Russell and Duenes

Plate Tectonics and The Bible

with 10 comments

“Using catastrophic plate tectonics as a model, mechanism, and framework to describe and understand the Genesis Flood event is… consistent with the Bible,” writes Dr. Andrew Snelling, the foremost Geologist in the Intelligent Design movement- whose  fantastic article on the Genesis Flood and plate tectonics can be found here: catastrophic-plate-tectonics



Written by Michael Duenes

April 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

Posted in Russell, Science

10 Responses

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  1. “Moreover, whether at the current rate of movement—only 4 in (10 cm) per year—the force and energy of the collision between the Indian-Australian and Eurasian Plates could have been sufficient to push up the Himalayas (like two cars colliding, each only traveling at .04 in/h [1 mm/h]) is questionable.”

    Force, speed, and energy are not synonymous. For example, a hydraulic press moves slowly, but with great force.

    When two cars collide, the energy of the collision is mainly due to the kinetic energy of the cars’ motion, 1/2 m v**2. Not much collision energy comes from the force (torque) of the engines at impact (put another way, the cars are basically coasting), which is why two cars colliding at .04 in/h would do no damage.

    Continental plates, however, are massive, so the “m” in 1/2 m v**2 is huge. Plus, there is a huge force being applied to the continents to keep them moving (they are not coasting)- similar to a hydraulic press.

    The fact that the author used an illustration that is easily refutable with a basic knowledge of high school physics causes me to doubt the veracity of the rest of the stuff I don’t have expertise in.

    “Even though the Bible does not specifically mention this concept, it is consistent with the biblical account, which implies an original supercontinent that broke up during the Flood, with the resultant continents obviously then having to move rapidly (“sprint”) into their present positions.”

    Here he gives away his motivation. He believes the Bible says the continents “sprinted” to their present positions. He’s looking for evidence for what he believes the Bible has told him. It’s against his religion to entertain any other theory. He’ll never change, no matter what the evidence.


    April 15, 2011 at 9:07 am

    • Bates – I would add a qualification to your assessment that “there is a huge force being applied to the continents to keep them moving (they are not coasting)- similar to a hydraulic press.” Your explanation assumes that colliding plates are akin to colliding cars in virtually every way. But they are not. If one were to apply continuous massive pressure to two cars over time, indeed they would be pushed up. But a subduction zone is vastly different than the bumpers and frames of two cars. So it may be the case that “huge force is being applied to continents to keep them moving,” but at their collision zone there might be vastly fluctuating conditions over the millions of years that they would be moving at 4 inches per year. I happen to think that a lot of nonsense comes out the mouths of people with the letters “PhD” behind their names, but I’m not usually quick to accuse them of being so ignorant as to unwittingly “use an illustration that is easily refutable with a basic knowledge of high school physics.” Methinks you have a good bit of a jaundiced eye when it comes to evaluating creationist claims. Perhaps I have one when evaluating evolutionist claims. I’m open to the charge.


      russell and duenes

      April 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm

  2. Bates-
    I would agree with you that the force required to move the major plates slowly is more than plausible. But Snelling is “questioning” this by using the very compelling evidence within the article that you stopped reading. I think questioning this is valid due to the entirety of the article. I would also agree that Snelling has biases. I think both of us do as well. I don’t think this immediately disqualifies him as a scientist in the same way that my belief system does not disqualify me as a historian or your religious affiliation does not disqualify you in your vocation. I know what you are saying- that evidence should lead us where it will and we should follow it. My response to this is that the evidence for the Genesis flood is very strong scientifically and the Biblical account is too. This should lead us as well. As a Christian, my basis for reasoning comes from the Scriptures- it appears Snelling’s does too. This gives us the most critical reason for the flood and its potential to drive plates apart- the Genesis account demands it. And this is a bias I am fine with having. I don’t think it dissolves my ability to reason, but rather gives it a starting point.

    russell and duenes

    April 15, 2011 at 10:47 am

  3. “He’ll never change, no matter what the evidence.” I could say the same thing about your position. You have a pre-determined narrative, which goes thus: “The plates of the earth are moving slowly now, so they must have moved slowly always, which is why uniformitarianism is true.” And you’ll believe this, no matter what the evidence, no matter whether the Scriptures say that a catastrophic flood happened, (which they do say this IN BOTH TESTAMENTS, not just the O.T.). You might respond by saying, “No, I believe in the slow development of the Himalayas because that’s where the evidence leads.” To which I would respond, and I’m totally serious, “May I see that evidence? and may I see that it refutes the theory that the Himalayas were formed by a catastrophic movement of the plates?”


    russell and duenes

    April 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  4. I haven’t read the article, though I may once I become less busy. Answers in Genesis has often been criticized for being overly simplistic, and I don’t think that criticism is unjustified. However, I believe this has more to do with the fact that AiG writes for a lay audience than with any actual error in reasoning.

    This plate tectonic theory puts me in mind of a stance I have held for about ten years or more, ever since I was an undergraduate: I find the geological case for a mainstream-style old earth to be much more compelling than the evolutionary case – because I don’t know anything about geology. In contrast, I have a lot of issues with mainstream evolutionary science *because* I know a lot about biology. This is the reverse of the way that science-skeptics are usually painted.


    April 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

  5. “Your explanation assumes that colliding plates are akin to colliding cars in virtually every way.”

    It wasn’t my explanation. The guy who wrote the article brought up the poorly conceived colliding cars explanation as evidence that the colliding plates were “moving too slowly to push up the mountains”.

    I pointed out the simple errors in the physics of his proposed evidence, then refused to read the rest of it. You all agreed with my refutation, then told me to keep reading anyway, and told me I was simplistic for dismissing him.

    But honestly, would either of you do the work to continue reading a pro-evolution article after finding a glaring error in the first 5 minutes of skimming it over? I think it’s a waste of my time.

    And “D”, I can change my position on the matter. Indeed, I already have. I used to be in the new Earth, literal Genesis, creationist camp. I changed because the evidence didn’t match up for me, and the poetic form of the literature didn’t make sense to be taken as a science/astronomy text. In my opinion, the Earth is much older than 5 thousand years. Carbon 14 half life, lunar impact crater formation rate, rock erosion and deposition rates, genetic variation rates, fossilization formation rates, winter snow deposit rate in the arctic, stellar expansion rates and positions, continental plate drift rates, oil formation rates, wood petrification rates- all point to an old Earth/universe. They are all independent, they all correlate, and they’re only the few that I thought of off the top of my head- there are more. Yes, there could have been some discontinuous “sprint” a few thousand years ago on all the aforementioned independent rates that is not measurable now, but the simpler explanation for me is that there wasn’t.

    Do I have my complete exegesis worked out on Genesis? No, I have admitted that several times. But I took a crack at why I thought it was figurative literature, and you did not respond to it. I pointed out several discrepancies between Gen 1 and 2, and asked how they could be worked out literally, and you did not respond to it.

    I think your strongest argument against my position is that the new testament people apparently thought of Adam as a historical person. I admit that’s a tough one for me, but I am not as convinced as you are that they did, however. Or, more radically, if they did, does it matter? For example, was the prodigal son real? I don’t think so, but if I were to refer to him without first saying “That fake guy from Jesus’ made up story”, does that mean I think he was a historical person? If I don’t think of him as a historical person does that mean I have nothing to learn from him?

    Christianity has fostered the scientific process, and played a crucial role in the formation of the scientific method- I whole heartedly agree with this. But the church has also been on the wrong end of several scientific arguments over the past few hundred years, because of what it thought the Bible was saying. We laugh at their quaint notions now, but they were just as adamant that they understood the scriptures then as the young Earth creationist camp is now.

    I personally think the creationist camp has fallen into the same trap.


    April 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    • Bates – I’m clearly not even a novice when it comes to plate tectonics. What I know I know from a college geology class. I also don’t know a ton about physics, having never taken a physics class. But I think you misread my point, which was to say that I think you misunderstood the author’s point. You said that plates moving together work a lot like a hydraulic press. My point was to question this assertion. Indeed, as far as I know, plates are moving slowly and they are being conducted along, as you say. In this sense, they ARE like a hydraulic press. But I was posing the possibility that continental drift can’t account for the upheaval required to produce the Himalayas because at such slow speeds, the Himalayas would never have come about. And they would never have come about NOT because of insufficient force, but because whatever was happening at the point of collision, over such a long time, would fail to produce the conditions required. I’m gathering this was the assumption of the author as well. He assumed that something akin to a hydraulic press simply cannot account for the Himalayas, which is why he says that great speed was needed at collision, much like two cars colliding. A slow collision would NOT produce the Himalayas, due to the nature of erosion, subduction, and other geological processes at the collision zone over millions of years. Now, I could be totally wrong, but this seems like a plausible hypothesis to me. So, no, I did not agree with your hypothesis or your refutation.

      Would I continue to read pro-evolution article after finding a glaring error on the first page? Indeed. In fact, I believe I’ve done so. I read lots of things in their totality that I disagree with. For my money, it’s not a waste of time. I haven’t always done this, and I don’t always enjoy it. But I certainly don’t think it’s a waste of time.

      I’d like to know more about how all the rates you listed point to an old earth. And I’m not being sarcastic in saying this. I’m genuinely ignorant and would like to know what you mean? How do such rates point to an old earth? Perhaps I’m wrong, but all of the evidence from “rates” seems to be based on the a priori assumption that the rates we observe today have always and everywhere been the same. But why should one assume this? Is there something we’ve discovered that should predispose us toward thinking that geologic time has been uniform?

      Regarding the exegesis of Genesis 1-2, you suggested it should be taken figuratively, which is fine. But that’s not the same thing as giving a detailed exegetical explanation. I don’t think it’s a fair procedure to say that something in the Bible is figurative, and then not attempt to explain the particulars of the text. Yes, you’ve pointed out discrepancies, but you’ve not attempted to solve them, other than to say that the whole thing is figurative. Does something being figurative allow it to stand with all sorts of internal contradictions? To say that I’ve “not responded” is not quite correct. I began my response by detailing my understanding of New Testament passages on Adam and Eve. I said that this was crucial to a detailed exegesis of Genesis 1-2. True, I have not responded YET with a full-blown exegesis of Genesis 1-2, but I gave you a reason for that as well; namely, that I have not wanted to give a poorly reasoned and poorly considered exegesis. I’m still working on it, slowly but surely. It will be forthcoming. But either way, I don’t think Genesis is giving us a scientific explanation, but I don’t think science should contradict whatever Genesis 1-2 happen to be saying. Since we’re making admissions, I admit the apparent old age of the earth is difficult for me as well. There are many things that make it seem old. I have not been able to evaluate enough of the evidences here, so I’m genuinely ignorant and am working on rectifying that.

      “If they did think Adam and Eve were historical persons, does it matter?” Obviously I think it does. I’m not sure how it could not. If they thought Adam and Eve were real when in fact they were not, that means that Jesus, Paul, and Luke were in error. Perhaps that’s not a problem for your biblical understanding, but it is for mine. I think we both know that the genuineness of the prodigal son as a historical person and the genuineness of Adam are not at all the same thing. The Prodigal Son is obviously a parable. But the New Testament writers are basing whole doctrines on the person of Adam. Paul’s reasoning about original sin in Romans 5 depends on a historical Adam. Luke puts Adam in a genealogy along with other historical persons. Are we to assume that everyone in the genealogy, say, after Noah is historical, but before that, mythological or figurative? How does this work? It’s hard to see how this would be like the prodigal son. Jesus bases his teaching on marriage on God’s special creation of man and woman “in the beginning” and Paul bases his teaching on male/ female roles on the reality of Adam as a historical person. So these are not analogous examples. Adam is not found in the New Testament as part of a story or parabolic teaching. Very little, if anything, in the texts of the NT seem to be presenting to us some kind of archetypal figure. But if you think they are, perhaps, as you have time, you can tell me what the signs of this are. I’m not trying to play “gotcha” here. I consider you to be a friend and brother in Christ. I think these issues are of paramount importance, which is why I’ve taken such time to respond to you. I’m grateful you take the time as well. Doubtless you and I are in a lot more agreement on things than disagreement when it comes to the Christian life, and I don’t want to just toss that away.

      I think there’s more to the history of the church’s relation to science than exegesis vs. scientific discovery. Other historical forces were also at work in the church holding fast to certain positions such as geocentrism. It seems to me that one major point of disagreement between us is that you hold our current uniformitarian theories – indeed the entire neo-Darwinian structure – as solid and sure, and our current exegetical conclusions as tentative. Thus, exegesis will need, for you, to be constrained by evolutionary theory. The evolution comes first, and then the exegesis will have to fit it. Whereas for me, I’m trying to start with exegesis, and holding my exegesis to be more solid and sure, with science being very tentative and provisional. So I try to start with exegesis and let it constrain what I can believe about current science. This is a bias each of us has, and that’s fine, as far as it goes. I just think it needs to be stated. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you used to hold to a certain interpretation of Genesis and the Scriptures, AND THEN, when your understanding of science changed, you changed your biblical interpretation. So your science controls your exegesis, not the other way around.


      russell and duenes

      April 18, 2011 at 9:26 pm

  6. “…the Himalayas would never have come about. And they would never have come about NOT because of insufficient force…. I’m gathering this was the assumption of the author as well.”

    But this was not the assumption of the author!

    He clearly states that the force and energy are not sufficient, because the continents are moving too slowly!

    “whether at the current rate of movement—only 4 in (10 cm) per year—the force and energy of the collision between the Indian-Australian and Eurasian Plates could have been sufficient to push up the Himalayas is questionable.”

    It seems clear to me that confuses rate, force, and energy in a very sophomoric way.


    April 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

    • Bates – You may be right, and in fact, in the larger scheme of things, as I’ve checked some literature on plate tectonics, there’s nothing like unanimity on the theories among creationists. Perhaps this author is genuinely confused, in which case I would agree with you that he lacks credibility. Perhaps he was not being very careful, in which case he ought to be. But I’ll wait for your responses to my other points, should you like to respond to them, whenever you might like to respond to them. We’ve got plenty of time around here, Lord willing.


      russell and duenes

      April 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

      • From “Approximately 20 million years ago India was connected to the southeastern tip of Africa. Stresses in the earth’s crust resulted in the development of a rift between them. India broke free and began drifting north as part of the Indo-Australian Plate. The leading edge of the plate was oceanic crust. Several millions of years later this leading oceanic edge collided with the Eurasian Plate and began to be thrust upward. Eventually, the deep sea-floor of the Indo-Australian Plate rose above sea level, and the Himalayas were born. Today, India continues it’s push northward.”

        Evolutionary Geologists have wrongly determined that the Himalayas collided together like a car crash- not like a hydraulic press. This IS WHAT SNELLING IS REFUTING. Basic understanding of geology tells us this. It couldn’t have happened like a car crash and had to have happened like a hydraulic press. Hence the energy and force would not have been sufficient. The author is not genuinely confused and does not lack credibility. The force and energy is questionable, and if the article is read further one would see why.

        russell and duenes

        November 6, 2011 at 1:09 am

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