Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Biblical Flood Model

The theory of plate tectonics arose in the mid-20th century, and quickly became accepted in the scientific community due to its explanatory capabilities. The earth’s crust, according to the theory, is broken up into a series of plates—fitting together to form a sort of three-dimensional puzzle. 

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From biostratigraphy to the fit of the continents, there is plenty of evidence that the world’s land masses once held an entirely different configuration from their modern placement. However, present-day rates show that the movement is incredibly slow—at the speed of only centimeters per year! This has led conventional geologists to conclude that plate tectonics is a slow process that has been occurring over millions of years throughout earth history. How, then, does a creationist deal with the data?

This was the question considered by Dr. John Baumgardner, a geophysicist who studies geology and earth processes from a biblical perspective. He, along with many other creationists including Dr. Steve Austin, wanted to figure out how plate tectonics should be applied within a biblical Flood model. In 1990 they developed Catastrophic Plate Tectonics (CPT), which serves this purpose. It is an ongoing field of research, and it is still being developed and modified. 

CPT functions very similarly to the modern theory of plate tectonics; the major distinction between the two is the time involved. The latter maintains that crustal movement is a slow process that occurred over the vast expanse of earth history; that is, billions of years. CPT, while it does agree with a lot of the physical mechanisms of the modern theory, suggests that plate movement occurred very rapidly for the duration of the Flood.

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According to CPT, the pre-Flood world likely looked something like Rodinia (though there is some debate, see Clarey’s model for example)—which was roughly a single supercontinent. Some catastrophic event—divine or natural—caused the dense, heavier ocean crust to start sinking rapidly under the continents via subduction. This rapid (sometimes called runaway) subduction occurred at rates as quick as meters per second as the pre-Flood ocean crust was entirely replaced. While this was happening, the supercontinent broke apart and likely re-converged to form Pangea underwater. As the Flood came toward an end, the continents were arranged similarly to their modern placement. Then, over the next millennia, the movement continued to slow down to today’s rates. 

To read the technical articles on this subject, click on the links below. 

The views expressed in this article reflect those of the author(s) mentioned and not necessarily those of the editorial staff.

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Ron Richmond
Ron Richmond
April 28, 2021 6:24 PM

Which flood are we talking about? Noah’s? I copy from the article: “As the Flood came toward an end, the continents were arranged similarly to their modern placement. Then, over the next millennia, the movement continued to slow down to today’s rates.”

Christian Ryan
May 3, 2021 8:31 AM
Reply to  Ron Richmond

Hello Ron,

Yes, we are talking about the Flood in Noah’s time, as we are every time whenever we use the word “Flood” where the “F” is capitalized. When we are speaking of a local or regional flood, we use a lowercase “f.”

Mike Boyum
Mike Boyum
July 21, 2021 8:24 AM

Great article! May I suggest one small correction? Depending on what “quickly” means in the mind of your readers, I am old enough to remember being taught only geosynclinal mountain building processes in the 1970’s. As I recall, older geologists were slow to accept plate tectonics because it sounded too catastrophic.

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