Understanding the Geologic Column
The Geologic Column
The Geologic Column or Geological Time Table (it is also called by other variations of these words) is the foundation of the current understanding of modern geology. Through the idea of a particular arrangement of the various layers, we are led to an understanding of how our world came to be. We ponder how millions of years passed with ensuing destruction and revitalization being represented in the many layers of the column.
Geologists use this Column, a man-made device, to help them make sense of the rocks and fossils buried all over the earth. It is the standard measurement for every statement about geologic history, rocks and fossils. Everything in geology today is determined by, fashioned and molded according to this understanding – from geology to archaeology, from the Big Bang to anthropology to radiometric dating. Having rejected the Biblical view of Earth history, another structure had to be developed to take its place. But there is no place on Earth where the Geologic Column can be found. The fossil record is rather a jumbled mess of fossils and sedimentary rocks preserving hundreds of anomalies or exceptions to this concept.
The Column contains time periods called Eons, Eras, Periods and Epochs. Each of these has assigned durations and major geologic events in Earth history. But is it a discovery of scientific fact and the result of scientific investigation of actual history or is it a philosophical attempt to frame a totally different view of Earth history as opposed to that of the Scriptures? It may surprise you also that much of modern geology is not real science.
A Brief History of the Geologic Time Table
Beginning in the early 1800s, as geologists drifted further and further from the Biblical view of Earth history, a uniformitarian view of rock formation, planet formation and biological formation began to take shape. (Uniformitarianism basically means that what we see happening today is sufficient to explain what happened in the past.) Instead of a catastrophic explanation for the landforms around the Earth, an explanation that involved slow and gradual geologic processes was developed. The rock layers were viewed as past environments that once occupied the rock layers we now see – particular living things that were preserved as a record of past life and its evolution. As millions of years passed, some of the life was preserved as fossils.
Hence the Column today is supposed to represent the record, however incomplete, of Earth history – geological and biological. Gone were the ideas of a six-day creation from Genesis 1, of the Fall in Genesis 3, and of the global Flood in Genesis 6-9. The entire foundation of the Bible and the message of a Savior were slowly eroded away, leaving a totally secular and Biblically contradictory story of the history of the Earth and living things.
A Catastrophic Result
But think about this – if God did not create us, then there is no accountability to Him. If the story of Adam’s fall and sin were just myths, then gone is the need for a Savior. And if there is no need for a Savior, then there is no heaven and no hell. Whether humans realize it or not, modern geology is an alternate philosophical explanation of man’s existence and history versus the Biblical one. It is for these reasons that we must examine The Geologic Column to see if it is a scientific truth, and if it fits the facts of the rock layers.
The Development of the Geologic Column
So just how did the Geological Column come to be?
In 1815 William Smith, an engineer, was working on a canal in Britain. He took notice of the fossils he found in each of the stratum present. If Smith had been knowledgeable of the Genesis Flood, he would have interpreted these fossils as remnants of the global Flood. Instead, they seemed to him to have a pattern of fossil occurrences which he subsequently termed, The Principle of Faunal Succession. Faunal succession was one of the forerunners of evolutionary thinking.
Smith was a catastrophist. During his day this meant that he believed that the Earth was perhaps millions of years old and that it had been shaped by many global catastrophes in the past. During each period between catastrophes, God created new life. Smith thought that the layers of rock demonstrated this. What this story tells us, however, is that a particular ideological framework interpreted the evidence, not science. Without the Flood framework to interpret the rock layers, any framework could interpret the evidence.
Deism as a Support for the Geologic Column
As the Biblical explanation for Earth history was being eroded in the late 1700s, a new religious view of God arose called Deism – an impersonal Being who created, but is not involved in that creation. He had left the earth to run according to natural physical laws. This view was a sophisticated type of atheism. It was not a denial of the existence of God, but a denial of His continued involvement in His creation – practically though, it was atheism. It was a convenient and socially acceptable way of excluding God from the study of nature.
In this Deistic climate a new way of organizing the rock formations and fossils began to develop. In an age of increasing interest in nature, more and more time, effort and exploration took place in various parts of Europe. There was no geologic timetable or column to work with at that time. Individual geographical locations were studied by local geologists and names were given by those geologists for the rocks that were studied. They retained the original locality names, for the most part.
Particular types of rocks were studied in these areas:
- Rocks found in Jura, France, called Jurassic.
- Rocks found in Devon, England, called Devonian.
- Silurian and Ordovician were from ancient Welsh tribes.
- Cambria (cambrian) was the former name of Wales.
- Cretaceous (creta – chalk) is for the Paris Basin.
- Rocks found in the red beds, chalk, and black shales found throughout Germany and Northwest Europe received the name Triassic.
- Coal strata in England gave us Carboniferous.
- Rocks studied in Devonshire, England, received the name, Devonian.
- Perm, Russia, gave us the name Permian, for the rocks studied there.
Those terms begin to look familiar, don’t they!
Correlation in the Geological Record
So how should the rock layers be organized? This is the big question that challenged the early geologists. What do the rock layers mean? The early geologists set out to organized or correlate the various rock layers into an alternate view of Earth history that was in opposition to the Bible’s. Correlation is the term for this. Correlation has been the goal of modern geology to this day!
So, do these layers of rocks represent millions of years of time and past evolutionary life or do they represent one massive extinction event preserved in alternating layers of sedimentary rock, misinterpreted because of the uniformitarian rejection of the Flood?
Organizing and Dating the Rock Layers
In the early 1800s discoveries showed that different layers contained different fossils. Fossils were thought at that time to be representative remains of extinct life that had lived here for a time and then vanished. Scientists believed that Cambrian rocks held the earliest forms of life. These fossils were sea creatures, and many had apparently become extinct. The early thinkers thought that these rocks must represent ancient life. These must be the oldest rocks. The Cambrian rocks became the Cambrian Period. The idea of a progressive column slowly began to dominate the study of the rock layers. The correlation of the various rock layers with their fossils became the goal in geology. The goal was to line up the fossils from simplest to most complex. The resulting order of the rocks and fossils would tell the story of Earth history.
Many had ideas about how to order the layers. But the belief in fossil succession is what ultimately decided the order of the various rock layers. And these geologists gave ages for the various rocks, based on what they believed about the origin of life. They thought that life must have taken millions of years to develop from simple to complex. Consequently, the Column has been based completely on the assumption that life arose through hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary development.
What does the Column really tell us?
The Geologic Column is an attempt by modern geologists to organize the various rock layers and the fossils in them. It portrays an upward evolutionary story for the history of life and of the Earth. The pictures of the plants and animals that often accompany the Column imply that this is exactly how Earth history happened, that different life forms evolved during the various geologic periods listed and that is the end of the debate. But the Column is really nothing more than an alternative, competing story to that of the Bible. And secular scientists created this story. Scientific discovery does not support the Column.
A Much More Plausible Solution to Interpreting the Layers
So what do we really know about the Geological Column? Nobody was there when these layers were deposited or created. So when we are studying Earth History, we refer to the ultimate history book, the Bible. The Bible makes it very clear that about 4000 years ago, a catastrophic Flood took place that changed the earth forever. And the layering of sediments, plants, and animals that we see around the earth is very simply the layering that took place after the Flood. This is exactly what you would expect to happen after so massive an event.
And there you have it! It really isn’t that hard to imagine, given the good history that we have.
So the next time you are out in the field, take a good look at the exposed layers, and reflect on the catastrophe that took place that created our world. These very formations cry out that the Lord is real.
Much of the material for this blog was drawn from our book/kit, Fossils Dinosaurs and Cave Men. You can purchase that here:
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