Brian Thomas from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) wrote an article entitled “Origins Breakthrough of 2009: Geology,” The following line appeared in the article:
Science has yet to offer any verification for uniformitarianism, an evolutionary origin for life, or deep time, and geological studies in 2009 undermined them even further.
I’ve got to hand it to Thomas, he compiled volumes of scientific illiteracy in just one sentence. First, uniformitarianism? I haven’t even seen that word since my freshman level historical geology course in college. Notice it was in historical geology. The term was used to describe the views of British Geologist Charles Lyell who spent much of his life combating another very old viewpoint, catastrophism, in the early to mid-1800’s. Lyell took his views to an extreme, arguing that violent events like earthquakes did not vary in intensity through geologic time. Neither uniformitarianism nor catastrophism is used in scientific literature anymore.
Second, he says that there has been no verification for an evolutionary origin for life. Creationists have made misunderstanding what the word evolution means an art form. Evolution describes how an organism changes through time not how an organism develops. Creationists are so gleeful when they criticize Darwin for having no answer for how life began but that is not what Origin of the Species was concerned with. As the title implies, it was concerned with the origin of species, not life. However life originally formed it would have not been a result of evolution by natural selection.
In addition, what most people seem to forget is that there is no real demarcation line between life and non-life. There is no such thing as “living” matter. There is only matter and if it is arranged in such a way that it can eat, reproduce, interact with its environment in certain ways etc. then we call it life.
Next, ‘Deep time’ sounds like some kind of New Age group. I’ve never heard this expression before. Obviously he is talking about the estimated 4.6 billion year history of Earth and approximately 13.7 billion year history of the universe. That he can say, presumably with a straight face, that science has never verified the extreme age of the universe goes beyond burying your head in the sand. He has put his whole body under the sand and is building a permanent sanctuary. I could go on for hours with verifications but isn’t the fact that light moves at a finite speed and we observe objects (i.e. stars and galaxies) millions and billions of light years away enough of a verification that these objects existed when they emitted their light?
Thomas concludes by stating that geological studies of 2009 have undermined the so-called uniformitarianism. And what were these studies? The first was a study published in The Sedimentary Record from June written by J. Schieber and Z. Yawar. In this study Schieber and Yawar challenge the notion that accumulations of fine-grained sediments, like mud and shale, occur in water environments characterized with low-energy. By examining the Upper Cambrian Eau Claire Formation in Indiana, the authors conclude that one of the mud layers,”appears to have been deposited by currents rather than suspension.”<2>
Somehow Thomas concludes from this that,
the fast-flowing fluid deposition evidence presents a remarkable departure from standard gradualist geology, and it is what catastrophist geologists would expect to find.
Evidently Schieber and Yawar were unaware that their research had de-legitimized almost two centuries of geology. They make no mention that their work supported catastrophism. The strongest language they use is that experiments such as these are “transforming mudstone sedimentology.”
Furthermore, among his other examples of scientific illiteracy, Thomas confuses sedimentation with lithification. When sediment collects at the bottom of the ocean or a lake bed, its sedimentation. Lithification is the process by which the sediment becomes a rock. Sedimentation can vary from hours to months whereas lithification can take much longer.
Thomas goes on to describe a study published in Nature Geoscience where researchers found deep sea rocks containing oxygen. This indicates that there must have been oxygen in the atmosphere when these rocks formed. Thomas and others from ICR conclude from this that the entire evolutionary timescale is confounded <3>. Again, the authors of this paper did not seem to be aware that they destroyed the entire evolutionary timescale. If they had they might have at least mentioned it but nowhere is such a bold pronouncement found. The authors do conclude that oxygenic phototrophs (organisms that convert sunlight into energy) had evolved at least around 3.46 billion years ago. This does not seem to support ICR’s assertion that nothing dates back further than 10,000 years ago.
Furthermore, animals appearing earlier than expected is hardly a blow to the evolutionary timeline. To me it seems to be just the opposite. Finding life dating closer to the present would put the crunch on the evolutionary timescale. Finding it later gives even more time for evolution.
And lastly, what creationist article would be complete without a stab at radiometric dating? Probably the most widely accepted tool in geology is also a creationist favorite to trash. Thomas cites two other articles on this point, one from New Scientist and another from D. Russell Humphreys, who is a creationist and member of ICR. Both articles refer to measurements made on radioactive isotopes that show an as yet unidentified interaction that causes the decay rate to speed up around February and slow in August. The New Scientist article specifically mentions that the original research into this effect done in 1986 had no bearing on the half-life of the element in question (in this case Silicon-32).<4> In other words while the decay may not have been completely uniform, it did not change the dating. Creationists love taking a minor flaw and concluding that the entire process is untrustworthy. Many radioactive isotopes have half-lives in the millions to billions of years range. In order for Creationist’s to push these elements into decaying in less than 10,000 years the error bars would be enormous and would have been identified immediately.
In conclusion, this ICR article is yet another in a parade of scientifically illiterate and dishonest articles by Creationists. The original article uses only other ICR articles for references and it is from these that one must discover where the information comes from. In all of their sources (except when they cite one of their own) ICR’s conclusions are not even remotely close to the conclusions of the scientists involved. In a perfect world people like this would simply be ignored, but ICR and groups like them have on several different occasions nearly succeeded in getting their pseudo-scientific claims taught in schools. It does not seem likely that they will quit anytime soon.
Additionally, It’s pretty clear that Thomas was quote mining for scientists who are supposedly countering some mainstream idea. In the example from The Sedimentary Record, Thomas completely ignores the fact that the authors are in no way challenging the age of Earth. Their research does not even address Earth’s age. And when the article from New Scientist is referenced, ICR must have completely ignored the first sentence because it completely runs counter to their whole argument. The only logical conclusion is that they are merely looking for out of context references they can use to prop up their outdated ideology.
- Scheiber, J., and Z. Yawar. 2009. A New Twist on Mud Deposition Mud Ripples in Experiment and Rock Record, The Sedimentary Record
- Humphreys, D. R. Young Helium Diffusion Age of Zircons Supports Accelerated Nuclear Decay http://www.icr.org/pdf/technical/Young-Helium-Diffusion-Age-of-Zircons.pdf
- In Vardiman, L., A. A. Snelling, and E. F. Chaffin (eds.). Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, and Chino Valley, AZ: Creation Research Society: 25.
- Primary haematite formation in an oxygenated sea 3.46 billion years ago Nature Geoscience. 2 (4): 301-306