Geologists resisted evidence for catastrophic flooding because they wanted to distance themselves from Genesis.
We’ve recounted the story of J Harlan Bretz several times over the years. His unconventional hypothesis about the origin of the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington by catastrophic floods was resisted by the consensus of geological opinion. Now, two geologists propose that the massive canyons there and on Mars did not take as much water as previously believed. The write-ups of their findings reinforce what we’ve stated about anti-Biblical bias against catastrophism. Perron and Vinditti write in Nature,
When the geologist J Harlen Bretz proposed in the 1920s that the Channeled Scablands were created by a catastrophic flood, his ideas were attacked relentlessly by geologists who subscribed to the mainstream view that erosion is slow and steady, and who wanted to distance their profession from the notion of a biblical deluge.
Bretz’s triumph over his critics provides a classic case of a maverick overcoming a reigning paradigm through his personal courage and persistence, wielding incontrovertible evidence.
The new consensus about the Scablands is strong, but needs modification, Perron and Vinditti say.
Although the flood origin of the Channeled Scablands is no longer disputed, the sizes of the individual floods remain uncertain. It has become common practice to place an upper bound on the flow rate of the floods by assuming that they filled the present-day canyons to the brim. Estimated flood magnitudes based on this assumption range up to 60 cubic kilometres per hour — nearly 100 times the average flow rate of the Amazon River today. But these estimates might be much too large. Glaciologists have argued that it is difficult for ice sheets to store enough water to produce such enormous floods. The brimful-flood model also requires the unlikely scenario that each flood passing through the canyons was larger than the one that preceded it, because the canyon deepens as each successive flood erodes the bedrock.
Now, Isaac Larsen (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Michael Lamb (Caltech) argue that about 5 to 10 times less water was required to carve the big canyons. Writing in Nature, they propose a “threshold shear stress model” to replace the brimful model. Their model has implications for other canyons on Earth, and for fluid-carved canyons on Mars as well.
The threshold shear stress model implies that canyons in the Channeled Scablands were eroded by floods with depths that were a fraction of the relief of the final canyon (Fig. 4). This physics-based finding is consistent with several recent investigations of canyon carving at other sites on Earth and Mars: for example, those where bedrock incision by plucking or toppling of jointed rock occurs at depths less than brim-full, those where terrace chronology indicates multiple episodes of canyon incision, or those where lakes in breached craters contain insufficient water volumes to fill downstream channels.
Our results suggest that the morphology of canyons (for example, terraces, valley shapes and slope profiles) on Earth and Mars could reveal information about both the history and discharge of flooding that warrants further investigation. The outburst floods that carved the Channeled Scablands were extraordinary under either end-member model, but predictions of discharges from the threshold shear stress model are five– to ten-fold smaller. On Mars, owing to the low permeability of aquifers, it has been challenging to reconcile the very large reconstructed brim-full discharges in outflow channels with a subsurface flood source. Given the proposed similarity in incision mechanics for outflow channels on Mars and in the Channeled Scablands, the threshold shear stress model provides a link between the physics of groundwater-sourced floods and terraces observed in orbital data, implying longer duration, lower discharge floods, or multiple floods on early Mars.
NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine sums it up this way: “A new model of canyon-forming floods from UMass Amherst and CalTech researchers suggests that deep canyons can be formed in bedrock by significantly less water than previously thought.” Two consequences of this change of view seem evident. For one, it no longer seems necessary to presume that Mars had as much water as previously thought. A second implication is that floods on Earth can accomplish much more geological change with far less water. Rethinking the amount of water required “could reveal information about both the history and discharge of flooding that warrants further investigation.” This sounds like a shot in the arm for catastrophism.
It’s not necessary to propose multiple floods (“tens of floods”) for the Channeled Scablands. Larsen and Lamb cite a 1985 paper by one guy for that idea. The important point is the tremendous power of water. If only 10% or 20% of the amount previously assumed could carve the Channeled Scablands, then it follows that a global flood would have correspondingly more power to alter Earth’s crust and sediments. It becomes more credible to associate a single catastrophe with the miles of sediments and deep canyons found all over the Earth, particularly on the Colorado Plateau where they are exposed so well with flat contacts speaking of a short period of time. Creation geologist Steve Austin mentioned “plucking” decades ago as a process that can accelerate bedrock erosion.
Notice the anti-Biblical bias of the geologists of Bretz’s day. Perron and Vinditti say his views were “attacked relentlessly” because they seemed to support a Biblical flood account. The attacks went on for decades! Bretz stood alone against the establishment between the 1920s and the 1960s, when his views were finally accepted. (Remember that this was the period between the Scopes Trial and the Darwin Centennial.) We should not be discouraged if today’s secular materialists exhibit the same visceral reaction against intelligent design or creation geology. It’s hard to overcome an entrenched, powerful worldview. Its proponents sometimes never change. New views often gain traction one funeral at a time. Creation speakers have seen younger students be much more accepting of young-earth evidences than their hoary old dogmatic professors. We must keep the evidence out there where open minded young people can see it.
Resource: Dr. Terry Mortenson’s DVD “Deep Time Evolution” from AiG has damning quotes from secular geologists from the 1790s and beyond, showing that they had made up their minds to hate Genesis before even looking at the evidence. Mortenson’s PhD specialty is the history of geology (see also his book The Great Turning Point for even more citations). He explains how evolutionists and creationists both have the same evidence, but their worldview drives their interpretation of the evidence. It takes courageous mavericks like J Harlan Bretz to stand against a crowd. Unfortunately, even Bretz did not take the implications of his finds far enough. Had he examined even larger canyons than the scablands, he might have been led to propose a world-wide flood.