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Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology, Part 4

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September 17, 2012 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time
Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology, Part 4

Today's entry was written by Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This is the fourth and final post in a four part series taken from Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth's scholarly essay "Christian Geologists on Noah’s Flood: Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology".

In Part 3 , we considered three examples which suggest that the earth’s geological features cannot be explained by a global Flood. In our final post in this series, we examine a fourth line of evidence—tree rings and lake sediment layers (varves)—and make concluding remarks.

Tree Rings and Varves

Most people know what a tree ring is. Summer growth produces a wide lighter-colored ring, followed by a narrow, darker-colored ring in winter. The two rings together represent one year.

Varves are sediment layers formed in lakes in certain environments. In northern latitudes where lakes freeze over, fine-grained material will settle out in winter, followed by coarser-grained material in spring as ice thaws and increased stream flow carries larger particles into the lake. Each winter-spring cycle produces a fine-coarse couplet called a varve (Fig. 1).

In other places, varves may form from diatom blooms. At all times of the year, fine particulate matter settles out to the bottom, but during the spring, single-celled organisms with a solid shell rapidly reproduce near the surface of the lake. As they die, the shells rain out onto the lake floor and form a light-colored coating. Each winter-spring cycle produces a dark-light colored sediment couplet, or varve. In both examples, each varve represents one year.

Varves form in many lakes around the world. In one lake in Japan, Lake Suigetsu, a sediment core was collected in 1991 nearly 250 feet in length.1 The core contained an uninterrupted sequence of varves, with a total count in excess of 100,000. To the researchers, it was logical to think that 100,000 varves likely represented 100,000 years, but perhaps they were making unwarranted assumptions. What if in the distant past, multiple varves were deposited per year? More specifically, what if a massive flood with thousands of surges back and forth across the land laid down thousands of varves in a single year? Fortunately, we do not have to depend on assumptions, but can actually make measurements to determine if this happened. To do so, we will revisit tree rings for a moment.

We will employ tree rings and carbon-14, but not in the way readers may be accustomed to seeing. We will not use carbon-14 to determine an age at all. We will simply measure how much carbon-14 is currently found in each tree ring. Carbon-14 decays with time, so if each tree ring represents one year of growth, we should see a steady decline in the carbon-14 content of each successive ring. Figure 5 shows tree-ring carbon-14 data from living trees extending back 4000 rings.2 The nearly straight line formed by the data means that it might be possible for a year here or there to have a missing or double ring, but overall, each ring represents one year at least back 4000 years. A straight line (as opposed to curving upward or downward) is also confirmation that radioactive decay rates have remained constant over this time period.

If additional confidence in this data is desired, it may be helpful to note that the amount of carbon-14 found in a timber from a tunnel in Jerusalem thought to have been built by Hezekiah is approximately the same as the amount found in tree ring number 2700, which places its ring-counting age where expected from Biblical records if each ring equals one year. Even better, consider the Dead Sea Scrolls – the book of Isaiah in particular. Isaiah 53 describes Christ in such detail that Bible critics have long argued that it must have been written after the time of Christ. The amount of carbon-14 in the Isaiah scrolls is equal to or less than the amount in tree ring number 2100, meaning carbon-14 confirms its before-Christ historicity.3

Carbon-14 has also been measured in varves. The carbon-14 record for varves in Steel Lake, Minnesota is shown as circles in Figure 2. Note that they fall on top of the tree ring data, which means 4000 varves, at least in this lake, must also equal 4000 years.

Now we are ready to consider that at some time prior to 4000 years ago, a giant flood resulted in myriad varves laid down in a single year. There are a few possible results. The most logical would be that all these varves would have the same carbon-14 content because they were all laid down in the same year. This would yield the projected data shown in Figure 3a.

Alternately, perhaps the Flood caused the normal production of carbon-14 to be drastically altered. Figure 3 (b, c and d) show what the data would look like for different possible scenarios such as much higher than normal, lower than normal, or wildly fluctuating carbon-14 production at the time of the Flood, or an initially fast carbon-14 decay rate that slowed over time.

Figure 4 shows varve data from Steel Lake and Lake Suigetsu extended to the limit of carbon-14 detection. Serious consideration of this data should be sobering for the committed Young-Earther.

The high degree of linearity (straightness) of this data has two possible interpretations.

Option 1: 50,000 varves represent roughly 50,000 years, and the fact that the Suigetsu varves continue to about 100,000 means the earth’s history also must extend to at least 100,000 years.

Option 2: God started with a fast rate of carbon 14 decay and dozens of diatom blooms and die-offs each year, but then intentionally and precisely slowed down each independent and unrelated process in such a way as to make it falsely look as if the data confirms the accuracy of carbon-14 and varve counting as legitimate methods of determining age.

Option 2 should be unacceptable to all Christians, for it means God manipulated his creation so that a study of it would convincingly tell a story that was not in fact true.


We argue with great conviction that Option 2 above does not reflect the God of King David who proclaimed that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19), nor of the Apostle Paul who stated that God’s eternal character and divine nature are manifest in what he has created (Romans 1:20). If the creation speaks of a specific history, it is our belief that God’s creation speaks truthfully and the history is real.

Where does this leave us? Many in the world marvel at the handiwork of God while denying the Creator. In response, the Church demands that to acknowledge the Creator, we must deny His workmanship. Can there be a more ineffectual witness? If after seeing the results of God’s creation in Figure 4 we insist that the obvious meaning is not in fact true, we will drive people away from faith in Christ on a misplaced assumption that belief in Christ represents the abandonment of reason. Christ Himself is a sufficient stumbling block – we need not create any other!

For our part in serving our Lord Jesus and furthering understanding of his creation, we are offering a half- or one-day creation workshop to seminaries and related institutions. This workshop provides an overview of current geologic understanding, and a Bible-honoring approach to evaluating Scripture and science anytime the two appear to conflict. To schedule a workshop, please contact Gregg Davidson at davidson@olemiss.edu or Ken Wolgemuth at wolgemuth2@aol.com.


1. H. Kitagawa and J. van der Plicht, Atmospheric radiocarbon calibration beyond 11,900 CAL BP from Lake Suigetsu laminated sediments. Radiocarbon, 2000, 42:370-381.
2. P.J. Reimer and 28 others, IntCal04 terrestrial radiocarbon age calibration, 0-26 cal kyr BP. Radiocarbon, 2004, 46:1029-1058.; J. Tian, T.A. Brown, and F.S. Hu, Comparison of varve and 14C chronologies from Steel Lake, Minnesota, USA. The Holocene, 2005, 15:510-517.
3. A. Frumkin, A. Shimron and J. Rosenbaum, Radiometric dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem, Nature, 2003, 425:169-171. ; G. Bonani, M. Broshi, I. Carmi, S. Ivy, J. Strugnell and W. Wölfli, Radiocarbon dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Atiqot, 1991, 20:27-32.; A.J.T. Jull, D.J. Donahue, M. Broshi and E. Tov, Radiocarbon dating of scrolls and linen fragments from the Judean Desert, Radiocarbon, 1995, 37:11-19.

Figure 1 is courtesy of Tufts University. For more information, please visit http://geology.tufts.edu/varves/.

Dr. Gregg Davidson is chair of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi and conducts original research in geochemistry and hydrogeology, often employing radiometric dating methods to determine the age of groundwater and sediments. In 2009 he published a book about his keen interest in integrating a lifetime of studying geology with his firm conviction about the infallibility of God’s Word, When Faith & Science Collide – A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth.
Dr. Ken Wolgemuth is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tulsa and a Petroleum Consultant teaching short courses on petroleum geology and “Geology for the Non-Geologist.” Over the last 10 years, he has developed a keen interest in sharing the geology of God’s Creation with Christians in churches and seminaries.

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Francis - #72870

September 17th 2012

Gregg and Ken,

“Carbon-14 decays with time, so if each tree ring represents one year of growth, we should see a steady decline in the carbon-14 content of each successive ring.”

I thought that the C-14 decays only after the organism dies. Is this not true? Would my bones currently give different C-14 readings?


Regarding the competing opinions about varves:

“In fairness to both parties, it would be wise to simply judge the debate a draw on the basis of glacial varve evidence presented on both sides.”  Arthur N. Strahler, Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999), page 231.

On page 233, Strahler admits to problems with the uniformitarian deposition assumption, given the improbability that varves could continue to form uninterrupted and be preserved for millions of years (e.g. the Green River formation in Wyoming has about 6 million varves).

Francis - #72872

September 17th 2012


This is a bit off topic, but since you teach petroleum geology, I was wondering what you thought of the academic research pointing to the rapid formation of coal and oil.

Please try to ignore the title of the website, and just consider (and hopefully comment on) the five studies cited.


Merv - #72907

September 18th 2012

Francis, we’ll probably be lucky to hear from the essay author(s) on this one.  But I hope somebody here more knowledgeable of geology can make comment.  Because I too was intrigued by the rapid formation of coal discussed on the sight.  I don’t think it tips any overall balance of evidence (imo) for ancient earth—-but all that polemic aside; I’m just curious about that actual aspects of it that may be true.  Rapid coal & oil formation would be a fairly major feat and/or discovery.  (Which makes me wonder what the catch is ... since I’m pretty sure even powerful “anti-creationism” agendas could not conspire to keep good news on the energy front from being generally celebrated.)  I’d like to see the science rigorously addressed.  And regarding the oil field that is now (allegedly) showing evidence of recently created oil—I’d love to hear more about that too.


Merv - #72910

September 18th 2012

Francis, you could find out a lot more about the alleged “abio” oil discussed in your linked article if you check out the “oil drum” article about that here:  http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8557

(another site with an agenda—peak oil—but we’re trying to ignore agendas here, right?)

Anyway, they debunk the Wall Street article quotation:

The WSJ was wrong by stating that “the reserves have rocketed to more than 400 Mb from 60 Mb”. Initial reserves estimates by the MMS were 120 Mb in 1975, 460 Mb in 1986, 350 Mb in 1989 and 410 Mb in 1996; it is difficult to see a rocket - it is behaving more like a drunk fly.  [end of quote]  

More graphs and supporting data can be found at the article linked above.  And that sight attracts a lot of oil industry insiders that take a pretty pragmatic view of the data.  It’s difficult to cut into all their jargon, but a little effort pays off with insights into the oil industry at that sight.


Merv - #72911

September 18th 2012

I guess the main point of my quote above (which I failed to get around to) was that despite the sometimes erratic nature of data in the field, overall oil production is still in decline when you see the long view over decades; even at Eugene field.  This is one of those situations where I would love to be wrong, and hope that I am.  But even if we did discover these huge apparent energy windfalls, our flirting with shortages and erratically sensitive markets should still be taken by any prudent public as warning shots across the bow, and any temporary reprieve as just one more extended opprotunity of grace not to be taken for granted.  But we won’t take it that way ....   we’ll go kicking and screaming like we always do.  I’m a bit of a realist on that one.


Merv - #72908

September 18th 2012

To any authors/posters of this topic who may happen to be checking in here ...

Thanks for the clear explication of some of this evidence.  Very compelling indeed.  And even for somebody who has been immersed in this for years and heard much of this before, I am still learning more each time I read of varves and tree rings.  Thank you.


Francis - #72912

September 18th 2012


I hope you’re wrong on whether the authors will respond to my points.

On the subject of oil and other so-called “fossil fuels”, again, I don’t want to go too far off the main topic. However, I’ll offer this follow-up to the April 1999 Wall Street Journal piece. This is from April 2012:

Ron Bailey writing at Reason.com, April 18, 2012:

Forty years ago, The Limits to Growth, a report to the Club of Rome, was released with great fanfare at a conference at the Smithsonian Institution. The study was based on a computer model developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and designed “to investigate five major trends of global concern—accelerating industrial development, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment.” . . . In 1972, the Limits researchers estimated known global oil reserves at 455 billion barrels. Since then the world has produced very nearly 1 trillion barrels of oil and current known reserves hover around 1.2 trillion barrels, a 40-year supply at current consumption rates. With regard to natural gas supplies, the International Energy Agency last year issued a report asserting, “Conventional recoverable resources are equivalent to more than 120 years of current global consumption, while total recoverable resources could sustain today’s production for over 250 years.”

A version of this article appeared April 19, 2012, on page A13 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline


Francis - #72932

September 19th 2012

Of my first two posts above, the “off topic” note about petroleum geology is the only one that struck oil. (I don’t mean you’re oily, Merv.)

So, I’ll stick with the oil.

And it turns out, oil is “off topic” only a bit. I just now Googled “oil+million years+evolution”. Here’s the first hit I got: http://www.ridgenet.net/~do_while/sage/v5i1f.htm

Interesting, no?

Francis - #72940

September 19th 2012

Joriss - #73260

October 1st 2012


Again I overlooked your answer at Shortcomings Flood Geology Part 2, because that thread is not recent, so I prefer answering you here on part 4

“The honesty and faith of the BioLogos staff and contributors is evident to me”.

I don’t doubt. As long as I have been wandering down the streets of Biologos’ City now, I have seen no reason to doubt the integrity or reliability of it’s citizens. Nevertheless integer and reliable persons can err.
So when I am supicious about the attitude of Biologis’ TE’s towards Scriptures, no integrity or honesty is involved, I just think that, in the balance between science and biblical faith, too much weight is laid in the scale of science, so that biblical truth will be undermined; not immediately, but on the longer run and that eventually the message of the gospel will be disrupted, which is not, I’m fully convinced, the goal of anybody here in Biologos.
There is, in my opinion, no need to look at the link to the book of Jashar as an internal evidence that the Jews did not consider this as real history, so if you want to use this as an example of the non-literalistic view of the Jews, you got a wrong one, as far as I can see.
But do you mind answering my question if you believe if Jesus really miraculously multiplied food,  enough for 5000 people? And the shadow going back on the steps of the stairs as a sign of Hizkia’s healing?
I ask this, because I want to know, how many of the miracles you and other TE’s do believe and where or when, going  from the time of Jesus and the apostles backwards to Genesis, the miracles are less credible.
I understand that the developments in science of this time are a challenge to our integrity not to whitewash or ignore undeniable scientific facts. On the other hand we must not indulge in changing biblical facts in stories to “convey theological truths”. Many historical events are being considered in this way by many scientists and theologians; also the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the ten plagues, going through the Red Sea, etc, etc, I think are “under fire”.
Integrity in science and integrity in faith are both very important. But although making scientific errors is bad, making errors in one’s biblical spiritual faith is worse.

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