Copyright © 2002 by Creation Research Society. All rights reserved.
Surface and Subsurface Errors in Anti-Creationist Geology
John K. Reed and John Woodmorappe
CRSQ Vol 39 No 1 June 2002
Recently, I saw a claim that a seismic line demonstrated that the creationist position was invalid. It was suggested that the seismic data were impossible to interpret within the constraints of the Genesis Flood. We encounter this type of claim frequently and a generic rebuttal is possible and in order. Although specific geological assertions may be of little interest to all CRS members, the underlying error demonstrated in the claim is common to the broad spectrum of anti-creationists—the malignant mistake of positivism. As evidenced by many religious anti-creationists, it even casts its pall over those who proclaim faith in Christ. How many times have we heard the mantra, “Science proves X, therefore the Bible really means X, even though it plainly states Y”?
Positivism, the “Subsurface” Error
The assumption that scientific knowledge is somehow superior to revelation, theology, and philosophy is the hallmark of modern positivism. Its influence is evident in the assertion that some piece of scientific evidence (i.e., a seismic line) can and should dictate both biblical and historical truth. This position, however common in our day, is dead wrong. If we allow this presupposition then we have already lost the war. For, if someone presents a particular piece of evidence to force disbelief in the Bible regarding earth history, and if we cut off that one head, we can rest assured that there will be many more. If we agree with the positivist in his epistemology, the question perpetually remains. What will we do about the next seismic line? The next well? The next outcrop? Science can never provide the finality, a framework or even most of the detail of history, and positivists perpetually drift in a sea of uncertainty in search of truth, from one lonely “factoid” to the next, without satisfaction.
Positivism is also intellectually dishonest. In its proper setting as the epistemology of Naturalism, it is openly antagonistic to biblical truth, while secretly retaining aspects of Christian theology needed to support its pretense at rationality (Reed, 2001). Are Christian positivists less guilty because they do not hide their dependence on a part of the Bible; or are they more, because they are even more inconsistent than Naturalists? We are reminded of the attempts of famous historical figures to take scissors to the Word of God to expunge those parts found objectionable. Scissors do not have to be stainless steel; they can also be composed of faulty exegesis.
Positivists certainly appear to want it both ways. The comforting biblical underpinnings of their assumptions about reality and knowledge are sometimes not obvious, but their use of those underpinnings to elevate their own scientific conclusions above God’s Word is blatant in our day. A positivist may even affirm belief in the Bible, but we find that it is always on his own warped exegetical terms, with science driving interpretation. The real debate for those of this ilk before they begin talking about seismic lines is the meaning of the words and propositions found in the Bible. Only after they have staked out a clear position (i.e., it is true or it is not true) can intelligent debate be joined. And, of course, upon reflection, we realize that apart from God’s revelation there can be no certainty of any truth and thus, of intelligent debate.
How do we call attention to, and correct this error? One way is to demand greater intellectual consistency. If the Bible is true, then its historical narrative is true, even when counter to the dominant worldview and “expertise” of the day. Its truth is independent of science and overshadows the wisdom of men. If the Bible claims to be God’s word, but is demonstrably untrue in any part, then it is untrustworthy at all points. And if it is not true, then the intellectual foundations of western knowledge and science that rest upon its teachings should be removed (Reed, 2001). Unfortunately, that results in the death of science and knowledge. Modern philosophers have seen this more clearly than scientists, as witnessed by their retreat to existentialism and similar relativistic “isms” of the previous century. Scientists are just getting farther and farther behind the times.
Another symptom of positivism is the confident assumption of the utility of scientific investigation as the means of discovering historical truth. Science is not history! Natural history is history, not science! These assertions are absolutely necessary for biblical creationists. Natural history, as history, must answer historiographic challenges just as human history must, and derive a historical method rather than rest upon that of science. It is naïve to assume that the scientific method is equally effective in the face of historical uncertainty. Where is the repeatability? Where is the direct observation? Where is the control of variables, or even the understanding of what they are? When someone doggedly asserts that the Flood could not have deposited some observed section of sediment, one wonders what data from how many global Floods they possess to support that assertion?
Positivism also inhibits a healthy, reflexive self-criticism that clearly distinguishes between assumption, data, and interpretation. Even a quick scan of most anti-creationist “proofs” demonstrates this failure. You will search in vain for the critics justifying their assumptions. For example, how do they defend uniformitarianism? If based on the Christian assumption of uniformity that is derived from God’s unchanging nature, then they are inconsistent. The doctrine of God’s nature comes from the same Bible that discusses a universal Flood. If his doctrine is not based upon theology, then what? Apart from its theological underpinnings, the assumption of uniformitarianism is wishful thinking, being impossible to demonstrate empirically.
Religious anti-creationists often apply an unusual truth test common among the “intelligentsia”. If they cannot comprehend something, then it must not be true. Their comprehension is itself deemed a truth test. This is arrogant and obviously false. Many Christians repudiate creationism because of their own inability to reconcile scientific data and interpretations of uniformitarian geologists with the Bible. Just because they “do not see” means that it cannot be done? Furthermore, why should creationists be able to explain all natural phenomena off the top of their heads? And if they cannot, somehow their position is invalid?
These questions unveil another defect in positivism—the inability to distinguish between truth based in revelation, theology, philosophy or history from that based in science. Their position is science—thus right. Ours is religion—thus wrong. The result is an amazingly hypocritical double standard. Critics of creationism cite problems resulting from scientific investigation as arguments supposedly removing all credibility from the creationist position. For example, everything from fossils, to thrust faults have at some time rendered the Flood position untenable. Using the same set of rules, creationists could argue that fossil gaps, evidence of catastrophism, problems with dating techniques, etc. render their opponents’ scenarios invalid. What then? Is there no truth in history because both sides are hopelessly incorrect? How can this dilemma be resolved?
When criticized by creationists, their opponents point out that scientific problems facing their pet theories represent new lines of investigation, or problems to be resolved in some new research venture. After all, they say, isn’t that how science works? If so, then it should work the same for creationists. If some anti-creationist trots out a seismic line, outcrop, etc. that presents a ‘problem’ for creationists, then they should apply the same standard. In which case, such evidences are not the death knell of creationism, but are simply opportunities for creationist research.
Beneath the blindfold of positivism, the critics do not even seem to understand the relationship between science and truth within creationism. They seem unable to grasp that creationists ground the truth of their position in revelation and theology. Our subsequent research projects are not attempts to validate the truth of God’s creation or the Flood; they are merely the pursuit of scientific or historical study, confident that the context is already known. Positivists strip themselves of any legitimate hope of a context by denying the applicability of revelation, philosophy, or theology. They end up playing a pathetic game of scientific “trivial pursuit”, victory residing in a one-upmanship of data.
Religious critics may assert their dependence on the Bible and a relationship with God, but their anti-creationist propositions often reek of positivism, the major “subsurface” error that will prevent them ever finding truth no matter how relentless their search.
Having uncovered the most serious underlying problem in the anti-creationist approach, it is clear from examining their works that their errors are not restricted to faulty presuppositions. There are commonly many errors relating to geological interpretation as well. Since many of these have been well documented in the Quarterly and other creationist literature, we will only briefly summarize a few.
A common error is the assertion that the truth of the conceptual geologic column is self evident, based on the data alone. Often, critics will assert that they have seen the “Devonian” or “Cambrian” in drilling or on a seismic line. However, they make the fallacious leap from the physical rock record to the uniformitarian geologic column without any mention of the assumptions that create major distinctions between physical rocks and the conceptual construct. This “bait and switch” tactic is common among uniformitarians. Cuttings and cores do not come out of the hole labeled, “Cretaceous” or “Silurian”. Rocks have no intrinsic historical message—only that imposed by interpretation driven by both data and assumptions.
Critics often scoff at the “time” problem for creationists. Supposedly there is insufficient time for the rocks observed in nature to have formed absent millions of years. However, time is no less a problem for the critics. Take the Grand Canyon, for example. It is a mile deep in places. Take the range of time supposedly represented and divide the thickness of the sediment by the time for a rate. You will find that the answer is 0.000… something inches per year. Ancient rocks are interpreted by modern analogs, right? Obviously, modern environments, similar to those proposed as analogs for the Grand Canyon sedimentation deposit, sediment much faster than that (or scientists would be hard pressed to observe them). At modern rates, the canyon should show many tens of thousands more feet of sediment than it does. For whom is time a problem now?
What about erosion and nondeposition? How about “the dog ate my homework?” The whole point is that inferring time from these features is arguing from a lack of evidence unless we know in advance what time interval is represented. How is that knowledge possible outside the assumption of the conclusion? Geologists use the column to determine what the interval should be, and then triumphantly think they have discovered something when their reasoning returns full cycle.
It is often claimed that the occurrence and distribution of fossils and trace fossils invalidates the Flood position. Often, inherent in these claims are misrepresentations of the Creationist position. For example, a critic might claim that the presence of a burrow in a bed invalidates the Flood. In doing so, he assumes that there must be a stoppage of sedimentation every time a trace fossil is produced. This is incorrect. Note that most trace fossils are not dwelling structures, but simply mottles or burrows. These can form long after an organism has been buried. So long as there is oxygen for respiration within the sediment, and penecontemporaneous cementation prevents excessive pressure on the organism from the overburden, the organisms will continue to burrow. Finally, it will die of asphyxiation. Of course, many sedimentary rocks are virtually barren of trace fossils, probably because there was insufficient penecontemporaneous cementation of the Flood deposits to prevent the organisms from being crushed by the overburden very soon after they were buried in the first place.
Critics assert the impossibility of rapid diagenetic changes in sediments. However, they once again have to argue from a lack of knowledge. No one observed the deposition or diagenesis of those rocks. Inference from observed modern analogs may be helpful, but creationists assert that the Flood has no modern analog. Many of its processes were unique by definition. Should the fact that I, or anyone else for that matter, cannot explain exactly how those rocks were diagenetically altered during and after the Flood render creationism invalid? Critics think so. They are wrong.
Positivism breeds a consistent error in the anti-creationists. It is expressed by their confusing the physical evidence with their interpretations, as though there was a seamless process that excluded assumptions about reality, knowledge, and history, much less geologic processes. Closer examination reveals that anti-creationist arguments against the Flood are in fact a restatement of their uniformitarian assumptions as uniformitarian interpretations. The data often appear only as a prop in the act. Statements of geologic history are by definition interpretations, and are therefore open to question; whether in doubting their presuppositions, presenting contrary data, or holding alternate hypotheses. Creationism has a valid place in challenging uniformitarianism on all of these fronts and its critics are going to have to learn to respect that right.
Reed, J.K. 2001. Natural history in the biblical worldview: foundation and framework. Creation Research Society Books, St. Joseph, MO.