Figure 1. Geology of England, Scotland and Wales.
A rocky peninsula near Cockburnspath, 60 km (40 miles) east of Edinburgh, Scotland, has become something of a ‘Mecca’ for modern geologists. According to one geology professor, the first thing you notice about Siccar Point is that it is covered with geology students.1 This is understandable because the site features regularly in geological literature as an icon of ‘deep time’.2
Atop the grassy cliffs, pilgrims enjoy a bird’s-eye view before descending the steep, treacherous path to the rocky point at shore level. This has been called the birthplace of modern geology, where James Hutton supposedly ‘obtained his revelation’ that the earth was not made in six days some six thousand years ago, but was unimaginably old.
Some have placed Hutton alongside Darwin as one whose ideas shattered the biblically-rooted picture of the earth, and separated western thinking from its Christian foundation.3 Indeed, Hutton’s ideas inspired Darwin4 and gave him the eons of time he needed for his theory of evolution.
Photo by Bryce Crawford
Figure 2. Hutton’s unconformity. The man sitting on the lower, vertical rocks points to the contact where the upper, almost-horizontal beds of Old Red Sandstone rest.
In Hutton’s day, the dominant view in Eastern and Western Europe and North America was that God created the world in six 24-hour days about 4000 BC, and about 1,700 years later, the earth was judged with a catastrophic global Flood. When Hutton first published his theories in 1785, they directly challenged the authority of the Bible.
Siccar Point played a key role in the drama, and that is why the site is so revered. Recently, one geology student described how, when his group reached the point, they were moved to read extracts from the writings of Hutton and John Playfair.5
Hutton and Playfair6 visited Siccar Point in the late 1700s, not by the A1 motorway, but by boat on a fine day that enabled them to keep close to rocks along the shore. ‘What clearer evidence’, Playfair wrote, ‘could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and the long [time] interval which separated their formation?’7 So what did they really see?
What Hutton saw
At Siccar Point two distinct kinds of sandstone meet (figure 2). The strata of the lower, older sandstone are tilted almost vertically, and they have been sliced off abruptly, in a nearly horizontal line. The upper, younger sandstone has been deposited on top of the eroded surface and is still almost horizontal. The place where these rocks touch is called an ‘angular unconformity’.8
As James Hutton explored the Scottish hills, he could see that rainfall gradually eroded the rocks, and that rivers carried the sediment into the sea. From what he saw, he envisaged that it would take many thousands of lifetimes before the hills eroded away.9
So, when Hutton viewed the sandstone outcrops at Siccar Point, he wondered where the sand had come from. He reasoned that the older, lower rocks must have been much higher in the past. As these eroded down, they produced the sand which now forms the upper rocks. But where did the sand for the lower rocks come from? Presumably there must have been even-older rocks which were eroded away. And for those rocks? There must have been older rocks still, and so on endlessly. So Hutton saw ‘no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end’. He concluded that, contrary to what the Bible records, the earth must be unimaginably old.
Most people think the idea of billions of years comes from radiometric dating. But clearly that’s not true, since this dating method was not developed until the beginning of the 20th century, about 100 years after Hutton died. Hutton based his idea of an old earth on an assumption. It was not a discovery. He assumed that the same slow processes eroding the Scottish highlands in the present formed the ancient rocks by the North Sea in the past. So an old earth is the outworking of an unbiblical philosophy (cf. 2 Peter 3:3–7).
However, if Hutton had examined the sandstone outcrops a little more closely, he would have realized that extraordinary processes, quite different from what he saw in Scotland, were involved. Hutton misinterpreted the rocks at Siccar Point because of his faulty assumptions. Almost all geologists who have visited the site since then have missed the real significance of the outcrop for geological time, because of thinking the same way.
The lower rocks
The lower rocks are composed of grey vertical beds of alternating greywacke and shale.10,11 Greywacke is a type of sandstone which indicates that it was deposited very rapidly. It is composed of particles with a range of sizes, from very coarse sand to fine clay. This means that the sediment was transported and deposited so rapidly that it did not have time to sort into different sizes (as occurs on beaches and in rivers today).
Figure 5. A ‘graded bed’ has a sharp, distinct base with the coarsest grains of sand at the bottom. Moving upwards in the bed, the grains of sand become gradually finer and finer. The top of the bed is followed abruptly with the base of the next graded bed. Graded beds may form from fast-flowing underwater avalanches.
Also, the grains of sand in greywacke are not rounded, but jagged, indicating again that the sand was transported rapidly. If it had been transported slowly in a river, the sharp edges would have been worn smooth as the moving sand particles rubbed each other.
In a bed of greywacke, the sand is often coarse at the bottom and fine at the top, indicating that the whole bed was deposited from one pulse of water (figure 5). Sometimes beds of greywacke show cross bedding, again indicating that they were deposited from fast-flowing water (figure 6).
The fact that the beds are so flat over such large distances shows that the water-flows covered a large area. And the flat strata sit one on top of the other—without any sign of a break in deposition—indicating the fast deposition processes operated continuously while the whole rock deposit was formed.
So the lower rocks show abundant evidence for large-scale, rapid deposition. Evidence for the long periods of time that Hutton imagined is just not in the rocks.
Diagram courtesy of Steve Austin, Grand Canyon: monument to catastrophe, ICR.
Figure 6. Cross bedding is formed as fast-flowing water generates sand waves on the bottom. The thickness of the beds indicates the speed and depth of the water.
Folding and eroding
Not only were the lower rocks deposited quickly, but they were folded while they were still soft and contained abundant water. The beds do not indicate evidence of brittle fracture. So they must have been folded while still plastic. Also, as a result of the folding, the rocks changed (metamorphosed) and new minerals such as mica grew in them. Metamorphic reactions need abundant water if they are to proceed.12 All this means that there was not much time between deposition and folding.
Another evidence of catastrophe that Hutton missed was the contact between the upper and lower sandstones. He interpreted the contact as a long time-break between the folding and deposition of the next layer of rock. However, where the lower vertically bedded rocks are exposed to the weather in the area, pronounced differential erosion is evident. The softer shale erodes from between the beds of the harder greywacke, which stand out like ribs across the countryside.
However, the contact shows no differential weathering (figure 8), which indicates that the erosion was by catastrophic processes, unlike the gradual erosion of the countryside today. Also, there is no evidence of a soil layer at the contact,13 as would be expected if the rocks had been eroded by normal weathering.
The upper rocks
Geologists have called the upper sandstone beds, which sit on top of the greywacke, the ‘Old Red Sandstone’ (figure 4). These also show dramatic evidence of catastrophe.
Photo by David Tyler
Figure 7. Part of the metre-thick layer of broken rocks that sit on top of the contact. Rocks are blocky and angular, and some are as big as a football.
First, the base of the Old Red Sandstone consists of a metre-thick layer of broken rocks, called a breccia (figure 7). Large clasts (broken pieces) of greywacke, some the size of a football, have been ripped off the underlying rocks and dumped on top of the eroded surface. The breccia covers a huge geographical area and the flat surfaces of the rocks tend to face the same direction. This is an imbricate structure and indicates strong water currents. The broken pieces of rock are blocky and angular, indicating they did not roll against each other very much. Obviously they were not transported far from where they were broken off, and they were deposited quickly. This breccia layer is clear evidence that fast- flowing water eroded the contact and dumped the broken material on top. These obvious evidences for catastrophe contradict the supposed need for long periods of time.
Furthermore, the Old Red Sandstone covers a huge geographical area, indicating that the catastrophe was very large.14 In the Scottish Midland Valley, which incorporates Siccar Point, the sediments are deposited in a rectangular basin. It is 400 km long from Siccar Point in the east to Northern Ireland in the west. It is 100 km wide, from the Southern Uplands to the Grampian Mountains in the north. It consists of pebble beds, sands and silts mixed with volcanic lavas and is more than 7 km thick. Not only that, but the beds are so amazingly uniform and parallel that they can be visually traced for huge distances. It was no small river that deposited these sediments in its delta. The physical characteristics of the Old Red Sandstone point to exceptional depositional processes, quite different from the sorts of processes that we see happening on the earth today.
Photo by David Tyler
Figure 8. A close-up of the contact between the vertical and horizontal beds. Note that the bottom beds have not been differentially weathered but have a clean, straight contact.
Also, the sediments within the Old Red Sandstone contain abundant fossils of fish and plants (figure 9).15 The specimens are often well preserved, indicating rapid burial under unusual conditions. They must have been isolated rapidly from the environment to prevent decomposition and scavenging. These fossils indicate that the sediments were deposited extremely rapidly.
Most of the sandstone strata show large-scale cross bedding and plane bedding, which indicates deep, fast-flowing water. This points to a high-energy depositional environment, not to long periods of time.
The successive beds of the Old Red Sandstone show they were deposited one after the other without significant time breaks between them. For example, there is no evidence of ancient soil layers, or of organic matter incorporated into a soil or of plant roots.13 Some sandstone horizons contain animal tracks, so there was not much time involved.16 There are no canyons or valleys cutting across the beds. Yet there should be if, for long periods, the weather had been eroding them. In other words, the vast time came, not from the rocks but, from Hutton’s imagination.
A geological icon
So, Hutton did not find the idea of immense geological time, or ‘deep time’, in the rocks. Why did he misread them? Why do so many geology students look at the same outcrop and not realize that the long ages are missing? The vast age comes from a wrong belief about how the rocks formed—from an anti-biblical philosophy. It willfully overlooks the geological effects of the worldwide Flood.
Figure 9. Diorama of ‘Devonian’ marine life. Fossils of plants and fish are found in the Old Red Sandstone.
The unconformity at Siccar Point is evidence of catastrophe on a grand scale. It is wholly consistent with the events described in the book of Genesis, that the entire earth was deluged by a globe-encircling Flood. Perhaps Hutton did not appreciate the magnitude, or the tectonic nature,17 of that global event. Early in the Flood, sediments were deposited continuously by underwater avalanches in a deep marine environment. Soon after, these were cemented, uplifted and eroded by continental-scale water movements. Then followed more deposition as the global inundation continued—rapidly depositing the Old Red Sandstone over Europe.
Scientists call Hutton the father of modern geology and his theory has greatly affected scientific thought. But his ideas on the age of the earth represent a rejection of biblical history and a return to the old Greek way of looking at things. As people have increasingly accepted these ideas, we have seen a rejection of biblical morality and subsequent social decline in Western culture. In places like Great Britain and America, where Christianity has previously held such moral influence on the culture, society is falling apart with endemic drug abuse, sexual immorality, abortion, divorce, school violence and suicide.
Hutton based his conclusion about the age of the earth on wrong assumptions and a wrong interpretation of the rocks. If only he had believed the Bible and looked at the rocks more closely, he would have seen that Siccar Point is excellent evidence of global catastrophe. When we examine the rocks of Siccar Point, it would be hard to find a clearer testimony of Noah’s Flood in the geologic record.