The Grand Canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world. It is located within the state of Arizona in the United States. The canyon is 277 miles long and its average depth is about 1 mile. This amazing sight is a very popular spot for geologic studies due to the many rock layers exposed along the canyon walls.
How was this magnificent wonder formed? The Grand Canyon has been studied heavily and that study continues as scientists seek answers. The most common explanation is that the snaking Colorado River slowly eroded into the uplifted plateau over millions of years leaving the steep cliffs and exposed rock faces we see today. Scientists then date the rocks with radiometric dating to label each layer with a date along the geologic timescale. Scientists have currently dated the formation of the Grand Canyon in different stages. Many state that parts of the western portion of the canyon was formed 70 million years ago, while the “westernmost and easternmost segments of the canyon were largely carved in the past five million or six million years.” This date is decided based on radiometric dating ages and the uniformitarianism method of using the measured erosion rate and extrapolating it backwards in time.
This belief is generally accepted. However, there is a large debate even amongst Old Earth scientists. In his article “Controversy Over the Uniformitarian Age of Grand Canyon,”Michael J. Oard explains that many geologists do not agree with the formation of the Grand Canyon nor the age. Some geologists claim the Grand Canyon is 6 Ma (million years), others claim 17-55 Ma (quite a large difference between 17 and 55), and still yet others claim ages towards 70 Ma. This large variation is largely due to different dating methods geologists use.
If there is such a large discordance among the proposed dates, are the dating methods being used accurate? Let’s take a look at some of the dating methods. As I have previously stated, geologists use a technique called radiometric dating.
Certain isotopes (different forms of an element) within rocks, such as potassium-40, are unstable and go through a process called radioactive decay where the starting element (or parent element) emits particles and changes into another element (or daughter element). Scientists use the ratio of daughter to parent elements along with amount of time it takes for that element to decay and decrease by half (also called a Half-life) to determine the age of the rock. The rate of decay varies from isotope to isotope. Scientists have claimed that this technique is very accurate as the rate of decay for isotopes is not affected by temperature, pressure, or other outside processes.
In order to date a rock, scientists must make three assumptions:
- The amount of the starting or parent isotope was 100%. There was no concentration of product or daughter element when the rock was formed.
- The rock has remained a closed system. This means that no additional parent or daughter element has contaminated the rock since its formation.
- The rate of decay has remained the same.
Beginning in 1997, a team of scientists under the team name of RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) led an eight year-long study dedicated to learning more about radioisotopes and the accuracy of radiometric dating. They performed experiments with carbon-dating, radiometric dating, studies on radiohalos, etc. One of their experiments’ purpose was to test the accuracy of radiometric dating on rocks that had known ages. That meaning that the formation of these rocks was witnessed. One set of examples were the eruptions of Mt. Ngauruhoe in 1949, 1954, and 1975. These eruptions were recorded and the samples obviously have a known formation date. It is expected that less than a century of radioactive decay should be recorded within these rocks. However, the RATE team found their results to be radically different. Dr. Don DeYoung, a member of the RATE team, records the results of tests within his book Thousands…Not Billions:
(K-Ar) Potassium-Argon Dating: <.27 Ma (Million Years) to 3.5 Ma.
(Rb-Sr) Rubidium-Strontium Dating: 133 Ma (+/- 87 Ma)
(Sm-Nd) Samarium-Neodymium dating: 197 Ma (+/- 160 Ma)
(Pb-Pb) Lead-Lead Dating: 3,908 Ma (+/- 390 Ma)
These results are obviously extremely different from the known ages of these rocks. Not only do these dating methods extremely differ from the known age, each method differs from each other. A rock can only have one true age. So which age is true? One might also ask, how many other ages of rocks have been incorrect? Bringing it back to the question of the age of the Grand Canyon, one can see why scientists are in disagreement.
The RATE team also studied helium diffusion in zircons. (Zircons are very small crystals
within granitic rocks). Many of these crystals have been dated to be billions of years old. Zircon crystals contain the radioactive isotope uranium-238. This isotope decays through 8 steps in which each step releases an alpha particle (one proton and one neutron) which will form into a helium atom. Helium is known to be a very elusive molecule. We can see this when we buy balloons. Within a day or two, the balloon floats closer to the floor and has begun to sag. This is because helium is able to diffuse very quickly. With this in mind, a zircon that is supposedly billions of years old should no longer have any helium within it (or at least a very small amount). However, the results that the RATE team discovered were, once again, very different from the expected results. DeYoung records that the zircons were “found to hold 58 percent of the total helium generated by past nuclear decay.” The team then tested the diffusion rates of the zircons under various temperatures. With the measured diffusion rates of helium and supposed age of billions of years, the helium should have all diffused out of the zircons. This brings their age into question. However, the measured helium diffusion rate and remaining amounts actually matches up with the Biblical age of the Earth of about 6000 years.
Another problem with the current models is the ever-increasing evidence that the Grand Canyon , according to radiometric dating, is 6 Ma or younger. Current erosion rates could not have carved what we see at the Grand Canyon if this age is correct.
So, if the Grand Canyon wasn’t formed by gradual uplift and the Colorado River slowly eroding over millions of years, how was it formed? Peter Scheele, a published writer within the Journal of Creation, discusses another possible model for the canyon’s formation within his article “A Receding Flood Scenario for the Origin of the Grand Canyon.” Scheele describes how the receding waters of the great flood may have carved the Grand Canyon.
According to Genesis 7, God sent a worldwide flood to cover the Earth. “The waters rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” (Genesis 7:19). Scheele’s explanation begins as the rains and waters stop rising and begin to recede from the land. As the waters continue to run off of the continents and run into the ocean basins, the Colorado Plateau is uplifted. The waters flow over the many ridges and other “submerged landforms.” Scheele explains that as the water level dropped and began to be trapped behind the ridges, an “inner sea” was formed. This sea would continue to flow over and around the landforms, however, the dropping water levels would cause the erosion of a gully though the ridges.
Scheele explains this process:
“The water flowing over the top will, at a certain point, increase in speed, since there is less and less room for the water to find a way. Therefore some part of the top of the landform will start to erode faster than other parts or the sides. In this way a channel or gully will form right through the higher parts of the elevation.”
After such a gully is formed, the rushing water will continue to erode it widening and enlarging the gully until it begins to split off into many branches. Scheele also states that the wide banks of the canyon and grand staircase do not fit the size of the Colorado River. The more narrow section, however, fits, giving us a good way to show when the current Colorado River began to erode the canyon.
There is also the problem of the meandering of the Colorado river through hard rock. Today, we see meandering rivers erode soft sediment, many times in flood plains.
“One prerequisite for a river to meander is that the sediments it flows across are soft, not hard. Meandering is caused by a combination of erosion and deposition of sediments.”
The flood can explain this very well. The sediments that were being eroded by the river and receding waters were still soft. As the flood swept over the earth, massive amounts of sediments would have been eroded and deposited. This would allow for the river to meander through the still wet, soft sediment that had been laid down. The sediments were then later compacted and solidified into rock.
The rapid deposition of sediments from a worldwide flood also explains the presence of flat gaps and little to no erosion surfaces between layers of rock within the Grand Canyon. If the rock layers were truly millions of years old and deposited very slowly, one would expect to find irregular surface features between the layers. This especially for the shale layers which are more susceptible to erosion than some other layers. If the layers were in fact deposited very quickly in a global flood, there would not have been irregular erosional surfaces or at least very little. Many of these different layers also span vast distances across the continent. This gives more evidence to a global flood that deposited massive amounts of sediment in sheet-like expanses.
Going along with the erosion surfaces, the flat plateaus we see today at and near the Grand Canyon (and many other places around the world) are not being formed today. These landforms are very expansive and cannot be explained by the current hypothesis. Weathering of rocks and erosion do not create flat surfaces. Instead, they create gouges in rock and irregular surfaces. Once again, a one-time global flood easily explains these landforms. The retreating waters would have planed flat many surfaces as it receded into the ocean basins. Planation surfaces would have been destroyed by erosion if they were truly millions of years old as they are claimed to be as wind, rain, and other mechanical and chemical processes acted on them.
After discussing dating methods and the landforms and structures of the Grand Canyon the question remains: Was the Grand Canyon formed over millions of years by slow erosion? Or could it have been formed by the global flood described within the Bible? Lack of evidence and many holes remain in the current models. However, the growing evidence for a global flood seems to be shedding some light on the possible answer for the formation of the magnificent landform.
(Note: Later posts will discuss the Theory for a global Flood and the evidence for it in greater detail).
- “Scheele, P. (n.d.). A Receding Flood Scenario for the Origin of the Grand Canyon. Retrieved August 25, 2016, from http://creation.com/grand-canyon-origin-flood
Walker, T. (2016, June 16). The Awesome Wonder of Wilpena Pound, Australia. Retrieved August 28, 2016, from http://creation.com/wilpena-pound-australia
- Roth, A. A. (n.d.). ‘Flat gaps’ in Sedimentary Rock Layers Challenge Long Geologic Ages. Retrieved August 25, 2016, from http://creation.com/flat-gaps
- Oard, M. J. (n.d.). Controversy Over the Uniformitarian Age of Grand Canyon. Retrieved August 27, 2016, from http://creation.com/grand-canyon-uniformitarian-age-controversy
- DeYoung, D. B. (2005). Thousands, not billions: Challenging an icon of evolution: Questioning the age of the Earth. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
- United States. National Park Service. (n.d.). Geologic Formations. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/nature/geologicformations.htm
- Perkins, S. (2014, January 26). Unlocking Secrets of the Grand Canyon’s Age. Retrieved August 26, 2016, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/01/140126-grand-canyon-american-southwest-erosion-geology-geophysics/
- The Holy Bible