Other Views Icon

Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

Site Map | Contacts | Links | Newsletter |  

Other Views:
Guy Berthault

Sedimentology is the study of rocks formed from transported fragments deposited in water.

Guy Berthault claims to show how the Grand Canyon was formed from Noah's Flood in one year. He says he has done experiments to prove this. See his web site at Geological Dating Principles Questioned.

Dr. Meyers' Reply

I performed a similar experiment some years ago. I used sand, lime, and other materials mixed with water. I stirred them up in an aquarium tank, and sure enough I saw some layering. Later, I wondered how dinosaur foot prints, and dinosaur nests with young dinosaurs could have formed in the middle layers with sediments above and below. Was there enough time for Dinosaurs to build nests, lay eggs, and hatch the eggs right in the middle of Noah's flood?

The different colored layers of rock indicate different depositional environments. For example, green sand only forms under 100 feet of water. Black Devonian rock formed in a low Oxygen environment like the Black Sea today.

There is erosion between some layers of rock indicating a long time before another layer was put down. There is also evidence of bioturbation in some layers.

There are a number of biologically produced rock formations like limestone, and stromatolites. There are also a number of evaporative sequences.

When I began to study each lay of rock with its different depositional environment, I began to see that one great flood could not form all the different layers we see in one year.

Henry Morris' view of the flood is outdated. Not even his son believes it. His son and others have come up with a new theory which they explained at the last ICC (International Creation Conference).

Expert Opinion

 Edward Cotter, Sedimentologist

The writer of this challenge appears to be unfamiliar with the actual record of the strata in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, for his comments reveal many fundamental misunderstandings. I will list here only a few obvious points. I refer to the Grand Canyon sequence of strata, but the points apply to other strata also.

Sequences of stratigraphic layers do not accumulate all at one time. Indeed, much of the time there is no net accumulation or even erosion. In the Grand Canyon sequence, one can easily see dramatic evidence for that. One example within the stratigraphic sequence is an angular unconformity (an erosion surface with tilted strata below and horizontal strata above). Along the unconformity surface one can see that the height of the surface is directly correlated with the relative resistance of the underlying rocks to erosion. A feature such as this demonstrates that a long period of time was necessary to result in the tilting of the underlying strata and their subsequent erosion before resumption of deposition of the overlying strata. Note all the time needed: 1) to accumulate the strata in the lower sequence, 2) to tilt the lower strata through tectonic forces, 3) to erode the uptilted parts of the lower sequence, 4) to accumulate the sequence of strata above the unconformity, and 5) to permit the Colorado River to erode back down through the entire complex stratigraphic section to reveal this story.  

The strata in the Grand Canyon did not all accumulate under water. You will find in the sequence the deposits of rivers (Supai), desert dunes (Coconino) and even volcanic lavas interbedded with limestones and shales formed in shallow seas and lakes. These environments of deposition are not random but correlate well with conditions in other parts of North America as well as with the history of global sea level through geologic time.

The "challenge" appears to operate on the assumption that the strata in the Grand Canyon sequence are in order of hydrodynamic equivalence; this means that the bigger and denser particles should be at the bottom of the sequence ("the larger grains going to the bottom first") with progressively smaller and less dense ones above. A visit to the Grand Canyon would demonstrate that this is not the pattern. For example, near the base of the sequence is the muddy deposit known as the Bright Angel Shale (Cambrian), and toward the top are the gravel-sized conglomerates that make up part of the Supai Formation Carboniferous).

Sedimentologists have long been interested in deposition from agitated slurries of mixed grain sizes (with themes such as density currents, turbidity currents, debris flows, etc.), and the parameters are relatively well known. Individual layers, up to about a meter thick, can be found with "graded bedding" (coarsest grains toward the base and progressively finer ones above).But note the meter or so maximum thickness for each of these beds. Many graded beds make up the deposits known as turbidites; sequences of turbidites are widespread and well know, and typically occur in particular paleogeographical settings. To expect that the entire Grand Canyon sequence is one giant "turbidite" bed stretches into an area beyond even science fiction. 

The best thing to do is to visit the Grand Canyon and examine the strata with an open mind. See the evidence for past conditions (rivers, dunes, seas, lavas, etc).Observe how these conditions changed slowly over long periods of time in concert with behavior of the continent and the globe. The story is beautiful and satisfying. One does not have to attempt exaggerated conjecture using inapplicable thought-experiments.

Just above the inner gorge of the Grand Canyon are the strata known as the Tonto Group. This group comprises three formations: the Tapeats Sandstone at the base, the Bright Angel Shale in the Middle, and the Muav Limestone at the top. Could it be that these sedimentary rocks formed as the result of one catastrophic sediment flush? Again, no.

One of the beautiful and satisfying stories that make up the history of Grand Canyon sedimentation is the rise of sea level in Cambrian time, progressively covering the North American continent. Evidence shows that the Tapeats Sandstone was deposited in rivers and nearby beaches. As the sea deepened, the muds of the Bright Angel Shale accumulated in the shallow nearshore water, while trilobites crawled and ploughed about and brachiopods lived on the sediment surface. Then, when the sea was slightly deeper and shoreline even farther away, limey sediment was deposited in the region. At this time the life forms were even more diverse, with many brachiopods, trilobites, and other invertebrates.

These environments of deposition are inconsistent with the proposition that one catastrophic flush produced these strata. Here is one easy way to see this, even if you do not have the experience to corroborate the environments of deposition I have indicated above. Brachiopods are filter-feeders that need to be fixed to the sediment surface as they survive through multi-year lives. How could such organisms have existed if the sediment arrived in one enormous flood of sediment? We could go on to many other questions, such as how the burrowing animals could have had time to make the structures found in the rocks, how the organisms could have changed so much through the sequence, and so forth, but you get the picture.

What reinforces this is that this story of a progressive rise in sea level during Cambrian time is not confined just to the region of the Grand Canyon. Sea level rose at this time over the whole North American continent and, in fact, worldwide. Such synchronous past changes in global sea level form the basis of the "sequence stratigraphy" concepts that have proven to be so useful in exploration for oil and gas by the major oil companies.

Guy Berthault's Reply

"Dear Mr Meyers,

I am writing to you on behalf of Guy Berthault, to whom I showed  the IBSS web site remarks regarding his own web site. He was most concerned by some of the inaccuracies they contained. For instance, the IBSS statement:

"Guy Berthault claims to show how the Grand Canyon was formed from Noahs' Flood in one year. He claims he has done experiments to prove this." No such claims are made in his web site.

Edward Cotter's "opinion" refers to a "challenge". Berthault's site seeks discussion between experts, no challenge is made. (The challenge was made by Hugh Miller in an e-mail to Stephen Meyers) Here is my translation of Berthault's reaction to some of Edward Cotter's remarks:

"Consider the two paragraphs connected with the sentence: 'Sequences of stratigraphic layers do not accumulate all at one time'. The example chosen by Cotter is the superposition between tilted strata below and horizontal strata above. In fact, it corresponds exactly with our flume experiment where from below to above there are horizontal laminae, a delta of inclined lamination, horizontal laminae, depositing all at one time laterally and vertically, resulting from a variation of current velocity from 1m/s to 0.5m/s to 1m/s.

Our experiment, therefore, contradicts Cotter's assertion. This doesn't mean that he is not right in a case where he has factual "proof" demonstrating what he says. I would add that an erosion of the delta would have resulted if the final velocity of current had been accelerated. Sedimentation would have started again when the velocity slowed down.

Next he speaks about the Supai, Hermit Shale concluding: "To expect that the entire Grand Canyon sequence is one giant "turbidtite" bed stretches into an area beyond even science fiction." This is pure fabrication on his part. I have never said anything of the kind. I took the single example  of the Tonto Group, for which Steve Austin indicated the paleohydraulic velocities referring to Rubin.

His conclusion was: "One does not have to attempt exaggerated conjecture using inapplicable 'thought'-experiments". My experiments are are not thought-experiments, they are simply experiments."

It is sad that such opinions, including those in your letter, rely upon observations and personal interpretations which have led to so many false conclusions in the past, rather than an examination of the peer reviewed experimental results. The experiments detailed in the web site clearly invalidate the principles of stratigraphy upon which the geological time-scale was constructed. Explanations of the observed phenomena you mention, must be sought in terms of the refuted stratigraphic model. If sedimentologists can produce other experiments producing alternative results to those of Berthault and the Colorado State University, there would be grounds for scientific debate. The results, already obtained, however, can be repeated but not changed. They in themselves, having shown the non-universality of the "so-called" principles of stratigraphy, are a guaranteed invalidation of those principles.

Sincerely  -  Peter Wilders

Edward Cotter's Response to Guy Berthault's Comments

I am quite familiar with the flume experiments at Colorado State University, for in fact I was present during one of them. I have also made cross strata in my own simple flume.  Studies such as these, linking bedforms to flow parameters and grain size, made possible significant advances in interpreting ancient current-produced sedimentary structures in terms of the paleohydraulic conditions. One of those sedimentary structures is cross-stratification, which consists of smaller inclined strata near the angle of repose between horizontal truncation surfaces (bedding planes). With the laboratory and field evidence, one can closely estimate the velocity and depth of the ancient flow system. The height of the sand wave bedforms that produce the cross strata is related to the depth of the water in which they form, so there is a direct relationship between the thicknesses of cross-stratified beds and the depth of the ancient flow system. For water-produced cross-strata, thicknesses seldom exceed one meter; eolian cross strata, on the other hand, can reach several tens of meters.

This brief summary comes from the "peer reviewed experimental results", and I accept them fully. In fact, they make sense of many things about the thousands of ancient cross-stratified sandstone beds I have examined. The question before us is whether these scientific results can appropriately be applied to the strata below and above the angular unconformity in the Grand Canyon. Are those strata simply a large-scale manifestation of cross stratification as Berthault asserts (as translated by Wilders)?

The answer is emphatically NO, not even close! Before I provide a few of the many reasons, I have a suggestion. Go to the Grand Canyon and see for yourself. Look at the strata from the rim, from the trails that lead to the inner gorge, from a boat on the Colorado River. It would help if you prepared yourself with a review of the literature on sedimentary structures and cross stratification, and you might save a little time if you were guided by a geologist to the more telling locations. That is the way to avoid "thought-experiments"; examine the evidence for yourself, not just in some laboratory experiments, but also in the actual situation to which the results of those experiments might be applied. Ask what is to be expected if the Grand Canyon strata below the unconformity were examples of cross strata, and then see if those features are present. You should also, of course, note the features that are inconsistent with their origin as cross strata.

What follows is a brief sampling of those features associated with the angular unconformity in the Grand Canyon that are inconsistent with their origin as cross stratification. Remember that Berthault (as translated by Wilding) says that the tilted strata overlain by horizontal strata were deposited "all at one time, resulting from a variation of current velocity from 1 m/s to 0.50.5 to 1 m/s".

SCALE While cross strata formed in flumes and modern rivers have thickness less than 10 meters, and eolian cross strata have thicknesses up to several tens of meters, the Grand Canyon strata in question are kilometers thick.

LITHOLOGY The materials making up cross strata are particles of sediment, typically sand and gravel, transported by the current. In contrast, the Grand Canyon inclined strata contain thick units of limestone (Bass Limestone) and mudstone (Hakatai Shale) as well as other lithologies. But what make Berthault’s assertion ludicrous is the very thick pile of volcanic rocks (Cardenas Basalt) in the middle of, and parallel to, the inclined strata. Basalt dikes that fed the lava flows crosscut those strata in the inclined sequence that are below the Cardenas Basalt.

FOSSILS AND AGES Even though the inclined strata below the unconformity are Precambrian in age, they contain some fossils that demonstrate that they are hundreds of millions of years older that the horizontal strata above the unconformity. Other methods of age-dating confirm this significant age difference.

ARCHITECTURE AND ARRANGEMENT Not all the inclined strata are contiguous, and some are separated from the rest in blocks bounded by normal faults. These faults do not penetrate the strata above the unconformity. About three hundred years ago N. Steno introduced the principles that explain this. The strata below the unconformity are older than the faulting because the faulting cuts them. The strata above the unconformity are younger than the faulting because these strata rest on the eroded edges of the faults. This is one more bit of scientific evidence that demonstrates that the Grand Canyon strata could not have formed "all at one time" as Berthault contends. Berthault also states that the Grand Canyon situation of tilted strata below and horizontal strata above "corresponds exactly with our flume experiment where from below to above there are horizontal laminae, a delta of inclined lamination, horizontal laminae, deposited all at one time…" What he appears to have overlooked, however, is that in the Grand Canyon there are no strata below the inclined strata. They rest on even older igneous and metamorphic rocks. N. Steno had more understanding of these features three hundred years ago.

Why not go to the Grand Canyon to see these features for yourselves? You will find more evidence than this to show that Berthault’s proposition cannot be sustained.

Edward Cotter

Expert Jonathon Woolf

The example given by Berthault on his "A new approach" page is cribbed from Austin's "Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe." It runs hard aground (and breaks up shortly thereafter) on the plain and simple fact that the sedimentology of the Tonto Group is nowhere near as simple as the diagram and explanation indicate. In a nutshell, while the Tapeats Formation is "called" 'the Tapeats Sandstone,' the Bright Angel Formation is "called" 'the Bright Angel Shale,' and the Muav Formation is "called" 'the Muav Limestone,' in fact all three formations include layers of limestone, shale, mudstone, sandstone, and even conglomerates here and there. In some places you find the sediments grading from coarse to fine as you ascend; in others, the sequence is reversed. Oh, and there's also the problem posed by brachiopod fossils in all three formations: brachiopods are bottom-anchored creatures that take time to grow, and I'd love to know how they could do that when they're being steadily buried under several feet of sediment per day.  

I talk about all this in my Grand Canyon essay; see Young-Earth Creationism and the Geology of the Grand Canyon, about two-thirds of the way down.

For more detail, see GRAND CANYON GEOLOGY, chapter 6.