The erosion rate of Niagara Falls indicates an age of 7,000 to 10,000 years.
Legitimate geologists actually do seem to date Niagara Falls at somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 years. The question is why creationists would think this important. There appear to be two primary uses to which creationists put the age of Niagara Falls: (i) as evidence for a young Earth; (ii) as an example of uniformitarianism gone awry.
I. Is Niagara Falls evidence for a young Earth?
The age of Niagara Falls often is included in creationist lists of putative evidences for a young Earth. These lists usually appear to be summaries of work by creationist Kent Hovind, such as this one, paraphrasing statements in one of his DVDs:
Niagara Falls has only moved 7 miles. All the textbooks agree, Niagara Falls has moved about 7 miles; this one says, 7 1/2 miles. Well, at 4 or 5 feet a year, that would be 9900 years, that is correct! But I have a question, Niagara Falls is right there right now, it used to be up here, it has moved south 7 miles. If the earth is billions of years old, why has it not moved all the way to Lake Erie by now or clear to Florida for that matter? Why is Niagara Falls right there? (Anonymous 2013)
This is a very strange line of argument, since it quite obviously does no violence to mainstream geology to accept that the Earth is older than Niagara Falls. Arguing that the Earth cannot be older than Niagara Falls is like arguing that a man cannot be older than a wrinkle on his brow. Asking "If the earth is billions of years old, why hasn't Niagara Falls receded further?" is on par with asking, "If the earth is billions of years old, why hasn't my hairline receded further?"
II. Consistency with a young Earth?
Not all creationists who write about Niagara Falls argue along Hovind's lines. Morris (2003), for instance, merely argues that the recorded erosion rate of Niagara Falls, supplemented with additional assumptions about Noah's Flood, yields an age for the Falls that is consistent with the young-earth interpretation of Biblical chronology. This is a different, and far better, argument than Hovind's argument from a young Niagara Falls to a young Earth, though it still fails due to the evidence against a worldwide Noachian Flood. It is perhaps worth noting that, of course, young-earthers who are willing to be a little bit flexible beyond the normal 6,000 years to which Morris seems committed here, need not invoke Noah's Flood at all.
III. Does Niagara Falls refute uniformitarianism?
Niagara Falls also gives Morris (2003) an opportunity to attack uniformitarianism. In the nineteenth century, the great geologist Charles Lyell estimated the erosion rate of Niagara Falls at about one foot per year, from which he drew an inflated approximate age of 35,000 years for the Falls. Aside from the sneer that "Lyell's work at Niagara accomplished its main goal, that of calling Scripture into question," (Morris 2003:iv) Morris appears to see Lyell's estimate as just one more example of uniformitarian assumptions leading to incorrect answers. It is unclear what to make of such a perception by Morris, since the geologists who corrected Lyell's estimate didn't use principles very different from his: they just had access to better data which established a faster erosion rate. If there is anything to be indicted here, it is Lyell's data (or, at worst, Lyell's method of collecting data); nothing about Lyell's estimate or the subsequent corrections has any negative impact on uniformitarianism.
Anonymous. 2013. Scientific evidence for a young Earth. www.truthingenesis.com/2013/01/03/scientific-evidence-for-a-young-earth/. Spotted 21 Nov 2014.
Morris JD. 2003. Dating Niagara Falls. Impact #359. Institute for Creation Research.
Last updated: 21 Nov 2014
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