Plate Tectonics Theory - How The Continents Are Built

Since we humans are land-dwelling creatures, we are naturally interested in the land on which we live. This is especially true when we realize that nearly 80% of our planet is covered by water.

And not just a LITTLE bit of water either…over 350 million cubic miles of water. (1) If the surface of Earth were smooth, like a cue ball, the average water depth would be almost 2 miles deep. (2) Today, the oceans are very deep. There are places where the water is 7 miles deep (35,994 feet or 10, 971 meters).

That’s a lot of water.

Fortunately for us, Earth’s surface is not smooth. Instead we have gigantic landmasses we call continents that rise up above sea level. Mt. Everest, for example, is a touch over 5 miles (29,029 feet or 8,848 meters) higher than sea level.

The questions are: how did the land masses get this way? Why are the continents shaped as they are today? Will this arrangement change in the future?

Plate tectonics theory is a scientific theory about how continents are being built. In fact, the word “tectonics” means “to build”. The idea is that all land masses on Earth are “built” on top of huge slabs of rock called “continental plates.”

These huge plates are sort of floating on molten rock deep down under the surface. The zone of molten rock underneath the “crust” of the Earth if called the “mantle”.

Of course, things that float can also move. This is why plate tectonics theory also carries with it the idea of “continental drift”. This means the continents are moving around over time.

They probably started out in one super continent that scientists call “Pangaea” but over time they have drifted into what we see around us today.

Which is...somewhat less inspiring...

That’s the idea anyway. Some scientists estimate the movement is between 1 and 10 centimeters per year. Others think it could be much less than that.

It’s difficult to really measure this drift, if it actually happens today. But the most recent idea is that continental drift is a very, very, very slow process.

Now, the idea is that some plates are spreading out. When they spread away from each other it’s called “divergent movement” and the boundary between one plate and another would be called a “divergent” boundary.

Some plates are slamming into each other. This creates a “convergent” boundary. Some scientists think that in this case one plate may be slipping underneath the other.

Other plates meet together but one plate slides past the other. This is called a “transform” boundary.

Finally, there are some boundary zones that scientists can’t really explain yet. They simple call these “plate boundary zones.” (3)

Creationists don’t really need to take a position on the issue of plate tectonics theory. It doesn’t really affect the idea of Creation or Evolution.

The evidence seems to indicate that continents do shift but the big questions are how much do they move, how fast and how far.

Still – some scientists do try and say that plate tectonics theory proves the Earth is millions and millions of years old.

Of course, the Earth can be very old or very young and the concept of Creation by God can still be true. (4) So again – this part of the idea of plate tectonics theory doesn’t affect the Evolution versus Creation problem very much.

This is because there are young Earth creationists (like me) and there are also old Earth creationists.

Pictured: A Young "Earth Creationist"

But plate tectonics theory can have something to say about the Great Flood of Noah’s time!

Now – in order to see why plate tectonics theory can say something about Noah’s Flood, we have to talk about two other ideas first…Sea floor spreading and magnetic field reversals.

Plate Tectonics Theory - Sea Floor Spreading And Magnetic Field Reversals.

The idea for plate tectonics theory really got started in the 1960’s.

A study of the sea floor in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean showed a ridge of volcanic rock. It is believed that molten rock is welling up in a crack between two plates.

As the plates spread out, or diverge, the molten rock is spreading the sea floor out and away from the crack. This carries the continents away from each other.

Now…volcanic rock is known to have magnetic minerals. Once the molten rock cools, these magnetized minerals are frozen in place. But they also point to the magnetic pole of the Earth when they form.

At the very least, magnetic field reversal certainly does look cool!

Scientists studying these rocks found that some of the magnetic minerals are pointing one way, and some are pointing another.

That’s weird…it appears that the Earth’s magnetic pole has flipped in the past. In fact, it looks like it has flipped a whole bunch of times too.

Some scientists think this “pole reversing” happens about once every 700,000 years or so. (5) Adding this all up, the reversals in the magnetic minerals seemed to show the Earth was very, very old. It also appeared - at first glance - to show that the Earth’s plates are moving very, very slowly.

But recent studies have thrown this whole idea off balance.

You see, if the sea floor is spreading at a regular rate, we should see magnetic stripes in the rocks as they spread out and away from the center of the ridge. We should see these stripes in a regular pattern – but we don’t.

Instead, we also find magnetic changes as we dig deeper instead of just as we move away from the middle. (6)

That’s a problem for the whole theory.

Now - this doesn’t mean continents do not spread apart – they probably do. It doesn’t mean the Earth’s magnetic field doesn’t flip over from time to time – it probably does.

But the big question is “how fast” can this process take place? You see, the Bible says there was a Great Flood in the days of Noah – a terrible disaster that raged for 371 days.

Could the Great Flood explain plate tectonics theory, sea floor spreading and magnetic field reversals?

Many respected Creationists think so.

Plate Tectonics Theory - How Noah’s Great Flood Made The Mountains Tremble.

Dr. John Baumgardner is a creationist scientist. He is known all over the world for his computer models of plate tectonics theory that he developed while working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Dr. John Baumgardner - Not just a pretty face!

Dr. Baumgardner, along with Dr. Austin, Dr. Snelling, Dr. Vardiman and Dr. Wise, have developed a new theory to explain how the Great Flood took place.

They call this theory “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics.”

This new theory was developed using the powerful super-computers at Los Alamos. It is a theory that fits both the facts of geology and the story of Noah’s Flood.

It also explains many things from the Noah’s Flood story. Finally, the computer models show that it could have really happened too.

It goes something like this…

Prior to the Great Flood the Earth was in one large continent. This land mass was surrounded by cold, dense ocean-floor rocks.

These ocean rocks were heavy. The land mass was also made of different plates. These land mass plates were joined together.

The boundaries where the land mass plates connected was not as thick as the rest of the plate. In other words, the land mass was like a jig-saw puzzle just waiting to be broken apart.

Although not EXACTLY like a Jig-saw puzzle...

The dense ocean-floor rocks began to sink into the molten mantle underneath. This caused the edges of the plates to get very hot. Eventually, the plate cracked, very suddenly. You can picture it like the shell of an egg cracking.

Once the ocean plates cracked, the land mass plates cracked too. This caused the heavier plates to sink more at the edges and bulge upwards in the middle.

This caused some plates to rapidly slide under lighter plates.

It would sort of be like watching a conveyor belt. The edge of the ocean plate snapped away from the landmass and slid underneath very quickly.

This really irritated the molten rock in the Earth’s mantle. It would be like sending a ripple of molten rock all the way around the Earth – just 50 miles below the surface.

Okay…

Molten rock would have rushed upwards from where the ocean plates snapped away. This would have put huge pressure on the rest of the plates. Some would have bulged up, others would have bulged down into the mantle (causing it to well up again and again).

Giant cracks in the Earth’s crust would have formed very quickly – probably spreading away from each other in seconds. Molten rock rushing through the cracks would have vaporized billions of gallons of water into steam.

The steam would have rushed into the air, condensed and become torrential rain.

The kind of rain that gets Ewan McGregor's car stuck in a tree.

Bulging in the plates would have lifted the sea floors causing tidal waves that would have covered the entire planet. These waves would have come over and over again until the planet settled down. This would explain the many layers of sedimentary rock we see on the continents today.

If this is what happened, the computer model tells us the plates could have spread away from each other in just a matter of weeks.

Volcanoes world-wide would have been like nothing we have seen in recent history. This is, in fact, what we see in geology. For example, the Columbia River Lava Plateau covers 200,000 square miles with lava nearly a mile in depth.

After the Great Flood the oceans would have been much warmer than they are today. This would have caused greater amounts of snow and rain.

Billions of tons of volcanic dust and ash, combined with huge amounts of water vapor from super-heated steam, would have resulted in a nearly instant ice age. (7)

Hmmm…sounds like what the Bible describes in Genesis 7…

Genesis 7:11 (NIV)

…on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

Finally, Baumgardner’s computer models showed something else.

This scenario would have caused the Earth to lose stability in its rotation. This would have caused the magnetic pole of the Earth to “flip” over and over. And this can account for the magnetic field reversals we see in sea floor sediments. (8)

The story of Noah’s Flood actually fits the facts of geology better than the slow and gradual model of plate tectonics theory.

The continents probably drift – but Noah’s story tells us they didn’t just drift, they really went rolling.

My name is Patrick Marks, and I am the author of understanding-creationism.com and the book "Someone's Making A Monkey Out Of You."

I live in Surprise, Arizona, along with my wife and 5 kids. My oldest two sons currently serve in the United States Navy.

I am the Pastor of FourteenSix Christian Church. In my off time I write everything from non-fiction books to screenplays, play guitar, and dabble in drawing and painting.

(1) Gish, Duane T. The Amazing Story of Creation from Science and the Bible. Institute for Creation Research. P. 22.

(2) Ibid. P. 21.

(3) Kious, W. Jacquelyne & Tilling, Robert I. This Dynamic Earth: The Story of Plate Tectonics. US Geologic Survey. 1996. On-line edition. http://pubs/gip/dynamic/dynamic.html.usgs. 2011.

(4) Morris, henry M. Scientific Creationism, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas. 1985. P. 136. Print. “As a matter of fact, the creation model does not, in its basic form, require a short time scale. It merely assumes a period of special creation sometime in the past, without necessarily stating when that was. On the other hand, the Evolution model does require a long time scale.”

(5) Morris, Henry M., Morris, John. The Modern Creation Trilogy, vol. 2. Master Books, Green Forest, Ar. 1996. P. 271. Print. “The reversals of the magnetized particles in this stripes are taken to mean that the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse their polarity about every 700,000 years, so that the magnetic field changes directions by 180 at these intervals…it main evidence, however – the laterally symmetrical reversals of the magnetic stipes on the sea floor – has in recent years been brought into serious question. That is, there are now known to be “vertical-stripe reversals, “as well as lateral, and this tremendously complicates any notion of a globally changing magnetic field.”

(6) Pratsch, J.C., “Petroleum Geologist’s View of Oceanic Crust Age,” Oil and Gas Journal, vol. 84 (July 14, 1986), p. 114. Print (quote in Morris et al, The Modern Creation Trilogy, vol. 2, 1996. P. 271) “These several vertically alternating layers of opposing magnetic polarization directions found in cored oceanic crust disproves one of the basic parameters of sea floor spreading theory, namely that the oceanic crust was magnetized entirely as it spread laterally from the magmatic center.”

(7) Baumgardner, et al. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History. Presented at the Third International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 18–23, 1994. Published in: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh (Ed.), pp. 609–621, 1994.1994. ICR, Dallas Tx. http://www.icr.org/article/catastrophic-plate-tectonics-flood-model/ net.

(8) Thomas, Brian. Continents Didn’t Drift, They Raced. Science News. ICR, Dallas, TX. 2010. Baumgardner, "During this unstable rotational motion, I found that the North and South Poles themselves rotate about an axis through the plane of the equator and do so quickly enough to be able to cause several complete flips of the earth relative to the spin axis during the few months of the Flood."

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