religion, science

A Rant About Creationist Geology

I just had the thoroughly unpleasant experience of having to read creationist literature when I looked up information for a geology project.

In specific, the issue at hand was, “Is there a single place where the geologic column can be seen?”

Of course not. Just erosion alone would guarantee that isn’t the case. The geologic column is an abstraction. It’s our cumulative understanding from compiling rock faces and geological data from all over the world.

What is so utterly frustrating about this discussion is the ludicrous double standard at play.

On the one hand, there are some valid methodological criticisms being raised by creationists.

Yes, it is hard to infer ancestry through DNA, analogous and homologous traits, and all the other techniques that are used. It’s hard to combine index fossils, geological principles of how rocks are formed (like the Principle of Original Horizontality regarding how sedimentary rocks are formed ), equations of wind and water decay, and other clues to try to get a really robust understanding of the whole history of the Earth. The Earth is a hugely complicated system, even at the seemingly simple geological level, let alone the staggeringly complex biological level.

Just think about how we can be confident that a particular fossil is from a particular time period. Well, it’s because we have a bunch of fossils and we assume that that record is at least a representative cross-section. But it may not be. New fossil discoveries change our models for the world.

But the other hand is the soot-stained one. Because once creationists raise valid methodological criticisms, they then put the Bible into the balance as a piece of evidence on the other hand.

Let’s be extremely clear: Putting theology aside, the Bible as a piece of evidence is human observation and speculation. One can believe whatever one likes religiously, but when we talk about science, the Bible’s value is exactly the same as any other book written millennia ago.

When the Bible does have valid observations, like many of Jesus’ insights about human nature, then they should of course be included in discussions. The Bible has certainly been used extensively for historical work, and while we do have reason to believe that its version of history is as distorted as any other combined oral-written record, the Jewish scholars throughout history have always been scrupulous in their accuracy of transmission and their attention to detail. For that reason alone, the Bible deserves to be taken very seriously as a document describing historical

But when it comes to geology, astronomy, biology, or any other field, the only argument that one can make from perceived evidence (not from our faith or beliefs) is that it was written by human beings, translated and transmitted by human beings, and that the vast majority of those who wrote and transmitted the Bible throughout history would have had a scientific understanding that would have been painfully ignorant to a modern sixth grader.

Of course there’s problems with our picture of the world. But every scientific discipline, from biology and genetics to geology to astronomy, has compiled a simply staggering amount of evidence that says that the Bible’s empirical statements about cosmology are just wrong. (And, by the way, that almost every other creation myth, also made by people who believed sincerely in their faith and were trying to grasp for truth in explaining their world so they could function for it, is just as wrong, if not possibly more so).

Just go back to what I said about the geological column. That is based off of untold thousands of observations from across the planet. Geologists have braved glaciers and huge mountains, photographed and taken very careful samples. Radiological data was taken, based off of what are known to be incredibly accurate and time-tested rules about half-lives.

In fact, as Dave Matson pointed out in a response to Dr. Hovind, the geographical column as we understand it now is heavily based on the work of creationist scientists whose work dated from decades before Darwin! Two Reverends, Benjamin Richardson and Joseph Townsend, were part of the scientific tradition that gave us our current understanding. Lyell, Smith, Sedgwick, Murchison… they’re examples of Christians throughout history that took honest fact-finding over their own private beliefs.

The chances that even part of this picture are wrong is astronomical, in the billions even for just the possibility that we’ve arranged the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras inaccurately. There’s this colossal breadth of data just from geology alone and all the accepted principles of it.

So I read people nitpicking (usually with scientific ignorance that makes even someone with a social science degree and some basic science education like myself blush) and then offering, instead of comprehensive evidence today taken by incredibly careful scholars across the planet to form a cohesive model that makes accurate predictions constantly, a book written by people who lived in times where the idea of the four humors was cutting-edge medical science.

We talk in all the sciences, the natural ones and the social ones, about cherrypicking data to advance your theory. But this isn’t even that. This is putting one’s fingers into one’s ears and saying “I’m not listening”.

“Intelligent design” or not, any theory that’s going to go anywhere towards proving that the Earth is not billions of years old or that animals don’t evolve in some fashion (even it isn’t exactly Darwin’s model but may be according to some more robust version of natural selection) will have to explain away a mountain of evidence and provide an alternative model.

Creationists just don’t. And that’s why they’re dismissed as scientists.