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Artist's concept of a catastrophic asteroid impact with the Earth.

Catastrophism is the theory that massive catastrophes occurred in earth's past, substantially altering the Earth and its life via mountain uplift, rapid deposition, and mass extinctions.[1] According to creation scientists such an event did occur according to the Biblical account of the Global Flood in the time of Noah.

Catastrophism is one of the most important tenets of the creationist worldview. It argues that major landforms of today were formed by major catastrophes formed in the past. Even though there have been many theories that suggest other cases or mass extinction such as the asteroid putting all dinosaurs into extinction. All these theories have a problem due to the gap in the fossils record and the limiting dinosaurs fossils that have been found. Due to these problems, most of all this issue leads to the fact that there must have been some major catastrophe. This major catastrophe also indicates the fossils of dinosaurs that have been scattered all around the world. Even this theory is not accepted by the entire scientific community it is the only logical theory that gives a good example of the fossil record.

Historical Development

Georges Cuvier

Catastrophism a doctrine that the Earth's history has been dominated by major catastrophes. Rather than everything being formed over millions of years old. This theory was formed in the 17th and 18th centuries. A British theologian Bishop James Usher used the ages of the people of the Bible to calculate the age of the earth. His calculation implied that the earth went through major catastrophes.[2] It also explains the the differences in the fossil forms encountered in successive strategic levels for repeated catastrophic events to occur. This doctrine is also most notably associated with Georges Cuvier. There was also one 20th century expansion of Cuvier’s view that put in effect the which began the neo-catastrophic school which started to explain that everything happens through evolution.[3]

The concept was first promoted by Georges Cuvier, a famous French comparative anatomist and vertebrate paleontologist. It was expressed quite concisely in the release of the Discourse on the Revolutions of the Surface of the Globe in 1812 by Cuvier. It was concluded that throughout Earth's history many catastrophic near global or regional floods had happened.

In 1830 to 1833, Charles Lyell (1797–1875), who was actually a lawyer, published his influential three-volume work entitled, Principles of Geology. This in turn re-established Uniformitarianism and dealt a major blow to catastrophism with its eventual traction gained within the European geologists' minds. What the Pinciples of Geology emphasized was the concept of slow, gradual gathering of sediments. It developed a framework that is still used today to interpret geologic formations and changes. Charles Lyell embraced the assumption that present-day rates of change and magnitude should be used to interpret the past record of geological activity.[4]

Though Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin rejected Catastrophism for Uniformitarianism, scientists today have been forced to acknowledge that the same mass catastrophes denied by Darwin and Lyell did in fact happen, and that the fossil record shows life did die off rapidly.[1] The only disagreement on this point between Creationists and Evolutionists is when these events occurred, and how many of them there were. The overwhelming evidence of ancient mass extinctions has led to various hypotheses including huge asteroids and volcanic eruptions:

"At least a handful of times in the last 500 million years, 50 to more than 90 percent of all species on Earth have disappeared in a geological blink of the eye... The causes of these mass extinction events are unsolved mysteries, though volcanic eruptions and the impacts of large asteroids or comets are prime suspects in many of the cases. Both would eject tons of debris into the atmosphere, darkening the skies for at least months on end. Starved of sunlight, plants and plant-eating creatures would quickly die. Space rocks and volcanoes could also unleash toxic and heat-trapping gases that—once the dust settled—enable runaway global warming... Massive floods of lava erupting from the central Atlantic magmatic province about 200 million years ago may explain the Triassic-Jurassic extinction. About 20 percent of all marine families went extinct, as well as most mammal-like creatures, many large amphibians, and all non-dinosaur archosaurs. An asteroid impact is another possible cause of the extinction, though a telltale crater has yet to be found."

-National Geographic, "Mass Extinctions: What Causes Animal Die-Offs?"[5]

"For months I'd been on the trail of the greatest natural disaster in Earth's history. About 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, something killed some 90 percent of the planet's species. Less than 5 percent of the animal species in the seas survived. On land less than a third of the large animal species made it. Nearly all the trees died. Looy had told me that the Black Triangle was the best place today to see what the world would have looked like after the Permian extinction. This didn't look like apocalypse. We saw the first signs of death as we walked into the hills—hundreds of fallen timbers lay hidden in the undergrowth. A forest once grew here. Half a mile (0.8 kilometers) uphill we found the trunks of a stand of spruce, killed by acid rain. No birds called, no insects hummed. The only sound was the wind through the acid-tolerant weeds."

-Hillel J. Hoffman, "The Permian Extinction - When Life Nearly Came to an End," National Geographic.[6]

Whereas scientists believe multiple such events occurred over hundreds of millions of years, giving each names such as Permian-Triassic extinction event, Devonian extinction, Ordovician-Silurian extinction, Cretaceous extinction event, Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and Pre-Cambrian mass extinction event[5], Creationists believe a worldwide Flood was responsible, and that the Radiometric dating used by Evolutionists is incorrect. Thus, rather than many extinction events over a long period, these were all the same event occurring at one time. New research indicates one such event occurred as recently as 11.4 to 13.8 thousand years ago.[7]


The earth's history has without question been violent. However, life remains and flourishes. The central focus of the creation vs. evolution debate is whether catastrophes in earth's past were the result of natural processes over millions of years, or a catastrophic flood of global proportions described in the Bible as God's judgment. If we assume the geologic column was formed during the global flood, then this deluge may also have been accompanied by numerous volcanic flows and quite possibly meteor bombardments. What we see all over the world consistent with a global flood is layers upon layers of sedimentary rock or strata with millions of fossils in it. Several sites provide us with examples of large-scale catastrophic processes important for understanding the mechanisms responsible for the formation of the earth's strata.

The following are evidences of instantaneous catastrophes in earth's distant past, and instant fossilization:

Trilobites Buried in Life Position

In March 2011, it was discovered that a large number of trilobites had been instantaneously fossilized by sediment so rapid it froze them in life position while they were migrating and mating.

"In a quest that has taken him from Oklahoma to Morocco and Poland, Brett has analyzed multiple examples of mass trilobite burial. A smothering death by tons of hurricane-generated storm sediment was so rapid that the trilobites are preserved in life position. These geologic 'snapshots' record behavior in much the way that ancient Roman life was recorded at Pompeii by volcanic ash... The mass burials preserve large groups of similar-sized – and therefore similarly aged – specimens, segregated by species and, after molting, 'naked.' 'It’s an orgy,' Brett said. Brett and colleagues found evidence of another behavioral connection to modern arthropods – long chains of trilobites apparently fossilized in mid-migration. 'The recent discovery of rows of more than a dozen specimens provides the oldest evidence of migratory queues similar to those seen in modern crustaceans,' Brett said. Taken together, the mass burials record an array of communal behaviors in ancient trilobites, comparable to those seen in some living crustaceans."

-Greg Hand, University of Cincinnati, 2011[8]

Fossilized Raindrops and Footprints

This was in 1981 presented by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart in Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity as explainable only by a rapid catastrophe. How do you preserve footprints, especially footprints with raindrop indentations? As recently as 2012, we continue to find out how different ancient earth's atmosphere was from today's (see Canopy Theory) because of fossilized raindrops:

"It was raining 2.7 billion years ago. That's according to imprints of raindrops discovered in ancient rock in South Africa. Those same weather marks are giving researchers a clearer picture of what Earth's early atmosphere was like. Back then, the sun was about 30 percent dimmer, giving off less heat, which suggests our planet should have frozen over. As for why it didn't, and why rocks show evidence of abundant water as far back as 4 billion years, scientists have suggested a much thicker atmosphere, high concentrations of greenhouse gases, or a combination of the two kept early Earth toasty. 'Because the sun was so much fainter back then, if the atmosphere was the same as it is today the Earth should have been frozen,' study researcher Sanjoy Som, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, said in a statement. The new results suggest an atmosphere full of strong greenhouse gases, like methane, at the time helped keep the Earth warm instead of becoming an icy Hoth-like planet."

-Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience, 2012[9]

Mass Marine Extinctions

In 2011 it was discovered that a rapid catastrophe led to deoxygenation and rising CO2 levels in ancient oceans, resulting in mass extinction of marine organisms worldwide.[10]

"A new study of prehistoric ocean sediments from an era of high carbon dioxide concentrations shows that warm oceans with high CO2 levels and low-ocean conditions have experienced mass extinctions of marine organisms. Scientists from the UK and Australia examined ocean sediment samples off the coast of western Africa from the late Cretaceous period, 85 million years ago, an epoch of high atmospheric CO2 levels. The researchers found a significant amount of organic matter from marine organisms buried within the deoxygenated sediment layers, indicating that these organisms suffered mass die-offs as CO2 levels rose, ocean temperatures increased, and the oceans held less oxygen."

-Yale Environment 360, 2011[11]

Cuvier Evidence of Extinction


Cuvier was an anatomist that would challenge the social norm of extinction. He was not the first person to speculate this, but he was the first person to provide evidence. This evidence was necessary for establishing extinction through a natural process. Cuvier's evidence was studying elephants. What he discovered was the fossils of the elephants differed from the bones of living elephants. The more he researched the more differences that were discovered. The differences they were discovered was the Asian elephants and Indonesian elephants and other elephants differed from cuvier's fossil elephants. Based on all the fossil evidence that Cuvier found is ultimately suspected that there were periodic episodes of mass extinctions that did occur. [12]

Summary Evidence of Catastrophism

There was a report in 2002 that an overflow of water formed a gorge within three days. This is proof that there must have been a major flood that formed the grand canyon. If a gorge can be created in three days through rapid flow of water then the Grand Canyon must have been formed through a major flood to be formed.[13]

Another major evidence for Catastrophism was the mass extinction in the fossil record. For more than three decades it has been debated by evolutionist for the asteroid of dinosaur extinction. Even though this theory has become a lot more popular scientists have had a hard time to explain the lack of dinosaur fossils. Evolutionists are now not sure what to believe because of the extensive gap in the fossil record which is clearly indicating that there had to have been a mass extinction.

How Creationists would explain the disappearance of dinosaurs in the fossil record above the Cretaceous layer is by explaining the Global Flood. The Global flood is the main go to the point because it explains the fossil layers in the geological column. There have been many dinosaur footprints and body fossils that have been round in and below the Cretaceous layer. This basically indicates that when the flood waters rose the animals would have sought higher ground. Also, the footprints that have been seen today indicate that it was typical uphill climbing. Due to the water rising at such a high rate and also the indication of uphill climbing this must have been a big factor of why the bigger dinosaurs went extinct. Also, the rock later about the Cretaceous layer are consistent finding expected in the waning half of the flood year and the post-flood time. The fossils that were including there were mammals and birds as well as reptiles and amphibians.[14]

Catastrophism vs Uniformitarianism

Catastrophism is a theory that the earth's features are mostly accounted by violent catastrophic events. This means that species that went extinct were killed off by a large natural disaster. Culver and other scientists believed that most major features on land were formed by major catastrophes. Uniformitarianism is an idea that was started by James Hutton. This was a theory that states that most features of the earth's surface were formed by slow ongoing geological processes.

The main difference between this two ideas is that one states that major features that we see today were formed by major catastrophic events such as the flood. Also, catastrophism has more proof then uniformitarianism does. On the other hand, Uniformitarianism says that everything was formed through slow gradual processes. Which doesn’t add up because these are just guesses, not facts?[15]

Global Flood

Main Article: Biblical flood

The secular interpretation of earth's history assumes there were repeated floods and other catastrophes which caused the extinction of many animals, but were of insufficient intensity to destroy all terrestrial life. However, the Bible says there was a flood that no terrestrial animal or human could survive without divine intervention. And indeed, a single event capable of depositing the entire geological column would not be survivable. It is certainly a fact that cataclysms have occurred in the earth's past, and vast layers of sediment testify to these disasters. When you examine the evidence closely you will see that the fossil record has simply been misinterpreted by the atheistic scientific community, and is instead a recording of a devastating global flood.

The extensive distribution of sedimentary rocks would quickly be interpreted as the result of a single major catastrophe by geologists but for the presence today of living animals whose existence atop of these formations must be explained naturalistically. Given the depth and distribution of the sediments that cover the earth, it is a foregone conclusion that no terrestrial animal could have survived their deposition if formed during a single event. Likewise, if the flood occurred as described in the Bible, animals could not have survived without God's supernatural intervention. God told Noah there was going to be a flood, gave him instructions on how to survive the event, and had them board the ark before the flood began. The evidence from a historic scenario like Noah's flood could simply not be believed by a naturalist. The only possible naturalistic interpretation is that the organisms alive today were able to survive the deposition of these massive rock layers without such assistance. A naturalist must believe the geological column accumulated at an extremely slow and gradual rate over millions of years for the many fragile organisms alive today to avoid extinction.

An interesting fact is that if North America didn't "float" on the mantle, the waters would almost be as high as the Rocky Mountain system.

A University of Utah study shows how various regions of North America are kept afloat by heat within Earth’s rocky crust, and how much of the continent would sink beneath sea level if not for heat that makes rock buoyant....

Mile-high Denver’s elevation would be 727 feet below sea level and Salt Lake City, now about 4,220 feet, would sit beneath 1,293 feet of water. But high-elevation areas of the Rocky Mountains between Salt Lake and Denver would remain dry land.[16]

External Links

See Also


Catastrophism OR Uniformitarianism


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell." Understanding Evolution. University of California Museum of Paleontology. April 18, 2012.
  2. Author Unknown “Catastrophism” Web. Published Unknown.
  3. Author Unknown "catastrophism-geology" Web. Published Unknown.
  4. Mortenson, Terry. "Where did the idea of 'millions of years' come from?" Answers in Genesis, June 21, 2007. Accessed August 6, 2008
  5. 5.0 5.1 National Geographic, "Mass Extinctions: What Causes Animal Die-Offs?"
  6. Hillel J. Hoffman, "The Permian Extinction - When Life Nearly Came to an End." National Geographic.
  7. Faith et al. Synchronous extinction of North America's Pleistocene mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0908153106. Cited at ScienceDaily.
  8. Hand, G. (2011, March 17). "Fossils Record Ancient Migrations & Trilobite Orgies." University of Cincinnati.
  9. Welsh, J. (2012, March 28). "Ancient Raindrops Reveal Early Earth's Hazy Skies." LiveScience.
  10. Wagner, Thomas (2011, May 17). "Greenhouse Ocean Study Offers Warning for Future." Newcastle University. EurekAlert. American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  11. Yale Environment 360 (2011, May 17). "Ancient Ocean Sediments Show Mass Die-Offs in Eras of High CO2."
  12. Dominic Corsini "catastrophism-definition-theory-cuvier" Web. Published Unknown.
  13. Author Unknown"scientists-coming-to-grips-with-catastrophic-geology" Web. scientists-coming-to-grips-with-catastrophic-geology, Published June 26,2010.
  14. Author Unknown"closing-in-on-k-t-boundary-dinosaur-extinction" Web. closing-in-on-k-t-boundary-dinosaur-extinction, Published June 16,2011.
  15. April Koch "theories-of-geological-evolution-catastrophism-vs-uniformitarianism" Web. Published Unknown.
  16. University of Utah. "Without Hot Rock, Much Of North America Would Be Underwater." ScienceDaily, 25 June 2007. Accessed 7 November 2008.