Sorry creationists: rocks just aren’t that coy about their age

Remember Marcus Ross? He was the young-earth creationist who caused a bit of a stir earlier this year when the New York Times reported that he had been awarded a PhD in Geology. As it turned out, the only singular thing about Dr. Ross’s thesis was the levels of cognitive dissonance required to complete it; whilst professing a belief in an Earth only 6,000 years old, he was simultaneously employing somewhat more reality-based estimates in his study of Cretaceous marine reptiles (and, it seems, doing a pretty good job). At the time, I found myself feeling quite sorry for him, even if I did worry about the rhetorical use to which he was going to put his qualification in his new position teaching at Liberty University (yes, that Liberty University).
So I guess it wasn’t really much surprise to find him featuring in a report from a conference on Creation Geology, held earlier this summer at Cedarville University, another self-proclaimed “Christ-centered learning community”, where he gave a talk about his experiences:

He entered his university studies as a Christian and a young-earth creationist and faced significant challenges to his faith and his creationist geology position from fellow students and professors, never hiding either his Christian faith or his young-earth creationist position. His testimony showed that it is vital to establish good personal relationships with one’s professors and know when to be more circumspect in one’s witness and in on-campus activities. But even more important, he testified that it is absolutely vital to always maintain a consistent strong connection to a local supportive church fellowship, because there he found the support and nurture that kept him going when times were tough in these secular universities where he studied.

Confirmation of his sound advice was demonstrated earlier this year when upon his graduation from the University of Rhode Island a reporter from The New York Times picked up the story, and when that reporter interviewed staff at that university in order to perhaps find some “mud” to throw at Dr. Ross, the staff only spoke kindly of him and of the quality of his science!


All well and good, and the advice about establishing a good personal relationship with your supervisors is applicable to any student, but I couldn’t help noticing that the final sentence leaves you with the rather misleading impression that Dr. Ross’s thesis award was in some way a victory for “creation geology”. As I wrote at the time, this is very far from the truth:

…when push came to shove, to get his qualification he had to follow the ground rules of science. And when he did that, what happened to all those big, obvious, gaping holes in the scientific picture of an old earth and common descent that we hear so much about? Did he try, even slightly, to cast some light on those holes with his research? It doesn’t look like it to me. Rather than a bold assault on the evil Darwinian empire, we get some meandering about “working within a particular paradigm of earth history”.

I was quite annoyed (if not surprised) by this misrepresentation, but then it occurred to me that it possibly gives an important insight into the creationist view of geology, which seems to go a little bit like this:

  1. Make observations of particular sequence/rock/formation.
  2. Decide whether you ‘believe’ in an old or young earth.
  3. Come up with an explanation which fits your belief.

Apparently, the issue of whether the earth is old or young is addressed completely independently from the geological evidence – it’s a question of belief. If you’re properly “Christ-centered”, then the Bible tells you (for a certain value of “tell”) that the Earth is young. If you’ve been corrupted by evolution, or are just a hateful atheist driven to discredit Christianity, then you subscribe to the old-earth view. That’s some projection: creation scientists may be trying to shoe-horn facts into an externally defined framework, but that’s not how real geology works at all. Here’s what we really do:

  1. Make observations of particular sequence/rock/formation.
  2. Try to understand the processes which formed them
  3. Based on your understanding of said processes, estimate the timescales over which the sequence/rock/formation formed.

It’s our studies of the rock record that have led geologists to propose that the Earth is so unimaginably old, not the edicts of the Evil Secular Conspiracy. When we observe huge angular unconformities, where rocks have been tilted almost vertically, eroded and then covered with flat-lying rocks, we see that they require a large period of time to have formed. When thermodynamics tells us that it would take tens of thousands of years for an ingneous intrusion hundreds of metres across to solidify from lava, we assume that that means it tooks tens of thousands of years to form. When present day estimates of sea floor spreading – measured in mm per year – match those estimated from the increasing radiometric ages of the ocean floor away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, we conclude the Atlantic Ocean has been formed after tens of millions of years of slow continental drift. The list goes on and on; and useful as the fossil record is, I could continue for quite a while without having to mention the E-word.
Besides, geologists do infer sudden, catastrophic events – climatic shifts, giant volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, mass extinctions – within the geological record. This pretty conclusively demonstrates that we are not prevented from spotting them by some sort of perverse ideological commitment to the slow and creeping. It’s just that we see the disasters spread throughout Earth’s history, separated by long periods of more sedate geological goings-on. In fact, if the YEC timescale was anywhere near correct, the last 6,000 years would make the End Times seem like a church picnic; a global flood would have been the least of our worries.
So don’t be fooled by this talk of interpretive paradigms: the rock record screams out that the Earth is old. The difference between myself and a “creation geologist” is that I am prepared to listen to what it tells us.

Categories: antiscience, deep time

Comments (14)

  1. HP says:

    the rock record screams out that the Earth is old.
    This is why the correct answer to the creationist challenge, “Were you there?,” is “I’m there right now!”

  2. MartinC says:

    I think the case of Marcus Ross illustrates the one positive thing that ‘creation science’ has going for it – the employment possibilities. Despite the whinings of Dembski et al it is fairly clear that there is a ready job market for creationists who have scientific credentials. Finish your PhD and straight away tenure beckons – what other area of science can boast that ? (OK, its not really ‘science’ but thats besides the point).

  3. Chris Rowan says:

    Damn. Do you reckon it’s too late to delete this?

  4. Bob O'H says:

    No, you just claim this is all just street theatre.
    Bob

  5. 1. Make observations of particular sequence/rock/formation.
    2. Decide whether you ‘believe’ in an old or young earth.
    3. Come up with an explanation which fits your belief.

    Funny, I always perceived them more along the lines of:
    1. Make observations of particular sequence/rock/formation.
    2. Draw logical, natural conclusions from the data.
    3. If logical, natural conclusions conflict with your previous mindset, construct mental dichotomy and discard both data and conclusions in favor of previous mindset.
    4. Proceed to be smug about one’s self-righteousness and ability to play in other sandboxes successfully without compromising “who you are.”

  6. Mike says:

    “In fact, if the YEC timescale was anywhere near correct, the last 6,000 years would make the End Times seem like a church picnic; a global flood would have been the least of our worries.”
    lol, so very very true. :)

  7. Harold Asmis says:

    I was told that to really increase the traffic to my blog, I should enter the creationist debate. YUCK! Besides, maybe they’re looking to grossly overpay an earthquake guy….

  8. Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD says:

    Have you heard anything about the crater in Peru? I was wondering if perhaps it was a hydrovolcanic eruption rather than a meteorite.

  9. skeptic4u says:

    why would you want to delete this?

  10. Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD says:

    For your perusal: Can God be scientific? Consider the evidence, Part II

    “I’d like do to my extra-credit research paper on creation theory,” I told my geology professor, attempting to flex my freedom-of-speech muscles after an entire semester of evolutionary dogma.”Sure, I’d be fine with you doing that,” he replied with a condescending smile, “as long as you demonstrate that creation science isn’t really science.”

    So much for honest research. According to my teacher, my research was simply not allowed to reach a different conclusion than the establishment. The world was flat, and nothing I could say to challenge it would be tolerated.

  11. Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD says:

    why would you want to delete this?

    So he can qualify for one o them classy jobs at Liberty U. or Bob Jones U.

  12. skeptic4u says:

    Hahaha! Great.

  13. yami says:

    Besides, geologists do infer sudden, catastrophic events – climatic shifts, giant volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, mass extinctions – within the geological record. This pretty conclusively demonstrates that we are not prevented from spotting them by some sort of perverse ideological commitment to the slow and creeping.
    You and I have been trained in a world where this is true, but ask Walter Alvarez about how fun it was to argue for a sudden, catastrophic event in the early 80s – you’ll get a good story.

  14. Chris Rowan says:

    I suppose it depends on your definition of “sudden”, but you’re right that anything which whiffed too much of catastrophism was in for a rough ride back in those days…
    And I’d love to be in a position to ask Walter Alvarez about anything.