The hydroplate theory competes with catastrophic plate tectonics for acceptance among creation scientists. A side-by-side comparison shows that the hydroplate theory explains more and has more evidence to support it.
Catastrophic plate tectonics
Catastrophic plate tectonics came from six prominent members of the Institute for Creation Research: Steven A. Austin, John R. Baumgardner, D. Russell Humphreys, Andrew A. Snelling, Larry Vardiman, and Kurt Wise. In 1986, they proposed that the floors of the earth’s oceans were much weaker than they are today, but still as deep. The Flood began, they said, when the ocean floor broke into slabs. Some of the slabs dived or subducted into the mantle and under their neighbors. This happened along the continental margins. In diving into the mantle, the slabs made the mantle hotter and thinner. Result: the slabs moved even further into the mantle and set up a convection current. These processes, once started, “ran away.” As a result:
- The magnetic field of the earth reversed itself several times in rapid succession.
- The continents began to move, and far more rapidly than they move today.
- The upwelling magma flashed the oceans into steam; this steam rose rapidly into the air, formed clouds, and fell as rain.
- The ocean floor began to rise, and literally spilled the oceans onto the dry land.
- The process created hot brines that precipitated many minerals out of solution. These settled on the beaches, and then tremendous earthquakes generated tsunami-like waves that washed those sediments far inland.
- Finally the ocean floor grew more dense, and the oceans deepened. The water then drained off the land and back into the ocean beds.
Baumgardner and his colleagues presented their ideas at the Third International Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh, PA, in July of 1994. More recently, Austin gave a fifty-minute talk on catastrophic plate tectonics at the Seattle Creation Conference of 2009. (See video below.)
Antonio Snider first proposed catastrophic plate tectonics in 1859. Baumgardner and his team (“The Six”) give Snider due credit. Of course, conventional geologists refused to accept anything like plate tectonics. They then developed a uniformitarian or gradualistic plate-tectonic model that assumes that the plates move at a uniform rate, and always have.
That aside, catastrophic plate tectonics has obvious problems. First, no one has ever explained how any part of the earth’s crust could dive under another part. (Nor has anyone tried to verify that conventional impression by sending a submarine to dive to a “subduction zone” and try to watch or film it in action.) Second, catastrophic plate tectonics does not explain how the world’s oceans spilled over mountains as high as the Rockies to the west, and the Appalachians to the east, and then drained into the Gulf of Mexico and left so little sediment in that body of water.
Furthermore, upwelling magma, once it touched the water, would yield its heat and form a crust. No geyser could form, and certainly not enough to yield forty days and nights of rain.
Walt Brown, developer of the hydroplate theory, explained further what is wrong with catastrophic plate tectonics in a letter to CNAV:
A crust would quickly form on any magma that suddenly erupted onto an ocean floor. That crust would insulate the magma, so not enough heat could be transferred to the water to form geysers, especially under thousands of feet of water. [Catastrophic plate tectonics] never explains how the crust (1) broke all around the earth and then (2) dove into the mantle. Any animation of that would immediately raise questions from viewers.
Brown further asserted that “The Six” invoked a miracle to explain how the plates broke up and started diving into the mantle. Brown criticized The Six severely for invoking such “miracles of convenience,” saying that such things make a “shambles” of science. He has always held to a rule that he calls “economy of miracles.” To paraphrase William of Occam, he does not invoke miracles, far less multiply them, without very good reason.
Brown further says that “The Six” proposed catastrophic plate tectonics recently to replace the canopy theory of the Flood. According to that theory, a canopy of water vapor covered the earth, until several volcanoes erupted at once and caused the water to fall as a long, hard rain. Such a canopy would have to be in orbit, and only the tropical parts of that canopy could ever hold a stable orbit.
The hydroplate theory
Brown first conceived of his hydroplate theory in 1972, and began working on it in earnest in 1980. He explains it in detail here. The hydroplate theory shares one feature with catastrophic plate tectonics: the idea of the breakup of the earth’s crust into plates that moved apart, or crashed into one another. There the similarity ends. The key to the hydroplate theory is a subcrustal ocean, ten miles underground and three quarters of a mile deep. This ocean held one-half of the water in the world’s oceans today. Oceans did exist before the Flood, but held the other half of their current amount in much shallower basins. Mountains existed, too, rising to 9000 feet above sea level, not the 35,000-feet-plus of the Himalayan chain.
The gravity of the moon pulled the crust up and down, and thus “pumped” this ocean until it grew supercritically hot. This pumping also weakened the crust, until finally, on the day of the Flood, the crust cracked. What rushed out of that crack was neither magma nor lava, but a vertical hypersonic water jet, rushing upward at least as fast as 32 miles per second (and perhaps as fast as 117 miles per second). As this water expanded, it converted its heat into kinetic energy and did not merely transfer its heat to the surrounding ocean. (Anyone who has been near a vent of high-pressure steam knows that the danger zone is directly in the path of the out-rushing steam, not off to the side.) The best modern analog of this process is a jet contrail or “vapor trail” that forms from the exhaust of a jet engine at altitude.
The upward-rushing water eroded the broken edges of the crust, and that created the sediment that would wash over the continents. At the same time, the continents formed their own breakaway plates and sank as the water rushed out. That is how the Flood could wash over them. Those plates slid away from the breakout line until the water ran out, and then crashed onto the original chamber floor, compressed, and buckled. This buckling formed most of the mountain chains of today, especially the Ural chain in Russia, the Rocky-Sierra Madre-Andean chain along the Pacific Coast of the Americas, and the Appalachian chain on the American Atlantic Coast. The Himalayan chain, having the highest mountains on earth, formed when several plates crashed into one another. (Mr. Paul Gosselin also explains the hydroplate theory here.)
Critics often complain that no evidence for a subcrustal ocean exists on earth. But it does. Geophysicists have known about a subcrustal ocean beneath the China mainland, having half the volume of the modern Arctic Ocean, for four and a half years. (This article also reports that conventional scientists say that subcrustal water lubricates the tectonic plates even today.) Brown describes another kind of evidence for a subcrustal ocean: the black smokers of the Mid-Oceanic Ridge system. These are plumes of supercritical water, laden with minerals, that spew out of isolated spots along the ridges. Water could not seep down from above to create the smokers; such water would form a crust and seal any lava breach that it touched.
The most important difference between the hydroplate theory and catastrophic plate tectonics lies in what each theory takes for granted, and what each theory explains. Catastrophic plate tectonics takes for granted the hot mantle and core, and invokes a miracle to explain the event that started the cataclysm. The hydroplate theory says that the mantle-and-core structure of the inner earth is a consequence of the Global Flood, as are the high mountains of today. The hydroplate theory makes one assumption, for a subcrustal ocean. And now we find evidence even of that.
An interesting twist
Recently Answers in Genesis published this link to their own animation of how the Global Flood started. (This animation shows regularly at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY.) Answers in Genesis, like ICR, accepts catastrophic plate tectonics. One would expect any animation for catastrophic plate tectonics to depict a volcanic breach, an upward thrust of magma, one side of the breach diving or subducting below the other, and the steam plume that gave the earth forty days and nights of rain. Instead, it shows a crack developing in an ocean floor (how deep that floor might be, is not clear), and then a wall of water rushing out of it. In other words, AiG’s animation, that is supposed to show how catastrophic plate tectonics worked, is more consistent with the hydroplate theory.
Brown has seen different versions of this animation since 2009. He shared with CNAV two misgivings that he had about the animation:
- Naïve viewers might mistakenly assume that Brown “stole” some ideas from catastrophic plate tectonics in developing his hydroplate theory.
- In any event, neither the animation, nor its Web page, nor the related display in the Creation Museum directs the viewer to the information behind the hydroplate theory.
In fact, these sources do not even direct viewers to information behind catastrophic plate tectonics.
But anyone familiar with the hydroplate theory will recognize it, not catastrophic plate tectonics, in the animation.
The following videos show a presentation of catastrophic plate tectonics, a brief animation of the hydroplate theory, the AiG animation, and Pastor Kevin Lea’s lecture on the hydroplate theory, in six parts.
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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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