Moving Towards Creationist Ideas
2 Is Geological Literature Becoming More Creationist?
Moving Towards Creationist
109, 2006 July)
A review of
the geologic literature shows
the geologic literature is becoming more creationistic in its outlook.
I cite the following:
illustrated by other statements in
the Root-Bernstein letter, such as: `Evolution postdicts certain
trends of progressive change that can be falsified.' This is simply not
the case! In the fossil record, we are faced with many sequences of
modifications over time from A to B to C to D can be documented and a
Darwinian interpretation can often be made after seeing the sequence.
the predictive (or postdictive) power of theory in these cases is
nil. The problem faced by the evolutionary paleontologist is not unlike
that of the stock market analyst. Both the stock market record and the
fossil record are complex Markovian time series wherein causal
after the fact are often possible but the predictive value of theory is
weak to nonexistent. In fact, the technical market analyst probably has
a better record than the paleontologist. This does not disqualify
theory; it simply illustrates the difficulty of applying any
theory to actual cases.
One of the
ironies of the evolution-creation
debate is that the creationists have accepted the mistaken notion that
the fossil record shows a detailed and orderly progression and they
gone to great lengths to accommodate this "fact" in their Flood
David M. Raup, "Evolution and the Fossil Record", Science, Vol. 213, No. 4505, 17 July 1981, p.289
"A great deal
has changed, however, and contemporary
geologists and paleontologists now generally accept catastrophe as a
of life' although they may avoid the word catastrophe... The periods of
relative quiet contribute only a small part of the record. The days are
almost gone when a geologist looks at such a sequence, measures its
estimates the total amount of elapsed time, and then divides one by the
other to compute the rate of deposition in centimeters per thousand
The nineteenth century idea of uniformitarianism and gradualism still
in popular treatments of geology, in some museum exhibits, and in lower
level textbooks....one can hardly blame the creationists for having the
idea that the conventional wisdom in geology is still a noncatastrophic
Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin (Vol.54, March 1983), p.21
that the construction of the
geologic scale involves circularity has a certain amount of
the procedure is far from ideal and the geologic ranges are constantly
being revised (usually extended) as new occurrences are found." –
David M. Raup, U. of Chicago; Field Museum of Natural History, Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, Vol. 54, Mar. 1983, p.21
role of major storms throughout
geologic history is becoming increasingly recognized." –
Dag Nummendal, 1982, "Clastics," Geotimes 27(2):23
"It is a great
for geologists to accept catastrophe as a normal part of Earth
Erie Kauffman, 1983, quoted in Roger Lewin, "Extinctions and the History of Life," Science 221:935-937
hurricane, the flood, or the tsunami
may do more in an hour or a day than the ordinary processes of nature
achieved in a thousand years." –
Derek V. Ager (Professor and Head of the Department of Geology and Oceanography at the University College of Swansea, England), The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1973), p. 49
the doctrine of uniformitarianism
is no more 'proved' than some of the early ideas of world-wide
have been disproved." –
Edgar B. Heylmun: "Should We Teach Uniformitarianism!", Journal of Geological Education, Vol. 19, January 1971, p. 35
John H Williams
110, 2006 September)
"The history of any part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror." (Professor Derek Ager)
I'd like to critique Ken DeMyer's statement in Investigator #109 in which he stated that "a review of the geological literature shows [that it is] becoming more creationist in its outlook".
It's been 43 years since I studied Geology, though I taught it to Year 12 level a few years ago, so I'm familiar with the theme, but have needed some research to update.
What is the current consensus on catastrophism's role in the Earth's history?
If catastrophism is increasingly in favour, perhaps 'weakening' uniformitarian ideas (the present is the key to the past', and the fields of stratigraphy and palaeontology, allied to radiometric dating, show that what exists must have taken billions of years), should one re-assess creationist ideas, which cite examples such as the destruction of Cretan civilisation (1628BC, perhaps the origin of the Atlantis myth?), the Sumatran explosion (75,000 mya), the massive late Pleistocene N. American and Asian floods, the spectacular Tunguska event (1908) and the St Helens (1980) explosion, amongst others?
Before the late 1700s the dominant theories were catastrophist, and biblical. However, Buffon in 1760 estimated the Earth's age at 75,000 years, quite an advance on Lightfoot's and Ussher's Genesis-based 1640s dating.
Georges Cuvier was very influential, and during 1818-1825 he sought to explain the fossil record in terms of a series of catastrophes, particularly the Noachian Flood. Also influential were the views of Abraham Werner (late 1700s and early 1800s) who stated that all rocks were formed by "rapid chemical precipitation from a world ocean" which occurred catastrophically.
Such outlandish ideas inevitably led to more rational theories.
James Hutton came up with a uniformitarian explanation in 1785,and pointed to sedimentary geosynclines kilometres thick, thus requiring far more than thousands of years. Later, Charles Lyell used the fossil record of marine molluscs to estimate the Earth's age at 240 million years in 1831 (see my article in #107), and uniformitarian ideas have held sway until the last thirty years. Lyell and others rejected catastrophism partly due to "the more extreme claims of Cuvier's supporters."
Lyell's and Hutton's "antiquated uniformitarianism" is making way for neo-catastrophism since the evidence is irrefutable.
In 1978-80 Walter and Luis Alvarez discovered the Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) 'divide' (65 million years BP), in which about 70% of all life disappeared, including virtually all dinosaurs and ammonites. Its cause, a 180km-wide submarine crater, was located off the Yucatan Peninsula at Chicxulub, Mexico. This "Great Exterminator" was about ten km in diameter and its explosive force was the equivalent of five billion atomic bombs! The loss of the dinosaurs enabled the 'rise of the mammals' and eventually the emergence of Homo.
Geologists believe there had been at least five massive extinctions one of which at the end of the Permian, around 252.3 to 251.4 mya, is estimated to have removed 90-95% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates. This is known as the P/T (Triassic) "crisis", the largest ever, following several extinctions of the late Devonian between 350 and 400 mya, and the one which ended the Ordovician about 445 mya.
There is strong evidence to support the idea that we are currently experiencing the sixth major extinction.
frequency, cause and length
of extinctions, I recommend readers refer to the Wikipedia site on the
The work of Professor David Raup at the Chicago University has taken catastrophism in an interesting direction. As an agnostic, Raup has no allegiance to creationism. The reason he was present at the 1994 Pajaro Dunes conference, arranged by the key proponents of Intelligent Design (The Discovery Institute, Johnson, Meyer, Behe, Kenyon et al), was likely due to his catastrophist work and its supposed link to creationism. This conference was filmed, and forms a major part of the DVD, Unlocking the Mystery of Life (2003).
Raup took up the idea of a Chicago colleague, Dr John Seposki (1984) that there was significant periodicity in major and minor extinction events, leading to a theory that they occurred every 26 million years for which Raup, to his credit, acknowledges no conclusive supporting evidence: in his words, that major and minor geological divisions were caused by catastrophes on a regular basis is "still pretty soft" but should be left as an open question.
One of Raup's
more quotable quotes is this
one from the Dino Land Palaeontology Interview: "On the
debate, I foresee continued conflict. Both sides will continue to lie,
cheat and steal to make their points."
I'm less than happy with this, and wonder which scientists (specifically, geologists) have been telling lies, and if they're known to him, whether he's attempted to expose them.
It was good of DeMyer to include (in #109, p 49) this part of the long 1981 quotation of Raup's:
If in fact DeMyer is a creationist of that ilk, could he please directly express it in this magazine, instead of the usual collection of quotes?
Another distinguished geologist, Professor Derek Ager, became so incensed with creationists "hi-jacking" his ideas that he has issued strong disclaimers to that effect. Their construct is 'more of the same' confirmation bias, and by associating their beliefs with the ideas and theories of scientists, they can gain credibility. Though I'm far from being a Raup or an Ager, as someone who occasionally experiences weird creationist thinking during my work with teenagers, I too find it galling.
Ager stated that "The history of any part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror". (http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/historical.html).
Most geologists agree with Ager that there were periods of slow, gradual change (gradualism) punctuated by occasional natural catastrophes. Our Moon's formation was the result of a large planetesimal near miss about 4.5 billion years ago, while in July 1994 Earthlings had an excellent view of the break-up of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet, when over 20 pieces of it crashed into 'lucky' Jupiter, creating "fireballs the size of Texas".
Celestial events of this scale happen once every few thousand years, so we were fortunate to observe it.
Other gigantic events occurred: About four billion years ago the crust melted!; the (salt) Lake Acraman (South Australia) event of 590 mya during the Ediacaran; one event 360 mya removed 85% of all known species; and the Norway-Barents Sea Mjoelnir Crater formed 150 mya.
In March 1998 the Earth had a near miss from a big comet, which was not seen until it passed as its trajectory was direct. Such visitors can be expected every 300 years or so.
Australia has at least 26 impact sites, including two relatively small ones within about 120 km of Adelaide known as the Crawford and Flaxman events.
The Acraman bolide was 4.8 km in diameter and, at 30 km per second, caused a global crisis, which eventually led to "adaptive radiation" creating "an explosion of single-celled biomass which became the food supply of the extraordinary multi-celled grazers of the Ediacaran, which may represent a pivotal event in the evolutionary history of the global biosphere." ("Waiter, there's a mountain in my soup!") (www.exitmundi.nl/Comets.htm)
Neocatastrophism has increasingly acknowledged the role of asteroid and comet impact in major and minor mass extinctions. But, as underlined by Professor Victor Gostin (reported by B Stett in Investigator #55, July 1997, titled Geology and Myth) there's been "no Atlantis, no Velikovskian collision of the planets, no recent melting of Antarctic ice, no reversal of the Earth's spin, and no world-wide Noah's Flood."
proponents of catastrophism were and
are partially right, by linking their Biblical stories to actual
events (another kind of spin!) means that they've become interesting
of the Earth's cultural history.
Examined on this website