job and a Sun and usenet access. Neither he
nor I agree with the views of Dr. Brown as detailed below, but Steve gets
a perverse pleasure from attending creationist seminars.]
This is a long post, but there's a joke at the end :).
On Friday 18 October, 1991, at Carleton University, Dr. Walter Brown,
director of the Center for Scientific Creation gave a talk entitled
"New Departures in the Origins Debate for the 90's". His appearance,
sponsored by Citizens for Origins Research and Education (CORE), was basically
a promotion for his all-day seminar "In the Beginning", which is coming
here in a couple of weeks. The question and answer period afterwards was
moderated by Dr. Paul Merkley of the Carleton history dept.
I note that Dr. Brown's degree (and most of his work experience) is in
mechanical engineering: isn't it remarkable how many engineers are on the
cutting edge of pseudo-science (creationism, crop circles)? I have some
speculations about why this should be, which might make an interesting
thread on the appropriate group (BTW, I am an engineer, so I have a right
to kvetch about this). My wife was annoyed to learn that Brown is a
fellow MIT alumnus. On the whole, though, he managed to sound considerably
more intelligent than did Duane Gish last February.
First, Dr. Brown explained what Creationists (well, at least some) want:
1) No religious doctrines or writings should be taught or ridiculed in the
2) All major scientific evidence regarding origins should be taught at
the appropriate grade level.
3) If evolution is taught, then evidence opposing it should also be taught.
He emphasized that this was to be accomplished strictly by persuasion and
education of science teachers, school boards, etc. In his view, legislation
and/or court action in this area are inappropriate.
So far it all sounds pretty reasonable....
Next he presented his scientific (I'll be charitable and omit the quote marks)
The largest part of Brown's talk was an attempt to explain how the fossil
record got its current form; his theory is basically a variant of
global-flood-with-hydrological-sorting. It goes like this:
1) The Noachic flood was truly world-inundating (he said he knows where all
the water came from and where it went, but we'd have to come to the
seminar to find out. Sorry, I've got better ways to spend an entire
2) On a world ocean, the moon raises truly immense tides (100's of feet),
especially at certain latitudes where the propagation time of the tidal bulge
around the world is in resonance with the synodic period. (Source on this:
computer simulations by one Prof. M.E. Clarke).
3) At high tide the immensely greater pressure forces water into the bottom
sediments (water being slightly compressible). The release of pressure at low
tide causes soil liquefaction of the top several hunderd feet of the
i.e. the water tries to come back out, and the soil particles separate, now
having a lubricating film of water between them. Under these conditions
the sediment behaves like a dense, viscous liquid.
Note: Soil liquefaction is a legitimate phenomenom, which has been observed
to occur during earthquakes (1964 quakes in Alaska and Japan being the
textbook examples). In that case a shock to the sediments causes the
liquefaction somehow (could one of the t.o. geologists clarify this please?).
4) Individual constituents separate by density, forming clear layers.
In particular, animal carcasses and vegetation, buried by the initial onset
of the flood, begin to float slowly upwards and sort themselves by density.
In a sedimentation experiment conducted by Dr. Leonard Brand, animal carcasses
sorted in the sequence: Birds
i.e. in the sequence claimed by evolution!
Whooops! Yes, I can hear some of you shouting from here: "Birds came BEFORE
mammals!" Reviewing my notes afterwards, I kicked myself for not noticing
and questioning Brown on it. For some reason, no one else seemed to pick up
on it either. However, he did say that Brand's work was preliminary and more
experiments of this type were needed. Maybe they'll get it right if they try
harder :-) Actually, having birds end up on top is quite predictable: they
have hollow bones to reduce weight. Of course, so did some large dinosaurs.
So why aren't they above the mammals, too?
5) When water escaping upwards through well-sorted sediments encounters a
layer of lower permeability, a 'water lens' will form, i.e. the upper layer
will actually separate from the lower, the space being filled by water. The
upper layers may now actually begin to slide on the lower (especially if the
beds are tilted), riding on the water lens. He claims you can explain
various geological features (overthrusts, unconformities) by this.
Dr. Brown then gave a comparison between results predicted by his model
(global flood causing soil liquefaction) and the standard "evolutionary"
Feature Evolution Liquefaction
======= ========= ============
Fossil Sorting Perfect sorting in General sorting,
evolutionary sequence primarily by density
[mentioned here he knew of 120 examples of 'reversed strata' in the USA,
not all of which showed evidence of overthrust or faulting]
Stratification Beds should be Much larger than river deltas
~size of river delta
[claim: known river deltas are far too small to explain large (~10^5 sq.mi.)
areas of sedimentation]
Interfaces Usually fuzzy Usually sharp
between layers boundaries (due to erosion)
Coal Formation time ~10^7 yrs Vegetation would collect in
Heat source unknown. mats & be buried. Compression
due to tides during the
Flood would provide heat.
Overthrust Requires high pressure Water lenses (see above)
and a lubricant.
Well that's pretty much the gist of his theory. In my (non-expert) opinion
it's pretty cute (by which I mean, I actually enjoyed watching him elucidate
all this, with pictures. As I said, he was a *lot* more interesting than
Duane Gish). For all I know there might actually be old geological features
for which some process involving an episode of soil liquefaction provides the
But, but, but.... there were also a few little oddities which might raise
the skeptic's eyebrow a bit (well, higher than it was already, if that's
possible :-). To wit:
As an example of soil liquefaction in action, he gives the breaking of
Atlantic submarine cables off the Grand Banks in 1929. Now the conventional
explanation for this is that the breaks were due to turbidity currents
(definition: a sediment-laden current of water flowing down the continental
slope) triggered by an earthquake. Turbidity currents are also believed
responsible for the carving of submarine canyons. He objects on two grounds:
- times of cable failures indicate that the turbidity current would
have to flow at 100mph, which he finds improbably high. I don't know
where he got that figure from; my freshman geology text gives the
speed as 25-34 mph (Press & Siever, _Earth_, 1974, pg. 429).
- turbidity currents have never been observed in operation in nature.
Even attempts to start them deliberately by underwater explosions have
failed to produce one.
Brown's explanation for the cable breaks is that tsunamis raised by the
earthquake compressed the bottom, causing it to subside and leaving the cable
hanging without support.
Amphibian footprints in sloping sandstone (in Grand Canyon).
The tracks indicate the animal was walking somewhat sideways, as if it was
being swept along by a current (so why didn't the current wash away the
tracks too?). Brown's explanation: these amphibians were buried in mud,
survived several hours, and then the bed they were in was liquefied and
they emerged into a water lens. (Big Q: While I believe some amphibians can
survive burial in mud, could they also withstand the pressure changes involved
in Brown's liquefaction process?). After emergence, they were swept uphill
along with the water which was escaping from between the layers.
Why he thinks these little side-shows increase the credibility of his main
point, I can't imagine!
The Grand Canyon seems to be a happy hunting ground for creationists:
apparently, there are also fish and angiosperms found in the Cambrian layers
there, and horse (!) footprints in the Supai shale.
Oddity #3> Sedimentary Quartzite (!)
According to Brown, you geologists just don't understand quartzite. You
always thought it was formed by slow metamorphosis of quartz sandstone: heat
and pressure fused the quartz grains (Press & Siever). It wasn't. Hot water
in a bed of quartz sand dissolved some of the SiO2, which then precipitated
out when the temperature dropped suddenly. Why was the water hot?
by high tides, again. I think those amphibians (see Oddity #2) should have
been fricasseed frogs long before they escaped...
The whole point of this is to get quick formation of some layers in the
Grand Canyon (time being one thing the creationist does *not* have in
Brown claims the Atlantic Ocean opened in ~150 days during the latter part
of the Flood year. I asked him about the parallel magnetic strips on either
side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. His answer: there is NO consistent pattern of
magnetization on the ocean floor. The observed stripes tend to align with
cracks, and some claimed reversals contradict plate tectonic theory. "The
seminar explains this in detail." Oh well.
Well that's enough for one post, except for the following:
Brown talked about quicksand as an example of permanently liquefied soil. He
dispelled the notion that quicksand 'sucks you down': it is simply a fluid.
To prove this, he's going to jump into quicksand sometime within the next
Unfortunately, he didn't give a precise time and place: I know some of you
would just *love* to be there and, possibly, assist? :-) :-)
Seanna Watson Bell-Northern Research,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Opinions, what opinions? Oh *these* opinions.
No, they're not BNR's, they're mine.
I knew I'd left them somewhere.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank