Some Questions for Dr. Berthault

Kevin R. Henke, Ph.D.

Revised and Updated on 30 April 2004


The following material may be freely copied and distributed as long as it's not altered, edited or sold.




Dr. Guy Berthault has responded to my earlier essay. I have a series of questions and comments about some statements in his response and other works.




In my original essay, I document that many of Dr. Berthault's geological arguments are outdated, sometimes by centuries.  For example, I argue that his criticism of Charles Lyell was inappropriate because geologists no longer use that form of uniformitarianism.  I also state that when criticizing Steno's principles, Dr. Berthault should use modern definitions and not Steno's original formulations, which were revised long ago.  For example, there is no need for Dr. Berthault to inform geologists that Steno was inaccurate when he stated that underlying layers must acquire a "solid consistence" before overlying layers can be deposited (e.g., Berthault, 2002, p. 442-443).  Geologists going back to at least Bouma (1962) readily recognized that turbidites can deposit thick, multilayered sediments in a matter of minutes.  Obviously, the layers in the middle of these naturally catastrophic flows didn't have much time for solidification before other layers piled on top of them. 

To defend his claims that he is familiar with sedimentology, sequence stratigraphy and geology, Dr. Berthault mentions his reading list, peer-reviewed papers, research projects and memberships in several prestigious geological organizations.  He further states that he receives up-to-date information through these organizations and his research.  


I don't have serious problems with Dr. Berthault's laboratory work on particle motion and fluid flow.  I think that Dr. Berthault and his colleagues have made some important and excellent laboratory observations that may help to explain laminae in Bouma's sequences or flow features in volcanic ash deposits (Schmincke et al., 1973; Fisher and Schmincke, 1984; etc.).  However, being a laboratory expert in fluid and particle motions doesn't mean that the individual is competent in field geology. Despite his memberships in sedimentology and other geological organizations, I show in my original essay and this one that Dr. Berthault misunderstands and underestimates how modern geologists view field conditions, Steno's laws and sedimentology.  In reality, Dr. Berthault's laboratory experiments are perfectly compatible with actualism (modern geology).  He and his young-Earth creationist (YEC) friends don't need to invoke "Noah's Flood" to explain sedimentary rocks (for example: Figure 14 in "A New Approach" at Dr. Berthault's website).


Here are some questions for Dr. Berthault:


1.  If your knowledge of modern geology is up-to-date, why do you criticize 19th century Lyell uniformitarianism as if it's still valid rather than comparing your results to modern actualism?  Actualism states that both NATURAL catastrophes and slow and gradual processes can produce laminae.


For example, in your reply, you write:


"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."


Furthermore, Berthault (2002, p. 443) states:


"Charles Lyell added a principle of uniformitarianism, giving as an example layers deposited in fresh water in Auvergne.  Observing that the layers were less than 1 mm thick, he considered that each layer was laid down annually.  At this rate, the 230-m-thick deposit would have taken hundreds of thousands of years to form.  As will be shown below, these layers (laminae) do not always correspond to annual deposits and may be generated in a much less time interval than the modern geological time-scale indicates."


2.  Because of Bouma (1962) and the work of other researchers, geologists recognized long ago that laminar beds may be deposited in a matter of minutes in turbidites (also Baas et al., 2000).  So, how is your claim in the above paragraph that laminae "may be generated in a much less time interval" news to modern geologists?


Long ago, Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 198, 33) warned geologists that not all laminae are varves:


"Without critical analysis and supporting evidence, however, it is unsafe to assume that the laminae in a shale represent annual deposition rather than deposition by a single storm or stormy spell.  Several laminae may even have formed during a single flood...[reference to a figure on p. 33 showing laminated sediment found in a house from a 1913 flood]."


3. So why do you need to inform geologists that "these layers (laminae) do not always correspond to annual deposits" (Berthault, 2002, p. 443) when these warnings have been in sedimentology textbooks for decades (Dunbar and Rodgers, 1957, p. 33, 198; also see: Blatt et al., 1980, p. 134)?  Your experiments certainly provide valuable information on how laminae may rapidly form, but considering the 1913 flood mentioned in Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 33) and other field observations, your experiments were not needed to inform geologists that laminae can rapidly form.


Although not all laminae in the Green River Formation are varves, there are definitely legitimate varved deposits in this and other formations (Ripepe et al., 1991; Smith, 1997, p. 161). The varves of the Green River Formation correspond to ENSO, sunspot and Milankovitch orbital cycles.  While actualism recognizes that laminae can form from a variety of processes (some slow and some fast), the slowly deposited laminae in the Green River Formation are inconsistent with Dr. Berthault's explanations as well as the claims of young-Earth creationism. 


While Dr. Berthault endorses YEC Austin's depositional "model" for the Grand Canyon Tonto Group by posting it at his website, he does not comment on the cycles in the Green River Formation in his reply.  His YEC friends also generally ignore them (e.g., "Green River Blues").  A rare exception is an essay by YEC Paul G. Humber, where Humber simply states that he is skeptical of the existence of cycles in the Green River Formation.  Considering that the existence of these cycles has been confirmed for over 70 years (Fischer and Roberts, 1991; Ripepe et al., 1991), Humber's "skepticism" is a prime example of denying reality. 


4.  How can your laboratory experiments explain the existence of laminae in the Green River Formation that correspond to the 11-year sunspot, 20,000-year precessional, 100,000-year eccentricity, and other cycles? Because you are willing to comment on the origin of the Grand Canyon Tonto Group at your website, why not comment on these cycles in the Green River Formation?


5.  How do your laboratory experiments conflict with actualism and modern definitions (see below) of Steno's and Hutton's principles?  Is "Noah's Flood" required to explain the sedimentary rock record?  If so, why is actualism inadequate?





Dr. Berthault has encouraged me to read his articles and Erosion and Sedimentation by his colleague Pierre Y. Julien.  Erosion and Sedimentation is a detailed book that deals with particle motion, fluid flow and particle sampling techniques.  Nevertheless, the book does not conflict with modern geology field methods or directly deal with creation versus science controversies in geology.  More on this book later.


Although Dr. Berthault has impressive memberships in the French Academy of Sciences, the Geological Society of France and the Russian Academy of Sciences, his publication record in widely circulated peer-reviewed scientific journals is surprisingly sparse.  I consulted two computer databases: Web of Science and GeoREF Web of Science lists articles and their abstracts from international science and engineering journals from 1945 to present.  GeoREF contains abstracts from prominent geology journals, conference proceedings and geology reports from government agencies and universities. The computer database Web of Science identified only three articles authored or coauthored by Dr. Berthault. GeoREF did a better job and located three additional articles for a total of six, all of which were published between 1986 and 2002:


Berthault, G. 2002.  Analysis of main principles of stratigraphy on the basis of experimental data. Lithology and Mineral Resources. v. 37, n. 5, p.442-446. Posted at the Kolbe Center website or with Internet Explorer: go to the main page of the Kolbe Center website, then click on "Articles and Essays" on the left and scroll down until Dr. Berthault's name appears.

Berthault, G. 1997.  Experiences Fondamentales de stratification. 
 In: Proceedings of the workshop on short term thermal and hydrological signatures related to tectonic activities. Cahiers du Centre Europeen de Geodynamique et de Seismologie (ECGS). v. 14, p. 195.

Berthault, G., 1994. Experiments on stratification. In: 14th International Sedimentological Congress. International Association of Sedimentologists, Comparative Sedimentology Division. Utrecht, Netherlands. v. 14, p. I.4.

Julien, P.Y., Y. Lan and G. Berthault.  1993. Experiments on stratification of heterogeneous sand mixtures. Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France, Huitieme Serie. v. 164, n. 5, p. 649-660.  Posted by Answers In Genesis (AIG).


Berthault, G.  1988. Sedimentation d'un melange heterogranulaire; lamination experimentale en eau calme et en eau courante. Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences, Serie 2, Mecanique, Physique, Chimie, Sciences de l'Univers, Sciences de la Terre. v. 306, n. 11, p. 717-724. 


Berthault, G. 1986.  Experiences sur la lamination des sediments par granoclassement periodique posterieur au depot. Contribution a l'explication de la lamination dans nombre de sediments et de roches sedimentaires.  Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Sciences, Serie 2, Mecanique, Physique, Chimie, Sciences de l'Univers, Sciences de la Terre. v. 303, n. 17, p. 1569-1574.  English translation posted by AIG.


English versions are not available for all of the six articles.  Nevertheless, almost all of the information in Dr. Berthault's English articles and translations is already posted at his website or the young-Earth creationist (YEC) websites of his supporters. 




Below are some modern definitions of Steno's "laws", which are based on information from several sources, including: the Glossary of Geology (Jackson, 1997), Dictionary of Geological Terms (American Geological Institute, 1976), Lutgens and Tarbuck (2003, p. 389-390); Boggs (1995, p. 492), and Levin (1978, p. 12):


"Principle of Superposition" states that unless sedimentary rocks are folded, overturned, faulted or intruded with younger sediment, overlying layers of sediment or sedimentary rocks tend to be younger than layers underneath them.  Whether the sediments were deposited in still or flowing water or wind, the principle is still valid as long as the age relationships are determined between overlying and underlying rock or sediment layers.  That is, the principle CANNOT determine the relative ages between lateral rocks and sediments (see Figures 1 and 2 below).  Furthermore, the length of time between the depositions of the underlying and overlying layers is irrelevant to the validity of the Principle of Superposition.  That is, whether an overlying layer was deposited only seconds after the deposition of its underlying companion or billions of years later, the principle remains valid and the underlying layer is still properly recognized as older.


"Principle of Original Horizontality" recognizes that gravity dictates that sediments will be deposited in an approximately horizontal orientation or approximately parallel to the Earth's surface, but not vertically or at other steep angles.  In other words, sediments may be deposited up to their angles of repose.  Once sediments are buried and lithified into sedimentary rocks, they may be folded, overturned, eroded, faulted or otherwise deformed from their depositional orientations.


"Principle of Continuity" states that a deposited layer at the time of its formation will continue laterally until it thins out because of non-deposition or abuts against an obstacle.  Facies changes are also possible.  


These modern definitions certainly have many points in common with Steno's original descriptions, which are listed and often criticized in Berthault (2002):


"'Principle of Superposition': At the time when one of the highest stratum formed, the stratum underneath it had already acquired a solid consistence.  At the time when any stratum formed, the superincumbent material was entirely fluid.  Therefore, at the time when the lowest stratum formed, none of the superior strata existed."          


"'Principle of Original Horizontality': At the time when any stratum formed, its lower surface, as also the surfaces of its sides, corresponded with the surfaces of the subjacent body, and lateral bodies, but its upper surface was (then) parallel to the horizon, as far as it was possible."

"'Principle of Continuity': Strata owe their existence to sediments in a fluid.  At the time when any stratum formed, either it was circumscribed on its sides by another solid body, or else it ran round the globe of the Earth."  


Nevertheless, geologists recognized long ago that some sections of Steno's original statements were often inaccurate (e.g., strata covering the Earth, solid consistency in underlayers, exact horizontality in the orientation of freshly deposited sediments, etc.).  These sections were modified or removed from the modern definitions of Steno's laws long before Dr. Berthault's revelations. 


Principle of Superposition


In my original essay, I criticized Dr. Berthault for attacking a portion of Steno's original "Principle of Superposition," which had already been rejected by modern geologists.  That is, at his website, Dr. Berthault cites evidence from submarine borings to indicate that the following statement originally made by Steno is not always correct:


"At the time when one of the highest stratum formed, the stratum underneath it had already acquired a solid consistence." (Also quoted and used by Berthault, 2002, p. 442). 


In his reply, Dr. Berthault states:


"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."


As discussed below, Dr. Berthault fails to present any information in his website Figure 7B and elsewhere that undermines the modern version of the Principle of Superposition. 


6.  Considering that geologists already know that turbidite layers may pile up in a matter of minutes and that modern versions of Steno's Principles only deal with relative dating and not durations of stratification or solidification, why do you feel that it was necessary to attack Steno's outdated "solid consistence" statement at your website and in your 2002 article?  That is, because modern geologists obviously know that a Bouma sequence involves the deposition of layers on top of each other in minutes, why even bring up and attack Steno's outdated statement with evidence from submarine borings?


7.  Because modern geologists have long recognized that Steno's pronouncement on the "solid consistence" of underlayers is often not strictly true, can you not see that your criticism of Steno's original statement is a strawperson fallacy?


Principle of Original Horizontality


Concerning the Principle of Original Horizontality, geologists recognized long ago that sediments may accumulate on slopes.  However, this seems to be news to Dr. Berthault (2002, p. 445), who writes:


"Moreover, the experiments reported in my second paper to the Academy of Sciences, as well as experiments conducted by P. Julien and presented as video Fundamental Experiments on Stratification at several sedimentological conferences, clearly shows that up to the limit of the angle of repose (30 degrees to 40 degrees for the sands), the lamination of sediments is parallel to the slope...[reference to figure omitted]. The principle of horizontality does not apply in this case."


8.  Isn't it obvious to any geologist that has seen the side of a sand dune that layers may not be deposited horizontally?  Don't construction workers, farmers with piles of grain and children in sandboxes recognize that the sides of piles are not horizontal, but occur up to their angles of repose?  The information in the above paragraph is already conveyed in most introductory geology textbooks (e.g., Press and Siever, 2001, p. 151, 195, 233; McGeary et al., 2004, p. 352, 356, 462; Lutgens and Tarbuck, 2003, p. 256-257; Hamblin and Christiansen, 2004, p. 125; etc.). Unless you're writing an introductory geology textbook, why state the obvious in your 2002 paper as if it were news? Instead of filling your articles with statements that have been recognized as obvious and indisputable for over 100 years, why not only discuss the sorting mechanisms that you and your colleagues have discovered?


9.  Because G. K. Gilbert recognized way back in 1885 (as mentioned by Boggs, 1995, p. 362) and probably numerous geologists before him that sands are often not deposited horizontally, why discuss this issue in your 2002 (p. 445) paper as if it's a new revelation? 


At his website under "Sedimentology Discussed" (also see Berthault, 2002, p. 443), Dr. Berthault again makes statements about the Principle of Original Horizontality that are profound to him, but commonplace to modern geologists:


"Are strata in ocean deposits, always horizontal and the rate of sedimentation uniform, on a global scale of the Earth's oceans? Seismic records and submarine coring demonstrate that such is not the case."


Again, geologists discovered long ago that Steno's statements about "global scale" horizontal layers were generally not true.  Many introductory undergraduate geology textbooks (such as, Press and Siever, 2001, p. 392, 396) already contain seismic cross-sections of continental slopes and other areas of the ocean floor that illustrate that sediment layers are frequently not deposited in strictly horizontal orientations.   


10.  How are your statements "Are strata in ocean deposits, always horizontal and the rate of sedimentation uniform, on a global scale of the Earth's oceans? Seismic records and submarine coring demonstrate that such is not the case." news to modern geologists when introductory undergraduate textbooks on geology, oceanography and sedimentology already contain this information?  


Nelson Quotation


Dr. Berthault arbitrarily quotes a description of the Principle of Original Horizontality from a website by Dr. Stephen A. Nelson.  He then criticizes me for not defining the principle in the same way as Dr. Nelson does:


"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. [new paragraph]  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."


Why does Dr. Berthault select this ordinary website to obtain an "official" definition of the principle rather than using a widely accepted geological dictionary or getting a consensus from several recent geological references as I did?  Perhaps, Dr. Berthault simply found it easier to attack and demolish Dr. Nelson's definition.  In comparison, the definition that I use (which is more broadly based on the findings of modern geology) already agrees with Dr. Berthault that sediments may deposit at orientations up to their angles of repose.


Dr. Berthault's Improper Description of the Principle of Continuity


Rather than appropriately describing the Principle of Continuity in his reply, Dr. Berthault uses the following vague definition, which was derived from an old reference (Aubouin et al.):


"The principle [of continuity] has survived for a long time as it is still defined by Jean Aubouin [et al.] in his [sic, their] Précis de Géologie as, 'Any layer has the same age at any point'". 


Précis de Géologie (Dunod Université, Paris, 334 pages) was written by J. Aubouin, R. Brousse, and J.P. Lehman in 1967 with a later edition in 1975 Because I can't read French and have no ready access to hardcopies of this book, I was unable to check the context of this brief quotation. Nevertheless, why should Dr. Berthault rely on a decades-old textbook from the 1960s to provide up-to-date scientific information, including an appropriate definition for the Principle of Continuity?  Why didn't he use more recent references and dictionaries?  I can understand that old references still may have historical value.  For example, the history of the works of 19th century geologists as summarized in Mintz (1977) is probably still reliable.  Dunbar and Rodgers provide a perspective of how stratigraphy was viewed in the 1950s.  Yet, science and philosophical ideas in textbooks are not ageless. They often become significantly outdated in a matter of a few years.  By publishing updated editions or entirely new textbooks, authors can inform us of how they have changed and modernized their views as they continue to grow in their fields.  So, considering how geology changes over time, how can Dr. Berthault claim that Jean Aubouin et al. would "still" define the Principle of Continuity in this simplistic manner after several decades?  Also, as far as I've been able to determine, nobody else uses the Aubouin et al. definition for the Principle of Continuity.


After citing this feeble definition from Aubouin et al. (1967, 1975), Dr. Berthault then fallaciously attacks it with a strawperson argument:

 "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."

11.  Geologists have known for decades that delta and certain other sediments prograde.  This information is commonly presented in introductory undergraduate geology textbooks (e.g., Press and Siever, 2001, p. 300-302).  So, why publish experimental results that are already common knowledge?  


A proper definition of the Principle of Continuity describes the original lateral extent of a sediment layer rather than making any claims about the layer having "the same age at any point."  As demonstrated by the discussions of Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 272-273) below, the faulty definition from Aubouin et al. (1967) obviously would not apply to layered members, formations or other lithostratigraphic (rock) units that do not have uniform ages.


12.  So, why use Aubouin et al.'s ancient and vague definition to describe the Principle of Continuity when modern geological dictionaries and other recent references provide more widely accepted and accurate definitions? 


Properly Defining the Principle of Continuity


As mentioned above, I used several contemporary sources to derive the following modern version of the Principle of Continuity:


A deposited layer at the time of its formation will continue laterally until it thins out because of non-deposition or abuts against an obstacle.  Facies changes are also possible.  


Contrary to Dr. Berthault's beliefs, the definition of this principle evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, 19th century geologists discovered that facies changes create important exceptions to Steno's original Principle of Continuity.  As stated more than 20 years ago in Byers (1982, p. 219):


"For over a century we have known about facies change.  Facies change is a violation of the purest form of lateral continuity [Steno's Law of Continuity], which says that strata extend without change to the basin margin."


Because of the recognition of facies changes and detailed field studies that destroyed the credibility of "Flood geology" (Young, 1982, p. 44, 51-54; Mintz, 1977, p. 6-7, 18-19), 19th century geologists recognized that the following statement in Steno's original Law of Continuity was inaccurate:


"At the time when any stratum formed, either it was circumscribed on its sides by another solid body, or else it ran round the globe of the Earth."


As I further stated in my original essay:


"Except for layers from a massive volcanic eruption or an asteroid impact (e.g., K-T iridium layer), individual geologic layers are not originally deposited on a worldwide scale.  The deposition of individual layers is sometimes regional, but they're usually only localized. Even unusual, laterally extensive formations (such as the St. Peter Sandstone) actually consist of a series of local or regional sand deposits with distinctively different ages (Mintz, 1977, p. 31-35).  Contrary to many YEC misconceptions, geologic formations usually do not have uniform ages."


 Facies and Correlation


Unlike Aubouin et al. (1967) as interpreted by Dr. Berthault, Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 272) recognized long ago that lithostratigraphic units (e.g., the Tapeats sandstone) may not have "uniform ages":


"This unit [Tapeats sandstone] can be traced almost continuously from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other; for long distances it upholds a wide bench, the Tonto Platform, which testifies to its perfect continuity.  Yet because of facies shifts the unit is of different ages at the two ends of the canyon, so that physical continuity has failed completely to establish correlation."


They also state (p. 273):


"It must never be forgotten, however, that even if continuity is thus suggested or proved, time-equivalence, though perhaps probable, is not assured."


Clearly, any facies changes must be recognized when applying the Principle of Continuity.  Contrary to the approach attributed to Aubouin et al. (1967), the proper use of the principle does not involve correlating rock or sediment layers and then simply assuming "uniform ages."




While Dr. Berthault recognizes that the Principle of Continuity and Steno's other laws have exceptions and limitations, he must also realize what Byers (1982, p. 219) and other geologists knew long ago.  Namely, scientific principles are not absolutes and they can evolve over time to meet the demands of field research.


In his reply, Dr. Berthault protests my use of "maybes" when describing scientific laws and principles:

"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." [Dr. Berthault's emphasis]

Contrary to Dr. Berthault's statements, there are no absolutes in science, only maybes. Religious commandments may be written in stone, but scientific principles and laws are not.  They are useful and generally true rules, but not absolutes. That's why I often use the qualifier "may" in my statements, including when I describe scientific principles and laws.  As demonstrated by Byers (1982) and Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 111-112), Steno's Principles have been modified over the centuries, just like Ockham's Razor.  This is why Dr. Berthault must compare his laboratory results to modern definitions of Steno's laws rather than Steno's original formulations to avoid strawperson fallacies.  Despite some limitations, exceptions and revisions, Steno's laws are still widely applicable in field research.


We must also remember that Einstein modified Newton's laws.  Although Newton's laws are still useful in engineering structures and navigating spacecraft, Einstein showed that these laws are not absolute, unalterable, infallible and without limits. 


13.  Because Einstein modified Newton's "laws", why can't Steno's "laws" also be modified as field evidence demands?  Just because a law is modified over time, does it necessarily lose its general usefulness?


14.  Why do you often attack Steno's 17th century principles (e.g., Berthault, 2000, p. 442-443) on the basis of limited violations and exceptions that geologists widely recognized in the 19th and 20th centuries?




After criticizing my definition of scientific laws and principles, Dr. Berthault states:


"The use of the word MAY states a possibility nothing more.  Whereas the principle of continuity upon which the geologic time-scale was established in the nineteenth century defined an age for each stage."


However, the development of the geologic time scale in the 19th century depended on MUCH MORE than the Principle of Continuity. Specifically, Boggs (1995, p. 6) and other textbooks state that fossil assemblages were the dominant features that allowed stages to be initially defined in the 19th century.  When Alcide d'Orbigny first defined stages in 1842, he based them on ammonite and other index fossils (Mintz, 1977, p. 31) rather than just lithological units correlated with the Principle of Continuity. (Again, the above quotations from Dunbar and Rodgers [1957, p. 272-273] warn against assuming time equivalence when correlating formations.)  Today, fossils are still critical, along with radiometric dating, in defining stages and other chronostratigraphic units.  The Principle of Continuity plays a relatively minor role.


15.  Considering that rock layers often do not have uniform ages, how could the Principle of Continuity by itself or as a primary factor define "an age for each stage"?




In his reply to me, Dr. Berthault writes:


"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."


Dr. Berthault is referring to a section of my initial essay where I stated that the original 17th century formulations of Steno's laws are not the same as the updated versions used by 21st century field geologists.  I was stressing that Dr. Berthault needs to compare his ideas with modern geology and not Steno's original 17th century ideas, which are partially outdated and obsolete.  If Dr. Berthault continues to rediscover and denounce already well-known deficiencies in Steno's original laws, he is only "reinventing the wheel" and engaging in fallacious strawperson attacks on 17th century claims that are no longer accepted.


Now, in his reply, Dr. Berthault raises another issue.  He claims that 19th century geologists essentially used Steno's original 17th century formulations to derive the "stages" (chronostratigraphic term) and "eras" (geochronologic term) that geologists now use. 


Although the relative-age geologic time-scale of the late 19th century is very similar to the current absolute-age version (Mintz, 1977, p. 14, 21-26, 87), the principles of Smith, Hutton and Steno, which produced the relative time scale, have not been stagnant.  As discussed above, the discovery of facies and the death of "Flood geology" in the 19th century led to revisions in the Principle of Continuity.   So, Steno's laws have evolved over time.  That is, Steno's original 17th century laws are significantly different than the versions that were used in the 19th century and the 19th century versions are significantly different than those used today. Also, contrary to Dr. Berthault's claims, the "stages" and "eras" that were used in the 19th century are not necessarily consistent with the official definitions that are now promoted in the North American Stratigraphic Code (e.g., Boggs, 1995, p. 695-727).  For brief historical summaries of how stratigraphic nomenclature changed during the 19th and early 20th centuries, see Mintz (1977, p. 74-80) and Schrenck and Muller (1941).  Again, if Dr. Berthault wants his statements on geology to be current and relevant, he needs to compare his ideas to modern (and not 17th or 19th century) geology. 




Dr. Berthault claims that I have misunderstood Figure 7B under "Stratification" at his website and that the figure demonstrates that Steno's Principle of Superposition is invalid:


"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."


Figure 7B violates an overly strict interpretation of Steno's initial Principle of Original Horizontality.  However, as mentioned before, early geologists (including G. K. Gilbert in 1885) knew that sediments could accumulate at slopes greater than zero degrees.  Nevertheless, Dr. Berthault fails to properly interpret his own figure. As illustrated in my Figure 1, prograding sediments (such as is shown in Figure 7B or present in dunes and delta sediments) do NOT violate the Principle of Superposition.  On the other hand, the Principle of Superposition BY ITSELF is not always adequate enough to identify all of the relative age relationships at a field site (as an example, see Figure 2 and related discussions below).


When applying the Principle of Superposition, Dr. Berthault should NOT compare the topset of one layer with the DOWN SLOPE bottomset of another and then claim that the law is invalid.  To appropriately apply the Principle of Superposition, topsets must ONLY be compared with overlying and underlying layers in a vertical direction and bottomsets with their overlying and underlying layers, also in a vertical direction (Figure 1). As shown in Figure 1, a proper application of the Principle of Superposition creates a series of separate vertical lines, each with its own relative age relationships.  For example, as shown by the vertical line on the right side of Figure 1, the Principle of Superposition correctly indicates that bottomset t3 is younger than bottomset t2, and bottomset t2 is younger than bottomset t1.  Additionally, as shown by the second vertical line from the left in Figure 1, topset t3 is younger than topset t2 and topset t2 is younger than foreset t1.  Whether the sediment layers prograde and dip as shown in Figure 1 or deposit horizontally in still water, the Principle of Superposition can ONLY be applied in a vertical direction. Therefore, the principle CANNOT be used to determine the relative ages of topset t1 with bottomsets t2 and t3 because the bottomsets are NOT directly underneath or above topset t1 (Figure 1 and Figure 7B at Dr. Berthault's website). 


As clearly shown in Figure 2, the Principle of Superposition by itself CANNOT be used to determine whether Layer A is older or younger than the stream sediments.  Cross-cutting and other field relationships are required to determine which layer is older or younger.  If Dr. Berthault is going to misapply the Principle of Superposition in his Figure 7B by going in a lateral (non-vertical) direction, he might just as well also inappropriately attack the principle because stream sediments in valleys are often younger than rocks on the summits of nearby hills (Figure 2). No modern field geologist applies the Principle of Superposition in the way that Dr. Berthault does. 

Berthault's Figure 7 simply illustrates how deltas, dunes and some other ordinary prograding sedimentary features can form.  Again, Gilbert figured this out in 1885.  Similar sketches of sloping and prograding beds in deltas have been illustrated in geology books for decades. For example, notice the great similarities in the prograding beds in Dr. Berthault's Figure 7B with those in Figure 21A in Dunbar and Rodgers (1957, p. 41).


16.  Why post Figure 7 at your website and indicate that it's a new revelation when this information has been in geology textbooks for decades? 


17.  How can you justify attacking the Principle of Superposition by comparing layers that do not vertically overlie or underlie each other?   What justification do you have for applying the Principle of Superposition in this manner? If you believe that Figure 7B violates the Principle of Superposition, why not my Figure 2? 





Dr. Berthault makes the following statements:

"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."


In context, my original statements are:


"The time separating the formation of a sediment layer and the deposition of its overlying companion may range from seconds to billions of years.  Large age differences between the two layers are especially common if an erosional plane (unconformity) exists between them."


I do not disagree with the following obvious statement from Dr. Berthault:


"... 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."


He then claims that identifying the nature of the boundaries between layers can be accomplished by looking at the sedimentology:


"It follows that these discordances must be interpreted not from the rocks but the sediments of which they are constituted."


However, sediment textures and structures may not be enough to distinguish a scour and fill feature from a subtle, but time extensive, unconformity (such as a paraconformity) (Boggs, 1995, p. 495).  This is especially true if the sediment textures and structures have been substantially altered or erased by diagenesis (i.e., subsurface processes that convert buried sediments into sedimentary rocks).  Without the presence of index fossils, layers that are dateable with radiometric methods or lateral correlations with more complete deposits (for some examples from the Grand Canyon region see: Chapter 6 of Van Till et al., 1988), paraconformities may be impossible to identify and distinguish from scour and fill features or essentially conformable sediment layers.  So, rocks with their fossils and any radiometric dates, and not just their precursor sediments, are critical in identifying the nature of sedimentary rock contacts.


18.  Without using index fossils, radiometric dating or correlation, how would you distinguish a scour and fill feature from a subtle paraconformity resulting from erosion and non-deposition over an extensive amount of time?  



Data from Julien (1995)


As mentioned in my original essay, Dr. Berthault (who claims to be a non-creationist) and YEC Steve Austin have endorsed a "Genesis Flood model" to supposedly explain the origin of the Bright Angel Shale and related sedimentary rocks of the Tonto Group in the Grand Canyon region.  I then identified several problems with a "Genesis Flood" origin for this Group.  In his response, Dr. Berthault quotes several "maximum permissible velocities" from Table 7.2 of Julien (1995, p. 119):


Stiff clay (very colloidal)   1.52 meters/sec (m/s)
Alluvial silt when colloidal   1.52 m/s
Coarse gravel   1.83 m/s


Using these values, Dr. Berthault then argues:


"If, therefore, the velocity of the turbulent current fluctuates between 1.52 and 1.83 m/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."


The values that Dr. Berthault cites from Table 7.2 of Julien's book were taken from a very old reference, Fortier and Scobey (1926).  Because there are no standard deviations listed with the measurements, the work was done with early 20th century technology, and the physical properties of sediments can vary greatly, we have to be skeptical of the supposed precision and accuracy of these numbers. How do we know that a particular clay in the Bright Angel Shale may not have had a value of 1.51 m/s or even a value that is much greater than 1.52 m/s? 


Most of all, the data that Dr. Berthault cites ONLY apply to channels with flow DEPTHS (h values) of LESS than one meter.  How are these values relevant to "Noah's Flood"?  By embracing these numbers, how can Dr. Berthault and his YEC allies avoid arguing that the "Genesis Flood" was less than one-meter deep and confined to a channel when it supposedly deposited the Bright Angel Shale? 


19.  How are data that were derived in 1926, which only apply to channel sediments with water flow depths of less than one meter, relevant to the formation of the Bright Angel Shale under a "Flood geology" scenario?  How can these shallow water data apply to the "Flood model" that you and Steve Austin endorse at your website?


20.  If you are not a creationist as you claim in your reply, why do you endorse YEC Austin's Genesis "Flood model" for the origin of the Tonto Group?  Why do you endorse "Flood Geology" but not creationism?


Although storm deposits occur in the Bright Angel Shale, there were also periods of quiet water deposition (Middleton and Elliott, 2003, p. 103-104).  For example, trilobite crawling traces (Cruziana) have been found at various levels in the Bright Angel Shale (Elliott and Martin, 1987, p. 643; Middleton and Elliott, 2003, p. 99-100).  That is, towards the top, middle and bottom of the formation. These traces indicate fair-weather conditions (Middleton and Elliott, 2003, p. 100).  So, the distribution of trace fossils in the Bright Angel Shale indicates that storms occasionally brought in large amounts of sediment into an area.  Afterwards, organisms migrated into the area from surrounding regions and colonized the deposits until the next storm. 


21.  How can sediment surfaces with fair-weather trilobite trails exist at various levels in a shale that supposedly quickly formed during a violent "Genesis Flood"?  


Brachiopod Sorting


In his reply, Dr. Berthault does not tell us why brachiopods would sort with clays and not similar sized gravels.  Dr. Berthault simply proclaims:


"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."


22.  Why were the brachiopods of the Bright Angel Shale sorted with clays during "Noah's Flood" rather than with gravels of similar sizes, shapes and densities? 




I greatly appreciate Dr. Berthault's laboratory experiments and the time that he has taken to respond to my original essay.  As I have stated before, his work may be critical in explaining laminae in Bouma sequences and volcanic ash surges, which form in natural catastrophic flows.  Nevertheless, in my original essay and this one, I have shown that not all laminae (in particular the varves of the Green River Formation) can be explained by Dr. Berthault's experiments.  Even the best models rarely explain every example in nature.


I have also cited numerous examples from Dunbar and Rodgers (1957), Boggs (1995), Byers (1982), introductory undergraduate geology textbooks (such as, Press and Siever, 2001), and other references, which demonstrate that Dr. Berthault's views of field geology are decades to centuries out of date.  By repeatedly citing and attacking the outdated portions of the original versions of Steno's laws, Dr. Berthault in his 2002 and other articles is simply rediscovering weaknesses in Steno's original ideas that geologists discovered long ago.  This causes Dr. Berthault to engage in strawperson fallacies.  Dr. Berthault needs to compare his ideas with actualism and other aspects of 21st century geology.




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