Friday, February 20, 2015

Ken Ham, Andrew Snelling, Creationism and the Challenge of Modern Geology

Recently, a story showed up in the science dailies about evidence supporting rapid canyon formation in Iceland.  First, the story that the BBC ran:
The Jokulsargljufur canyon, 28km long and up to 100m deep, is home to Europe's most powerful waterfall. By analysing the chemistry of rocks in the canyon's walls, the researchers constructed a timeline of how the canyon was shaped over time. Most changes seem to have taken place during three brief but brutal periods. Interestingly, these key flooding events occurred two, five and nine thousand years ago - separated by millennia of relative stability. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists say their findings demonstrate the importance of brief but cataclysmic events in shaping landscapes.
What the story goes on to say is that each brief, but brutal period may have been a matter of days.  This is fascinating but is not unique.  A similar even occurred in eastern Washington State in the late Pleistocene when there were a series of massive floods that carved out huge areas, creating the scablands.  Consequently, while this report is interesting, there is clearly a precedent for rapid movement of sediment by fast-moving water. Another example of this is the Canyon Lake Gorge, in Texas, which was formed in one very large flood, in 2002. 

Fast, torrential floods carving huge canyons quickly out of solid rock. This was too much of an opportunity for Ken Ham to pass up. Very shortly, his post titled Secularists Say Landscapes Can Form in Days came out. (Aside: note the title.  Ham has dispensed with all pretenses of being inclusive, now considering anyone who supports an old earth and the standard geological model a “secularist.”  There can be no room in Bible-believing Christian circles for those not espousing the young earth view.  Organizations like the Association of Christian Geologists are dismissed out of hand.) Ham writes:
Researchers studying Europe’s most powerful waterfall and the canyon containing it reportedly reached the conclusion that they were “created in a matter of days by extreme flooding.” Rather than being the result of slow-and-gradual processes, these researchers believe that a series of extreme floods several thousand years apart formed the waterfall and the canyon catastrophically. They say that these “findings demonstrate the long-term impact that extreme flood events can have on landscapes.”

The leader of the study apparently stated, “We think of natural environments as being formed over thousands of years, but sometimes they are shaped very suddenly. This insight into one of Iceland’s magnificent landscapes helps us better understand these processes, and illustrates their legacy.”

Of course, we have already known that because the Bible tells us that we live on a young Earth. Geological features cannot take millions of years to form slowly and gradually because the planet isn’t that old! When we start with the Bible we know that we live on a young Earth that was radically reshaped by a massive catastrophe, the global Flood. The Flood and its aftermath explain many of the geologic features we see today.
First, it is intellectually dishonest to accept only the sections of someone's argument that you agree with and dispense with the rest.  This is, charitably, cherry-picking the data.  Ham is quite willing to agree that the Jokulsargljufur canyon was formed very quickly, but not that it represents several episodes thousands of years apart.

Ham then calls on Andrew Snelling, the resident geologist, who figured into my last post. In response to the story, Snelling writes:
This is a brief reminder that even uniformitarians are finding that the actual observational data can only explain the formation of landforms such as canyons and massive waterfalls by catastrophic floods, not the present-day slow-and-gradual geologic processes. Of course we disagree on the timescale, but agree this canyon and waterfall in Iceland were carved after the Ice Age, the one short Ice Age that occurred after the Genesis Flood. And rather than floods being thousands of years apart, they would have been only years to decades apart. Of course, this canyon formed in hardened basalt layers in contrast to the soften volcanic ash layers at Mount St. Helens, but it still resulted from catastrophic floods which carved through the solid rock as though it were soft!
Uniformatarians aren't finding anything of the sort. Snelling is clearly putting up a straw man argument by claiming that geologists conclude that canyons can only form rapidly.  There are quite a few canyons around the world that show evidence of having been formed over quite a long period of time and geologists know it. Even the geologically recent Grand Canyon has likely been forming over the last six million years. By the way, for scale purposes, the Jokulsargljufur Canyon is 300 feet deep. the Grand Canyon, which would have to have been formed in the same, rapid fashion, is, from the top of the north rim to the canyon floor, 5500 feet, or over eighteen times as deep as the Jokulsargljufur Canyon.  Its only known water source is the Colorado River. 

But the logical errors continue.  In order for their world-wide flood model to work, flood geologists must use the “part to whole” fallacy.  In other words, what is happening at the Jokulsargljufur canyon would have to be happening all over the world.  Not just canyon formation but all rock formation, everywhere.  While it is quite possible that, in some instances, magmatic rock can form quickly, its formation is very easy to spot because it is very distinctive.  But it is the only kind of rock that can form quickly.  Metamorphic and sedimentary rock, which are also quite distinctive in their appearance, take considerably longer to form.   Further, it is estimated that up to 70% of the planet's stratigraphic rock formations are sedimentary, in origin and these formation leave extensive layering.  These rocks form by means of wind, water action, glacial action and other slow processes.  They do not form quickly.  Metamorphic rock forms even more slowly than sedimentary rock because it can only form under considerable heat and pressure.  In the context of a world-wide flood, how would these rocks, which require heating to between 150° and 200°, have formed in the first place? Ham and Snelling are suggesting, in this model, that the geological column settled, hardened into rock by an as-yet undetermined very rapid heating process, and Then incised the canyon over the still-hardening rock.  They provide no explanation for how this would happen.

It is disappointing to see that, in their zeal to disregard the work of mainstream geologists and brand them all as “secularists,” a term that is surely pejorative in this context, they present arguments that fail to stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny.  This is part and parcel of young earth creationism and this example represents only a microcosm of the insurmountable problems that it faces.  It is almost as if they feel that their devotion to their understanding of scripture should be enough to sway the reader into supporting the young earth model...just don't look too closely. 


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Andrew Snelling, Geology and Cooking

Sorry, this one rambles a little bit.

Jonathan Baker at Age of Rocks writes an interesting column that is a response to Andrew Snelling's preposterous statement that one can be a successful petroleum geologist and yet be a young earth creationist.  In his column, he likens the different layers of the rock record to the baking of a cake.  After a series of trials in which a cake is cooked for thirty minutes at 150º, then 350º, then 500º, he writes:
In the first trial, it seems, the batter never reached a high enough temperature for these reactions to complete; in the third trial, there were too many! Thus we all know from experience that the results of our cooking depend strongly on the chosen temperature and time. Consider also the various ways to make a roast: we can cook the meat for a short time at high temperature, for a long time at low temperature, or choose some option in between. Why? Because the rate of chemical reactions is temperature dependent, and for every ~10°C increase in temperature, the reaction rate doubles.
Why is this important to understanding the rock record and petroleum geology? He continues:
This flexibility in cooking reflects a basic principle in petroleum geology called the Time-Temperature Index (TTI). The deposition of organic matter in sedimentary layers is much like pouring a raw cake batter into a pan. As those sediments are buried deeper, the temperature naturally increases, due to what’s called the geothermal gradient (heat flows from the Earth’s center to its surface, so temperature increases with depth). Once the temperature becomes high enough, those same chemical reactions that turned our batter into cake can also turn raw organic matter into a suite of energy-rich hydrocarbons (oil and gas). But the actual cooking time depends on the absolute temperature to which those molecules are exposed.

In other words, the Earth’s subsurface works like a giant oven—in fact, this terminology is frequently used by petroleum geologists. As with cooking in our homes, the end result depends on three factors: the original recipe, time, and temperature. When geologists search for oil/gas, they try to constrain those variables as best they can.
The upshot is that, due to the nature of the geothermal gradient, there simply has not been enough time to produce oil if the earth is only six thousand years old. Further, because geologists use this gradient to their advantage in examining the geological column, they have become very good at finding oil.

One of the grand daddies of modern young earth creationism, George McReady Price, received a letter from Harold Clark, another Seventh Day Adventist and fellow creationist, when Clark went out to visit the oil fields in Texas, in 1938. When he got there, Clark received a bit of a shock.  The letter read in part:
"The rocks do lie in a much more definite sequence than we have ever allowed. The statements made in your book, The New Geology, do not harmonize with the conditions in the field. All over the Midwest the rocks lie in great sheets extending over hundreds of miles, in regular order. Thousands of well cores prove this. In East Texas alone are 25,000 deep wells. Probably well over 100,000 wells in the Midwest give data that has been studied and correlated. The science has become a very exact one. Millions of dollars are spent in drilling, with the paleontological findings of the company geologists taken as the basis for the work. The sequence of the microscopic fossils in the strata is remarkably uniform. The same sequence is found in America, Europe, and anywhere that detailed studies have been made. This oil geology has opened up the depths of the earth in a way that we never dreamed of twenty years ago"
Astoundingly, people like Snelling never seemed to learn from the experience that Clark had.  In the last seventy-seven years, oil and gas explorers haven't adopted any form of young earth creationism in their efforts to find oil.  Instead, they have become better at it by using standard, well-understood modern geological methods and an understanding of the geological column that was well-known even in Clark's time.  To debate this on the part of Snelling is willful blindness. 

In some ways, this is analogous to the problem of what you would find in terms of consistency if the geological column were only 4500 years old and really did reflect the remnants of the world-wide flood.  If you could, the experiment might work like this: construct a tank that was a mile high, fill it with about 1000 feet of dirt (remember, the geological column did not exist at all before the flood but they had to be walking around on something), then pour water into the tank, simulating rain for 365 days.  At the end of that period, let the tank drain away (what the flood waters are said to have done).  You know what you will find at the end of that time?  You will find very hard mud at the bottom, medium hard mud in the middle and soupy mud at the top.  What you will not find is sedimentary rock of any kind.  You won't find sandstones, you won't find shales, you won't find chert and you won't find limestone.  Why?  You won't find them because it takes lots and lots of time for these kinds of rocks to form.

Young earth creationist studies of the Grand Canyon are interesting in this regard.  They fail to account for the fact that the walls of the canyon, had they been formed in a year's time, would not have been solid enough to stand up.  Being mostly mud, they would have collapsed, which is what you typically see in large-scale floods.  In fact, you see the relative hardness of rock on display in the canyon walls: the harder rock walls are more vertical, while the softer rock walls are more eroded.  If it were mud, there would be no canyon at all.

That digressed from the original point but these are just more examples of statements that young earth creationists make that are, on the face of it, absurd.  To paraphrase Conrad Hyers: you are asked to believe several impossible things before breakfast. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ken Ham Suing State of Kentucky

Ken Ham is suing the state of Kentucky over the revocation of the tax credits for the Ark-n-Park.  Stoyan Zaimov of The Christian Post has this to say:
Answers in Genesis President and CEO Ken Ham revealed that his organization is filing a lawsuit against Kentucky for denying the Ark Encounter theme part participation in the state's tax rebate incentive program. AiG is arguing that the refusal is based on religious discrimination against the creationist group's beliefs.

"Our organization spent many months attempting to reason with state officials so that this lawsuit would not be necessary," Ham said in a statement on Tuesday. "However, the state was so insistent on treating our religious entity as a second-class citizen that we were simply left with no alternative but to proceed to court. This is the latest example of increasing government hostility toward religion in America, and it's certainly among the most blatant."
The state has simply said that it is revoking the credits in light of Ham’s hiring practices, and that support of the tax credits would constitute state-sponsored religion. Ham responded thus:
"The state granted its preliminary approval for the incentive. Only after the atheist groups objected and publicly attacked the state's preliminary approval, did the state renege on its commitment," Ham said in December.

"AiG, as a religious organization, has the legal right to hire people who believe in our Christian faith," he added.
More on the text of the lawsuit can be found at the AiG website, here.  It reads, in part:
The suit specifically alleges that state officials discriminated against AiG and the Ark project “by wrongfully excluding them from participation in the Kentucky Tourism Development Program. Plaintiffs are denied access to this tourism incentive program because of who they are, what they believe, and how they express their beliefs, in flagrant disregard of their constitutional and statutory rights." AiG points out that its lawsuit was filed a few hours after President Barack Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he declared that America must “constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion . . . and to do so free of persecution, and fear, and discrimination.” In addition, this afternoon the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just released an opinion (in Conlon v. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) reaffirming that faith-based groups have an essential constitutional right to make employment decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.
Back when the tax credits were originally revoked, in the middle of December, Dan Arel, over at Patheos, pointed out some inconsistencies in Ham's defense. For one, Ham states that the tax breaks are not money to help finish the project, yet as Arel writes:
But suspiciously Ham then says that park would use this rebate to offset the cost of building. So in reality, since the park is being built in phases, he is asking the state for the money to complete the project. This is exactly why the park is relying on this rebate.
The second point relates to the law about hiring practices. Arel notes that the Ark-n-Park is being set up as a for-profit enterprise. It, therefore, falls under the EEOC laws. Only churches and non-profits organizations can hire anyone they want to. Ham continues to refer to the project as a religious project but, as Arel points out, it has been set up as a business.

Ham has been duplicitous about this project from the start, originally stating that AiG had only a small role in the project (around the 3:25 mark) and that it was clearly a for-profit business venture.  That was hardly believable at the time.   Now, as Ham states, it is AiG that is doing the hiring and and he is crying foul because, as a religious organization, he ought to be able to hire who he wants.  I doubt the suit will end well for AiG and Ark Encounter. 

A Darwin Day Cartoon

Ardziv Simonian,  at Exodus (A travel site), has put together a cartoon in celebration of Darwin Day.  It is a humorous look at the life of Charles Darwin and can be found here.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Time to Play "Name That Party" Again!

A state representative (guess which party!) in Montana has revived a bill to allow the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom.   This is part of the Wedge Strategy as outlined by the Discovery Institute under the heading “Teach Alternative Theories.” As Education Week notes:
Republican [Whoops. Gave it away] Rep. Clayton Fiscus of Billings introduced House Bill 321 in the House Education Committee Friday.

Last session, in 2013, Fiscus introduced a similar bill, which died in the same committee. One proponent spoke on Friday, none spoke in 2013.

Opponents say the bill would allow religion to be taught in Montana public schools.
Depending on how narrowly one takes the Dover ruling, this would probably wither under the first suit filed on behalf of parents.  It just pains me to see another Republican parroting the ID party line when, in all likelihood, he probably couldn't tell you the basics of evolutionary theory if his life depended on it. 

Darwin Day at UT

Darwin Day(s) are occurring at UT this week.  Here is the post from the NCSE:
Dear Knoxville-area friends of NCSE,

I thought that you might like to know about the Darwin Day events
taking place on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

On February 10 at 7:00 p.m., Colin D. Sumrall will be speaking on "On
the Origin of Birds: Did the Age of Dinosaurs Really End?" in the
University Center auditorium.

On February 11 at 11:30 a.m., Joseph Panzik will be speaking on
"Earth, an Evolving Planet" in Dabney 575.

On February 11 at 7:00 p.m., A. C. Sandy Echternacht will be speaking
on "Messing with Mother Nature: Introduced Species" in the University
Center auditorium.

And on February 12 at 7:00 p.m., Alan de Queiroz will be giving the
keynote address, "A World Shaped by Astonishing Events: Darwin,
Creationism, and the Geography of Life" in the University Center
I will at least be able to attend the Sumrall presentation. Not sure about the others. I have to give an exam on the 12th but may postpone it until next week.  The website is here

Monday, February 02, 2015

Creationism in the UK: Overstated?

Forbes is running a story that finds the prevalence of young earth creationism is not as great as has been thought.  John Farrell, who right off the bat equates “creationism” with “young earth creationism” writes:
It was thought, based on surveys conducted in 2006, that more citizens of the U.K. were embracing creationism. Indeed, the BBC Horizon program found that 22% of U.K. citizens identified themselves as creationists.

Unsworth, who has a PhD in molecular biology from University College London, was skeptical, and her survey data suggest her skepticism was well founded.

“Many people simply haven’t thought much about evolution,” she said in a press release shortly after reporting her initial results at a Faraday conference in September.

“Survey questions may force them into ticking either a ‘creationist’ or an ‘evolutionist’ box,” she said, “but whether these labels have much real-life significance is pretty questionable.”
I would believe that most people haven't thought about evolution much. I certainly know that the people that I work with at ORNL don't give it much thought. It simply is not germane to their lives. The only reason it is to me is that I pursued evolution as an academic discipline.  I think that even in the Christian community, there is general apathy about it.  The story continues:
After carrying out detailed face-to-face interviews with over a hundred Christians and Muslims, Unsworth designed her own survey. Of 2,116 people in Britain, she found that only 3% reject the idea that plants and animals have evolved from earlier life forms, whilst 6.8% reject the idea that humans have evolved from non-human life forms. Only 4% would qualify as young earth creationists.

Further, she discovered that even amongst regular worshippers–meaning those who attend religious services once a month or more, only 14.3% reject plant and animal evolution, 28.6% reject human evolution and 10.2% think the earth is young.
England and Europe as a whole are, generally, more secular than is the United States and I wonder how different those numbers would be here. The same survey would have to be administered.

There is also truth to the idea that those numbers would be higher here in the south than they likely would be in other areas of the country.  As is the case here, there are bound to be pockets of people who accept creationism without reservation—the home school crowd comes to mind— and support for the Discovery Institute and its mission remains high here in the United States.

She is interviewed as saying that she has higher resolution on the data, with regards to different denominations and religions.  I would be very interested to see what that information shows.