Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Book Review

"The Creationists" (Ronald Numbers) - I read a short creationism / evolutionism book back at the end of September. Looking into the notes, I found most of the references came from this book. The book is about two inches thick, so I started just reading parts of it to check the context of some quotes. I found it to be an easy read, and ended up reading the whole book.

Numbers (hmm, that sounds funny, I'll call him Ronald), tells the history of scientific creationism through profiles of people involved in the movement. Interestingly, little thought had been given to the physical evidence of Noah's flood before modern, uniformitarian geology rose up in the 1800's.

The story of scientific creationism is largely a tale of the failure of the church in the second half of the 1800's. Instead of standing behind the Word of God, and separating from wordly thinking, the church tried to be "relevant". Adopting Biblical interpretation to modern theories, they abandoned their foundation. A hundred years later, we see the total collapse of "mainline" Protestant denominations. Without a literal Biblical foundation, they became open to new interpretations with every swing of social thought. Now these churches are without meaning or any claim to truth. The congregation that remains are full of energy for everything except God, and many have abandoned these "churches". Old earth theology was not their only undoing, but it didn't help.

Of course, this is not Ronald's position. He gives his "testimony" on preface page 16: raised a fundamentalist Christian, learned science in college, and lost faith. Ronald manages to keep a fair tone throughout the book. He delivers some jabs, but to both sides (sometimes skeptical or mocking of creationist reasoning; often chiding evolutionist circular reasoning).

For much of the 1900's, creationism was defended by the work of one man - George McCready Price. Price's book, "The New Geology" (1923) and the derivative work "The Genesis Flood" (1961) by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, were the primary books for most of that century. Price was influenced by Adventist theology, and Morris worked to clean up much of that. Price was skeptical of an ice age, whereas modern scientific creationists claim a single ice age is best explained by the Flood. Price attempted to use the Lewis Overthrust to challenge the assumption of the order of the geologic column. He claimed the order is random. Ronald claims the order is always reversed. A article claims the order is segmented (apparently random, but with a method). I will need to research this more. The Wikipedia article is just a stub...

Creationists attempted to form research organizations throughout the 1900's. All failed (often due to personality conflicts and arguments over theology), until the Creation Research Society of 1963. Until recently, most creationist scientists were biologists (because Christian colleges focused on medicine, and pre-med curriculum). It is only recently that creationist geologists (for example, Steven Austin Ph.D. 1979; and Kurt Wise who Ronald implies graduated in 1989 - pg 280) have started to appear. Hopefully the next fifty or hundred years will produce some impressive creationist research.


SteveG said...

I realize you wrote this over a year ago, but I thought that this should definitely be clarified because what you stated about the Lewis Overthrust is not correct. You wrote:

"Ronald claims the order is always reversed. A article claims the order is segmented (apparently random, but with a method)."

I can't say what Ronald Numbers said about it because I don't know. But if he really did say it's reversed, that's wrong. However, I suspect that you're not correctly describing what Numbers said. Also, the order is definitely not random, and there does not exist any article that says that the strata of the Lewis Overthrust are random.

Here is a good analogy to help you correctly understand the order of the strata at the Lewis Overthrust: Think about a stack of newspapers. Each day you get a newspaper, you read it, and when you're done you place it on the stack of newspapers you've been collecting. So notice that the order of the papers is like this: Oldest paper on the bottom, newest paper on the top. Right?

Now, if you were to split the stack somewhere in the middle, so that you had two stacks, and you picked up what was the bottom stack and placed it on top of what was the top stack, then you would have a situation analogous to the Lewis Overthrust having older strata on top of younger strata. Within the two segments the layers are in order, but the upper section of strata (all layers in order) is older than the strata it sits on (all layers in order).

As you can see from the analogy, the order OF THE INDIVIDUAL STRATA is not in reverse order. And it certainly isn't in random order either.

nedbrek said...

Thanks for stopping by. As I said, it bears further investigation. But the uniformitarian position has a major problem in the face of this "overthrust" solution.

Given an "orthodox" position that layers should be "A B C D" (D is oldest/lowest). Introducing the "overthrust operator" allows any observed ordering to match the orthodox order. That is:

"A C B D" is interpreted as a thrust occurring after BCD (pushing up over D), before A.

"D C B A" is a total, recent overthrust.

"A B D C" is an older overthrust.


SteveG said...

Hi Ned, I'm finally going through some older emails and just now realized you had replied to my comments about the Lewis Overthrust.

I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "the uniformitarian position". If you're simply referring to geological science, and to the physical geological processes that we observe (which includes the details of the relevant physics and chemistry), then we're on the same page.

The fact of the matter is that overthrusts occur, and, by the way, young earth creationists accept this fact. At the same time some young earth creationists have tried to portray questions about the specific details of some specific overthrusts (such as the Lewis Overthrust) as somehow being some "major problem" for geological science, when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

There are many places where we literally observe the locations where the overthrusts (older strata) have been thrust over younger strata. This is something we physically observe at the locations where the overthrust "begins" (where it is still present, because there are cases where this particular portion has been eroded away).

This does mean, as you state, that due to the geological processes that have occurred in a particular region, the original order of the strata can be jumbled. This is not a "major problem" for the "uniformitarian position" precisely because it is the result of the geological forces that have taken place there. How is that supposed to be a problem?

Are you arguing that we should ignore the effects of geological forces? I don't think you are doing this explicitly - but yet that seems to be the implicit premise of your argument.

Additionally, while the current ordering of some strata in some areas may seem randomly out of order, the new ordering is not merely a presumption of "the uniformitarian position", which is another incorrect premise you seem to be implying. For example, if a section of strata at a particular location is truly upside-down (i.e., not the false usage of "upside-down" as is wrongly stated by some young earth creationists about the Lewis Overthrust), this is due to severe folding - and then this means that such folding is what we actually observe. In other words, away from the particular location where the genuinely upside-down strata, the same layers of strata can be followed observationally and we actually observe that it has been folded. (But note again that it is possible in some cases that surrounding strata may have been eroded such that the upside-down strata may appear in isolation - but this is a rare occurrence.)