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. 


  1. (Tried to submit comment just now re me sending the Baker blog to AiG. Hope you received - my computer playing up.)

  2. My comment seemed to disappear when I clicked Publish. If I ever catch one of these web programmers, I'm going to kick him in the tookus for all the times that has happened.

    The quote about believing six impossible things is from Lewis Carroll. Also noticed a paper you might find interesting.

    The pervasive role of biological cohesion in bedform development

    Apologies if this turns up twice.