|This is the third post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.
Part 1— The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.
Part 2 — Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.
Part 3 — This Page. Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.
Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.
Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.
I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.
There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.
This is part 3 of my review of Institute for Creation Research scientist Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson’s young-Earth presentation sponsored by the Big Sky Worldview Forum in Billings, Montana, November 9-10, 2012.
Geology – Uniformitarianism and the layers of the geologic record
Dr. Jeanson introduced this section on the layers of the rock record by providing a distorted definition of “uniformitarianism” for the audience. According to Jeanson, uniformitarianism is the idea that present rates of Earth processes–erosion, uplift, deposition, etc.—have been the same throughout geologic history. In other words, he used an 1830s concept without modification, and implied that this is what modern geologists teach. I am sure very few in the audience—perhaps no one but me—noticed this. Modern geologists do not teach that rates of processes have been the same, only that natural laws have stayed the same. This does not exclude variation of rates of erosion, deposition, sodium input into oceans, plate tectonic movement, heat flow, or any of a long list of other processes. It also does not exclude larger-scale catastrophes, such as large meteorite impacts, tsunamis, or “supervolcano” caldera eruptions.
The assumption that natural laws stay the same have their roots in Christian theology, and many philosophers and historians of science have made this connection. YECs themselves use the concept of uniformitarianism in their attempts to explain Earth history using Noah’s flood. They try to avoid God’s intervention in most aspects of the flood, choosing to invoke the laws and concepts of fluid dynamics, sedimentology, geophysics, nuclear chemistry, genetics, and other fields of science, to explain the nature of the rock and fossil record. They may invoke God to get the flood going, but for the most part they try to explain the flood through natural processes.
God made the universe to be comprehensible. We will never understand everything through science, but learning about the creation is implied in the creation mandate given in Genesis 1:28. Humans cannot rule over the creation if they are not able to understand it. It is true that, as Christians, we believe God sometimes acts in such a way that supersedes the laws of nature. Examples include Noah’s flood (I believe in Noah’s flood, but don’t believe the Bible requires it to be global), the crossing of the Red Sea, and the resurrection of Christ. In general, these exceptions are spelled out for us in the Bible, and have to do with the unfolding of salvation history. These miracles stand outside of the normal flow of Earth and human history, and may or may not be things we can investigate scientifically centuries after they occurred. For example, we don’t have an Institute for Resurrection Research around in order to prove Christ’s resurrection.
Next, Jeanson reminded us that whatever we say about the layers of sedimentary rocks on Earth must conform to what we (i.e. YECs) know from the Bible about Earth history: a young Earth, a certain order of creation as outline in the days of Genesis 1, the genealogies of Genesis, and the existence of a global, catastrophic flood. According to Jeanson, geology must fit into these “facts.” I’ve discussed these elsewhere; for now I’ll just state that the Bible requires neither a young Earth nor a global flood. So, we don’t have to force the Earth to fit into the narrow YEC interpretation of Scripture.
Jeanson moved on to the “scientific fact of the flood.” For him to call this “scientific” is a contradiction of what he said earlier: that we cannot know about Earth history through science. But I guess it is science when YECs give an account of Earth history, but not science when someone else does it.
Jeanson said that there is plenty of water on Earth in the ocean basins to flood the entire planet. I won’t argue with that.
Next, he gave a standard YEC presentation about Mount St. Helens, claiming that its 1980 eruption provides a number of features that support YEC flood geology. For example, there are thick layers of sediment that were formed quite rapidly, a canyon (1/40 of the size of the Grand Canyon, he claimed) that also formed quickly, and floating logs in Spirit Lake that provide a model for fossilized forests in the fossil record; I’m assuming he is referring to localities such as the petrified forests of Yellowstone and the “polystrate” forests in Carboniferous sedimentary rocks at Joggins, Nova Scotia.
The main thing that the Mount St. Helens features demonstrate is that volcanoes can produce thick deposits of volcaniclastic rocks in a short amount of time. There is nothing revolutionary in this statement. These volcaniclastic rocks—formed of volcanic debris worked by sedimentary or sedimentary-like processes—are readily distinguishable by their composition from the sandstones, shales, and limestones that make up most of the sedimentary rock record. The sedimentary structures preserved in these volcaniclastic rocks are characteristic of very high energy deposition, which distinguishes them from sedimentary rocks formed in other environments, such as streams, lakes, beaches, tidal flats, and carbonate platforms, to name a few. Mount St. Helens can teach us a lot about volcaniclastic deposition, but it cannot tell us much about deposition of lime mud; one might go to the Bahamas for that.
Likewise for “polystrate” trees. The Joggins site is not analogous to Spirit Lake. The sediments at Joggins were not deposited in a lake or volcanic setting, but apparently in a stream environment. The trees have roots that are embedded in the underlying sediments, which implies that they grew in place, and not transported by a catastrophe. The Yellowstone forests, on the other hand, may be somewhat analogous to Mount St. Helens, in that both involve a volcanic environment. So all we can say from this is that volcaniclastic sediments can bury forests, which can be preserved in an upright position. This really does not do the YECs much good.
As far as erosion goes, it is clear that water can do a tremendous amount of erosion. The YECs want us to multiply what happened at Mount St. Helens to a much larger scale, to form things like the Grand Canyon. The problem for the YECs, however, is that the erosive power of water is too great for what they want to prove. If at near the end of the flood the continents were covered by water, and then erosion occurred as the flood receded, a lot more erosion would have occurred than what works for the YECs. You see, when the Grand Canyon eroded, sediments were transported a few hundred miles further down the Colorado River and then deposited in places like the Colorado River delta. This is because the sediments were dumped as soon as the energy of flowing water was no longer sufficient to transport them. This is because sediment transport was being accomplished by a stream. If the sediment had been transported by draining waters from Noah’s flood, then the sediment would have traveled much further. The fact that virtually all sediments are deposited on continents, which are the high points on Earth, points to relatively low-energy sediment transport, which means streams. If Noah’s flood had been draining off the continents, one would expect that most material eroded off of the continents would end up in ocean basins rather than on the continents. As it is, there are very thick deposits of sediments in the interior of the continents.
Despite all of this, Jeanson confidently concluded this section with a typical YEC statement that all of this is impossible to explain by “evolutionists,” but easily explained by Noah’s flood. This is a typical YEC strategy in their writings and presentations, and always incorrect.
Coming up next: the age of the Earth, and dinosaurs.
Grace and Peace