Originally Broadcast April 19, 1997 Last Revised June 29, 2002

INFINITY #9: Niagara Falls and the Age of the Earth.


Daniel H. Harris, Ph.D.

I. The Questions.
How fast are the continents being worn away? How fast are the ocean basins filling up? Should we believe that the Earth is millions and millions of years old? Has there been enough time for evolution to have produced all the diverse species on planet earth? This INFINITY will answer these important questions.

II. The Oceans Aren't Filled and the Continents Still Have Mountains.
The rivers of the Earth each year carry millions of tons of pulverised rock and organic material into the oceans. Yet the ocean basins are not filled up, and the continents still have mountains, hills and elevated plains. So how old are the rivers and oceans?

III. How Old is the Present Mississippi River?
Let's begin with an easy example. The Mississippi river transports about 300 million cubic yards of sediment into the Gulf of Mexico each year. When the river reaches the Gulf of Mexico, the river slows, and its sediment falls out, the result being the Mississippi Delta. The Mississippi Delta grows larger at a rate of about 250 feet per year. (see ref 1, p163).
     If the Mississippi River had flowed for at least a hundred million years, as is conventionally asssumed, then the Gulf of Mexico would be full. [see calculation #1 below] But the Gulf of Mexico is not full, so it is clear that the Mississippi has not flowed for many millions of years as is conventionally assumed. Using the known size of the Mississippi Delta and the present rate of its building, the estimated age of the present Missiissippi Delta is at most 30,000 years.
     At the end of the Ice Age, the Mississippi very likely carried much more sediment each year, than it does today, perhaps ten to thirty times as much as it does today. Thus the 30,000 year age of the Mississippi Delta, is an upper limit on the age of the Mississippi River. So it is reasonable to suppose that the Mississippi has followed in its present channel for less than 10,000 years, an estimate being 3,000 to 6,000 years.

IV. The Mississippi River During the Ice Age.
So, if the Mississippi has been in its present channel such a short time, then what was going on before that? Before that time, presumably the Mississippi was flowing in a different channel. Perhaps a major earthquake or some other disturbance, moved the Mississippi from that earlier channel into its present channel.
     To discover the location of its previous channel, we can look for its previous delta on the margins of the Gulf of Mexico. Maps of the Gulf of Mexico show that out in the gulf, at a depth of about 1000 feet, the gulf floor is not so steeply sloping south of Lake Charles and New Iberia, Louisiana. Which is about 100 miles west of the Mississippi's present channel and delta. This is likely where the old Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, during the Ice Age. The old Mississippi Delta, can be seen at a depth of about 1000 feet, because sea levels were lower when the continents were covered by ice sheets.

V. A Young Mississippi Rivier.
Even this larger delta of the old Mississippi, would only take thousands of years to form, not millions. This shows that the old Mississippi and the present Mississippi, together are perhaps at most fifteen thousand years old.  For the Mississippi to be more that one hundred million years old, as is conventionally supposed, its average load of sediment carried to the gulf each year would have to be perhaps a factor of 3000 times less than its average sediment load is today. This would require us to suppose that in the past the Mississippi was not a major river, that the Mississippi has only recently become a major river, which is not a reasonable supposition. Therefore, it is unreasonable to suppose that the Mississippi River is many millions of years old as is generally supposed.

VI. The Age of the Niagra River and Niagra Falls.
Anyone who has visited Niagara Falls, probably knows that the water flowing over the falls, wears away the rocks, and that the falls are moving up stream. The French explorer Hennepin first mapped the falls in 1678 (ref. 1, p175). From that time until 1842 the falls retreated at an average rate of about seven feet per year. #9;More recently the falls have retreated at a rate of about three and a half feet per year. The present gorge of the Niagara is about seven miles long. If the average rate of retreat is seven feet per year, then the falls are only about 5,000 years old. If the average rate of retreat is three and a half feet per year, as it is at present, then the falls are about 10,000 years old.
     The Niagara has flowed in its present channel only since the Ice Age. During the Ice Age, the whole area was covered with a thick layer of ice. When the Niagara began to follow in its present channel at the end of the Ice Age, it very likely had a much greater volume of swiftly moving water. The falls would have been rapidly retreating. So a reasonable estimate of the time since the Ice Age would be 3 to 6 thousand years. That's about the time, when the Mississippi moved from its old channel into its present channel. So, the numbers seem to agree [within the large uncertainties involved]. The volume of sediments deposited in deltas and the rate of river erosion would suggest that these processes have been going on only for thousands or tens of thousands of years. So how could it be that the rivers ar so young? Let's look at the big picture.

VII. Filling Up The Ocean Basins With Sediment.
Each year moving water from the continents carries about 28 billion tons of pulverized rock, and organic material, into the earth's seas and oceans (ref. 1 , p166). But the mountains and plains haven't worn away and the oceans basins are not yet full.
     The present thickness of sediment on the ocean floors averages about 1500 feet (450 meters) thick. If this accumulation of ocean floor sediment were the result only of the water born sediments carried by rivers off of the continents, then it would take at most about 9 million years to accumulate the present layer of deposits. [See Calculation #2]

VIII. Biological Activity Adds To the Sediments.
But we know that in the oceans, microscopic creatures make shells, and these rain down on the ocean floor. On the ocean floor other organisms extract minerals from the water, also making deposits. The excrement and the decay products of fish and other marine animals, also rain down onto the ocean floor.
     Recent photos of the wreck of the Titanic show a thick layer of deposits on the hand rails, decking and other exposed surfaces. In less that 100 years about 2/3 of an inch of deposits formed. A similar rate of activity on the ocean basins in general permits the ocean floor sediments to accumulate in only about 3 million years. [See calculation #3]

IX. Greater Biological Activity In the Ancient Oceans.
But the Earth's present oceans are much less biologically active than they were in the past. There is good reason to believe that in the past, ocean temperatures were higher, and the pressure of disolved gases in the oceans was greater, and biological activity was much greater, accumulating ocean floor deposits much more rapidly than today.
     [Geologists tell us that in the Mesozoic Era, there were tropical forrests in Alaska, Siberia, Antarctica and Australia, and the Earth's average temperature was tropical at all latitudes. And flying insects were much larger then than they are today [see INFINTY #3] showing that the atmosphere was much thicker then than it is today.] With greater biological activity in the ancient oceans, the 1500 feet of ocean floor deposits could accumulate in less than a million years. Regardless of the details of our calculations, the oceans seem to be at most a few million years old, and this tells us that the Earth is young.

X. Evolution Needs Time, And There Isn't Enough.
The advocates of evolution tell us that it took many hundreds of millions of years for fish to become amphibians, and then reptiles, and so forth. And the advocates of evolution tell us that the oceans are at least two billon years old. In that amount of time the continents would have worn away, and the ocean basins filled at least two hundred times. But there is no evidince to suggest that the ocean basins have been filled even once, let alone hundreds of times, as the evolutionary time scales require. Thus the facts of ocean floor deposition do not agree with the necessary long ages needed for evolution to do its magic.
     Invariable laboratory studies have failed to find evolution. Therefore, the advocates of evolution say that evolution happens very slowly, so slowly that it can't be seen in the laboratory. So the evolutionists say that long ages, hundreds of millions of years are necessary for evolution to produce the life we see on planet earth. But the evidence of the oceans tells us that the earth is too young for this to have occurred.

XI. Ocean Sediments on Top of Mountains!
On the continents, even near the top of Mt. Everest, are many deposits of sedimentary rocks, which were no doubt laid down in water. The most abundant fossils found in these continental sedimentary rocks are the fossils of sea creatures with shells, called marine invertibrates.
     To explain this, the supporters of evolution suppose that the continents have dipped below sea level and then reemerged many many times over many hundreds of millions of years.
     By contrast the advocates of creation often explain the marine sediments on the continents and high mountains, as evidence of one catastrophic world wide flood.

XII. The Simplest Hypothesis.
When explaining phenomena, scientists generally assert that they prefer the simpler explanation [Ockham's razor]. So which is simpler, a process that moves whole continents up and down many times over hundreds of millions of years; or a process which just once covers the land with water, making all the marine deposits in one major event? Clearly, the latter hypothesis is simpler and therefore more reasonable, because one event explains many phenomena.
     This one world wide catastrophic flood sounds very much like the flood in the days of Noah, described in Genesis, and in the traditions of over three hundred people-groups around the world. How is it that these widely scattered peoples all have similar legends of the world wide catastrophic flood? How is it that many of these legends agree that the flood was a judgement of God against wicked mankind? Perhaps we should recognize that the marine fossils on the high mountans, and the traditions of many peoples are in agreement in describing an event that really did happen, which really was a judgement of God.

XIII. Flood Deposites Cut The Earth's Age.
If the abundant marine fossils found on all the continents, are indeed the result of a world wide catastrophic flood in Noah's time, then runoff from the continents into the oceans soon after the flood may account for much of the 1500 feet of ocean floor sediments we see today. In that case, the upper limit on the age of the oceans drops dramatically, coming down to less than about thirty thousand years.

XIV. Abundant Species Not by Evolution, But by Creation.
And if the oceans are only thousands of years old, then we can surmise that the Earth is indeed a young planet, and that evolution has not had time to occur. And since evolution has not had time to occur, the wide variety of plants and animals we see today didn't arise by means of evolution. The abundant varieties must have been created, not long ago, appearing much as they do today.

XV. So There Must Be a Creator!
And if these abundant varieties were created, then there must be a creator, a creator wise enough to make all the present varieties, and many more that are now extinct, that have been found buried in the rocks as fossils. This deduction of the existence of a wise creator God arises from a variety of investigations [see INFINITY #2, #4, & #6]

XVI. The Creator Who Is Judge.
This wise creator God is also a righteous judge, for we see in the world wide catastrophic flood, that judgement will fall when God's creation refuses to obey. So if the creator is also judge, then we should fear this great God, who has the power to create and the power to destroy. We should be committed to seeking fellowship with this creator God, that we might learn to obeying His soverign will.

XVII. The Best Science Agrees With the Holy Bible!
Sir Francis Bacon, early proponent of the scientific method, instructs us that the first principle of the scientific method is to clear our minds of all prejudices. So let us imagine what it would be like if we had no knowledge whatever of geology and the supposed age of the Earth. Suppose with a mind thus cleared of prejudice, you were to pick up the Holy Bible and read the early chapters of Genesis. You would surely suppose from an unbiased reading of the text, and a study of the Hebrew words, that the universe and the Earth are perhaps 6 thousand to 15 thousand years old. This would be the simplest possible reading of the text. [Thus applying Ockham's razor, the simplicity test, to the reading of these passages, we read the word "day" to mean "day," not complicating the matter.] Even if there were many missing generations in the lists given in the Book of Genesis, the age of the Earth can't be millions of years. Thus we see that the age of the Earth given by the best science agrees with the age of the Earth seen in an unbiased reading of Genesis!
     Even the New Testament tells us that the Earth is young. In Romans 9:28, the Apostle Paul writes that: "... a short work will the Lord make upon the Earth." So, if God completes the work of establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth, in less than 15 thousand years, then the Lord is indeed doing a quick work.

XVIII. So Why Do Scientists Say the Earth is Old?
So if the evidence is so clear that the Earth is young, and that the flood was world wide and catastrophic, then how is it that many scientists suppose that the Earth is old, and the fossils were not made in the flood?
     You must understand the mind set of scientists. Scientists are trained to do difficult and complicated things, so they are accustomed to thinking in terms of the complicated and difficult, and so scientists suppose that any really important truth must be complicated and difficult. If the truth is simple, as it often is, then the truth can be missed, as Newton's laws of motion were missed for more than two thousand years.
     If the Earth is billions of years old, then the study of its history becomes difficult and complicated, requiring many man-hours and many scientists, as scientists would expect. But if the Earth is only thousands of years old, then things are much simpler than the scientists can imagine.
     Most scientists at some time dream of making the great discovery, a new wide reaching principle; and they see the work of scientists as the source of progress and true wisdom. Scientists are always looking forward to the latest technology, the newest discovery, not imagining that the deepest truth of all might be found in a very old book gathering dust on their book shelf.

XIX. The Warning Of Jesus.
If we listen to the words of Jesus regarding scholars and truth, in Matt. 11:25, we read, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things [great truths] from the wise and prudent [the scholars], and hast revealed them unto babes [see also Psm. 8:2]." God has made the most profound truths so simple, that those that think themselves wise, see themselves as knowing better than God and so thay are unable to believe God's simple truths. Jesus reaffirms this when He says in Mark 10:15, "Whosoever shall not receive [the truth of] the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." Simplicity-humility is one of the keys to true understanding. But scholars and scientists too often suppose that truth can't be simple, and so they miss simple truth.

XX. The Creator Speaks!
As a scientist and as a Christian, I [Dr. Harris] have been often pleased to discover that the best science agrees with the testimony of the Holy Bible. In my researches I have tested the Scriptures many times, and it has always lead me into a better understanding of the world around me. I am now very comfortable trusting in the truth of God's Word, the Holy Bible. In fact I depend heavily on revelation arising from the Holy Bible to gain insights into the nature of the universe, the laws of space and time, and the behavior of matter within the universe.
     [In my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ I have found that it is much wiser to permit revelations from the Word of God to inform the meaning of science, than it is to permit science to inform the meaning of the Word of God!]
     Yes, nature is revealed in the Scriptures, but what is more important, the creator is revealed in the Scriptures, the creator who is a righteous judge, who should rightly be feared, for He has the power to create and to destroy.
     The Holy Scriptures throughout, bear witness to the one true God, who's name is Jesus, the one who inspired & directed the writing of the Holy Bible, and who created the universe. This good and wise creator God speaks to His created beings through His writen words, informing us of His nature and of the character of His creation, and of our need for Him. The Scriptures tell us that in self-will and rebillion we have all become alienated from fellowship with Him, and that we need restoration.
     Because it is wise to fear the God who creates and destroys, it is also wise to search the words of this creator God for God's way of dealing with the human condition. So I invite you to look into the matter, to follow after the one true Go,d and in so doing put your trust in Him, and the Holy Bible which He gave us. To do so please see Click here for release to Christ.



Calculation #1. Approximating the Gulf of Mexico as a rectangle 860 miles long, by 380 miles wide gives an area for the Gulf of Mexico of approximately 1.0 x 1012 square yards [8.5 x 1011 m2], and then multiplying by an approximate average depth of 4,500 yards [4100 m] gives an approximate volume is 4.5 x 1015 cubic yards [3.5 x 1015 m3]. The rate of inflow from the Mississippi is approximately 300 million cubic yards/year at present. If the Mississippi were flowing at its present rate, in its present channel, and if the Mississippi were the only river flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi alone would fill the Gulf of Mexico in about 15 million years. But the Mississipi is not the only river carrying sediment into the Gulf of Mexico, and shortly after the Ice Age the sediment load of the Mississippi must have been much greater than it is today. Therefore, a reasonable upper limit on the age of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi is perhaps the estimated two million years needed to fill the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking the Delta of the MIssissippi to be a triangle with a base of 120 miles, and a height of 113 miles, gives a area of 2.1 x 1010 yd2 [or about 1.8 x 1010 m3]. And using an average depth of fill of 400 yds [366m] gives a total volume of 8.4 x 1012 yds3 [6.4 x 1012 m3], which at a present rate of 300 million cubic yards/year gives a time to make the Mississippi Delta of 28,000 years. But in the time immediately after the Ice Age the sediment load would have been much greater. Thus a reasonable estimate of the age of the Mississippi Delta is five to ten thousand years.

Calculation #2. The area of earth is 5.1 x 1014 m2. The area of the ocean floor is about 65% of that area, or about 3.3 x 1014 m2. A layer 450 meters thick (1500 feet) gives a volume of 1.5 x 1017 m3. With a present inflow rate of approximately 1.7 x 1010 meters3/yr of deposits coming from off the continents, we get time of 9 million years to accumulate all the sediment on the ocean floor. In such a short time the effects of continental movements, such as subduction and mountain building can be neglected.

Calculation #3. If we conservatively estimate that biological deposition accumulates about 1.0 cm/100yr of sediments on the ocean floor, then to accumulate a 450 meter thick layer takes only about 4.5 million years. If both sediment inflow and biological activity work together at their present rate, then the time needed to accumulate 450 m of ocean floor sediements is perhaps 3 million years.

Ref 1 = The Creation-Evolution Controversy, by R. L. Wysong

Inquiry Press, Midland Michigan (1976)


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