The Grand Canyon is a spectacular rift on the Earth’s surface which is some 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep in parts. It is a haven for geologists because along its length are strata covering almost the whole of the Earth’s long geological history with hundreds of layers of sediments of different thicknesses, colour, composition and fossils. It attracts millions of visitors every year but despite the great interest in it, the problem of how it was formed still remains a mystery (1). Some think that it was carved out by the Colorado River over many millions of years while others believe it was made by Noah’s Flood a few thousand years ago. Neither of these explanations is satisfactory for those who know the Canyon well. This article proposes an entirely new hypothesis which is based on the observed features of the Canyon as well as on four important factors alluded to in the Bible (2) which are:
1. The behaviour of the Earth’s lithosphere
2. The origin of the Earth’s sedimentary strata.
3. Continental drift
4. The recent ice age in North America
If these factors are fully and logically considered the story of the formation of the Canyon is quite dramatic and accounts for all the features of this very famous natural wonder. To make the story easier to follow I have divided it into seven stages.
The Earth’s lithosphere or ‘foundations’ – As explained in a previous article our planet was built up one layer at a time and the final layer was made from particles of rock minerals which with heat and pressure became a spherical shell of basaltic rock some four miles thick. An important feature of the foundations is that they are flexible and despite their great weight and thickness they can still move vertically up or down in response to loads applied from below or above.(3) Three different loads on the foundations have contributed to the formation of the Grand Canyon.
1. A very severe dynamic load from a massive extraterrestrial body.
2. A downward load from many layers of deposited sediments.
3. An upward load from the pressure in the asthenosphere.
All of these loads are explained in what follows.
The origin of the Earth’s sediments – The Grand Canyon exposes a great thickness of sedimentary strata so we first need to understand where all these sediments came from. Geologists think that all this vast amount of sediments came from weathering of the lithosphere by various processes over billions of years. Weathering is recognized in the Bible (Job14:18) and we see this going on today but the Bible also suggests a very different origin for the sediments. It tells us that the “layers” were built “in the sky” and “founded as strata” on “the earth” (Amos 9:6). This can be reasonably interpreted to mean that a good proportion of the sediments were not formed by weathering but were formed in space and settled down on the Earth in layers. But the Bible also suggests a spectacular way that the bulk of sediments came to Earth. They were first loosely gathered together from a different part of the same disc to form another smaller body in space but this time encapsulated within a lighter more granitic shell.(4) I have called this body Esther in a previous article and the manner in which it became part of the Earth is relevant to the formation of the Grand Canyon. Esther came within the Earth’s gravitational grasp and was forced into an inward spiralling orbit round the Earth. She moved faster with each orbit and in her final circuit she bounced like a gigantic ball on the very deep ocean bed in the area now occupied by the Pacific Ocean (Ps.24:2). This initial impact depressed and heated the ocean floor in the Pacific and ruptured the foundations to produce a huge horse shoe shaped tension crack some 25,000 miles in length where 75% of all the volcanoes on the Earth are found. Having dented and cracked the foundations, Esther continued on its final orbit to the other side of the globe where she exploded and scattered her contents to form a huge near circular heap of sediments which became the supercontinent Pangaea (4). The dent and rupture of the foundations caused by Esther’s first impact is recognized today as the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ (3). One section of this ring of fire lies rather close to where the Grand Canyon is today and this is of great relevance to the formation of the Canyon as is explained shortly.
The Colorado sedimentary basin – A sedimentary basin is a very extensive area on the Earth where layer upon layer of sediments have been deposited over a vast period of time. They can be thousands of square miles in area and thousands of feet deep. The layers form from sediments but eventually become sedimentary rocks and often include fossils of plant or animal life that lived at the time. Arizona was once part of Pangaea when N America was attached to NW Africa and Western Europe. This area was then barely above sea level which meant it was regularly subject to inundation by the sea and rivers which brought in sediments. A very large sedimentary basin was formed in this part of Pangaea and we can call it the Colorado Sedimentary Basin. So it has to be remembered that the sediments we see on the sides of the Grand Canyon today were in fact deposited and hidden away while N America was still part of Pangaea.
The recent Ice age and the Firmament – There is much Geological evidence that suggests that much of the land surface of the Earth was once covered over with very thick layers of ice. What remains debatable however is exactly how very thick layers of ice came to be formed and so far no credible theory has been put forward. The Bible does however give us a clue about this which is explained as follows. We live in a generation of life that started only six to ten thousand years ago but there was a previous generation of life which was brought to end by a global flood called Lucifer’s Flood which was followed by a period when the Sun’s heat and light failed to reach the flooded Earth (Gen.1:2). This lasted long enough for the global ocean to freeze to a depth of perhaps a hundred feet or more. When heating from the Sun was resumed several thousand years later a partial thaw of the surface melted some of the ice but not all. What remained below the melted water is referred to in the Bible as “the firmament in the midst of the waters” (Gen.1:6). This thick slab of ice followed the Earth’s curvature and was therefore dome shaped to begin with. A very strong gravitational pull from another body whisked away all the melted water and raised the dome of ice well above sea level so as to provide the still submerged supercontinent with a kind of global umbrella. This dome or Firmament (4 &5) as it has come to be known remained in place for just over two thousand years and while it existed all the land under it became a subtropical greenhouse which allowed plant animal and human life to thrive abundantly. Life spans for people living under the dome were about ten times longer than they are today. The dome was hemispherical with a 25000 mile circumference at its base and was kept in place for several centuries by sub-zero temperatures above it and a high atmospheric pressure under it. Geologists who have studied the last ice age think that much of North America once had ice sheets fifty feet or more thick (3) and their findings are as what we would expect as the remains of the collapsed firmament.
The separation of North America from Pangaea – The Bible tells us that the supercontinent Pangaea subsequently divided (Gen.10:25) but says this happened very quickly and only some 4000 years ago.Hence as I believe that the Bible is right on this matter I have to conclude that North America moved away from Pangaea rather quickly by slipping on its foundations and was not carried very slowly by its foundations acting as a conveyor belt. The western coastline of N America was severely affected by giant waves and thus the Colorado sedimentary basin which was then at sea level lost some of its upper layers by erosion.
Breakup of the Firmament – When N America broke away from Pangaea she approached the solid ice wall of the Firmament at some speed. There was a collision and the continent continued on for about two thousand miles by which time it had acquired a huge momentum. It might have continued slipping even further but was stopped very abruptly from doing so by the raised and roughened ocean floor and volcanoes on the ‘ring of fire’ that was formed much earlier by Esther. All this is relevant because the formation of the Grand Canyon was triggered off by this double collision- first with the thick ice walls of the Firmament and then with the volcanoes and raised ocean floor on the Pacific ‘ring of fire’. In the first collision with the Firmament all of North America became suddenly covered with very thick slabs of ice. The sky literally fell upon the then very sparsely populated land. The large lakes such as -Great Bear, Great Slave, Winnipeg, Superior, Michigan, Ontario and Eyre which all lie on a well defined arc are of glacial/volcanic origin and the Firmament and rapid movement of N America thus provides an explanation for this very sudden and recent glaciation and volcanism of this continent.
Formation of the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon – When N America collided with the ‘ring of fire’ a great deal of heat was generated. The foundations here were already damaged but with the arrival of the continent with an extremely hot base they became even weaker. The partly eroded Colorado sedimentary basin now found itself not only relieved of some of its weight but also on very hot and weakened foundations. The pressure from under these new foundations was now high enough to lift its new load by nearly 6000 feet above its previous level. Thus what was a sedimentary basin at sea level in far distant Pangaea became a raised plateau in Arizona and it is this plateau which we know today as the Colorado Plateau. Its flat top may be attributed to the erosion it suffered as a sedimentary basin while N America was on the move. The uplift also raised the extremely vast quantity of ice that had fallen on the region when the Firmament was impacted. This lifting up of the sedimentary basin induced immense stresses in the hundreds of layers it contained. The stronger deeper layers of the plateau were able to withstand these stresses but the upper layers were not and a pattern of narrow but fairly deep tension cracks developed immediately under the ice along a 270 mile long stretch of the Plateau. Ground heat caused by friction began to melt the ice rapidly and the resulting water began to pour into the cracks forming hundreds of Niagara type waterfalls. Water, especially with blocks of ice, has tremendous erosive power and soon the narrow tension cracks that were formed earlier became widened and deepened by erosion from the top. This went on for several years until all the water had drained away downwards through the cracks. The final outcome of all this rapid and powerful erosion was the formation of the Grand Canyon as we see it today. Once the area became stable new rivers were able to form and take their course. One of these was the Colorado River which found its way into the deepest parts of the plateau and today this river does a wonderful maintenance job in clearing away the debris but it had no part in forming the Canyon.
Concluding remarks – In this article I have given an explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon which is largely based on subtle clues given in the Bible. On this basis the Grand Canyon is a monument to Esther who prepared the ground and supplied a good proportion sediments seen in the Canyon but also to the Firmament which puzzled translators of the Bible killed a long time ago.
1. Ranney W. Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories and Mystery Grand Canyon Association ISBN 978-1-934656-36-5
2. All biblical references are from the New King James Bible Thomas Nelson Inc 1982
3. Duff D ‘Holmes Principles of Physical Geology’ Chapman & Hall Fourth Ed London 1993
4. Pimenta L.R. ‘The Firmament of the sky dome’ Matador Kibworth Beauchamp 2012 ISBN 978-1-78088-201-7
5. Seely Paul H ‘The Firmament and the water above’ Westminister Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-240