|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
12 thoughts on “Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 3”
I believe, according to eye-witness accounts, dinosaurs are living in Africa now!! But the Age of Dinosaurs ended 65 million years ago. I also believe there was a creation after Noah’s Flood, which added animals to those brought through on Noah’s ark. I’m an Ancient Earth Biblical Creationist who believes in The Start-over Creation Theory. This differs slightly from the traditional Gap Theory. This has been thoroughly studied in the past 40 years and it’s now known by YEC and AEC, that the Hebrew doesn’t allow a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
“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.”
Several times lately I’ve run across the assertion by YECs that the opposite is true, and I wonder where it comes from. For example: “The Enlightenment maxim of the uniformity of natural causes has taken hold and has come to dominate the outlook today in intellectual and academic circles throughout the world. The claim that earth’s history extends back billions of years is a direct and logical consequence of this philosophical approach.” Then they turn around and talk about all the Christian scientists of that era!
This quote is from: http://logosresearchassociates.org/the-importance-of-the-age-of-the-earth/
Thanks for your comment. Do you have a link for the “start-over creation theory.” I’m not sure that I’ve seen that before.
“Dinosaurs in Africa” (Mokele-mbembe) cannot be used as evidence for anything until someone actually finds one. Until then, this idea is on the level of the Loch Ness monster, the yeti, and sasquatch.
Virginia — Thanks for the link. It does seem that YECs pick and choose on the history of science and the nature of scientific reasoning. Sometimes they seem to descend to a post-modernist “you really cannot know anything for certain about the world” mindset, where one interpretation is just as good as another.
Great series of articles – thanks!
According to Jack Horner (paleontologist at Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT) dinosaurs are alive and well today. Today’s birds are descendants of dinosaurs and include a good percentage of dinosaur DNA, therefore we should not consider dinosaurs as extinct. :~)(http://www.wired.com/medtech/genetics/magazine/17-03/st_qa)
Thanks for this post. I have noted that same confusion over what “uniformitarianism” means a number of times. Another thing I notice YECs doing quite a bit is saying things like “Science changes, God’s word doesn’t” and the like…. but then they turn around and argue that “science” (here meaning some kind of abstract entity that contains all scientific knowledge) agrees with YEC. What?
J.W. Wartick —My response to the “Science changes, God’s word doesn’t” YEC argument goes like this:
Fallible people misunderstand God’s Word.
Fallible people misunderstand God’s world.
Therefore great humility is required as we study the Word and the world,
and great humility is required as we interact with those with whom we disagree.
(posted as Fallibility earlier this year)
It should be clear that fallible Christians—people who love the Scriptures—are capable of misunderstanding the Bible. If we can end up with Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox each saying they have the true understanding of the Bible, isn’t it rather clear that at least some of these have some misunderstanding of the Bible? There are boundaries, such as laid out in the Nicene Creed, but lots of room for fallible people misunderstanding God’s Word in the middle.
I am not downplaying the importance of “getting it right;” there are doctrines that I feel rather strongly about, such as justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I’ll hold on to secondary doctrines, such as my thoughts about the age of the Earth, more loosely and with humility. I could be wrong, but I think I’m right.
The second question that Dr. Jeanson addressed was what is the origin of the earth surface? Because YEC believe in a global flood as taught in the Bible, the origin of the earth’s surface is not the same question as the origin of the earth itself. Using Dr. Jeanson’s framework, the Bible teaches a global flood during Noah’s life. What evidence would we expect to find? Dr. Jeanson pointed out that the earth is a blue planet. Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface. What are the assumptions by evolutionary science that are at work in interpreting the evidence for a global flood? The evolutionary scientist assume that the layers of the earth’s surface were laid down at a consistent rate of one layer for every year. Using the example again of the Mount St. Helens’ eruption, Dr. Jeanson pointed out that we can prove that layers can be formed much faster than that. He believes that the surface of the earth was sculpted by Noah’s flood and that the evidence supports this.
I agree with Dr. Jeanson that there is enough water on Earth for a global flood. The question, however, is whether the Bible teaches that Noah’s flood was global. I have briefly addressed this question in my post The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic.
The idea that “The evolutionary scientist assume [sic] that the layers of the earth’s surface were laid down at a consistent rate of one layer for every year” is a common YEC mischaracterization of modern geological thinking. No geologist that I know of teaches anything like this. Young Earth creationists, including Dr. Jeanson, teach this as “uniformitarianism,” but it is actually a distortion of what geologists are saying.
In light of this, all that the geology of Mt. St. Helens teaches us is that explosive volcanic events can cause a lot of damage and deposit thick layers of volcaniclastic sediments. These deposits are clearly identifiable as volcanic in origin, unlike most of the sandstones and all of the shales and limestones that make up most of the geologic column. The “evidence” from Mt. St. Helens wows the crowds at YEC seminars, but doesn’t make much of an impression on Earth scientists.
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