The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites

On my most recent “Around the web” post, I stated that I would be writing a longer response to the young-Earth creationist (YEC) proposal that salt deposits (usually referred to as evaporites) were actually formed through igneous processes rather than being precipitated from seawater. This may not be that longer response. Instead, it is a quick review of Stef Heerema’s article published in the Journal of Creation  in 2009 (A magmatic model for the origin of large salt formations) and his more recent You Tube video defending and expanding on this hypothesis. What is really needed is a comprehensive overview of the formation of evaporites in the context of the young-Earth/old-Earth debate, and as I said, this is not it.

This proposal was brought to my attention when I read an endorsement of it from YEC geologist Tas Walker. On his BiblicalGeology blog, Walker wrote:

[Heerema's] research shows that the salt pillars around the world are elegantly explained by the interaction of a melted salt magma with the waters of the worldwide Flood.

and

I like Stef’s model, and think it is far superior to the uniformitarian attempt to explain the evidence, which I was taught at university in my geology course. That model hypothesizes that hundreds of kilometres of seawater evaporated slowly in an enormous, shallow, secluded area of the coast, over millions of years.

Before I go through the article, I need to comment about what drives Heerema’s igneous model, which is the perceived necessity to fit the geological record into what he calls “the biblical timescale.” It would be much better to refer to this as “the YEC timescale,” because that is what it is; it is not the biblical timescale. The Bible nowhere says that the geological record—virtually all the sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks dated Late Precambrian and later—was formed by Noah’s flood. The “necessity” to squeeze a billion years of Earth history into Noah’s flood is something YECs impose on the text of Genesis, and there are plenty of theologically conservative biblical scholars who disagree with this.

Evaporite minerals include halite (NaCl, rock salt), gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O), anhydrite (CaSO4), sylvite (KCl), and a host of other minerals. The term “evaporite” is not neutral; it implies that the rock was formed by a process that involved evaporation of water. In standard geological models, seawater is isolated from the main body of the ocean in a basin where evaporation leads to precipitation of these minerals. I will stick with the term because it is the common name for these rocks, and because I believe it is an accurate term in most cases.

Heerema’s paper is divided into four sections: Salt formations worldwide, Igneous origin of salt formations, Diagenesis of salt after original deposition, and a conclusion. The entire paper is three pages long.

First section: Salt formations worldwide

In the first section, Heerema describes the worldwide distribution and origin of salt formations. He then attempts to explain why old-Earth models are inadequate for explaining the existence of evaporites. He gives a very brief and incomplete summary of evaporite models used by geologists, then gives what he thinks are four reasons to reject these models:

  1. “To form a deposit only 1 km thick would require seawater 60 km deep to be evaporated.” — Seawater evaporation rates in tropical areas are on the order of one meter per year. One meter of seawater, if evaporated completely, would leave behind 1.5 cm of evaporite minerals, mainly halite (NaCl). At a rate of 1.5 cm per year, it would take 67,000 years to accumulate 1000 meters of salt, which is a short amount of time geologically speaking.  That does not mean that evaporite minerals actually accumulated that quickly; there would have been many other factors involved, including the rate of subsidence of the depositional basin. 
  2. “The salt formations show negligible contamination with sand, contradicting the evaporation model which requires a sandbank in combination with consistently dry weather over a long period of time.” — This is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of geological models for evaporite formation in marine environments. A common feature of these models is the need for a barrier (often referred to as a “sill”) that restricts movement of seawater into an enclosed basin where evaporation of the seawater can occur, leading to precipitation of various evaporite minerals. Complete evaporation is not necessary. The barrier could be sandy, but that sort of sill would be susceptible to erosion. More likely the barrier would be consolidated or semi-consolidated. Reefs or other biological mounds would work very well for this, and some ancient evaporite deposits grade laterally into reef deposits.
  3. “The salt formations exhibit negligible contamination with  marine fossils” — Most marine organisms do not thrive in hypersaline  environments—think of the Dead Sea or Great Salt Lake—so it is unclear why Heerema would expect us to find abundant fossils. One type of fossil that is found in some evaporite deposits is pollen. It makes a lot more sense to posit that pollen was carried to the basin by the wind, than to suppose that a salt lava flow under Noah’s flood somehow absorbed pollen grains from flood waters without metamorphosing them.
  4. “The evaporation areas need to be in regions of high sunlight and low rainfall if the seawater is to evaporate. However, the distribution of salt deposits globally contradicts the idea that all of these areas were once near the equator for the required time to achieve such a result.” —  First, Heerema assumes that deposits that are now far from tropical areas were far from tropical areas when they formed. Contrary to this, there is good evidence that the equator ran through North America during the middle of the Paleozoic. Other parts of the world that are now polar or temperate were also once much closer to the equator. Second, Heerema assumes that climate patterns have been similar throughout Earth history. He is applying a Quaternary (ice age) picture of the world to times in the past that were probably much warmer, even at high latitudes.

Second section: Igneous origin of salt formations

This section began with a quote from James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth back in 1788:

“It is in vain to look, in the operations of solution and evaporation, for that which nothing but perfect fluidity of fusion can explain.”

Hutton may not have been able to envision how contorted layers could form in evaporites, but in the two hundred years since we have made a little bit of progress in the Earth sciences. There is plenty of laboratory and field evidence that salt can flow—in the solid state!—in amazing ways, whether in the subsurface or on the surface as salt glaciers in places like Iran.

Heerema lists six evidences for the igneous origin of evaporites:

  1. “The temperature required to melt salt and create a salt “magma” are well within the range of magmatic temperatures for silica [sic] magmas.” — However, there is no evidence that something like a salt magma has ever existed in the Earth. Contacts between evaporite formations and other rocks show no signs of contact metamorphism (alterations to minerals caused by heat and hot fluids). Some evaporite minerals, such as carnallite and bischofite, can form by precipitation from seawater, but cannot form from a salt melt.
  2. “Molten NaCl flows easily like water.” — What Heerema does not demonstrate is that an NaCl lava flow could spread out underwater over many tens of thousands of square kilometers, which is what he is proposing. Heerema claims that calcite and anhydrite could form when water boils in contact with a salt magma, but does not state how this would happen or give any references.
  3. “It is well known that silica [sic] magmas can produce layered igneous intrusions. Likewise, the crystallization and cooling of the salt “magma” after emplacement will cause segregation of the different salts into layers within the core of the deposit, as found in the formations.” — This paragraph was very confusing. It is not clear whether he was advocating a salt lava flow extruding onto the ocean floor beneath the waters of Noah’s flood, or a salt magma intruding into already existing sediments. In addition, layering of different evaporite minerals generally follows the order of precipitation from solution rather than the order of crystallization from a melt, though there are many exceptions.
  4. “The Great Rift Valley is a 6,000-km-long geographic trough formed as the result of a parting of the continental crust from northern Syria in southwest Asia through the Dead Sea and the Red Sea into central Mozambique in East Africa… Given the location of these massifs it seems obvious that these have a volcanic origin.” — No. What is common about evaporites along the rifts of of Southwest Asia and East Africa is that they are in basins caused when blocks of Earth’s crust sink as the crust is being pulled apart. Thick evaporite layers occur in locations where there is rifting, a hot, dry climate, and restricted connection to the sea, like the Dead Sea and Danakil Depression. This is precisely what old-Earth geological models for evaporite formation propose. There is no direct association between evaporites and volcanic areas. Many evaporite deposits occur in areas with no volcanic rocks at all.
  5. “For a modern analogy of magmatic salt formation we can look at the Ol Doinyo Lengay volcano in the north of Tanzania within the Great Rift Valley.” — The only analogies between carbonatite volcanism and Heerema’s proposed salt magma are that carbonatite lavas have a low viscosity and some carbonatite rocks are rich in sodium (Carbonatites are rare igneous rocks based on the carbonate ion, CO32-, rather than on SiO2). Oldoinyo Lengai (Earth’s only known active carbonatite volcano) is in no more a modern analogy for salt magmas than the fluids in a vinegar and baking soda “volcano” would be.
  6. “Organisms and vegetation deposited in the valleys (or under the water) that are overrun by the flow of salt magma will, in the absence of oxygen, be transformed into coal, oil and gas…. The magmatic origin  of these salt formations explains the connection between the salt deposits found around the globe and  the associated coal, oil and gas reserves.” — There is no association between the occurrence of evaporites and coal. Coal deposits are usually terrestrial, and most large evaporite deposits are in shallow marine sequences. Hydrocarbon reservoirs are more often associated with evaporite deposits, but the presence of evaporites are not required for the transformation of organic material into oil and gas. The association is more of a coincidence; oil and gas form in marine sedimentary basins, and evaporites also form in marine sedimentary basins.

Third section: Diagenesis of salt after original deposition

In this brief section, Heerema writes about post-depositional changes (diagenesis) affecting salt. These changes include intense deformation that is present in most rock salt formations. However, he did not relate this to his igneous evaporite model.

He also mentioned the existence of salt hot springs in the Danakil Depression of Eritrea. Again, I am not sure how this related to his model. One would expect hot water percolating from the ground after transiting thousands of meters of salt to be salty. This brine is not coming from the mantle or deep in Earth’s crust; it is coming from within the basin itself, so is completely irrelevant to the model.

A few additional observations

Most large evaporite deposits are associated with shallow marine sedimentary rocks—limestones, sandstones, and shales that contain marine fossils—which is further evidence that these precipitated from seawater rather than having been formed by igneous processes.

If salt magmas were rising from Earth’s crust beneath a sedimentary basin, one would expect there to be hydrothermal alteration of the country rocks (the rocks the magma was moving through). Hydrothermal solutions are mineral-rich hot water solutions associated with igneous and metamorphic processes, and are the source of veins in rocks, such as the quartz veins that can contain gold deposits. I would not expect gold-containing solutions, but I would expect some sort of hydrothermal activity.

Heerema provided no evidence for feeder dikes—the conduits through which the supposed salt magma erupted.

Fluid inclusion studies indicate that evaporites formed from seawater. Fluid inclusions are tiny bubbles that contain remnants of the original fluid. Young and Stearley, in their discussion of evaporites, refer to a paper in which the composition of the brine in Silurian salt in the Midwest was consistent with a marine origin, and the researchers determined that the fluid inclusion must have formed at a temperature between 2° and 25°C, which is far below the melting point of NaCl.

Heerema focused on halite (NaCl), but made only passing references to anhydrite (CaSO4), and did not mention gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O) at all. In some evaporite deposits, anhydrite and gypsum dominate over halite. He also did not mention terrestrial evaporites, such as those found in the lake deposits of the Green River Formation.

Peer Review in the YEC technical journals

The home page of the Journal of Creation states that the journal is peer reviewed. Peer review is an essential component of the process of publication of research results, and has many benefits both for the author(s) and the scientific community as a whole. A paper can, in some cases, be submitted to a journal, reviewed, and be sent back to the author several times before it is published, a process that can take over a year. Not only does this process lead to a much better report, but it weeds out some papers that are not suitable for publication.

The publication of a paper such as this demonstrates that the Journal of Creation does not do an adequate job of putting geological papers through the peer review process. In saying this, I am not referring to the implausibility of Heerema’s igneous origin for evaporites, but the little things in the article that a good geological editor or peer reviewer should have noticed:

  • Minerals do not evaporate from seawater, they precipitate.
  • One of the substances listed as an evaporite mineral is magnesium chloride (MgCl2). Magnesium chloride does not exist as MgCl2 in evaporites, though its hydrated form (bischofite, MgCl2•6H2O) does occur.
  • Evaporation leading to evaporite mineral formation is not greatest at the equator, but in the desert belts 10° to 40° north and south of the equator.
  • Heerema does not properly distinguish between a magma, which would be within the crust, and a lava, which is extruded onto the surface. For example, he states that “a salt magma will flood into the lowest areas.” For this reason, the first time through the article I was not sure whether he was proposing instrusion of salt magma—a salt batholith—or salt lava flows, especially since in one place he refers to layered igneous intrusions.
  • There are two references to silica magma when he meant silicate magma. A silica magma implies molten SiO2 (a magma that does not exist in nature), whereas a silicate magma contains many ions (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, aluminum, and many others) and dissolved gases in a silicate ion (SiO44-) melt.

I do not primarily blame the author for these errors but the Journal of Creation for letting them slip through. A valid peer review and editing process would have eliminated these sorts of errors.

This has always been a problem in YEC technical literature. Back in my YEC days, when I was a student member of the Creation Research Society, I remember cringing at some of the stuff that got printed in what was then considered to be the premier YEC scientific journal, the CRS Quarterly.

The YouTube video

I will not present a detailed analysis of this video, but do want to make a few comments:

  • 4:15 — A hydrothermal origin for salt formations was briefly discussed, but this would only deposit evaporite minerals within pre-existing rocks, not in large, separate evaporite layers.
  • 8:20 — “Carbonatite” was listed as an evaporite mineral. Carbonatite rocks are formed from carbonate magmas, and have a very distinctive mix of minerals. There is little overlap between the lists of minerals found in evaporites and carbonatites. One exception is calcite (CaCO3), which is formed in a very wide range of geological settings.
  • 10:30 — There was a presentation of a NaCl-CaSOphase diagram, which he got basically correct in terms of which mineral would crystallize first. But the final crystallization would produce an interlocking mesh of halite and anhydrite, not segregated layers of the two.
  • 12:45 — Here the discussion of salt pillars (salt domes, diapirs) begins. Heerema proposes that these salt pillars, which can rise through thousands of meters of sediments, formed while the salt was molten beneath flood waters. The salt developed a crust, but this crust would crack at times, creating upward convection currents of steam. The molten salt would rise up in the steam and water column to form a salt pillar thousands of meters tall. He showed a video of a transparent tank containing a layer of molten NaCl beneath water. The two were separated by a barrier simulating the solid salt crust. Then he exposed the water to the molten salt, which led to the formation of steam. What would have been really impressive would have been a time-lapse movie of a solid salt pillar forming in his tank, but he did not do that.
  • 19:20 — Heerema discussed how the upturned sediments around these “salt pillars” could easily have been formed by deposition from fast moving water currents circulating around the salt pillars, but are impossible to explain by standard geological theories. This was the typical YEC “only explainable by catastrophe” tactic. What he missed is that upturned sedimentary layers next to salt domes show every indication of having been deposited horizontally, and then punctured by rising solid but moldable masses of salt. These layers show the typical signs of strain associated with deformation, including folding, fracturing and faulting.

Summary

The proposal that evaporite formations were formed by primary igneous processes is not a step forward for YEC flood geology. The hypothesis has little evidence to support it in terms of global distribution, relationship of evaporites to surrounding rocks, or known geological processes. The publication of this paper demonstrates that there are serious problems with the YEC peer review process.

I want to state again that none of this is biblically necessary. The Bible is not a book about the origin of evaporites, or any other sedimentary rock. This sort of “research” discredits the Bible and Christianity, which is both tragic and unnecessary.

Notes

Any upper-division undergraduate textbook on sedimentary petrology will have a good discussion of the characteristics, distribution, and origin of evaporites. This week, I read the section in Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy by Boggs, which I am reading this spring just for fun. The fifth edition is listed on Amazon for $146. I bought it new in South Korea two years ago for only $42. College textbooks are such a scam.

Carbonatites are fascinating igneous rocks. Again, any good upper-level undergraduate or graduate textbook on igneous petrology will have a discussion about these. For some good pictures of Oldoinyo Lengai in action, click here (National Geographic) or here.

I am not saying that salt magmas are impossible. I am saying that there is no good support to Heerema’s hypothesis.

The PaleoMap Project has good maps of Earth throughout its history. I mentioned that the equator ran through North America back in the Paleozoic; here’s the PaleoMap for the Mississippian.

The fluid inclusion study on Silurian evaporites was discussed in Young and Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time, pp.303-304.

I got a few of the ideas presented here from a comment by steve660 (the comment on Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:13 pm) on the British Centre for Science Education web site. He recognized problems with the stability of magnesium salts at high temperatures that I did not catch.

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Grace and Peace

In a way, I really do not enjoy writing something like this. Young-Earth creationists are my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

March 26, 2013 - Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , ,

35 Comments »

  1. Helpful material here. I’m wondering if Heererma actually tries to explain any specific deposits or does he refer to deposits in generalities. In particular the Mediterranean basin and the halite deposits under the Dead Sea. In the latter case in particular, it seems evident that there is evaporites being formed today which are connected to thousands of feet of similar deposits just below those. Do you suppose that in cases like these Heerema would accept an evaporitic history or is he going to try to say that most of the deposits were formed by one method but modern deposits that look like the ancient deposits are formed as they appear to today? Joel

    Comment by Natural Historian | March 27, 2013

  2. You know, a part of me is always hoping that some irrefutable evidence will arise for a young earth, but then the leading YEC researchers come out with stuff like this… Sigh. Thanks for the summary!

    Comment by K & T | March 27, 2013

  3. Kevin,

    I was surprised yesterday morning to see that someone in the science department had ordered the recent copy of Leonard Brand’s book Faith, Reason & Earth History for our library (I catalog here at Concordia University St. Paul).

    What is your evaluation of this work? It seems more careful than the stuff you’ve outlined above.

    +Nathan

    Comment by infanttheology | March 27, 2013

  4. Kevin, yours was a good critique. As you know, I happen to have intimate knowledge of both volcanology (especially kimberlites and related rocks, which are not too dissimilar from carbonatites) and evaporites, with a lot of work on evaporite basins, potash deposits etc.

    When we assay core from a possible potash deposit, we measure the insolubles, that is, clay and related minerals. These are often interbedded with the evaporites, and form a mining challenge, as they lead to unstable roofs in the underground mining environment. We often have multiple, thin layers of clay/mud. This would not be possible in the magmatic environment Heersma envisages.

    One reason why people often think of oil and gas when they see evaporite basins is because salts recrystallize easily thus faults in the underlying formations often (not always) only result in folding of the evaporites. Thus they form very good traps / caps.

    One note: Another MgCl2 mineral that is quite common in evaporites is carnallite (KMgCl3·6(H2O)). But the phase chemistry is quite complicated – we do not only have primary deposition from saturated, enclosed basins, but also secondary concentration and alteration due to the movement of brines.

    A general comment: The more I see of these “scholarly” articles, and the shoddy (nigh absent) reviews of the same articles, the more I realist the thorough intellectual bankruptcy pervading the YEC’ist movement.

    Comment by Klasie Kraalogies | March 27, 2013

  5. Klasie,

    Hello! Are you familiar with the book I mentioned above? Perhaps YEC just really needs housecleaning?

    +Nathan

    Comment by infanttheology | March 27, 2013

  6. +Nathan
    Your comment ‘Perhaps YEC just really needs housecleaning?’ is a huge understatement. YEC is a complete mess if you try putting together any sort of consistent model. (This problem is recognized by some creation scientists.)

    The fundamental reason for this situation is that YE creationism is basically dealing with unreality. It’s really up to peoples imagination as to what happened and many YE creationists work in isolation. Is is any wonder there is no evidence of peer review?

    Mark

    Comment by Mark B | March 27, 2013

  7. Mark,

    Are you familiar with Leonard Brand’s book Faith, Reason & Earth History? Is he one of those creation scientists who acknowledges the problem?

    +Nathan

    Comment by infanttheology | March 27, 2013

  8. Nathan,

    I have not read any of Brand’s books, so cannot comment directly on him. He has been willing to criticize some aspects of YEC, so that is positive from my perspective. Perhaps, like the work of Paul Garner, I would classify his work as merely bad, rather than really really bad. How’s that for an endorsement?

    I think YEC needs more than just a housecleaning, but that is where I am at as an old-Earth Christian. The YEC movement has shown little ability to shed bad science without strong outside pressure. Many of the items on Answers in Genesis’s Arguments we don’t use page were once standard YEC arguments, and almost none of them made it to the page because of internal YEC criticism (or YEC peer review). Most of them are there because scientists—Christian and non-Christian—hammered away at them until the YECs had little choice but to abandon them. Examples include the moondust argument, the teaching that the second law of thermodynamics is a result of the fall, and the Paluxy River human footprints with dinosaur footprints argument,

    Perhaps my blog post will be enough to get YEC geologists like Tas Walker to reconsider their endorsement of the highly-flawed salt magma hypothesis. I am fine with someone like Heerema stepping out on a limb and doing some outside-the-box thinking, but the YEC geologists should gently reject the whole idea. Adequate peer review could have prevented the publication of this article. On good days, I hope that such things will happen. YEC geologists like Dr. Andrew Snelling are smart people, and Snelling usually does a good job of field description. But then even the best of the YEC geologists come out with things like Snelling’s recent ice age paper, and I am back to thinking that it will only take strong outside pressure for the YECs to do any housecleaning at all.

    Comment by geochristian | March 27, 2013

  9. Geochristian,

    Thanks so much for the thorough response. I guess what I am curious about is not so much the science on the ground (though this is important and the things you say are very important), but just whether or not Brand’s and Garner’s approach is somewhat sound (even if others do not follow them). It seems both men – like Todd Wood – very much understand how good science operates, even if they are stubborn holdouts when it comes to interpreting the evidence the way you do given their Scriptural convictions. Like Wood says, there is indeed faith here. But if I read Polanyi rightly, that is always the case with those involved in scientific endeavor to some extent.

    +Nathan

    Comment by infanttheology | March 28, 2013

  10. [...] A Christian evolutionist geologist's critical response to Sjef Heerema's salt formation hypothesis.  [...]

    Pingback by Critique of "A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites" | Conformable Contacts | Scoop.it | March 28, 2013

  11. The pingback at comment #10 has a review of Heerema’s paper by someone who calls him/herself “YEC Geo” further down on the page (3/16/2013):

    I read this article a couple of years ago and was extremely intrigued by the idea that salt formations could have an igneous origin. Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense, and accounts for the lack of fossils or sedimentary strata within many salts, which would not seem plausible within the long time necessitated by an evaporitic model.

    It also makes sense that the heat from saline magmas would play a part in “cooking” the contiguous shales and sediments into the oil-producing formations so common in salt basins.

    The author now has a youtube presentation covering his theory in more detail, which I highly recommend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfN0MIOnRNQ

    It’s hard to look at the drill cores of pure salt depicted in the video, and envision all those layers slowly accumulating under atmospheric conditions without acquiring any contamination at all. One only has to visit some of the great salt playas of the American southwest to recognize how implausible such a situation really is.

    Comment by geochristian | March 28, 2013

  12. An article on salt glaciers I just ran across: http://geology.com/stories/13/salt-glacier/ Since these are found in ancient as well as modern (surface) contexts, it would seem to imply more complexity the YEC model has to explain in addition to the original formation of the salt..

    Comment by Virginia Peterson | April 2, 2013

  13. Virginia — I saw that too. The dynamics of salt flow on the surface is different than when salt is under pressure deeper in the crust, but these salt glaciers are a wonderful illustration of how easily salt flows in the solid state, which creates complex internal layering.

    Both the Journal of Creation article and the YouTube video claim that “salt pillars” (usually called salt domes or salt diapirs) are impossible to explain by standard geology, and easy to explain by flood geology. In the Iranian salt glaciers, we see the top of these salt domes extruding onto the surface. The main salt layer—the source for the salt glaciers—is at some depth within the crust, and salt flows upward due to the confining pressure of the overlying rocks.

    One of the best illustrations of this process is the salt glacier at Chah-e Nahr, Iran. To see this, search for either “Chah-e Nahr” or “28.0n 54.9e” in the search field in Google Earth. For this salt glacier (darker than the surrounding rocks), you can see a dome in the center where the salt is doming up from deeper levels. The salt then flows in all directions from the central dome, but mainly to the NNW and SSE.

    If I have time, I’ll write a separate post about this.

    Comment by geochristian | April 2, 2013

  14. “Salt formations show negligible contamination with sand”? The Permian evaporites in the subsurface of the Texas Panhandle are commonly interbedded with red sandstones.

    Comment by Marvin Droddy, PhD | April 10, 2013

  15. Hi Marvin, perhaps the red sandstones have a volcanic origin, too? Plus, what about all the kilometer+ thick halites and gypsums that are all over Texas, and are not interbedded? Open minds geoChristians, open minds :)

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | October 18, 2013

  16. David Shormann — Are you serious? Volcanic sandstones?

    Comment by geochristian | October 18, 2013

  17. Response made here… http://creation.com/clarifying-magmatic-model-origin-salt-deposits

    Comment by Nathanael Lewis | November 18, 2013

  18. Nathanael — Thanks. I suspected this was coming, and will write my response to Stef Heerema’s response soon.

    Comment by geochristian | November 18, 2013

  19. GeoChristian – In response to #16, well, sand has to come from somewhere, right? Ever heard of an ignimbrite package? Mud volcanoes? Advanced argillic alteration? Have you picked up a piece of permian redbed and crumbled it in your hands, while resting on top of a massive chunk of anhydrite? I have explored this area and put my hands on it, and I think the current explanations for the redbeds plus massive halite and gypsum deposits found all over Texas are inadequately explained by evaporite models. I am certainly open to discuss evaporite models. At the same time, I encourage you to be more open-minded about alternative hypotheses. Instead of “evaporites,” think “precipitates.” Natural history research is rife with interpretive difficulties, for the simple matter that we cannot verify our claims without a time machine. There are reasons to believe the incredibly thick salt deposits were formed by evaporation of ancient seas. There are also reasons to believe this is not what happened in the majority of cases. I encourage you to be more open-minded about all this. I think we should both pray about this and ask God to reveal more of the unrecorded past to us, and for us to discuss it in a way that is honest, humble, and open-minded.
    Grace & Peace,

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | November 18, 2013

  20. David — Thanks for your comment.

    I am certainly open to new ideas, and would be happy to acknowledge positive aspects of young-Earth explanations for the geological record. Unfortunately, the salt magma/lava hypothesis has next to nothing going for it.

    Some geologists advocate the abandonment of genetic names for rocks such as “evaporite” (another example would be “tillite”), but substituting something like “precipitate” for these rocks would just be exchanging one genetic term for another. Plus, Heerema is not suggesting precipitation from a solution as much as crystallization from a melt. So I’ll stick with the less-than-perfect term “evaporite.”

    Neither ignimbrites, mud volcanoes, nor argillic alteration produce 1) evaporite deposits or 2) sandstones.

    Grace and Peace

    Comment by geochristian | November 18, 2013

  21. GeoChristian – You say you are open to new ideas, but then you totally dismiss the idea of salt magmas. Why? And what about Martin Hovland et al’s ideas related to hydrothermal heat engines and salt precipitation as water reaches the supercritical phase at depth? And your assertion that sandstones cannot have a volcanic origin is just that, an assertion.

    The way I see it, there are at least three possibilities for the origin of a salt deposit 1) evaporite, 2) salt magma, 3) precipitate from supercritical water. For more than 2 centuries, naturalism, and its underlying philosophy of uniformitarianism, has resulted in the bold assertion of 1), with little consideration for 2) or 3).

    As Christians, we have no reason to cling tightly to naturalistic worldviews, and only the ideas that support its interpretation of history. Freed from uniformitarian shackles, we can look at salt deposits with new eyes. When we discover salt deposits, up to 20,000 feet thick in places, covering thousands of square miles, we don’t have to be shackled to the irrational claim that “evaporites did it.” We have no need to think that us humans in the 21st Century have perfectly explained all the deposits over the entire earth’s surface, and that there’s no need for further data collection and/or re-interpretation.

    So, I said it before, and will say it again. Open minds GeoChristian, open minds….

    Grace and Peace

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | November 19, 2013

  22. Stef has responded through CMI. http://creation.com/clarifying-magmatic-model-origin-salt-deposits

    Comment by Grahame Gould | November 19, 2013

  23. Let’s set aside the issue of naturalistic worldviews for a moment (which I think is a diversionary tactic). Given that we have salt deposits up to 20,000 feet thick and covering thousands of square miles, if they were the result of salt magmas, shouldn’t there routinely be some kind of remnant of one or more “salt magma shafts” below each deposit? It seems like with thousands of drilling well logs and the advanced sounding technologies of petroleum geology, we should be able to detect such shafts. I have another question too — are we counting gypsum deposits as part of the salt deposits we’re discussing, or are they a separate subject?

    Comment by tkhelble | December 3, 2013

  24. Hello tkhelble,
    It’s not a diversionary tactic at all to discuss naturalistic worldviews here. When answering the question, “where did all the salt come from?” we’re answering a natural history question, not a scientific question. We’re trying to interpret a past event, and because of the uncertainty involved (we cannot verify our claims without a time machine), I think Christians should approach natural history questions with more humility and open-mindedness than unbelievers. And in order to do so, we need to be honest about the difference between testable, repeatable scientific research, and unverifiable natural history claims. We also need to be honest about the fact that in order to make any kind of natural history claim at all, you, me, everybody, must begin with some presuppositions. Did most of the salt deposits form via 1) low-energy, long-term processes (uniformitarianism), or 2) high-energy, short term processes (catastrophism)? The error I see in this article is that it presupposes (1), with no consideration for (2), or even something between (1) and (2).

    I think your question about “salt shafts” is a good one, and I think you should do some research into that. Consider also that, if a salt magma rose from the depths, like a granitic pluton, and then spread out once it reached the surface, then there may not be much remnant of a shaft. Also, many salt diapirs have the form you are describing, with a dome-like top and “shaft” at the bottom.

    In discussions about “salts”, I think most people mean primarily halite (NaCl), but also gypsum. Gypsum deposits actually raise even more questions, because there are often hundreds of feet of pure gypsum in the same locations as the halite. It takes about 1400 feet of seawater to deposit 1 foot of gypsum by evaporation. That’s a lot of seawater! Certainly, there are reasons to believe the world’s salt deposits formed almost exclusively via slow and gradual seawater evaporation, but I don’t think that is a very good reason.

    Grace and peace to you!

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | December 4, 2013

  25. “We’re answering a natural history question, not a scientific question.”

    YECs commonly claim that fields such as historical geology, archeology, and cosmology aren’t really scientific because they do not use “the scientific method.” This is a diversion, and depends on one’s definition of science. If one uses a very narrow definition of science, then one can exclude things they don’t like, like historical geology. It is not that the historical sciences are not true science; they merely use a different methodology than what is used say in a chemistry lab. See my post http://geochristian.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/geology-and-the-scientific-method-2/ for further discussion of this.

    Stef Heerema certainly meant to include gypsum in his discussion of the supposed magmatic origin of evaporites. He mentions anyhydrite (CaSO4) several times, which is merely the anhydrous form of gypsum (CaSO4-2H2O).

    Heerema may have looked at the column of a salt diapir as the conduit needed to supply salt magma to the top of the diapir, but this is not the missing conduit he needs to find. The column merely connects the diapir to the underlying source salt layer, and does not connect to a source for the overall layer itself. There has been no observation of magma conduits beneath salt layers, nor any kind of hydrothermal alteration that would be associated with the emplacement a salt magma/lava.

    Comment by geochristian | December 4, 2013

  26. Brother, the only diversion is that y’all keep saying “this is a diversion”, and then boldly assert “no magma conduits” and “no hydrothermal alterations”. There is no good reason to be closed-minded about these two options, especially when the evaporite sea model leads to irrational amounts of seawater.

    Regarding natural history research, it certainly does use scientific tools. The difference is what you said. It’s a difference in method. Natural history research is about interpretation, while scientific research is about verification.

    I like the way Mortimer Adler describes, it. He says natural history is a “mixed question,” requiring multiple inputs, which necessarily includes data collected via testable, repeatable scientific methods. That also means we can and should use historical documents like Scripture to develop the best interpretation we can. Discerning between testable, repeatable science, and unverifiable natural history claims is key to understanding why disagreements exist in the first place.

    Peace,
    David Shormann

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | December 4, 2013

  27. David,

    The reason I “boldly assert” that neither magma conduits nor hydrothermal alteration has been discovered in association with evaporites is that it is a true statement. Heerema cannot point to either. It is not a question of whether or not I am open-minded.

    Evaporitic models to not require “irrational amounts of seawater.” If a basin experiences one meter of evaporation of normal seawater per year (not at all an unrealistic number) over a long period of time, a considerable thickness of minerals could be precipitated. If this were to continue over a period of 10,000 years, 10,000 meters of seawater would evaporate, potentially leaving 150 meters of salt. That would be the ideal; the actual amount could vary anywhere between zero and 150 meters of salt, depending on the amount that is re-dissolved at other times, the depth of the basin, and the rate of subsidence of the basin.

    Both laboratory science and historical science have elements of interpretation and verification. I am not saying that they are therefore equal in the certainty of results—I have a higher level of certainty about thermodynamics than I do about the exact depositional environment of the sandstone bluffs near my house—but that does not mean that the historical sciences are completely subjective.

    I take the Bible seriously as well. It doesn’t say anything about the origin of sedimentary rock layers, such as evaporites, beyond the general statement that God created the heavens and the Earth.

    Comment by geochristian | December 4, 2013

  28. Hi GeoChristian,
    But volcanoes have been known to emit salt magmas, and hydrothermal heat engines have been known to form salt deposits at supercritical pressures and temperatures. I just don’t think that us folks in the 21st century have explored these mechanisms in enough detail to ignore them, and then assert that all the salt deposits ever formed were via “evaporite basins.”

    Regarding evaporite basins, you made some mathematical calculations, which I assume are for halite, because to get a 150 m gypsum deposit from 35 ppt seawater, it would need to be 210,000 meters deep. And there are gypsum deposits much thicker than 150 m. Plus, gypsum is less soluble than halite, so in an evaporite scenario, we would expect it to precipitate first, followed by halite. But the gypsum is often deposited in massive layers on top of the halite. That’s the opposite of what one would expect from an evaporite basin model.

    Regarding your comment about taking the Bible seriously, I do not question your sincerity at all. Like Earth’s crust, it is historical in nature, and subject to interpretation by us fallible humans. There are things you and I would agree on, and things we disagree on, and we should strive to work with those differences with as much faith, patience and humility that we can.

    Peace,
    David Shormann

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | December 4, 2013

  29. David,

    Heerema cited a study that found trace amounts of anhydrite in volcanic rocks in Mexico. It is a gigantic leap to extend this to saying that volcanoes have been observed to erupt salt lavas. He also states that carbonatites (a class of igneous rock) are examples of rocks formed from a salt magma. This is completely wrong. Carbonatites and evaporites have almost nothing in common, whether in terms of geologic setting, mineralogy, or geochemistry.

    Comment by geochristian | December 4, 2013

  30. Hi GeoChristian,
    Hypothesizing about magmatic origins of salts is nothing new: http://archives.datapages.com/data/bulletns/1917-30/data/pg/0005/0001/0050/0091.htm

    In searching for the above article, I came across another that mentioned a 400 m-thick gypsum deposit, which would require the evaporation of an astounding 560,000 m deep basin. If you think the evaporite sea model is the “final answer” for all salt deposits, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I hope you don’t mind if I disagree, and want to consider searching this matter out more thoroughly.

    Peace to you,
    David

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | December 4, 2013

  31. G’day GeoChristian,

    As a “YEC” (I believe the term “biblical Creationist” is more accurate), I echo the idea that historical sciences need to acknowledge that they do perform “science” differently – i.e. they engage in history. But how many of these scientists have had training in historical methodologies? They do their experiments in the lab and come up with the same that a creationist scientist would come up with. But then they both apply “guesses” about the past based on their presuppositions.

    I often hear this smokescreen argument but I have yet to see someone show why it’s a smokescreen rather than simply assert it and then go on to accuse creationists of not being scientific and honest.

    You’ve complained previously about creationists questioning your integrity (e.g. Ken Ham – and I’m not saying I side with him – I think he does some very unwise and careless things and seems to be halfway to the cowboy that Kent Hovind “is/was” – a lone ranger).

    But biblical creationists have their integrity questioned all the time and I don’t hear much noise from theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists (or any of the other crowd who agree more with atheistic “science” than YECs do) about how unfair that is.

    So I call “hypocrite” – let’s either have free speech and openly question the method without worrying about offence (and I’m not defending ad hominem – note: I said question methods, attacks the ideas, not the person).

    Or – let’s be post-moderns and say everyone’s right, there is no truth and throw science (and the bible) out the window, and sit around and sing Kumbaya. I’m being overly facetious, but I hope my point is not obscured.

    Most people in the Western world need to grow up and stop crying “offensive” to shut down debate and make themselves feel better.

    Sorry, that sounds more like an attack on you than I meant it to be – so please note, I’m not trying to single you out. I hope you see that I’m NOT attacking you, simply supporting your right to free speech and requesting that mine also be respected.

    In Christ,
    Grahame

    Comment by Grahame Gould | December 4, 2013

  32. Graham,

    Thanks for your comment. I do not feel at all “attacked” by either you, David Shormann, or Stef Heerema. I cannot say the same for all YECs. The little interaction I have had personally with Ken Ham has been positive as well, though I have questioned his tone with others at times.

    I don’t find the term “biblical creationist” to be all that helpful. It sort of comes across as “we really believe the Bible and you don’t.” I am an old-Earth Christian and I believe the Bible just as much as YECs do (see http://geochristian.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/creation-creeds-2/). How would it be if I called my denomination “biblical Christianity” and looked down at everyone else outside of my denomination as something less than biblical?

    As a Christian, most of my presuppositions are much closer to yours than they are to those of an atheist. But that does not mean that I need to force science into a box that is not required by the Bible. The Bible does not say anything about the formation of various types of rocks in Earth’s crust, and so I do not feel compelled to come up with things like a salt magma hypothesis to explain evaporite deposits.. I am free to let the rocks speak for themselves, in a sense (obviously, rocks do not talk).

    What I object to in regards to the YEC definitions of “science” is when they say that laboratory science is true science and historical science is not true science. I freely acknowledge that the methodology is different between the two, and that not all in the geosciences are trained to recognize that difference. But that does not mean that historical sciences are not capable of discovering something close to objective reality about the past. Some things that have been discovered through historical geology are virtually universally recognized as being “true” by both YECs and old-Earth geologists. An example would be that certain surficial deposits scattered across the northern hemisphere and in mountainous regions were deposited by glaciers. We do not see the glaciers now, but we all acknowledge their work. As we work out the details, the interpretations sometimes become a little more uncertain. For example, how direct is the correlation between glaciation in the Rockies and continental glaciation in the Midwest? Was the glacial maximum at the same time in both places, or was the timing somewhat different? There may be a point at which we can give a relatively certain answer to such questions, and it will be done using the tools and methods of historical science.

    I have a great amount of respect for most YECs, and do not question their integrity. I do not want to block them from being heard in the church or in the world. I do question the validity of much of their scientific work (hence this blog post about evaporites) as I believe it provides a stumbling block for both outsiders and our youth. I also view the entire YEC enterprise as being unnecessary biblically.

    Comment by geochristian | December 4, 2013

  33. David — There is a huge difference between requiring the evaporation of 560,000 m of water, and saying that the basin had to be 560,000 m deep. Which do you mean?

    Gypsum is precipitated today on the coastal sabkhas (arid tidal flats) of Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf, and it does not require a deep basin. In fact, this is the ultimate in shallow basins, as the sabkha is usually above high tide, though it is flooded when the tide is unusually high. Seawater evaporation along this coastline is roughly 1.5 meters per year. Over ten thousand years, this would be an evaporation of 15,000 meters of seawater, even though the water depth is typically zero in this basin. As the shoreline slowly subsides, the layer of gypsum (along with dolomite and other minerals) grows thicker. Gypsum dominates over halite in this natural environment.

    Comment by geochristian | December 4, 2013

  34. G’day again,

    I could also object to the term “young earth creationist” because for most thinking people who haven’t been indoctrinated to believe an unscientific and unprovable claim, six thousand years is a staggeringly long time.

    However, my primary purpose is not to bicker over labels. I understand why you object to our claim on “biblical creationist” but I’m sure you’ll understand that we’ll just have to agree to disagree about it. You continue to call me a “YEC” and I’ll call myself biblical.

    You claim to believe the bible as much as we do but it’s obvious to us that you don’t. You don’t believe “for in six days God made heaven and earth and all that therein is” as meaning what it says and try to impose on it something that stretches language and logic beyond their limits.

    Or that Jesus said “in the beginning, He made them male and female” instead of at the “end” (comparatively) as modern science teaches. And I’ve heard the argument that the “beginning being referred to is the creation of humans which once again is an unwarranted imposition on the text forced on it from outside.

    So the issue is not “we believe the Bible and you don’t”, but which position fits the biblical claims – and which one is imposed on the text. And “looked down on” is your perception. It sounds ad hominem (hope the coding works – only guessing at it) to me.

    Anway back to actually discussing the issues. I agree that as far as the central tenets of Christianity goes, if you truly are trusting Christ as the Way (and I’m not implying you don’t, simply that I don’t know you well enough to know, and couldn’t be 100% sure about someone else before eternity anyway), then you are closer. But I’m not discussing the broader issues of Christianity but a specific section of truth – origins. You seem to disconnecting from what I actually said and accusing me of something that is obviously not what I was meaning from the context.

    The Bible does not say anything about the formation of various types of rocks in Earth’s crust
    ======
    No but it does give us information for a framework of examining the evidence. And since it’s God’s word and authoritative, we can be sure it’s true. It’s clear to Hebrew scholars (whether they agree with it or not) that it’s teaching a world/universe made in six earth days (as commonly understood) and made about 6000 years ago (with very little wiggle room).

    Whereas the framework our Western world (mostly) operates on is that everything had to be accomplished by natural processes. This was deliberately done but Lyell and others to remove God (or to divorce Moses from history and science as one of them said – paraphrased).

    and so I do not feel compelled to come up with things like a salt magma hypothesis to explain evaporite deposits.. I am free to let the rocks speak for themselves, in a sense (obviously, rocks do not talk).
    ======
    I would argue you aren’t free at all, as described above. You are bound to agree with what presents itself as “science” but is actually “consensus” and as Michael Crichton says – it is either science or it in consensus – you can’t have both (and it’s interesting to consider that in relation to “climate change” or whatever the latest name is).

    What I object to in regards to the YEC definitions of “science” is when they say that laboratory science is true science and historical science is not true science. I freely acknowledge that the methodology is different between the two, and that not all in the geosciences are trained to recognize that difference. But that does not mean that historical sciences are not capable of discovering something close to objective reality about the past.
    =====
    If they started with something resembling the truth about the past, I would agree. But since science cannot test the past it can only test the present, then all conclusions about the past are highly tentative and subject to massive change should more evidence come to light.

    And since the prevailing paradigm in science today is to reject any possibility of the supernatural and to ignore the most accurate (or sublimely accurate as I believe it is) history book ever written (actually 66 books), then they cannot possibly arrive at the truth. They have already rejected the truth (and I don’t specifically mean my interpretation – let’s leave that to one side).

    By fiat, God creating is not allowed as an explanation because it is defined as “unscientific” but this is double talk – it’s playing games with words.

    The reason “God” is not science because science can only deal with the natural. And only truly deal with the present.

    So the best science can do is show WHEN it’s not God, not exclude Him as a possibility. And then this claim of saying that “God did it” is unscientific is an attempt to disallow it as an explanation. And is usually also associated with “you’re saying that because you don’t know how it happened” – “that’s superstition”.

    This is highly fallacious (and I’m not accusing you of it but covering the topic you raised for the benefit of any who care to read my response). We don’t claim “God did it” because we don’t know, but because WE DO. He told us! He may not have told us every detail, but He did tell us enough to know that “modern science” is so far off on the wrong track as to not even be worth listening to about most of their pontification regarding the past.

    Some things that have been discovered through historical geology are virtually universally recognized as being “true” by both YECs and old-Earth geologists.
    ======
    I’m not sure of your point.

    An example would be that certain surficial deposits scattered across the northern hemisphere and in mountainous regions were deposited by glaciers. We do not see the glaciers now,
    ====
    Really – I think we have enough ice mass to have some idea about glaciers and run experiments and compare. But maybe you mean something different by “glacier” to what I understand that word to mean.

    but we all acknowledge their work. As we work out the details, the interpretations sometimes become a little more uncertain. For example, how direct is the correlation between glaciation in the Rockies and continental glaciation in the Midwest? Was the glacial maximum at the same time in both places, or was the timing somewhat different? There may be a point at which we can give a relatively certain answer to such questions, and it will be done using the tools and methods of historical science.
    ====
    And this is all after the disputed history! Although “old earthers” would put them much older than us, we don’t dispute an ice age and so can agree about how glaciers work and they have been an important part of our history.

    I have a great amount of respect for most YECs, and do not question their integrity. I do not want to block them from being heard in the church or in the world. I do question the validity of much of their scientific work (hence this blog post about evaporites) as I believe it provides a stumbling block for both outsiders and our youth. I also view the entire YEC enterprise as being unnecessary biblically.
    =====
    Glad that we can mutually respect each other, our opinions and have this civil conversation. Please let me know if I step over any lines, but note that I will seek to hold you to whatever standard of cordiality you request of me.

    And I’m sure you understand that we creationists hold the exact opposite opinion in that ignoring the clear teaching of scripture in relation to the origin of the earth, of life, or humans and etc then raises the question of why we should trust anything in the Bible. If science says the earth is far older than the Bible clearly indicates (and even outright teaches) that it is, then why don’t we trust science as well in relation to virgin birth (essentially for biblical christianity) and resurrection (also essential) and numerous other “unscientific” (core!) teachings of Christianity.

    Hence, we reject that it is our views that are the stumbling block.

    And of course, we think that the core of YEC is absolutely necessary biblically.

    God bless!

    Comment by Grahame Gould | December 4, 2013

  35. Hi GeoChristian,
    I understand how sabkhas work. I question the evaporite basin model as a mechanism to explain all the world’s salt deposits. Whether the setting for a 400-m thick gypsum deposit started as a deep basin, or was flooded 560,000 times by 1-meter depths of seawater, I don’t know. All I know is there are super-thick layers of gypsum resting on top of even thicker layers of almost pure halite, all over the world, and I’m highly speculative that all of these formed via the “evaporite basin” or similar mechanisms. I have found no good reason to conclude this is the only mechanism for creating the world’s deposits of chemical precipitates. I’m all for having an open mind on this, considering multiple working hypotheses, including HTHP supercritical phase mechanisms, salt magmas, etc.

    Peace,
    David

    Comment by David Shormann, PhD | December 5, 2013


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