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GENESIS AND THE ORIGIN OF COAL AND OIL – A Review

February 4, 2010

By Dr. Gary S. Day

Trevor Major is the author of this small booklet copyrighted and published in 1990 and 1996 by Apologetics Press.   When Major wrote this the U.S.’s energy consumption was heavily dependent upon petroleum, natural gas and coal.  So he investigates the origins of these earth products because of the danger of the supply being exhausted by over grazing, as it were.  The economic reason for the high interest in the origins of these substances is the race for profits by the companies who spend billions in research and recovery of the product….

There is a problem with origins though, for the Biblical account of Creation and the Flood is at odds with geologist’s model of the formation of oil and coal.  The geologists assume that these earth products took millions of years to form from decayed organic life.  The Bible would have the world to be very young, in the thousands of years, rather than in the millions of years.  Arguments run in different directions in accounting for the age and deposits of these products but Major posits that “any large-scale geological effects, such as deposits of coal and oil, would have to be explained by the Flood,” and thinks that the deposits can be better explained by the Flood,  rather “than the standard geological model.”

Although many would love to believe the Biblical Flood model for the creation of the deposits of oil and coal but to do so they also would have to believe in the supernatural causation that the Bible portrays because the Flood cannot be explained away by any natural process.  The resistance goes even deeper, however,  for if the Flood model works better in the petroleum history, cannot it do so for other geological histories?  And if that is so, it would verify the Flood story and thus the Divine origins of the Bible.  But the geological naturalists find it difficult to accept that God is involved in our affairs.

Although many in the past saw God generally acting in natural events, two hundred years ago a man named James Hutton “believed that the geological features we see on Earth today must be accounted for by the geological processes we see working today.”  From this thought came the notion that the laws of nature are uniform, now called uniformitarianism, as popularized by Charles Lyell; therefore the rocks and deposits took million of years to develop. This takes God out of the picture, and represents the geologists who work under the assumptions of uniformitarianism.  On the other hand, those who subscribe to the Genesis account of the Flood story and its interpretive framework for geology stand in opposition, and the gulf is wide.   The author attempts to narrow the gap between the two geological views.

Coal Formation

Below is an image of the hypothetical evolution of peat moss in a Carboniferous swamp turning into coal.  Step one: slow decomposition of plant life accumulates, forming peat and then a soft brown coal called lignite.  Step two: fragile plant tissue is destroyed while woody material is preserved, eventually forming a higher carbon content coal called bituminous coal with increased temperature and pressure.  Step three: A thick layer of sediment reduces water content and gases while increasing pressure, causing chemical and physical transformation of peat into a hard black coal called anthracite.

There are several types or ranks of coal, as mentioned above, lignite, bituminous, and anthracite coals; which rank they are depends more on the depth of where they are found, and thus are not a good indicator of their age.

Five evidences that challenge the uniformitarian model of coal formation, yet provide evidence for the Flood model are as follows:

1) There is no gradation from one coal rank to the other;

2) The excessive amount of coal the extent of the deposits;

3) The types of plants and fossils associated with many coal deposits;

4) Evidence suggests a speedy and recent development of coal in nature; and

5) The evidence of speedy and recent formation of coal in the laboratory.

The Van Krevelen diagram below shows “the main groups of organic matter plotted as a ratio of hydrogen-to-carbon verses oxygen-to-carbon.”  Lignin is the durable substance of woody plants which produce vitrinite, the main component in most coals.   The increased levels of heat and pressure change the properties of lignin, which in turn produces the different ranks of coals shown.  The increase of rank from lignite to anthracite “represents a rise in carbon content relative to hydrogen and oxygen.”

1) Gradation

Although regional tectonic activity may invert the ranks of coal, no swamp can be found where peat is changing into coal.  “In the Waikato Valley of New Zealand, peat swamps lie over rocks containing sub-bituminous coal seams, but there is no subtle gradation between the two.”  This reminds me of the multiple “missing links” problem in evolutionary theory.  There just isn’t any supportive evidence. Although there are some limited variations, “Coal deposits appear in geological strata already formed, and do not show evidence of the presumed evolutionary pathway leading from a peat swamp.”

2) Quantity

The problem of the quantity of coal deposits can be seen graphically:

1 ft of coal = 12 ft of peat

1 ft of peat = 10 ft of plant matter

SO

1 ft of coal = 120 ft of plant matter

Some would permit 1 ft of coal = 5 ft of peat.

Nevertheless, a 10 ft coal seam would require 500-1,200 ft of plant matter.  A 200 ft coal seam would require…well you get the point.  As W.G. Woolnough said, “Again, nowhere in the world, at present, can accumulations of vegetable matter be found which are quantitatively commensurate with any of the major coal deposits of past geological time,” (“Sedimentation in Barred Basins and Source Rock Oil,: Origin of Evaporites, Tulsa, 1971).   On the other hand a world wide flood would have ripped up large quantities of plant life and covered them with huge quantities of sediments which would provide the pressure needed.

3) Composition

The problem here is that the uniformitarian view requires most coal to be formed from peat collecting in a swamp, but most coal forming plants require dry land, not wet.

4) Rapid Formation in Nature

Several clues indicate that coal didn’t take millions of years to form:

1) Vertical tree trunks within coal deposits indicate quick burial;

2) Gentry’s work (“Radiohalos in Coalfield Wood, Science, 194, 315-318, 1976) on coalfield wood from uranium-rich rocks containing radiohalos, some which are apparently too young to support the uniformitarianism position.  Without going into detail in this review, Gentry, summarizes his findings this way, “This is exactly what would be expected on the basis of a near simultaneous deposition of all the wood at the time of the flood” (Creation’s Tiny Mystery, 1986).

5) Rapid Formation in the Laboratory

Tests which comes close to simulating nature, conducted at various labs, including the Argonne National Laboratory, has shown that subjecting “lignin to a heat of 150˚C in the presence of clay over a period ranging from two to eight months in the absence of oxygen,” produces a chemical composition resembling bituminous coals in eight months, and lignite in two months.  The reason clay is important is that it is often associated with coal seams, and lignin is the primary component of coal.  Also, “a temperature of 150˚C corresponds to a depth of burial [12,008-20,506 ft] we might expect for bituminous coals.”

A Flood Model

In 1979 Austin found that (for the reasons mentioned above) “many coal deposits did not form from the gradual accumulation of peat in freshwater swamps,” and suggests another model: “a raft of plant debris floating on top of a sea or lake could sink, be buried, and then be transformed into coal.”  This might explain how marine fossils found their way into sediments in coal, and “explain the size and composition of coal deposits.”  Major, believes that this “log raft” model is consistent with a catastrophic flood.”  The explosion of Mt St. Helens may support this finding, for “Many logs with an attached root system were found floating [in Spirit Lake, which also had a dense log matt over much of its surface], in an upright position, and an estimated 15,000 logs were partially buried in the lake sediments.  So, it is possible for a catastrophic event to place upright trees inside of coal seams.  This scene also resembles certain coal beds in Eastern United States.  Austin states, “All that is needed is burial and slight heating to transform the Spirit Lake peat into coal” (“Mt. St. Helens and Catastrophism,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Creationism, Aug 4-9, 1986).  Modern analogy from Spirit Lake, Austin’s “log raft” model and evidence from many existing coal deposits provide a way to explain the existence of coal in terms of the Genesis Flood.

Oil and Natural Gas Origin

Most petroleum geologist vote that oil derives from living organisms, while others, including astrophysicist Thomas Gold, believe that oil has a non-biological origin and is formed by methane, but so far his research has been fruitless.   The difficulty in ascertaining oil’s origin is the variation of its chemistry and the differing geological locations where it is found, but the one thing it has in common is that it is “always found in or near sedimentary rocks of marine origin” (Brownlow, 1979).  And as is similar to the formation of coal, dead plants and animals, heat and pressure and chemical reaction, plus thousands of feet of sediment are combined to make crude oil.  With more burial depth and heat, methane and light hydrocarbons were developed, which is known as natural gas.

Two more bits of information are needed to explain the huge oil fields.  Both oil and gas “must migrate out of the original source rock into a reservoir rock, which will hold the oil in its pores and crevices,” much like the conditions of an aquifer.   Then impervious rock or some other barrier is needed to “stop oil from leaking to the surface and keep it under pressure.”  In the uniformitarian perspective, this takes millions of years to occur, in several steps.

There are some creation scientists, like Morton, who follow the inorganic origin of oil, but most share the belief that oil was formed by the sudden and catastrophic Biblical Flood, that buried the plant and animal life.  One piece of evidence that may support the Flood model is that both red blood cells and plant life alike contain chemicals (heme and chlorophyll respectively) that form into porphyrin, “a common ingredient of sedimentary rocks and crude oil.”  A catastrophic worldwide Flood would also cut off porphyrin from oxidizing agents, which destroy them.  Experiments has shown that “porphyrins can be produced from chlorophyll in a matter of hours,” showing the longevity of time needed by the uniformitarian model to be unnecessary.

4) Rapid Formation in Nature

In 1989, Didyk and Simoneit wrote about the Guaymas Basin “6,500 foot trench in the Gulf of California which is covered by a 1,500 foot-thick blanket of olive green ooze.”  The hot geothermal waters that are percolating through the ooze, is producing oil and natural gas.  And the oil is only 5,000 years old, according to radiocarbon dating.  This finding cannot be ingested at face value, but it does put into deep relief the millions of years that are needed for the uniformitarian view.  Other studies suggest that “the Flood involves the rapid addition of new, hot ocean crust,” which could compel the change of organic material into hydrocarbons.  Although some would negate the findings because of some chemical differences of the crude oil in the Guaymas Basin from other crude oil finds, this may be explained from the fact that the oil in the Basin is developed from basically one source of plant life, plankton and algae, while crude elsewhere is found to have multiples sources.

5) Rapid Formation in the Laboratory

Laboratory oil making is done to investigate the origin of oil, and the feasibility of making synthetic oil.  However laboratory and natural setting differences bring this method into question.  But researchers Saxby and Riley (1984) put oil shale and brown coals into “six stainless steel pressure cooker devices;” and beginning at 100˚C raised the heat one degree per week over a 300 week period, analyzing the product at every fifty weeks (and thus every fifty degrees increase).   What was found was that after 200 weeks (four years) the production of “a substance ‘indistinguishable from a paraffinic crude oil,’ while the brown coal produced ‘wet natural gas’.”  Yet despite the limitations of this and other successful experiments, “it is clear that oil can form within a relatively short period of time.”  The Flood model, though in early stages, shows much hope in finding the solution of these earth products’ origin.

Some scientists capitulate to naturalism and abandon a conservative of Scripture, while others “fail to consider the proper relationship of science and Divine Revelation” by invoking that geological things look old because God made them that way.   Though God created life in a mature state Gen 1:12, 22, 28 and ‘He could have’ just created these earth products, this last assumption denies that “coal and oil deposits offer remarkable evidence for His watery judgment of sinful man (Genesis 6:5-7)” as has been seen above.

What had developed in the naturalist camp since the writing of this book is the theory that the earth itself naturally produces oil without the need for a biological base in its formation, thus there is an endless supply.   This position too excludes God, and is the way for carnal man regardless of the evidence that if put before them (Romans 1).

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