Theory of Mudstones Evolving Toward Flood Geology
A radical revision of the origin of mudstones in 2014 just got another surprising update favorable to creationists.
Old-earthers have long pointed to mudstones as evidence against a young earth. The thinking for a century or more has been that mudstones, like some of the fine-grained strata throughout the southwestern United States, required placid conditions for their formation. Microscopic particles needed vast ages to slowly settle out of solution and accumulate on the bottoms of inland lakes or seas. Creationists might have had some evidence of rapid formation for some of the sandstones and limestones, but mudstones? No; those disproved rapid formation.
Things began to break up this theory on 14 Dec 2007, when a “paradigm shift” hit. Scientists found in flume experiments that moving water can form mudstone deposits. That’s because particles can “flocculate” or bind together, settling down more quickly through the water column and piling up. We quoted Macquaker and Bohacs, who said,
Deposition-prone floccules form over a wide range of experimental conditions, which suggests an underlying universal process. Floccule ripples develop into low-angle foresets and mud beds that appear laminated after postdepositional compaction, but the layers retain signs of floccule ripple bedding that would be detectable in the rock record. Because mudstones were long thought to record low-energy conditions of offshore and deeper water environments, our results call for reevaluation of published interpretations of ancient mudstone successions and derived paleoceanographic conditions.
Years later, in 2019, other geologists found by experiment that eroding carbonate sand could yield carbonate mudstone two orders of magnitude faster than thought (17 Sept 2019) in high-energy environments. It’s beginning to look a lot like Creation—and a Flood, the ultimate high-energy environment.
The Latest Mud
A third phase of this paradigm shift just arrived. Science Magazine contained a brief summary of new findings coming out of UC San Francisco and Caltech. Brent Grocholski writes in “What Matters for Mudrocks” (29 Jan 2021),
Rock such as slate and shale, which form from mud, suddenly start appearing in the geologic record around 450 million years ago. Their appearance at about the same time as certain plants seems to implicate plant roots in the formation of these ubiquitous rocks. Zeichner et al. found a different route for creating the flocculation required for mudrock. Using analog experiments, the authors found that organic matter from plants alone was sufficient for the formation of flocs—aggregates of small silt and clay particles—which are required to deposit mudrock. This observation could explain the appearance of these rocks in places where the plants did not have deep roots.
It’s important to separate the geological-column-theoretic interpretation from the actual findings. The upshot is that there were prodigious amounts of flocculating material available for coagulation of particles and settling when the mudstones started forming.
So far, the paradigm shift over mudstones includes (1) forming in moving water, (2) forming 100 times faster in high-energy environments, and (3) flush with abundant flocculating nuclei around which to form. If 100 times faster was amazing, how about 1,000 times faster? The Abstract of the paper says,
An irreversible increase in alluvial mudrock occurred with the Ordovician-Silurian evolution of bryophytes, challenging a paradigm that deep-rooted plants were responsible for this landscape shift. We tested the idea that increased primary production and plant organics promoted aggregation of clay into flocs in rivers and facilitated mud deposition on floodplains. In experiments, we observed that clay readily flocculated for organic and clay concentrations common to modern rivers, yielding settling velocities three orders of magnitude larger than those without organics. Using a transport model, we found that flocculation substantially increased mud deposition, resulting in muddier floodplains. Thus, organic-induced flocculation may have been more critical than deep-rooted plants in the proliferation of muddy floodplains.
Source: Zeichner et al., Early plant organics increased global terrestrial mud deposition through enhanced flocculation. Science 29 Jan 2021: Vol. 371, Issue 6528, pp. 526-529. DOI: 10.1126/science.abd0379.
These are exactly the conditions that would have entailed in a global Flood. Plant material was in abundance at the onset of the flood, with much of it floating in log mats on the ocean surface. Bedrock was being ripped up and transported. Some boulders as big as houses in the Tapeats Sandstone sit within the boundary between the Great Unconformity and the Tapeats, indicating enormous energy plucking and transporting the bedrock. Deep water sandstones and limestones formed quickly, but mudstones would wait for somewhat less energetic conditions to ensue, still within high-energy environments throughout the Flood year. Super-abundant quantities of plant material would have been ground down into microscopic particles around which floccules could form. That is why the mudstones start appearing at the same time, not 450 million years ago, but rapidly compared to secular geologists’ assumptions.
Creation geologists will undoubtedly consider this factor in ongoing research into the formation of strata during and after the Flood. The new information does not so much throw the score either way between Biblical geology and secular geology; what it does do is remove another obstacle to the Biblical position. And that—illustrated in many other contexts—reminds creationists that if they can just wait long enough, secular assumptions eventually collapse.