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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lesson #34 Plate Tectonics

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
Lesson #34
Welcome back class. Please get settled in and take a hold of your pick point rock hammer and hand lens so that we can continue our study in geology. It is generally agreed that the bulk of earth quake and volcanic activity on earth is the result of tectonic plate movement. Plates coming together, spreading apart or sliding against each other, forming subduction trenches and mountain ranges, oceanic ridges and unstable fault lines. From the prospective of a world-wide flood taking place 4300 years ago, we can see these events as small after shocks from catastrophic plate tectonic action that would have been an integral part of that event. More on catastrophic plate tectonics in a moment, but first a little history on this subject…

Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer and geographer in the 1500's, is generally recognized as the creator of the first modern atlas. He is also believed to be the first person to imagine that the continents were joined together before drifting to their present positions. In 1912 the meteorologist Alfred Wegener described what he called continental drift. A fifty-year debate started that would end in the theory of plate tectonics. The basic premise of this theory is that present continents once formed a single land mass called Pangaea, that drifted apart. The cotenants of low density (on average 15% less dense) are granite floating on a sea of denser basalt. Supporting evidence for this idea can be seen by simply dove-tailing outlines of South America's east coast and Africa's west coast, and matching the rock formations along these edges, and this process can be repeated on virtually every coastline. The debate of course is not whether or not the drift is happening but on the span of time from Pangaea to our current global configuration. The question so often boils down to time.  When we come to that question I will always refer you back to lessons 21 through 25. on my blog

With the advent of sonar in World War Two giving a detailed map of the sea floor, and later discoveries dating the bulk of the sea floor as younger than most of the fossil layers on the earth, we begin to get a very homogeneous view of our world’s lithosphere. We now come to a point in the discussion when an understanding of catastrophic plate tectonics can be helpful. The best way to do that is with the computer aided TERRA program which shows, mathematically, just how such a high speed catastrophic plate shift could take place. So this is not some computer generated graphic. We are talking about accepted algorithmic formulations that account for and explain how our lithosphere flows and moves.

The TERRA model was invented by Dr. John Baumgardner, who may not be the most well-known young earth creationist in science, but he is probably the most qualified. Baumgardner holds a Ph.D. in Geophysics. He is employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the most prestigious research institutes in the country. He has developed the program called TERRA that models plate tectonics (the drift of "continental plates," sections of the earth's crust that float on the magma beneath). Dr. Baumgardner's computer program is the leading program for modeling plate tectonics. Amazingly, depending on what initial date is programmed in, it will allow for both a young and old earth. So how did a young earth creationist wind up in such a pivotal role in science? Dr. Baumgardner was an electrical engineer before he became a geophysicist. While doing a stint in the military, he became a Christian through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. He realized that arguments for evolution were being used as a battering ram against young Christians, so he decided to do something about it. Picturing himself as David going to slay Goliath, he went back to school for his Ph.D. in geophysics. While there, his doctoral thesis was developing TERRA, which became for him an instant step into the spotlight and has become the industry standard for testing theoretical models of the lithosphere.

That all being said, the program accounts for all the variables: pressure, temperature, density, volume--turning the globe into a algorithmic lava lamp of sorts. When you plug in a theoretical Pangaea, account for the instability of silicate minerals, which leads to rapid deformation when they are exposed to the critical amounts of pressure and heat (sorry for all the scientific lingo), what you get is a clear scientific model that shifts from Pangaea to something very close to our current continental configuration in months and years not centuries and millennia. That is as thorough a treatment that this theologian can provide on plate tectonics. Next month we will have a look at Ice Ages, maybe some lone large boulders, and if we have some time, we might even get to canyons.

In Christ

Pastor Portier