Discarded Science & The Genesis Flood Part I


Author John Grant must fancy himself somewhat of a ‘Guardian of Science’, having authored three books on the subject of ‘That Which is Less Than Science’: Discarded Science: Ideas That Seemed Good At The Time, Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science and Bogus Science: Or, Some People Really Believe These Things (Facts, Firgures & Fun).

I’ll be addressing the first of these books, Discarded Science, in the next few posts. As might be expected in a book of this genre, creationism takes its accustomed place in the pantheon of the Enemies of Science. In chapter 3 – Survival of the Brightest – Grant takes on creationism (pp. 176-182) and in doing so provides a window into the mind of the modern evolutionist. Grant begins the ritual smearing by mocking  the work of Drs. John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris:
In the early 1970s US Creationists coined the term “Creation Science” – essentially they were still peddling the same old Bible-based Creationism but had removed most of the overt religious references and added in their place a smattering of psuedoscience. Several Factors contributed to this change.

One was the publication of the influential book The Genesis Flood (1961), by John C. Whitcomb Jr (bc 1925) and Henry Morris (1918-2006), who began their discourse with the statement (in the second printing) that ‘their basic argument of this volume is based upon the presupposition that the Scriptures are true”. It was primarily Morris’s job to cobble together some kind of scientific or pseudoscientific rationale to support this assertion. Re-introducing the favourite Creationist refrain that scientific conclusions are merely a matter of interpretation – similar to the “it’s only a theory” argument the ignorant and disingenuous use agains evolution – he then presented a rehash of the revised geological scheme first offered by George McReady Price (1870-1963) in The New Geology (1923). The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood, with the progression of fossilized organisms from primitive to more advanced forms being a matter of differential buoyancy: basically, some creatures could swim better than others. Besides, the geologists were all wrong about the ordering of the stratigraphical Column: was there not a site in Glacier National Park where Precambrian rock rested atop Cretaceous rock? The geologists attempted to explain such phenomena by invoking the concept to thrusting, but this was just special pleading: no one had ever seen thrusting at work. The notion of there having been multiple ice ages was just plain silly: there hadn’t been enough time for more than one. The early times of the Earth had seen a clement environment because a big water canopy in the skies had created a greenhouse effect while also blocking off the harmful rays of the Sun; it was the collapse of this canopy that caused the Flood. And so on, and on, and on.


Returning to The Genesis Flood, the Paluxy River data were quietly removed from the third revised printing, after it had become evident that [Cliff] Burdick had been overexcited in the original report.

None of the arguments in The Genesis Flood are, of course, science: this is a book of pure pseudoscience, comprising a mixture of wild guesses and straight-forward fantasy. But to the uneducated reader it could look sufficiently scientific to disguise the fact that all Whitcomb and Morris were really doing was serving up the same old supper of God-created-the-world-in-six-days-about-6000-years-ago. The authors – and their countless supporters – were able to present this as a turning of the tables on science: where the trend had been to reinterpret the Scriptures in the light of each new wave of scientific discovery, now science was being reinterpreted in order to conform to the Scriptures. Whitcomb and Morris could portray themselves as twin Davids combating the Goliath of the monolithic scientific edifice…and everyone loves and underdog.
~pp. 176-179
I’ll address the details Grant’s allegations in a later post(s). For the time being, I want to get to the heart of his objections to The Genesis Flood, which consist of the following twin assertions:
  1. That the geologic record cannot be reasonably interpreted and understood within in a Biblical Flood framework;
  2. Attempting to do so is to engage in ‘pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straightforward fantasy’.

Thoughtful chap that he is, Grant even warns us that Morris’s ‘cobbled together’ rationale might be just scientific-looking enough to fool uneducated readers.

Having read the book in question, it seems that it is Grant himself engaging in ‘straightforward fantasy’. Whatever else one might conclude about the book, a fair reading makes one wonder if Grant even bothered to pick it up, much less read it. Throughout, Whitcomb and Morris seriously engage the substance of the then-current state of mainstream geology, exposing significant conflicts between theory and data. The authors then proceed to make the case that the geologic data in question can be understood just as well, often much better, within their proposed framework. This is not to say that they ‘proved’ Flood Geology; only that they demonstrated the reasonableness of that interpretation of the data. Nor do you need to take my word for it; consider the words of another reader:

This book is an exception to such conformist thinking [i.e. mainstream geology]. The Genesis Flood places before the reader in clear and comprehensive fashion the theological and scientific basis for a literal acceptance of the Biblical account. The authors have carefully considered and developed their arguments, supporting each of them with an abundance of recent and authoritative documentation.

The reader who desires to accept the Biblical account literally and without reservation will discover that the authors have shown such a position to be supported by excellent proof and sound interpretation. They have clearly shown that the Bible teaches a unique creation and subsequent worldwide Deluge, and that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within this framework. (emphasis added)

Are these the words of one Grant’s postulated ‘uneducated readers’? Hardly. They are, in fact, the words of Dr. John C. McCampbell, PH.D., then Professor & Head, Department of Geology at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He wrote those words in the forward to The Genesis Flood (pp. XVI-XVII), despite the fact that he did not at all agree with the authors, nor was he comfortable with their conclusions:

From the writers point of view, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept. For the present at least, although quite ready to recognize the inadequacies of Lyellian uniformitarianism, I would prefer to hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found.

~The Genesis Flood: the Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications; pg. XVII

Here we have a rare gem: a mainstream uniformitarian geologist who was not only willing to give the young-earth creationist perspective a fair hearing; but to provide an honest – and positive – evaluation of that perspective. In public, no less!! Not only did he read the book, he was able and willing to recognize – despite his own bias – ‘that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within [a Biblical Flood] framework‘.

In contrast to McCampbell’s characterization, Grant conjures the image of Whitcomb and Morris as a couple of medieval alchemists all but detached from reality engaging in wild speculation and fantasy-mongering, but it takes no more than a moment of thought to dispel such a notion. In general terms, it boils down to a fairly simple empirical question:

Generally speaking, which scenario does the geologic field data more heavily favor:

  • exceedingly gradual deposition/formation at rates generally consistent with present-day processes (with allowances for occasional catastrophes) or ;
  • rapid, large-scale, relatively continuous and  concurrent deposition/ formation?

It really is that simple. Thus, it makes no sense to say that the Uniformatarian scenario is testable while the Biblical Flood model is not. Indeed, if one purports to weigh the evidence and finds in favor of the former, the latter necessarily has also been tested and found wanting. Which is to say that the Biblical Flood model is testable and therefore ‘scientific’. Even some non-creationists/evolutionists (in addition to McCampbell) recognize this. Of Judge Overton’s decision against creationism in the 1982 McLean case, philosopher of science Larry Lauden writes:

The heart of Judge Overton’s Opinion is a formulation of “the essential characteristics of science.” These characteristics serve as touchstones for contrasting evolutionary theory with creationism; they lead Judge Overton ultimately to the claim, specious in its own right, that since creationism is not “science”, it must be religion. The Opinion offers five essential properties that demarcate scientific knowledge from other things: “(1) It is guided by natural law; (2) it has to be explanatory by reference to natural law; (3) it is testable against the empirical world; (4) its conclusions are tentative, that is, are not necessarily the final word; and (5) it is falsifiable.”

These fall naturally into two families: properties (1) and (2) have to do with lawlikeness and explanatory ability; the other three properties have to do with the fallibility and testability of scientific claims. I shall deal with the second set of issues first, because it is there that the most egregious errors of fact and judgment are to be found.

At various key points in the Opinion, creationism is charged with being untestable, dogmatic (and thus nontentative), and unfalsifiable. All three charges are of dubious merit. For instance, to make the interlinked claims that creationism is neither falsifiable nor testable is to assert that creationism makes no empirical assertions whatever. That is surely false. Creationists make a wide range of testable assertions about empirical matters of fact. Thus, as Judge Overton himself grants (apparently without seeing its implications), the creationists say that the earth is of very recent orign (say, 6,000 to 20,000 years old); they argue that most of geological features of the earth’s surface are diluvial in character (i.e., products of the postulated Noachian deluge); they are committed to a large number of factual historical claims with which the Old Testament is replete; they assert the limited variability of species. They are committed to the view that, since animals and man were created at the same time, the human fossil record must be paleontologically coextensive with the record of lower animals. It is fair to say that no one has shown how to reconcile such claims with the available evidence – evidence that speaks persuasively to a long earth history, among other things.

In brief, these claims are testable, they have been tested, and they have failed those tests….

~But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Updated Edition; Science at the Bar – Causes for Concern, pp. 331-332

As far as concerns geology, Dr. McCampbell emphatically disagrees with Lauden’s assertion that ‘no one has shown how to reconcile [creationist] claims with the available evidence‘. As McCampbell points out, this is precisely what Whitcomb and Morris did in The Genesis Flood. Further, contra Lauden’s claim that creationist geological hypotheses have failed empirical tests, McCampbell found ‘that the major facts of geology and other sciences can be satisfactorily oriented within this framework.’

Lauden’s short essay, Science at the Bar – Causes for Concern, is a wholesale demolition of Judge Overton’s criteria for judging creationism as pseudoscience; a doubly powerful rejoinder as it comes from one who has no sympathy for creationism or its proponents. As Overton’s criteria are essentially those still employed by anti-creationists like the NSCE, ACLU and Judge Jones of Dover vs. Kitzmiller fame (and, no doubt, Grant himself), Lauden’s words serve as an effective rebuttal to them as well. That such erroneous claims persist to this day speaks volumes; that Grant makes such fatuous assertions when he should know better exposes his pose as a ‘Guardian of Science’ – at least insofar as it concerns the origins issue – as just that – a pose.

At best this is sloppy, lazy thinking; at worst, a dishonest power-play. The scientific establishment has become a secular priest-hood, having as its core doctrine a strict naturalistic, reductionist materialism. That it is a priesthood can be seen in that it regularly pronounces on those subjects that were once the province of traditional religion:
  • origins (evolution),
  • eschatology (e.g. global warming),
  • morality (e.g. adultery, rape, etc. is natural/not bad/good/a result of natural selection)
  • dietary restrictions (e.g. low-fat diet)
  • the validity, or lack thereof, of competing belief-systems (i.e. religions)
  • etc., etc., etc.
Furthermore, this priesthood, as those of times past, claims to be the sole authority on these subjects, asserting for all practical purposes that if something hasn’t been ‘scientifically’ demonstrated, it has no truth value and thus no rightful claim on either the public square or the minds of responsible citizens. And having claimed science as their exclusive prerogative, they will brook no challenge to their seat of power.

On the other hand, and to hoist him on his own petard, perhaps Grant is just being ‘ignorant and disingenuous‘.

In the next post, I’ll consider some examples of  the arguments made by Whitcomb and Morris in The Genesis Flood relative to Grant’s characterization of them.


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