Guy Berthault's response
to Kevin Henke's article:

Berthault's "Stratigraphy": Rediscovering What Geologists Already Know and Strawperson Misrepresentations of
Modern Applications of Steno's Principles


 Dear Dr. Henke,

Here is my reply (translated from the French) to your challenging internet article concerning my work. I found it most interesting and decided to answer your criticism point by point. To do so, I will use your headings.




You qualify me as a "young-Earth creationist". This is incorrect. I am not a creationist. I do not use the Bible to construct geological models to accord, in particular, with the Deluge.


If it is true, that being a Catholic, the contradictions between biblical Genesis and historical geology motivated my research, I, nevertheless, took great care to avoid bias and conduct my work with objectivity. Not to do so would have prevented publication of my reports inter alia by the French Academy of Sciences, The Geological Society of France and recently by the Russian Academy of Sciences.


You say "his knowledge of the sedimentology literature and stratigraphic method are decades or even centuries out of date". Here you speak without knowledge. As member of the Geological Society of France and the French Association of Sedimentologists and International Society of Sedimentologists (IAS), I receive all the latest information from their publications and in particular from "Sedimentology". Since 1970 I have received from the American Society of Geologists all the reports of the JOIDES (Glomar Challenger Resolution). Xavier Le Pichon sent me his report personally. I am familiar with sequence stratigraphy from Walther up to the Exxon group by way of  Bouma and Vassolovitch. I directed the program of experiments at Colorado University  performed by Pierre Julien resident teacher of hydraulics and sedimentology. The peer-reviewed results were published by the Geological Society of France. In 1995, Julien published his work Erosion and Sedimentation which I used it to determine the paleohydraulic conditions which I propose as a replacement for the principles of stratigraphy. I would recommend you read his book.


The fact that my knowledge of sedimentology is considerably more up-to-date than you claim, doesn’t mean the above references necessarily appear in my reports.




You state, "Because Berthault criticizes Steno's original ideas rather than the modified principles used by modern geologists, his arguments are largely strawperson fallacies". This statement suggests you are unaware that for all practical purposes the stratigraphic scale, its sub-divisions of stages and eras were established in the middle of the nineteenth century, not from modern principles, but from Steno's ancient principles, augmented by paleontological identity from the beginning of the last century.


The modern principle of superposition


You say, "The modern principle of superposition …layered sediments or sedimentary rocks tend to be older than any sediments or sedimentary rocks directly above them".  Steno says the same thing, "Therefore, at the time when the lowest stratum formed, none of the superior strata existed".  Several pages later you write, "Also, contrary to Berthault's claims, Steno's Law of Superposition is not violated in his Figure 7B. In the vertical direction, the overlying materials are still younger than (were deposited after) the underlying materials". Clearly you have not understood Figure 7B which represents stratified superposed beds prograding simultaneously in the direction of the current. In time t1 the topset is older than the bottomset in t2 and t3. The principle of superposition, therefore, is invalidated. The same reasoning applies to all superposed deposits resulting from a continuous turbulent current with fluctuating velocity.


You also say, "Large age differences between the two layers are especially common if an erosional plane (unconformity) exists between them". In our flume experiments, a temporary increase in current velocity eroded the deposit, creating a surface erosion covered by the new sediment when the  velocity reduces. There is, therefore, no sedimentary hiatus. It is the "scour and fill" movement. It follows that these discordances must be interpreted not from the rocks but the sediments of which they are constituted.


You say "Because the underlying layers need not be well lithified to survive the immediate deposition of overlying sediments, the following statements by Berthault are nothing more than invalid strawperson arguments". The fact that I refer to submarine borings to refute Steno's concept of successive lithification of superposed strata merely questions the duration of stratification, not the basic principle of superposition invalidated by our experiments.


Lower down you write, "In the 1960s and 1970s, long before Berthault's research, geologists knew that laminae …can form under a variety of conditions".  My lamination experiments in France were in 1974. At that time, I knew about the earlier flume experiments in lamination. In my report to the Academy I cited Edwin Mc Kee's work in 1965. But the originality of my experiments was to have reduced a sample of  friable laminated sandstone to its constituent particles. The resultant particles were then poured dry into a flask, and then with the flask filled with water. It could be seen that the deposit in both cases reproduced the original lamination irrespective of the speed of sedimentation. This showed a property of mechanics, and not chronology, applies to heterogranular mixtures, producing segregation of the particles according to size. It explained that the resulting lamination was not formed by successive layers. Similarly, the explanation of larves by successive deposits is challenged. 


The modern Principle of Continuity


You assert that, "The modern description of the Principle of Continuity simply states that layers MAY extend over great lateral distances". A principle is defined in physics as a law of a general character regulating an ensemble of phenomena. Your assertion does not constitute a law and, therefore, is not a principle. The use of the word MAY states a possibility nothing more. Whereas the principle of continuity upon which the geological time-scale was established in the nineteenth century defined an age for each stage.


The principle has survived for a long time as it is still defined by Jean Aubouin in his Précis de Géologie as, "Any layer has the same age at any point".  Our flume experiments have, of course, invalidated this principle, by showing that superposed stratified deposits prograde simultaneously in the direction of the current. They cannot, therefore, be the same age at each point.


The modern Principle of Original Horizontality


As with the modern Principle of Continuity, what you have to say about horizontality in no way resembles the definition of a principle. Whereas, according to Prof. Stephen A. Nelson of Tulane University: 

Sedimentary strata are deposited in layers that are horizontal or nearly horizontal, parallel to or nearly parallel to the earth’s surface. Thus rocks that we now see inclined or folded have been disturbed since their original deposition. (found on the web).

This modern affirmation is very close to Steno's. What is false about it is the statement that the inclined or folded rocks we see today have been disturbed since their original deposition. Our experiments, published by the French Academy of Sciences and the Geological Society, show that stratification of the deposit is parallel to the slope up to the angle of repose.


Yet, further on, you agree when you say, "Freshly deposited sediment beds on continental shelves, sand dunes, deltas and other slopes may dip significantly, often up to their angle of repose".




In this domain, my lamination experiments showed that laminae were not chronological markers and their thickness was independent of the velocity of sedimentation. This result is obviously contrary to Lyellian geology.


I cannot, therefore, understand why you say here, "Contrary to Berthault's strawperson argument", particularly as your own arguments on this subject are not dissimilar to my own.




See my comments above regarding Figure 7B.




You say that, "Van Till et al. (1988 chapter 6) demonstrates that the origins are incompatible with a rapid and violent Genesis Flood. For example, the bright Angel Shale contains a number of thin, but coarse-grained, conglomerates".


You will recall that in a turbulent current the velocity of current fluctuates. The maximum  permissible velocities for canals with h<1m are:


Stiff clay (very colloidal)        1.52m/s

Alluvial silt when colloidal    1.52m/s

Coarse gravel                         1.83m/s (Pierre Julien – Erosion & Sedimentation 1995)


If, therefore, the velocity of the turbulent current fluctuates between 1.52 and 1.83m/s, there will be alternate deposits of clay, silt and coarse gravel. This is the case with Bright Angel Shale. The slight difference of permissible velocities and fluctuation of the current velocity can be justified, as for clay, silt and coarse gravel in which large brachiopods get sorted with finer grained sediment.




I hope the above remarks suffice to show that my works published by the official scientific media do not justify your appellation of "strawperson fallacies".


To further the ends of scientific objectivity, and not polemic, I should appreciate hearing from you as to what you consider very interesting in my "hard work".


Sincerely  - Guy Berthault
31 July 2003 

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