Continental Drift and the Age of the Earth
Part Two of a Five-Part Series on The Age of the Earth 


The theory of Continental Drift is also one of the primary lines of reasoning by popular science publications and the scientific establishment of believers in evolutionary theory who promote an old earth. The theory goes like this: 

Since it appears that the East coasts of North and South America would fit together with the coasts of Africa and Europe, perhaps they once did. And if they were at one time joined together, then (so we are told) it must have taken millions of years for them to separate: 200 million years for North America and Europe, and about 20 million for South America and Africa.  Few realize it but the 200 million year figure was arrived at (not by direct measurements but) by radiometric dating of ocean bottom rocks.  In other words, since the oldest date for ocean bottom rocks is 200 million years, then this must be the length of time that it took for the continents to separate (or at least the North American part).  So if we take the distance between any given point from the East Coast of North America to its corresponding midway point along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (half-way point to Europe), this gives us the distance that the Continents have traveled.  Then we simply divide this distance by our 200 million year "date" to arrive at the (assumed) amount that the Continents are still traveling each year, or so the theory goes.  The figure is around five feet per century or 0.6 inches per year. 

Although there are a number of problems with the continental drift theory itself (see Links below), there is also compelling evidence that the continents have split apart.  This is supported primarily by:

  1. The puzzle-like fit between the North and South American coastlines and those of Europe and Africa.
  2. The location of the Mid-Atlantic ridge itself.
  3. The discovery that similar rock formations and mineral deposits match up along these two coastlines.

Since we have never witnessed rapid movements of huge landmasses over the surface of the earth, many think that it must have taken many millions of years for the continents to separate. They base this on present day earthquakes and radiometric dating of ocean bottom (igneous) rocks. 

Since present day earthquakes only move adjoining faults from one to five inches per year (on average), it is assumed that this must have been the case throughout the earth's past. This assumption would be reasonable except for two things:

  1. There is little, if any, proof that earthquake faults are the same as ocean-bottom spreading, and
  2. There is very little, if any, scientific evidence that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is still spreading.1

For these reasons it is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate how long it took for the continents to separate. In other words, this "clock" is invalid simply because the 200 million-year "age" of the Atlantic ocean is not based upon any measurable movement at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but rather upon the (assumed accuracy of) radiometric dating of ocean bottom rocks.2  

Radiometric Dating of Ocean Bottom Sediments
When one gets beyond the dogmatic parroting of popular (i.e. evolutionary) "science" publications, it becomes increasingly clear that virtually all radiometric dating methods are highly questionable and subjective.  However, the dating of ocean bottom sediments by radiometric methods is even more questionable.  Perhaps the simplest way to illustrate this is by looking at  Table 1  of  Radiometric dating.3  In it there are three different dates given for the same eruption at Mt. Kilauea on the island of Hawaii.  

Because this volcano produced lava flows that went into the ocean, it provided an excellent opportunity to take samples from the same flow at various depths beneath the ocean's surface. This allowed scientists to see whether or not there was any relationship between the radiometric "age" of the sample versus the depth at which the sample was collected.  By doing this it was discovered that there is a relationship between the radiometric "age" (vs. true age) and the ocean depth at which the sample was collected.  This means that the 200 million-year date for the oldest ocean bottom rocks is virtually meaningless.4

If we assume that the continents did at one time form a solid land-mass, and if they have separated from the Mid-Atlantic ridge, then how long did it take for this to occur? 

The answer to this question cannot be "proven" in a scientific sense because we can't go back in time to observe the splitting up of the continents. And since it has not been proven that the continents are still separating at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge it is impossible to know how long it took.

So How Long did it Take?
Since many creationists (both scientists and non-scientists) claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, the question that needs to be addressed is whether or not there is any evidence to suggest that this event took place rapidly within the recent past.  For those who accept that the Bible is accurate, both historically and otherwise,  the answer is simple since it tells us plainly that the earth was divided in one man's lifetime.  For example, Genesis 10:25 tells us that:

"And two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided..."  NASB

Some have said that this verse only applies to the spreading out of mankind from the Tower of Babel.  This is certainly a possibility; however, it is also possible that it is talking about the literal break-up of the "earth" itself.  

For those who don't believe the Bible the answer becomes more difficult to "prove." However, there still is evidence that the continents moved quite rapidly within a few hundred years after massive amounts of sediments were laid down. Lets look at some of this evidence.

Distorted Layers 
Massive layers of sedimentary rock in many parts of the world have been severely distorted (i.e. bent out of shape), yet they display little, if any, cracking or breaking. 5,6  In other words these rocks appear to have been bent before they had time to harden.  Even the crystalline structure displays little, if any, stretching of the individual sand grains -- thus strongly implying that they were bent while the sediments were still wet, and before they had time to harden.  And since this hardening would only take from perhaps one hundred to a thousand years, this strongly implies that something caused these massive sedimentary rock layers to become bent within a relatively short time after being laid down. This also implies that the layers themselves were deposited rather rapidly (i.e. virtually all at once) and that some massive event--such as the moving of the continents -- caused them to be uplifted and bent.

Polystrate Fossils  
In many parts of the world tree stumps have been found imbedded in vertical position running through multiple layers of strata.  Such facts indicate that these trees were buried catastrophically, or before they had time to decay.  In Nova Scotia, for instance, at a place called Joggins, 7  tree stumps are imbedded vertically and randomly throughout approximately 2,500 feet of layered sedimentary strata.  In some cases they are more than 20 feet long. 8,9  For more on this see the  Polystrate Fossil section of  Scientific Evidence for a Worldwide Flood.  For a more detailed discussion see:  The Fossil Forests of Nova Scotia Numerous Links to other sites are provided both in the text and at the end of the these documents. 

Clastic Dikes
According to Roth, "a clastic dike is a cross cutting body of sedimentary material which has been intruded into a foreign rock mass." 10

"These dikes... (may) penetrate horizontal sedimentary strata (or) they may occur... in igneous and metamorphic rocks. The process of formation of a clastic dike is analogous to wet sand oozing up between ones toes, but on a much larger scale." 10

Clastic dikes present a problem to the "millions of years" mindset of evolution in that "millions of years" older sediments (that should have been rock-hard for "millions of years") are found intruding up into overlying younger ones while still in a plastic state.  This presents a profound and puzzling question:

What took these older sediments so long to become hard?

One would think that 80--400million years would be more than enough time to turn massive sand-laden sediments into sandstone, 10,11,12 yet these were still in a wet and plastic state when an earth movement caused them to be forced up into "younger" sediments.  Such things place serious strain on the evolutionary method of "dating" rock formations.  They also provide us with strong evidence that massive amounts of sediments were laid down rapidly, and suggest that the Earth isn't very old at all.

Unpetrified Tree Trunks
On Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere Islands, in Northern Canada, numerous large tree stumps and fallen tree trunks have been found at or just below the earth's surface. 13,14,15,16 What is so strange about this is that today the only type of vegetation that grows in this area are small plants and shrubs. 14

How did these trees get there? And more importantly, when did they get there?

Evolutionists claim that they are leftover remnants of numerous forests which inhabited this area 45-60 million years ago.14  The scientific data seems to suggest otherwise.  For instance, these trees are not petrified 13,14,15,16  --  meaning that the wood can be sawed and burned.  In addition, pine cones, pine needles, and leaves are also  preserved in the sandy silt-like soil.14,15 Another clue to this puzzle is that the roots of these trees are not preserved. 13,14,15  This strongly suggests that they were missing when the trees were deposited, and that the trees themselves were uprooted by a catastrophic event similar to what happened to the trees at Mt. St. Helens during its 1980 eruption. And although the trees on these two islands are frozen for most of the year, each summer the snow melts and for several months the temperature reaches into the 70 degree F. range.  I mention this because warm temperatures allow decomposition to take place much more rapidly.  Taken together, the evidence suggests that these trees were uprooted via a major catastrophe and transported by water and buried at different depths -- (most likely) within the past 5-10,000 years -- otherwise they would have decayed long ago.

Magnetic Evidence on the Ocean Floor
Another piece of evidence to the continental drift puzzle is the existence of magnetic imprints in ocean bottom rocks on both sides of the Mid-Atlantic ridges. These suggest that the earth's magnetic field may have oscillated back and forth many times when the continents were spreading apart. This evidence was collected by towing magnetometers along the ocean bottom and by drilling holes into the rocks at regular intervals away from the ocean ridges. The data shows that the reversals were randomly distributed both horizontally along and vertically down these rock holes. This finding was unexpected and implies that whatever mechanism caused the continents to split was much more complex than old earth models had predicted.17,18,19,20,21 

Dr. Kurt Wise goes into more detail on this in a recent book on the age of the Earth.  Dr. Wise also shows how the actual evidence supports a Catastrophic (rapid) Plate Tectonics model better than a Conventional (slow) one.  A portion is quoted below:

"If, however, both Baumgardner and Humphreys are right, new ocean floor was being created during the Flood at miles per hour with reversals occurring every couple of weeks.  And it's likely that there were always pockets of the ocean floor that stayed hot well into the next reversal period.  The young-age creationist would then predict that the entire ocean floor should be magnetically mottled, with adjacent pockets throughout the basalt having opposite magnetic orientations.  Such mottling does seem to exist in every one of the hundreds of cores made in the basalts of the ocean floor.  This is consistent with young-age creation theory and contrary to alternative theories." 22  Emphasis in text.

See also: The 'Principle of Least Astonishment', by Andrew Snelling -- to learn more on how fast the field could flip-flop (based on actual measurements of course).

The San Andreas Fault
The evidence seems to suggest that the plates along San Andreas Fault have only been moving for a few thousand years at most.  This can be observed by looking at a map of the San Andreas fault area, near  Point Reyes, California.  For even though the fault runs directly through two peninsulas (Sand Point and Toms Point), neither of them appear offset at all. 23  Furthermore, since these plates presently move at the rate of one to two inches per year.  If we assume that this has been going on for (only) the past 10,000 years, then these two peninsulas should be offset by more than 1/4 mile.  However we don't observe even the slightest offset of these peninsulas on the map.  

Some have suggested that this is because of the types of sediments along this portion of the coast, and that they would be worn down as they were beaten up by the waves; if this were the case then it would still only apply to the Northern upper left side portions, but not to the lower Southern left side portions.  In other words, the bottom portions should still be offset.  This strongly suggests that the San Andreas fault is quite young, and likely less than 5,000 years old.  It also is an indication that the continents themselves are young as well.  The diagram below illustrates this point.



Gradual Decrease in Volcanic Activity after the Flood:
Another indication that a whole lot of the earth's crustal rocks were buried during the Flood, and sank into the earth's mantle is the simple fact that over the past several thousand years, volcanic activity has markedly decreased.  In other words, as the crustal rocks that rapidly sank into the earth's mantle melted over the next several millennia, large amounts of that molten rock rose back up to the earth's surface, thus explaining why volcanoes of the past deposited much larger amounts of magma and ash than those in recent history.  Dr. Kurt Wise goes into much more detail on this point in his book Faith, Form and Time.  A small portion of what he says is recorded below:

"As the Flood-buried rocks and slabs were heated by the mantle, less and less magma was generated, and volcanoes would be expected to decrease in size and frequency through time.  Since post-Flood tectonics would not be expected to bury much new andesite, the most explosive volcanoes would gradually disappear.  This provides an explanation for the gradual disappearance of rhyolitic volcanoes in the Tertiary and the decrease in size and frequency of volcanoes in general to the present 3 --- neither of which is explained by alternate theories of earth history." 24

Conclusion: 
In spite of what we have been told by the mass media and "science" publications, there is no strong evidence (much less proof) that the continents have been drifting apart for millions of years, and in fact, the evidence suggests that they split up quite rapidly.  There is also no strong evidence that plate movements today could have produced the massive amount of Continental spreading that likely took place during the Flood along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  For such massive plate movements were likely triggered by a large asteroid that hit the earth.  It is also doubtful that what caused the continents to separate along the  Mid-Atlantic Ridge 25 is still occurring today.  And although plate movements still occur, resulting in earthquakes, the evidence seems to suggest that such minor plate movements have only been taking place for the past several thousand years.  

Copyright, 2006, 2013,  Randy S. Berg; 
Copies may be distributed freely for educational purposes.

References 

  See also:
The Age of the Earth Debate

And
Evidence that's Not supposed to Exist

 

Radiometric Dating    Continental Drift    The Big Bang    Worldwide Flood    Young Earth Evidence 


Home
 

   

Selected Links

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics Pt. I

What About Continental Drift?

Is Catastrophic Plate Tectonics
part of Earth history
?
  

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: 
the geophysical context of the Flood

Phases of the Hydroplate Theory:
Rupture, Flood, Drift, and Recovery

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: The
Physics Behind the Genesis Flood

Is the Mid Atlantic Ridge still Spreading?

Tectonic Wedge Resonance Theory
Similar to Hydroplate Theory, but Different