The continental drift theory is one of the primary methods used to promote an old earth. This theory goes something like this : Since it appears that the East coasts of North and South America would fit together with the coasts of Africa and Europe, perhaps they once did. And if they were at one time joined together, then certainly (so it is believed) it must have taken millions of years for them to be divided. This method assumes that the continents have been drifting apart at the rate of about five feet per century or 0.6 inches per year. If this assumption were correct then it would have taken about 200 million years for the continents to arrive at their current places.
Although the continental drift theory cannot be proven in an absolute sense, there is compelling evidence that the continents have split apart. This is supported primarily by three facts; these are:
- The puzzle-like fit between the African and South American coastlines.
- The location of the Mid-Atlantic ridge.
- The discovery that similar rock formations and mineral deposits match up along these two coastlines.
Since we have never witnessed rapid movements of huge landmasses over the surface of the earth, most scientists think it must have taken millions of years for the continents to separate. They base this on two things: 1) present day earthquakes, and 2) radiometric dating of ocean bottom (igneous) rocks.
Since present day earthquakes only move adjoining faults from one to five inches per year (on average), it is assumed that this must have been the case throughout the earth’s past. This assumption would be reasonable except for two things:
- There is little, if any, proof that earthquake faults are the same as ocean-bottom spreading, and
- There is very little, if any, scientific evidence that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is still spreading. 1.
For these reasons it is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate how long it took for the continents to separate. In other words, this “clock” is invalid.
In reality, the 200 million-year “age” of the Atlantic ocean is not based upon any measurable movement at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but rather upon radiometric dating of ocean bottom rocks.2 This figure is then divided into the distance between the continents to arrive at the 5 ft/century figure.
For more proof on why the earth is young and not millions of years old, click here.
Radiometric Dating of Ocean Bottom Sediments
When one gets beyond the dogmatic parroting of the popular publications, it becomes increasingly clear that virtually all radiometric dating methods are highly questionable and subjective. However, the dating of ocean bottom sediments (by radiometric methods) is even more questionable. Perhaps the simplest way to point this out is by looking at Table 1 in the chapter on radiometric dating.3 Take note of the three different dates listed for the same eruption at Mt. Kilauea on the island of Hawaii. Because this volcano produced lava flows that went into the ocean, it provided an excellent opportunity to take samples from the same flow at various depths beneath the ocean’s surface. This allowed scientists to see whether or not there was any relationship between the radiometric “age” of the sample Vs the depth at which the sample was collected. By doing this it was discovered that there is a relationship between the radiometric “age” (as opposed to true age) and the ocean depth at which the sample was collected. This means that the 200 million-year date for the oldest ocean bottom rocks is virtually meaningless. 4
If we assume that the continents did at one time form a solid landmass, and if they have separated from the Mid-Atlantic ridge, then how long did it take for this to occur? The answer to this question cannot be “proven” in a scientific sense because we cannot go back in time to observe the splitting up of the continents. And since it has not been proven that the continents are still being separated at the Mid-Atlantic ridge it is impossible “how” to how long it took.
How Long did it Take?
However, since many creationists claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, the question that needs to be addressed is whether or not there is any evidence which suggests that this event took place very rapidly within the past 10,000 years. For those who accept the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, the answer to this question is given since the Bible tells us plainly that the earth was divided within one man’s lifetime.
“And two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided…”Genesis 10:25 NASB
For those who do not believe the Bible the answer becomes more difficult to “prove.” However, there is evidence that the continents moved quite rapidly within a few hundred years after massive amounts of sediments were laid down. Lets look at some of this evidence.
1. Distorted Layers
Massive layers of sedimentary rock in many parts of the world have been severely distorted (or bent out of shape), yet they display very little, if any, cracking or breaking.5 In other words these rocks appear to have been bent before they had time to harden. Even the crystalline structure displays little, if any, stretching of the individual sand grains–thus strongly implying that they were bent while the sediments were still wet, and before they had time to harden. And since this hardening would only take from one hundred to perhaps a thousand years, this implies very strongly that something caused these massive sedimentary rock layers to become bent within a relatively short time after being laid down. This also implies that the layers themselves were deposited rather rapidly (virtually all at once) and that some massive event–such as the moving of the continents–caused them to be bent and uplifted.
2. Polystrate Fossils
In many parts of the world tree stumps have been found imbedded in vertical position running through multiple layers of strata. In Nova Scotia, for instance, at a place called Joggins,6 tree stumps are imbedded vertically and randomly throughout approximately 2,500 feet of layered sedimentary strata. In some cases they are more than 50 feet long.7, 8 This strongly implies that the trees were buried catastrophically (i.e. rapidly) before they had time to decay.
3. Clastic Dikes
According to Roth, “a clastic dike is a cross cutting body of sedimentary material which has been intruded into a foreign rock mass.” 9
“These dikes… (may) penetrate horizontal sedimentary strata (or) they may occur… in igneous and metamorphic rocks. The process of formation of a clastic dike is analogous to wet sand oozing up between ones toes, but on a much larger scale.”9
Clastic dikes present a problem to the “millions of years” mindset of evolutionary thinking in that “millions of years” older sediments are found intruding up into overlying younger ones while still in a plastic state. This presents a profound and puzzling question:
What took these older sediments so long to become hard?
One would think that 80–400million years would be more than enough time to turn massive sand-laden sediments into sandstone,9,10,11 yet these were still in a wet and plastic state when an earth movement caused them to be forced up into “younger” sediments. Such things place serious strain on the evolutionary method of “dating” sedimentary rock. They provide a strong indication that massive amounts of sediments were laid down rapidly, and suggest that the Earth isn’t very old at all.
4. Unpetrified Tree Trunks
On Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere Islands (within the Arctic circle) numerous large tree stumps and fallen tree trunks have been found at or just below the surface of the ground. 12, 13, 14, 15 What is so strange about this is that today the only type of vegetation that grows in this area are small plants, shrubs and flowers. 13
How did these trees get there? And more importantly, when did they get there?
Evolutionists claim that these trees are leftover remnants of numerous forests which inhabited this area about 45 million years ago. 13 The scientific data seems to suggest otherwise. For instance, these trees are not petrified. 12, 13, 14, 15 The wood can be sawed and burned. In addition, pine cones, pine needles, and leaves are also preserved in the sandy silt. 13, 14. Another clue to this puzzle is that the roots of these trees are not preserved. 12, 13, 14. This strongly suggests that they were missing when the trees were deposited, and that the trees were uprooted by a catastrophic event similar to what happened to the trees around Mt. St. Helens during its 1980 eruption.
And although the trees on these two islands are frozen for most of the year, each summer the snow melts and for several months the temperature reaches into the 70 degree F. range. I mention this because warm temperatures allow decomposition to take place much more rapidly. Taken together, the evidence suggests that these trees were uprooted via a major catastrophe and transported by water (as in a flood) and buried at different depths–(most likely) within the past 5-10,000 years–otherwise they would have decayed long ago.
Magnetic Evidence on the Ocean Floor
Another piece of evidence to the continental drift puzzle is the existence of magnetic imprints in ocean bottom rocks on both sides of the Mid-Atlantic ridges. These suggest that the earth’s magnetic field may have oscillated back and forth many times when the continents were spreading apart. This evidence was collected by towing magnetometers along the ocean bottom and by drilling holes into the rocks at regular intervals away from the ocean ridges. The data shows that the reversals were randomly distributed both horizontally along and vertically down these rock holes. This finding was unexpected and implies that whatever mechanism caused the continents to split was much more complex than old earth models had predicted. 16
There is no strong evidence that the continents have been moving apart for millions of years. It is almost certain that whatever caused the continents to separate along the mid-oceanic ridges is not occurring today. And although minor plate movements still take place (which result in earthquakes), the evidence seems to indicate that these have only been taking place within the past several thousand years. This can be seen from looking at rock formations along the San Andreas fault. For example, just north of Point Reyes, California, this fault runs directly through two peninsulas (Sand Point and Toms Point); however, neither of these peninsulas appear offset at all. 17 Furthermore, since these plates presently move at the rate of about one to two inches per year, if we assume that this has been going on for (only) the past 10,000 years, then these two peninsulas should be offset by at least 1/4 mile. But since we cannot detect even the slightest offset on the map, this is a strong indication that the San Andreas fault is quite young (probably less than 5,000 years old). The diagram below illustrates this point.
- Dietz, Robert S., “In Defense of Drift,” The Sciences, vol. 23, Nov.-Dec. 1983, p. 26. Note: This reference was obtained and is quoted from “That Their Words May Be Used Against Them,” Morris, Henry M., 1997, Master Books, P.O. Box 727, Green Forest, AZ 72638, p.306.
- Alt, David and Hyndman, Donald; Roadside Geology of Northern California, p. 3.
- Berg, Randy, S., 1999, Radiometric Dating, available on this website.
- Morris, John D., Ph.D., The Young Earth, pp.55-56; and Nobel, C.S., and Naughton, J.J., “Science,” vol. 162, 10/11/68, pp.265-266.
- Morris, John D., Ph.D., The Young Earth, , pp. 93-117; Geology of the Point Reyes Peninsula, Marin County, CA, Bulletin 202, published by the California Division of Mines and Geology, Sacramento, CA 1977, by Allan J. Galloway, pp. 22-23;
- Creation Science Dialogue, Vol. 19, No. 3, Oct. 1992, pp. 4-5, Available from the Creation Science Association of Alberta, #194, 3803 Calgary Trail S., Suite 1136, Edmonton, Alberta T6J; See the Polystrate Fossil Section of the Flood Evidences page for more information on this subject.
- Liverpool and Manchester Geological Journal, Vol. 2, 1956 ?, article by F. M. Broadhurst and D. Magraw, pp. 155-158;
- “It’s A Young World After All,” Paul D. Ackerman, pp. 81-85; Chemical & Engineering News, Oct. 11, 1976, p.40.
- Roth, A., 1977, “Clastic dikes,” Origins, vol. 4, pp. 53-55. Quoted from “Catastrophes in Earth History,” Austin, Steven A. Ph.D. (Geology), Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA 92021, 1984, pp. 123-124
- Morris, John D., Ph.D. (geology), The Young Earth, 1994, Creation Life Publishers, Inc., pp. 109-112.
- Kelsey, Martin, and Harold Denton, “Sandstone Dikes Near Rockwall, Texas,” University of Texas Bulletin, No. 3201, 1932, pp. 138-148. Note: This reference was obtained from Dr. John Morris’ book “The Young Earth, ref. # 7 above, p. 111.
- Lemonick, Michael D., “Unearthing a Frozen Forest,” Time, Sept. 22, 1986, p. 64;
- Basinger, James F., “Our Tropical Arctic,” Canadian Geographic, Vol. 106, No. 6, 1986-? pp. 28-37;
- Oard, Michael J., “Mid and High Latitude Flora Deposited in the Genesis Flood Part II: A Creationist Hypothesis” Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 32, #3, Dec. 1995, pp. 138-141.
- Mech, David L., “Ellesmere Island: Life in the High Arctic,” National Geographic, June 1988, p. 756-757.
- “The Young Earth” by. John Morris, Ph.D. pp. 73-83; “Plate Tectonics: Have The Plates Really Moved Apart?” by Dr. Andrew Snelling, Creation Ex Nihilo Tech. Jour., Vol. 9 (#1), 1995, pp. 12-20; “The new global tectonics: major inconsistencies,” by Meyerhoff, A.A. and Meyerhoff, H. A., American Assoc. of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, #56, pp. 269-359; “When Earth’s Magnetic Field Went Wild,” Earth, Aug, 1995, p. 11; “Evidence suggesting an extremely rapid field variation during a geomagnetic reversal,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 92, 1989, pp. 292-29
- Geology of the Point Reyes Peninsula, Marin County, CA, Bulletin 202, published by the California Division of Mines and Geology, Sacramento, CA 1977, by Allan J. Galloway, pp. 22-23; map is included with Bulletin.