Dr. Snelling’s revision of Earth history looks nothing like what we find in nature. With the help of geology, though, we can put many pieces back together.
In the past, Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis has compiled some of the best evidences for the antiquity of the Earth and against Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) available. In doing so, however, he is careful to shape the rhetoric of his articles to present those evidences in favor of a young Earth and a global flood. It is truly a curious display of talent and inner conflict, which leads me to admire and applaud Dr. Snelling while simultaneously scratching my head and hanging it in shame.
To clarify my sincerely confused reaction, I want to draw your attention to an article featured yesterday by Answers in Genesis, entitled “Noah’s Lost World”. Therein, Snelling argues that the pre-Flood Earth on which Noah lived probably looked like our reconstructions of Rodinia—a well known supercontinent from the Neoproterozoic era (~1 billion to 542 million years ago). Concomitantly, he argues against the popular YEC speculations that Pangaea represented the ‘created configuration’ of Earth’s surface, which broke up during and after the global flood, some ~4,500 years ago.
Plate tectonics and YEC
Most YEC’s have long accepted the evidence for plate tectonics (originally contested by Henry Morris and contemporaries), including the breakup of continents like South America and Africa and their documented movements across the globe. Recognizing the obvious challenge to their timeline, however, creationist geophysicists began to model how massive lithospheric plates could have traveled thousands of miles in a matter of decades to centuries. The resulting ‘Catastrophic Plate Tectonics’ paradigm soon became standard in the YEC worldview.
There are incredible physical absurdities inherent to these models, such as the amount of heat produced, which would have boiled off much of the oceans, as well as a total lack of evidence supporting rapid plate movements in the past. Even granting these absurdities can be overcome, however, Flood geologists are still left with an interesting conundrum: what was the original configuration of the continents? To answer this question, YEC’s appeal eisegetically to Genesis 1:9–10, which somehow leads them to envision the original landmass as a supercontinent. During the flood, they envision the breakup of this landmass via catastrophic plate tectonics, which produced the geologically complex surface on which we live today.
So what’s the problem?
For starters, Genesis 1 is written phenomenologically and assumes an ancient view of the cosmos, for which the Near and Middle East (the Fertile Crescent, Arabia, Egypt, etc.) comprised a single landmass surrounded by salty seas. To interpret this passage as a description of an ancient supercontinent, which looked substantially different from our modern world, requires an unsubstantiated logical leap that ultimately betrays the text of Scripture. Along this line, Psalm 104 famously describes “mountain building” as part of the original creative process—not a result of plate tectonic forces during the flood—and Genesis 7 clearly assumes a modern topography with mountains already in place:
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. –Genesis 7:17-20 (ESV)
Secondly, Earth’s lithospheric plates were rearranged into supercontinents multiple times over the last 2.5 billion years, yet Snelling seems arbitrarily to choose Rodinia as the ‘original’ supercontinent. Despite that Snelling and his YEC colleagues accept the evidence for past movements and arrangements of the continents (a key part of paleogeography), he glances over the fact that Rodinia itself was assembled from the broken pieces of an earlier supercontinent, commonly called Nuna, and Nuna was reassembled from an even earlier supercontinent, which was reassembled from an even earlier one. Such is the natural cycle of our Earth, so long as there have been massive blocks of continental crust (which formed primarily between 3.0–2.5 billion years ago).
Thirdly, as Snelling accurately points out, supercontinents like Pangaea contain geological features like mountain ranges (e.g. the Appalachians and Caledonians) that now span two separated, lesser continents (e.g. North America and Europe). In other words, Snelling would have us believe not only that Earth’s continents broke apart and reassembled and broke apart again within a span of one year, but that alongside this process, major mountain chains of folded sedimentary strata—like the Appalachians—were formed from ‘Flood deposits’, then compressed and uplifted and faulted and eroded down to a recognizable form. This proposal is so far beyond unreasonable that its entertainment by professional scientists is simply astounding.
But such is the result when science is done in reverse, and physical evidence is forced retrospectively to fit a rigid dogmatic paradigm.
Featured image: Paleogeographic reconstruction of the Late Triassic