Redefining Yet Again

In response to my last post, R P writes:

For those who have been following, there is another reply in my debate with Wombatty, author of the Creationist Meditations blog. The short version is that he is still at pains to distinguish between macro- and micro-evolution, and he thinks it is fallacious not to make the distinction. I think he thinks I am arguing that there can’t be a distinction, which I’m not – I am arguing that is the whole debate – but judge for yourself.

How did I get the impression that R P is ‘arguing that there can’t be a distinction?’ In his previous post, R P repsonded to this statement of mine:

…while there is no conflict between the ‘minimal definition’ and macroevolution, the former does not necessarily entail the latter. You can have ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ without macroevolution.

…by saying:

Agreed. There is no conflict. In fact, the argument from biology is that, not only is there no conflict, there is no distinction. In other words, the concepts are nested rather than distinct. (ephases added)

So which is it? Is there a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution or not? I interpret R P’s assertion that ‘the concepts are nested rather than distinct’ to mean that while they are not ‘exactly the same thing,’ they are necessarily related, one inevitably leading to or building on the other. If I’m right, what of his claim that he is not arguing that their can’t be a distinction?

Last, if micro and macro evolution are distinct, then I maintain that it is important to make that distinction clear in both public discourse and in the schoolroom. To gloss over that distinction would be to misrepresent – or, in Scott’s words, to disguise – macroevolution. Evolutionists claims of, for instance, pesticide resistance as ‘evolution in action’ – the clear implication being macroevolution in action- are inexcusable. There is no reason to suppose that  a simplified version of macroevolution would be any more difficult for students or citizens to understand than the notion of ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time.’ In fact, I would suggest that a 10-year old or a scientifically ignorant citizen would grasp the former much easier as it doesn’t require even a rudimentary understanding of inheritance, genes or alleles.

I was ‘at pains’ in my last post to demonstrate that [ed. – an increasing number of] evolutionists themselves acknowledge a qualitative distinction between micro and macro evolution and that the latter is not simply an accumulation over geological time of the former*. That is, they are two entirely different and separate modes of biological change. I would urge those interested to read Gilbert et al’s paper Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology as it provides a very informative historical and scientific overview of the subject.

 

 

*[ed. – Not all evolutionists agree. Gradualists, like Dawkins, continue to insist that macroevolution is precisely microevolution extrapolated over geoloigical time. The point is that many staunch evolutionists acknowledge serious problems with this hypothesis. Both views fall within current evolutionary orthodoxy.] 

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Redefining All Over Again – Response

In his response to my post, Evolution & Equivocation, RP writes:

First, it’s important to note that not all creationists make such a concession. When Wombatty says “No one disputes ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’” he is not being fair to the diversity of creationist viewpoints. It is easy to lump everyone who self-labels a particular way into one big category – all Conservatives are stupid don’t you know. Even though that strategy is just plain wrong, most people engage in it nonetheless, and we need to make sure we don’t succumb to another logical fallacy, the “no true Scotsman” rule, which is a form of reverse equivocation.

[…]

Creationists, like their opponents, have a range of beliefs from the narrow (young earth creationism, atheism) to the broad (day-age creationism, Wiccans), and although I enjoy discussing that range at length, that is not the point of this post.

I take it that R P is including any belief system that denies random, directionless, purposeless macroevolution under the banner of creationism. I don’t necessarily think this is unwarranted and he is not the only one to do it. David Sedley titled his enlightening study of the design vs. non-design debate in ancient times Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity, explaining in the preface that by ‘creationism’ he simply means

…the thesis that the world’s structure and contents can be adequately explained only by postulating at least one intelligent designer, a creator god.

~p. xvii

Indeed, all of the ‘creationists’ in his book are greek pagans. Nevertheless, the label ‘creationism’ has a rather specific connotation in modern times, especially in the United States. It is overwhelmingly used to describe Christians who adhere to one of several interpretations of the Genesis account of origins. These include young-earth, old-earth, day-age, progressive, gap-theory and ‘framework hypothesis’ creationists. That being the case, I think it is confusing to include, for instance, Wiccans in the definition of the term. Further, R P’s definition would subsume someone like Ken Miller; a label I’m sure Miller would vociferously reject.

I should clarify that when I refer to ‘creationists’, I usually have in mind those of the young-earth variety unless otherwise indicated. That distinction, though, is irrelevant here. If we reasonably confine the label ‘creationist’ to ‘Genesis origins account’ adherents of whatever stripe, R P’s ‘no true Scotsman’ charge falls flat. While there might be distant outliers, I am unaware of a creationist of any stripe that would deny ‘‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’. In fact most creationists who aren’t in the young-earth camp are vocal supporters of evolution and some even of Darwinism (i.e. undirected evolution); their position being little more than standard evolutionary theory with a coat of theological paint. If any type of creationist would be suspected of not ‘making such a concession’, it would be a young-earther and, as I’ve pointed out, they do not at all deny ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’. I would be interested in who exactly R P has in mind when he claims that ‘not all creationists make such a concession’.

R P goes on to accuse me of confusing the noun ‘equivocation’ with the logical fallacy of the same name. He quotes me:

…while there is no conflict between the ‘minimal definition’ and macroevolution, the former does not necessarily entail the latter. You can have ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ without macroevolution.

and then asserts

Agreed. There is no conflict. In fact, the argument from biology is that, not only is there no conflict, there is no distinction. In other words, the concepts are nested rather than distinct.

This is simply wrong; Scott and Moran don’t make the distinction for nothing. The ‘minimal definition’ is sometimes referred to as ‘microevolution’ – as distinct from ‘macroevolution’. Scott and Moran aren’t the only ones to make this is distinction. Douglas Erwin, in his review of Gould’s magnum opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory notes:

Iurii Filipchenko, a Russian geneticist and the mentor of Theodosius Dobzhansky, introduced the term macroevolution in 1927 because he believed that the origin of the characters associated with higher taxa (those beyond the species level) required a different process of evolution. Filipchenko believed macroevolution was driven by cytoplasmic inheritance, but his general argument was consistent with other saltationists and macro-mutationists of the time, including the paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborne and the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt. These evolutionary biologists shared the view that the appearance of higher taxa necessarily involved novel evolutionary processes, although they differed over their nature. Dobzhansky introduced the term macroevolution to English-speaking evolutionary biologists in (1937) but rejected his mentor’s distinction between macro- and micro- evolution. Osborne’s orthogenesis had become sufficiently pervasive that Dobzhansky evidently felt compelled, at the dawn of the Modern Synthesis, to reject both orthogenesis and saltational views. Dobzhansky wrote:

. . . there is no way toward an understanding of the mechanisms of macro- evolution, which require time on a geological scale, other than through a full comprehension of the microevolutionary processes. For this reason we are compelled at the present level of knowledge reluctantly to put a sign of equality between the mechanisms of macro-and micro-evolution. (Dobzhansky 1937: 12)

Gould’s final testament is an argument that our level of understanding of evolution has progressed to the point where Dobzhansky’s equality can be rejected in favor of a much-expanded view of evolution.

Dobzhansky’s mentor distinguished micro from macro evolution and while Dobzhansky himself rejected the distinction, he could only do so by way of unproven assumption. Erwin then notes that Gould rejects the notion of equality between the two processes.

Gilbert et al in their 1996 paper Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology deal with the distinction at length, writing:

A new and more robust evolutionary synthesis is emerging that attempts to explain macroevolution as well as microevolutionary events. This new synthesis emphasizes three morphological areas of biology that had been marginalized by the Modern Synthesis of genetics and evolution: embryology, macroevolution, and homology. The foundations for this new synthesis have been provided by new findings from developmental genetics and from the reinterpretation of the fossil record. In this nascent synthesis, macroevolutionary questions are not seen as being soluble by population genetics, and the developmental actions of genes involved with growth and cell specification are seen as being critical for the formation of higher taxa. In addition to discovering the remarkable homologies of homeobox genes and their domains of expression, developmental genetics has recently proposed homologies of process that supplement the older homologies of structure. Homologous developmental pathways, such those involving the wnt genes, are seen in numerous embryonic processes, and they are seen occurring in discrete regions, the morphogenetic fields. These fields (which exemplify the modular nature of developing embryos) are proposed to mediate between genotype and phenotype. Just as the cell (and not its genome) functions as the unit of organic structure and function, so the morphogenetic field (and not the genes or the cells) is seen as a major unit of ontogeny whose changes bring about changes in evolution.

[…]

The Modern Synthesis is a remarkable achievement. However, starting in the 1970s, many biologists began questioning its adequacy in explaining evolution. Genetics might be adequate for explaining microevolution, but microevolutionary changes in gene frequency were not seen as able to turn a reptile into a mammal or to convert a fish into an amphibian. Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. As Goodwin (1995) points out, ‘‘the origin of species — Darwin’s problem — remains unsolved.’’ (all emphases added)

In a 2001 issue of Nature, Sean B. Carroll observed that the issue is one of long-standing:

A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for the larger-scale changes evident over longer periods of life’s history (macroevolution).

~”The Big Picture,” Nature 409 (2001), 669.

In other words, we don’t have evidence for equating microevolution with macroevolution, else the issue would not still be ‘standing’.

More recently, in his paper Biological Big Bang Model for the Major Transitions in Evolution, Eugene Koonin writes:

Hypothesis
I propose that most or all major evolutionary transitions that show the “explosive” pattern of emergence of new types of biological entities correspond to a boundary between two qualitatively distinct evolutionary phases. The first, inflationary phase is characterized by extremely rapid evolution driven by various processes of genetic information exchange, such as horizontal gene transfer, recombination, fusion, fission, and spread of mobile elements. These processes give rise to a vast diversity of forms from which the main classes of entities at the new level of complexity emerge independently, through a sampling process. In the second phase, evolution dramatically slows down, the respective process of genetic information exchange tapers off, and multiple lineages of the new type of entities emerge, each of them evolving in a tree-like fashion from that point on. (emphasis added)

Later, Koonin has an exchange with one of the reviewers of his paper:

In the first two paragraphs of “Background” we see that the tree concept is being contrasted to a rate concept (gradualism). That problem occurs throughout the paper. One cannot easily present rates plus mechanisms (Bangs) as alternatives to shapes (the tree). I don’t really have a suggestion as to how to fix this problem of the present paper except for major recouching of the issues. But I do think that it needs to be fixed.

Author’s response: This is an important point, and I attempted to make it explicit in several places in the revised manuscript. What I mean is not just a major difference in rate but a difference in mechanism. The underlying mechanism in tree phases of evolution is vertical inheritance resulting in cladogenesis. The underlying mechanism in inflationary stages is exchange, recombination etc such that organismal lineages do not exist. The paper is not just about the fallacy of gradualism (something that, indeed, has been emphasized by Gould- Eldredge, Cavalier-Smith and others). The distinction between the two phases of evolution is not one of quantity but one of kind. I agree that this was insufficiently stressed in the original manuscript, and I attempted to rectify this in the revision. (emphasis added)

Koonin doesn’t use the terms microevolution and macro-evolution, but he is clearly addressing the same or a closely related issue. He is compelled by the state of the evidence to postulate a qualitative difference between small and large scale modes evolution.

All of this is to say that evolutionists themselves acknowledge that this issue is at best unresolved and, at worst, resolved in favor of there being a qualitative distinction between micro and macro evolutionary processes. Those, like Dobzhansky, who insist on equating the two must assume that equality. Again, while macroevolution by definition includes ‘change in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’, the reverse is not true. By analogy, all bachelors are necessarily men but not all men are necessarily bachelors.

I maintain that to gloss over the distinction between micro and macro evolution is a logical equivocation and we ‘run into all kinds of problems’ (to quote Moran) when we do so. As if such equivocation weren’t bad enough, Ms. Scott goes even further when she writes:

It’s been my experience (and perhaps yours too) that most non-scientists think evolution means “man evolved from monkeys,” which is an exceedingly narrow definition. It is both scientifically accurate as well as strategically wise to embed evolution within the broadest scientific context possible. Evolution isn’t just about humans, or even about living things. Astronomers do, after all, study cosmic evolution. Geologists and geophysicists study the evolution of the planet earth, and evolution is the organizing concept of earth science just as it is for the life sciences. Biologists and biochemists study the change through time of living things. Rejection of evolution doesn’t mean merely rejection of “man evolved from monkeys,” but rejection of principles relevant (and in some cases crucial) to modern science. (emphasis added)

She is explicitly asserting that to reject, for instance, stellar evolution is to reject biological macroevolution. Why? Because ‘[e]volution isn’t just about humans, or even about living things.’ Her switching of definitions in mid-argument is easy to see. She is saying, with unspoken words in brackets:

If you reject that man evolved from monkeys [biological macroevolution], you are rejecting [stellar and geological] evolution.

This is about as bald an example of  logical equivocation as one can find.

R P continues:

Similarly, introducing a complex topic simply, and only later presenting more detail, is also equivocation of sorts, but it’s not fallacious. In fact, it’s the standard pedagogical paradigm for just about any subject! My nephew is learning to play the piano. The Beethoven he plays from his teacher’s sheet music is an over-simplified version of the ninth symphony. I can’t imagine a six-year-old tackling the real thing. More to the point, the parables from the Bible that my other nephew learns in Sunday school are hardly the originals, nor is Veggie Tales. That they are simplified doesn’t make them wrong.

I don’t think this analogy works. An over-simplified version of Beethoven’s ninth symphony can be thought of as the ‘core’ or ‘essence’ of the piece; it contains simplifications of those musical phrasings and progressions that are distinctive to that particular symphony. If one were to follow an analogous means of teaching macroevolution, one might teach a progression something like:

bacteria–>worms–>fish–>amphibians–>reptiles–>mammals–>monkeys–>humans

Very simplified, but it captures the essence of the theory.

Conversely, if we were to apply the method Scott (and R P) advocates for teaching evolution to teaching Beethoven’s ninth symphony, we would simply teach those general musical structures, scales & progressions (e.g. arpeggios, chromatic scales, etc.) that Beethoven employed distinctive ‘flavors’ and arrangements of in his ninth. While practicing those exercises will be helpful, they will not give the student a basic grasp of any particular piece of music, much less Beethoven’s ninth symphony. In short, those general musical structures are to Beethoven’s ninth as ‘changes in the distribution of alleles in a population over time’ are to biological macroevolution. The former simply do not ineluctably lead to the latter.

In fact one might even wish to simply teach that ‘man evolved from monkeys’, a definition of evolution that Scott objects to as ‘exceedingly narrow’ despite it being at the very core of ‘The Big Idea’ she wants students to understand:

What do we want students to know about organic evolution? The “Big Idea” is that living things (species) are related to one another through common ancestry from earlier forms that differed from them.

That ‘exceedingly narrow’ definition is a lot closer to ‘The Big Idea’ than is stellar or geological evolution. That she prefers to start with the latter in teaching about biological macroevolution makes sense if she is, at that point, primarily concerned with ‘disguising it as change through time.’

In closing, R P writes:

Finally, my criticism, which remains unanswered, was not that creationism (which is to say TRUE creationism, as Wombatty defines it) does or does not admit of certain kinds of evolutionary change. I appreciate the clarification, but the point of my “it sounds a lot like evolution” remark, which I inserted parenthetically, was simply to note the similarity. My criticism was that creationism ever could be a science (so defined), that allowing one class of supernatural appeals but not any others (like astrology) is at best arbitrary and at worst misleading, and therefore that referring to creationism and biology by the same label IS equivocating, and of the fallacious kind too.

Needless to say, I disagree. My response is in the works. It might be a couple of weeks, but it’s coming.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm  Comments (2)  

The Genesis Flood & Bogus Science Part II







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In this post, I’ll be comparing some examples of  Whitcomb and Morris’s analysis of the geologic data with John Grant’s caricature of it. Grant was apparently satisfied to focus on the substance of Price’s book, The New Geology, instead of  that in The Genesis Flood, because he regards the latter is simply a ‘rehash’ of the former. We shall see if this assertion stands the light of scrutiny. Having not read Price’s book, I will stipulate Grant’s characterization of it above and compare it with the words of Whitcomb and Morris. Grant’s list of Price’s assertions is as follows:
  1. The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The notion of there having been multiple ice ages was just plain silly: there hadn’t been enough time for more than one.
  5. 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.

We will consider each of these in turn, asking two questions: 1) does Grant accurately represent the work of Whitcomb and Morris?; and 2) are Grant’s charges of their work as ‘pure pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straight-forward fantasy’ justified?

The fossil-bearing rocks had almost all been deposited during the Flood

Whitcomb and Morris make their case in chapter 5, Modern Geology and the Deluge, under two headings: Phenomena of Sedimentation (pp. 144-154) and Fossil Graveyards (pp. 154-172). They begin by observing:

Sedimentary rocks have been formed through a process of erosion, transportation, deposition and lithification of sediments. The deposition, of course, occurs when the running water containing the sediments enters a quiescent of less rapidly moving body of water, the lowered velocity resulting in a dropping out of part or all of its load of moving sediment. If the sediment happens to contain organic remains, and these are buried by the sands or silts accompanying them, it may be possible over the years for the organic remains to become fossilized and to be preserved in form in the stratum. The remains of such plant and animal forms, as discovered in the present sedimentary rocks of the earth, have of course served as the basis of our modern divisions of the strata into units of geological time and have provided paleontology with the materials which the bulk of evidence for organic evolution rests today.

Here is where the principal of uniformity is applied most insistently. To be consistent with uniformitarianism, the various types of sedimentary rocks must all be interpreted in terms of so-called environments of deposition exactly equivalent to present-day situations where sediments are being laid down. Rocks are thus said to have been deposited in “deltaic” [river mouth], “lacrustine” [lake], “lagoonal”, or other environments.

~pp. 144-145

First, note that sedimentary strata (and the fossils they contain) are, by definition, water deposited. Thus, in broad terms, these phenomena are consistent with flooding. How consistent it is with a global flood model hinges on the scale and composition of the sedimentary deposits. This is essentially the same question as that I posed in the last post relative to the overall geological record:

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?

Whitcomb & Morris then discuss several significant geological formations, comparing observations with expectations of both the uniformitarian and the flood models. First up, they examine geosynclines:

Criticizing the [stratagraphic] classification scheme of Krumbein and Sloss, as well as others…, another leading geologist admits that:

Process is, again, something that apparently no worker in the field or geotectonism has ben able, up to the present, express with much clarity, or at least with pragmatic usefulness. The large number of structural publications dealing with the supposed details of the final operative mechanisms of local crustal deformation or conversely covering the more hypothetical aspects of the broad final causes of crustal deformation in general have not suggested as yet any simple and effective way of gaging (that is, comparing effectively) the actions of the processes responsible for the formation of geotectonic elements, such as geosynclines…Perhaps workers in this field have been too concerned with effects and have not given sufficient thought to causes in terms of dynamic processes.
[Paul D. Krynine” A Critique of Geotectonic Elements,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 32, October 1951, p. 743-44.]

This statement contains a perhaps unintended admission that the processes that formed the great sedimentary beds of the geosynclines are not yet understood and, thus, certainly have not been accounted for on the basis of uniformity and continuity with present processes. This is especially significant in light of the fact that the most spectacular and quantitatively significant sedimentary rock deposits of the world are found in these geosynclines, which are supposed to have been great troughs of continuing subsidence in shallow seas. The concept has been that large masses of sediments were being more or less continuously deposited at shallow depths as rivers entered the seas and that the region subsided at a rate just sufficient to balance the incoming sediments. The later, the entire geosyncline was somehow uplifted to form one of our present mountain ranges, thus supposedly accounting for the tremendous beds of sedimentary, stratified rock found in all the continents . This tremendous mass of sediments contained in the geosynclines is indicated by the following:

The original dimensions of a typical major geosyncline must have been of the order of magnitude of 100 to 200 km. wide, 1ooo to 2ooo km. long, and up to 4 to 12 km. deep.

[W.H. Bucher: “Fundamental Properties of Orogenic Belts,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 32, August 1951, p. 514.]

This means that 40,000 feet of sediments or more have accumulated in these great troughs. That great thicknesses of sediments have accumulated is unquestioned, but the problem of how to account for the origin of the geosyncline in the first place, then how to explain the continued subsidence (for which, incidentally, there is little or no direct evidence – only the fact that the sediments were all deposited in shallow waters and, therefore, there must have been subsidence or else gradually rising water levels), how to account for the source areas from which these great volumes of sediments must have been eroded, and lastly, how to account for the uplift and deformation of these geosynclines to form the present mountain ranges. None of these basic questions has yet been resolved on the basis of uniformity. Dr. L.H. Adams, only a decade ago, called this problem of the origin of geosynclines one of the major unsolved problems of geology*, and there has been nothing significant accomplished in the intervening period to solve it. Dr. George C. Kennedy, Professor of Geology at U.C.L.A., has said recently:

These deep troughs filled with sediments may contain 50,000 to 100,000 feet of sediments and may be 100 miles in width…The mystery, then, of the downsinking of the sedimentary troughs, in which low density sediments apparently displace higher density rocks, is heightened when we note that these narrow elongate zones in the Earth’s crust, downwarped the most, with the greatest accumulation of rock debris, shed by the higher portions of the continents, become in turn the mountain ranges and the highest portions of the continents.

[George C. Kennedy: “The Origin of the Continents, Mountain Ranges, and Ocean Basins,” American Scientist, Vol. 47, December 1959, p. 495.]

*L.H. Adams, “Some Unsolved Problems of Geophysics,” Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 28, October 1947, p. 673.

~pp. 146-148

Nor is it just geosynclines:

And what is true concerning the geosynclines is equally true with respect to most of the other important sedimentary features of the earth.

~p.148

The authors proceed to analyze peneplains…

These were vast surfaces of erosion which had been worn down almost to flat, plain surfaces, as the word means.

~p. 148

…dry canyons and falls…

Particularly picturesque are the so-called “scabland” areas, of which the best known in this country is in the Columbia Plateau. Here, vast and intricate dry canyons or coulees, hanging valleys, dry waterfalls rock-rimmed basins and other bizarre features are found in profusion.

~p. 149

…neither of which, like geosynclines, can be accounted for by presently observed processes. Of the last, Whitcomb and Morris write:

The man who has made the most thorough study of the area is Harlan Bretz, whose theory envisaged a sudden, vast flood as being the only agency capable of creating these forms. Thornbury’s comment here is interesting:

(Bretz) has been unable to account for such a flood but maintained that the field evidence indicated its reality. This theory represents a return to catastrophism which many geologists have been reluctant to accept.

[W.D. Thornbury, “Principals of Geomorpholgy (New York, Wiley, 1954), p. 401. More studies in the area by Bretz and others have further confirmed the catastrophic diluvial origin of the scablands. See the article: “Channeled Scabland of Washington: New Data and Interpretations,” by J.H. Bretz, H.T.V. Smith, & G.E. Neff, Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 67, August 1956, pp. 957-1049]

~ p. 149

The authors press on, reviewing field data regarding fluviatile plains,

The large central region of the United States, known as the Great Plains, stretching roughly from the Rockies to the Mississippi and from Canada to Mexico, consists largely of remnants of a single great fluviatile plain or alluvial slope.

~p. 149

Of this phenomena, they cite Fennaman:

The surface produced by this alluviation is as flat as any land surface in nature. Many thousands of square miles still retain this flatness. [N.M. Fenneman: Physiogeography of Western United States (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1931), p.11]

~p.150

Whitcomb and Morris also examine ‘uplifted planes’:

Another major difficulty of the uniformitarian concept of sedimentary processes is found in those great areas of very thick deposits which have gone through one or more cycles of uplift and submergence and yet remain marvelously horizontal and continuous. A good example is found in the Colorado Plateaus…The region occupies some 250,000 square miles, including most of Utah and Arizona, with large segments of Colorado and New Mexico…The remarkable thing is that this entire region was somehow uplifted from far below sea level, since most of its sediments are of marine origin, to over a mile above sea level, without disturbing the horizontality of the strata or summit levels!

~p. 151

These major geological features of the earth’s surface are directly at odds with the principal of uniformitarianism precisely because of their immense scale. Conversely, it is exactly this characteristic – their colossal expanse – that renders them consistent with a global flood interpretation. Simply put, there are no processes in operation today producing sediment beds of such enormous scale, nor uplifting them into massive mountain ranges. The present is not the key to the past; uniformitarianism fails as an explanatory tool.

In this post, I have examined some of the many sedimentary rock layers that Whitcomb and Morris discuss at length in The Genesis Flood. The authors soberly interact with then-contemporary scholarship, citing the analysis of several respected geological authorities regarding the congruence, or lack thereof, of these phenomena with presently observed geological processes. They make a solid scientific case against a uniformitarian interpretation that cannot be lightly dismissed. To brush aside, as Grant does, the analysis offered by Whitcomb and Morris as ‘pure pseudoscience’, ‘wild guesses’ and ‘straight-forward fantasy’ is a stunning example of determined and willful ignorance.

This post has dealt primarily with the scale of the fossil-bearing sedimentary deposits. In the next post, I will see what Whitcomb and Morris have to say regarding the composition of these strata. As with the scale, we will see that the composition is also consistent with a global flood model.

Discarded Science & The Genesis Flood Part I







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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.