Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Earth Magazine: “Creationism creeps into mainstream geology”

So goes the scary heading in the article from Earth Magazine sent to me by a reader. It began innocently enough. Steven Newton writes:
Together with about 50 attendees, I attended field trip 409 at the GSA meeting last October. The trip took us from Denver, where the meeting was held, to the area surrounding Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs. The point, according to the field trip guide, was “to observe and discuss the processes of sedimentation and tectonics at superb exposures near the Garden of the Gods.”

Many attendees seemed unaware of the backgrounds of the five trip co-leaders: Steve Austin, Marcus Ross, Tim Clarey, John Whitmore and Bill Hoesch. Austin is probably the most well-known; he is chair of the geology department at the Institute for Creation Research, which describes itself as the “leader in scientific research from a biblical perspective, conducting innovative laboratory and field research in the major disciplines of science.” Austin has been very active in promoting a Noah’s Flood interpretation of the geology of the Grand Canyon.
This is, in some senses, similar to the “academic freedom” legislation that is, on the face of it, not objectionable, until you discover that its true intention is to eliminate evolution from the science curriculum. It is sly and deceptive and represents a new tactic by YEC leaders to get students to accept standard Noah's flood models of geological formation. Newton states that at no point were the tour leaders up front about the fact that they were young earth creationists and, when dealing with rock formations and outcroppings, they used evasive language:
Subtext about the age of formations was a big part of the Young-Earth Creationist rhetoric on the trip. As we moved on to each field trip stop, a narrative began to emerge: the creationist concept of Noah’s Flood as explanation for the outcrops. Although no one uttered the words “Noachian Flood,” the guides’ descriptions of the geology were revealing and rather coy. For example, at the first stop — a trail off Highway 24 near Manitou Springs — Austin stated that the configuration of the units was “the same over North America,” and had been formed by a massive marine transgression. “Whatever submerged the continent,” Austin went on, it must have been huge in scale.
When asked, one of the YEC tour leaders, Marcus Ross admitted that he phrased his talks for the GSA in “millions of years”-speak but used “thousands of years”speak for YEC audiences, a practice that is as misleading as it is cognitively dissonant. The Grand Canyon was either created in six million years or it wasn't. If I started describing hominin fossil sites in the Middle Awash River Valley as being several thousand years old, there would rightly be confusion, as well as questions about my competence as a palaeoanthropologist.

Newton finishes with a call to the geological community to let young earth creationists be young earth creationists and not bar them from the meetings. He writes:
Geology will not suffer if creationists participate in our meetings, but the public relations damage from the misperception that we are systematically hostile to any view — especially religious views — is real.
He is correct and it is important to remember this. One of my contentions is that if they really got what they wanted, for the young earth model to be taught in public schools by competent teachers, it would backfire on them in ways they can only begin to imagine. The vast majority of young earth arguments are so fragile that it takes very little examination for them to fall apart and most proponents of them only speak to friendly crowds. When people like Steve Austin come out and give tours, they must couch their real beliefs in words that do not give them away. If one of the tour leaders actually stated that they think the Grand Canyon was created in two weeks during a single, world-wide flood, most of the students would have looked at them like they had sprouted an extra head. That they do not actually state what they think in this environment is disturbing.

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting to hear some of the dialogue from that field trip. Someone brought the abstract to my attention, and I decided to examine their geological claims (particularly with regard to sand dikes near Manitou Springs, which they said contradicted the conventional timescale).

    If you or anyone else is interested in the geological details of this story, I wrote a rather in-depth response that shows how poorly they made their case (

    As you said, the arguments are fragile. But this example shows how dishonest Austin and other can be, especially when presenting to 'friendly crowds'.