Creation Factsheet No. 39: Catastrophism

Factsheet No. 39


UNTIL about 160 years ago most geologists believed that the rocks of the earth's surface had been formed catastrophically. Then the theory of uniformitarianism took over (“the present is the key to the past”). Why were most of those early geologists catastrophists, and why do most modern geologists believe that sedimentary rocks formed slowly over millions of years.


Evolutionist Ernst Mayr wrote: 'The reason why catastrophism was adopted by virtually all of the truly productive leading geologists in the first half of the 19th century is that the facts seemed to support. Breaks in fossil strata, the occurrence of vast lava flows, a replacement of terrestrial deposits by marine ones and the reverse, and many other phenomena of a similar, reasonably violent nature (including the turning upside down of whole fossil sequences) all rather decisively refuted a rigid uniformitarian interpretation.'1 The evidence they saw has not changed, so why did geology change? Towards the end of the 18th century, James Hutton suggested that rocks were formed by the slow deposition of sediment which eventually hardened into rock. Then, in 1830, along came Charles Lyell with his book Principles of Geology, and the concept of “geological time” was invented.

It may surprise many people to learn that the replacement of catastrophism by gradualism happened for philosophic rather than scientific reasons. Most early geologists were “flood geologists”, who believed that most of the earth's sedimentary layers had been formed during the Biblical flood judgment. Lyell's main motive was to destroy belief in the Bible. One modern geology book describes it thus: 'Lyell launched a crusade to lay to rest once and for all the idea that the earth and all things on it were the product of divine creation. Lyell gave the uniformitarian theory its biggest boost, and by effectively introducing the concept of unlimited time, he founded modern historical geology.'2

More recently, many geologists have reluctantly conceded that catastrophe has, after all, played a major role in shaping the earth, but for the same philosophical reasons that caused Lyell to reject the Biblical account, most refuse to accept the Biblical flood as the main agent, preferring to postulate numerous “local” catastrophes separated by immense periods of relative inactivity or “stasis”. The evidences that persuaded the early geologists to be catastrophists are many, but we list a few of them below.


There are massive fossil “graveyards” all over the world. These include billions of fish, which would not be preserved under normal conditions, since dead fish normally float to the surface where they decay or are eaten by scavengers. There are also numerous dinosaur graveyards. In 1878, the skeletons of 31 giant iguanodons were discovered 1000 feet (300 metres) deep in a coal-mine at Fosse St. Barbe, Belgium. They had all fallen into a ravine before being buried in mud-laden sediment.

Picture Showing some Fish Fossils

Fish fossils indicate rapid burial.

Photo © Paul Abramson www.creationism.org


Where fossils such as tree trunks are found projecting through a number of rock layers known as polystrate fossils there can be no doubt that the rock strata surrounding them was deposited rapidly. At The Joggins, Nova Scotia, Canada, many upright trees are scattered throughout 2,500 feet (760 metres) of strata, penetrating 20 geological horizons.

These trees must have been buried within a few years, before they would decay. Yet evolutionary geologists claim that the top layers of rock were deposited millions of years later than the lower layers. There is very strong evidence that these fossil tree-trunks are not found where they grew, but were floated into their present position. Indeed, some are found with their roots uppermost. Recent research at Mount St. Helens, USA, has provided evidence that upright tree-trunks can be floated in and deposited very rapidly. Millions of trees felled by the eruption in 1980 were subsequently washed into Spirit Lake where many are now standing upright in sediments on the lake bottom.3


In many mountainous areas, strata thousands of feet thick are tightly folded and twisted. Modern geology says that these formations were bent millions of years after they solidified, but the absence of cracking belies this interpretation. The time interval between deposition and folding must have been very short, and eliminates millions of years of supposed “geological time”.

Picture Showing Folded Rock Strata

Folded strata at Lulworth Cove, Dorset.


It is quite common to find delicate structures such as ripple marks and rain-drop imprints, and specimens of flying insects, leaves and flowers preserved in the rocks. This indicates rapid burial as such items would never be preserved under “normal” conditions.


The earth's surface bears abundant evidence of catastrophe. While many creation scientists accept that there were some post-flood catastrophes, particularly related to the Ice Age, they agree that the world-wide flood of Noah's time was by far the most destructive. As far as secular geologists are concerned, there are two main reasons why they reject “flood geology”. Firstly, they need millions of years of “geological time” to give evolution time to happen, and secondly, they do not like the concept of divine judgment. But however much people dislike the idea of judgment, it is a reality, and the Bible links that past judgment with a future, universal judgment: 'The world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.' (2 Peter 3:6-7).

Just as God provided a way of escape for the godly Noah and his family, so He has provided a way of escape from future judgment, through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)


  1. 'The Nature of the Darwinian Revolution', Science, June 2nd 1972, p. 985.
  2. 'A Trip Through Time: Principles of Historical Geology', Merrill Pub. Co. 1980, pp. 73-74
  3. See 'Mount St. Helens: Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe', video obtainable from CRT.

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