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, consists of a series of plates broken apart—fitting together to form a sort of three-dimensional puzzle.
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The Continental Dance
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?
Dr. John Baumgardner took this question under serious consideration. Baumgardner is 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 we should apply plate tectonics 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.
Slow or Fast?
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.
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 while 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.
- Austin et al, 1994. “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 609–612.
- Baumgardner, 1994. “Runaway Subduction as the Driving Mechanism for the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 63–86.
- Baumgardner, 1994. “Computer Modeling of the Large-Scale Tectonics Associated with the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 49–62.
- Baumgardner, J. R. 2003. “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: The Physics Behind the Genesis Flood,” Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, 113–126.
- Baumgardner, 2016. “Numerical Modeling of the Large-Scale Erosion, Sediment Transport, and Deposition Processes of the Genesis Flood,” Answers Research Journal 9, 1–24.
- Clarey, T. L. 2020. “The pre-Flood world resembled Pangaea,” Journal of Creation 34(2), 8–11.