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Principle Of Catastrophism

QUESTION: What is the principle of catastrophism?


The principle of catastrophism is an assertion that catastrophic natural processes have been primarily responsible for the deposition of the various layers in the geologic column and all the rock formations that we observe. Until the 18th century, no other plausible explanation was considered. The biblical worldwide flood as well as other local floods were believed to be responsible for laying down the sedimentary rock layers we observe.

Someone noted the similarity between the life of a soldier and the deposition process. A solider has long periods of boredom with nothing “going on” with a few short periods of great trauma. Likewise the principle of catastrophism holds that normally very little deposition occurs during the long boring periods and almost all of the deposition occurs during the short traumatic catastrophic periods. The principle of catastrophism applies even more to the deposition of fossils. There is no possible way to fossilize an organism with slow deposition. The organism needs to be buried quickly to be fossilized.

In the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s, James Hutton and Sir Charles Lyell convinced the scientific world that the present is the key to the past and this deposition always occurred exactly as we see it today. We know that this assumption is false based upon the recent tsunami and mount St. Helens volcano eruption. We learned that rapid deposition and rapid canyon formation happens in a catastrophic fashion.

To assert that deposition always took place via a slow process can only be speculation since nobody was there to observe the long process. However, catastrophic events can be observed and we can be sure that they can and do happen, forming structures that supporters of uniformitarianism have attributed to long slow processes. Many geologists and scientists have now rejected uniformitarianism and have readopted the classical principle of catastrophism.

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