RNCSE 24 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.

Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Flaws in a Young-Earth Cooling Mechanism
Author(s): 
Glenn Morton and George L Murphy
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
31–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Modern young-earth creationist theories invoke huge quantities of heat — enough to boil most of the oceans and melt the earth's rocks. For instance, John Baumgardner has suggested that rapid subduction of the oceanic plates caused the Flood and accomplished all the continental drift within a few years at most. But he calculates that this process would have generated 1028 joules of heat:
If released near the earth's surface, this amount of energy is sufficient to melt a layer of silicate rock 12 km thick or the boil away a layer of water 25 km deep over the entire earth. It is equivalent to the kinetic energy of 170 000 asteroids, each 10 km in diameter and traveling at 15 km/s. (Baumgardner 1990: 37)
Steve Austin and others (1994a: 612) endorsed this view several years later. In the question-and-answer session after that talk captured on videotape (Austin and others 1994b), Russell Humphreys noted:
We have always said that one of the major problems was the heat flow — what do we do with the excess heat?
Clearly, such quantities of heat are a huge problem for the young-earth creationist position.

But these processes are not the only source of huge quantities of heat invoked by modern creationist ideas. Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Research Society (CRS) members have become convinced that large quantities of radioactive decay have taken place on earth (Humphreys 2000: 335; Snelling and others 2000: 398, 455; Vardiman 2000: 3, 15). In 2000, the Radioactivity and the Age of The Earth (RATE) group published a book attempting to explain how the rates of radioactive decay could have increased significantly during the global flood in order to account for the millions-year-old ages given by radioisotope dating methods. But radioactivity gives off heat, and accounting for all the heat produced by the presumed increase in radioactive decay creates another huge heat problem. Larry Vardiman writes:
For example, if most of the radioactive decay implied by fission tracks or quantities of daughter products occurred over the year of the Flood, the amount of heat generated may have been sufficient to vaporize all the waters of the oceans and melt portions of the earth's crust, given present conditions. (Vardiman 2000: 8)
And Humphreys adds:
A simple calculation shows that crustal rocks with their present amount of radioactivity would melt many times over if decay rates were accelerated. However, I would like to emphasize here that all creationist Creation or Flood models I know of have serious problems with heat disposal. (Baumgardner 1986: 211, cited in Humphreys 2000: 369 –70)
Humphreys proposed a mechanism for absorbing the problem heat. Assuming that all particles in the universe are losing energy due to the cosmic expansion, the excess heat generated can be absorbed by these "cooled" particles.

Humphreys outlines his idea this way:
All relativists think that, while the expansion of space sweeps galaxies apart, the galaxies themselves (and smaller objects) do not change size with the expansion. One explanation (I know of no other) for why that should be so is that the force associated with the expansion is much smaller than the forces binding together stars in a galaxy (or particles in planets, people and atoms). The expansion is only strong enough to overcome the feeble gravitational forces between galaxies. By that view, the fabric of space between particles bound to each other, whether within stars or atoms, continues to expand, sliding past the particles essentially without friction. The calculations leading to equation (14) were for free particles, because that is easier to calculate ... but a simple gedanken experiment suggests the same effect applies to bound particles as well as free ones. Imagine a large box with perfectly reflecting sides. One particle, say a molecule, bounces around in the box in a vacuum. The box itself does not change size, for the reason I offered above, so the molecule does not lose energy to the walls of the box as it bounces off them.

Except for the tiny fraction of time the molecule spends bouncing off the walls, it is perfectly free; during the free part of its flight, it is just like the free particle in empty space, and the molecule imparts some of its energy to the fabric of space. The molecule is bound within the box, and yet it loses energy which does not go into the walls of the box. Now shrink the box to the size of a unit cell in the crystal. Again the molecule loses energy to the fabric of space. In a real crystal, the vibrating ions transfer energy back and forth with their neighboring ions, but as each ion moves, it will also lose some kinetic energy to the fabric of space within which it is moving. From our viewpoint, the energy does not go in any of the three directions we perceive; it simply disappears. (Humphreys 2000: 371 –2)
We would make several criticisms of this suggestion. First, one of us has developed a simple classical model for a harmonic oscillator (like a particle oscillating in a crystal), and in this model the particle does not lose energy to the cosmic expansion. While other force terms could be used in the equation of motion to give different results, the one used here seems to be the simplest and most natural generalization of the ordinary linear restoring force. The fact that energy is not lost here suggests that Humphreys's qualitative argument is incorrect. A mathematical model developed by George Murphy that calculates the magnitude of the forces involved is available on request from Glenn Morton.

Second, we would criticize this idea on the basis that it is too slow to be useful to the creationist agenda. Today the expansion of the universe is of the order of 1 part in 1010 each year. This is the percentage of expansion of the present size of the universe that occurs each year. As we have shown in calculations elsewhere, doubling the expansion rate, R (Humphreys 2000: 372 –3), would decrease the kinetic energy (mV2/2) of a free particle by a factor of 1⁄4. But even if this were true for a bound particle (and it is not), the 25% of the thermal energy that would remain would still wreak havoc during a global flood.

Our third criticism of the concept is that there would be visible effects in the spectra of light emitted during the Flood, including those from stars a few thousand light years away in our own galaxy. A change in the energy levels of atoms (which this idea would entail) would change the frequencies at which light is emitted in a fashion that would be observable. The lack of such observations rules out Humphreys's cooling mechanism as a reasonable possibility.

Fourth, we would criticize this concept on theological grounds. In Humphreys's article in the RATE book, he postulates that God performs lots of miracles in order to explain things. God is supposed to have changed the mass of the pion, changed the parameters of gauge bosons to accelerate beta decay, and changed the effective distance of the strong force to alter alpha decay. With all these miracles, why then does God switch to a naturalistic solution to the heat problem — albeit one that requires a rapid cosmic expansion of unexplained origin? All of this raises two serious theological questions. Why does God dance to Humphreys's whim, performing a miracle each time Humphreys requires one? Demanding miracles of God raises certain questions of who is the master and who the servant. And why does Humphreys insist on any naturalistic approach at all, given all the miracles he postulates? Why not simply remove the heat miraculously?

For these reasons, we reject Humphreys's cooling mechanism: because it is wrong, it is ineffective, it is falsified by observational data, and it is theologically flawed.

References

Austin SA, Baumgarther JR, Humphreys DR, Snelling AA, Vardiman L, Wise KP. 1994a. Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global flood model of earth history. In: Walsh RE, editor. The Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship. p 609 –22.

Austin SA. Humphreys DR, Vardiman L, Baumgardner JR, Snelling AA, Wise KP 1994b. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood. Videotape available from Creation Science Fellowship, Inc, PO Box 99303, Pittsburgh PA 15233-4303.

Baumgardner JR. 1990. 3D finite element simulation of the global tectonic changes accompanying Noah's Flood. In: Walsh RE, Brooks CL, editors. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, volume 2. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, Inc. p 35 –45.

Humphreys DR. 2000. Accelerated nuclear decay: A viable hypothesis. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 333 –79.

Snelling AA. 2000. Radiohalos. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E. editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 381 –468.

Vardiman L. 2000. Introduction. In: Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin E, editors. Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society. p 1 –25.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Morton
George L Murphy
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
glennmorton@entouch.net
gmurphy@raex.com

Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Flood Geology in the Grand Canyon
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
During his historic exploration of the Grand Canyon, John Wesley Powell wrote in his diary, “The thought grew in my mind that the canyons of this region would be a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved bible of geology.” Today, geologists know that the Canyon began to be eroded 4 million years ago: what the strata thus exposed reveal is a 1.75-billion–year span of the earth’s history. Yet visitors to the official bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park are now treated to a different view — the view of creationists who believe that these rocks were deposited and the Canyon was carved in a twinkling during Noah’s Flood.

At issue is Grand Canyon: A Different View, compiled by Tom Vail, a Colorado River guide. With its lavish color photographs of the Canyon and its low list price of $16.99, it is the sort of book that you might want to take home as a souvenir. Unless you open it, and happen to notice that it was published by Master Books, the publishing arm of the Institute for Creation Research, or that its list of contributors is a virtual who’s who of “creation science”, or that “all contributions have been peer-reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective.”

“Flood geology” — according to which Noah’s Flood, as described in Genesis, was a historical worldwide event responsible for the distinctive features of the earth’s geology — is nothing new. It was pioneered by self-educated geologist George McCready Price in the first half of the 20th century, and revived by John C Whitcomb and Henry M Morris in their 1961 book The Genesis Flood. The theory continues to be influential in fundamentalist circles, where adherence to a literal reading of the Bible is frequently thought to demand rejection of evolution as well as acceptance of flood geology.

To the uninitiated, it is hard to imagine that flood geologists regard the Grand Canyon, with its thousands of feet of layers of sedimentary rock deposited over the eons, as a suitable icon. In the 1920s, a colleague of Price’s urged him to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon in these words: “Let’s have the worst before us when we’re dealing with the enemy, and if we perish, we perish!” Yet today’s creation scientists are confident that it is, in the words of the title of one of their books, a monument to catastrophe, despite the overwhelming dismissal of their view by the scientific community as absurd.

A Different View claims, for example, that the Canyon was rapidly cut when the sediment was still soft. But it offers no explanation of how the supposedly soft sediment remained standing in high vertical walls instead of slumping, of why the layers alternate between chemically produced sedimentary rocks such as limestone and mechanically produced sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale, or of why the canyon’s river channels are not the sort of wide deep channels that are characteristic of canyons carved by floods. Similarly, although the Grand Canyon’s fossils are confidently described as casualties of the biblical flood, there is no explanation — beyond a vague reference to hydrodynamics — of how they managed to sort themselves in the chronological order so thoroughly documented by paleontologists.

Not surprisingly, then, Wilfred Elders, a professor of geology at the University of California, Riverside, was dismayed to learn that A Different View was on the shelves in the bookstores in Grand Canyon National Park. The bookstores are operated by a non-profit organization, the Grand Canyon Association, under the supervision of the National Park Service. According to a spokesman for the NPS, the book was unanimously approved for sale by a panel of park and gift shop personnel. In his review of the book for Eos, the weekly newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, Elders lamented, “Allowing the sale of this book within the national park was an unfortunate decision.” (See p 33 for a longer version of Elders’s review.) In his opinion, A Different View is not a work of science; it is religious proselytizing.

The scientific community concurred. The presidents of the American Paleontological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Association of American State Geologists, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, the American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America signed a joint letter to the NPS, urging that A Different View be removed “from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service” (see p 21). The American Institute of Biological Sciences — the umbrella organization of professional biology societies — followed suit.

Meanwhile, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a non-profit organization that promotes environmental ethics and government accountability, was also taking notice. In a press release dated December 22, 2003, PEER cited the sale of A Different View, along with the NPS’s recent about-face on the removal of plaques bearing biblical verses from the South Rim of the Canyon and its decision to edit images of gay rights and abortion rights demonstrations from a videotape that airs at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, as evidence that the Bush administration is attempting to institute a program of “faith-based” parks.

The issue finally arrived on the national stage with a story published in the Los Angeles Times (2004 Jan 7), citing both the joint letter from the geoscience organizations and the PEER press release. According to the Times story, following protests from the park’s interpretive staff, A Different View was relocated from the natural sciences section of the bookstores to the Inspirational Reading section — a reasonable category for a book that is explicitly founded on the premise that “the Bible, in its original form, is the inerrant Word of God.” The recategorization of A Different View complies with the geoscientists’ recommendation that “if it remains available in Grand Canyon bookstores, it be clearly separated from books and materials that do discuss our scientific understanding of Grand Canyon geology.”

But the story is not over. The superintendent of the park is seeking further guidance from the legal department of the NPS headquarters in Washington. Predictably, creationists are up in arms. Answers in Genesis — a large creationist ministry based in Florence, Kentucky — promptly called upon its supporters to lobby the NPS and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, not to permit what it called “censorship and book banning”. As of January 12, AiG reports, over 125 of its supporters have communicated with the NPS, complaining of what AiG characterizes as “an incredible attack on free speech”. The complaint of censorship is, of course, bogus; the First Amendment confers no right to have books purchased and resold by the government or (as here) by a non-profit organization overseen by a government agency.

Creationists were also unhappy with the relegation of A Different View to the Inspirational Reading section of the park bookstores, touting the scientific credentials, publications, and memberships of the contributors in order to emphasize the supposedly scientific basis of the book. The Institute for Creation Research, for example, boasts that “Many of the contributing authors to the book are also active members of the societies represented in the letter of protest.” But the NPS management policies clearly state that factual information presented in interpretive and educational programs is to be based on current scholarship and science; it is hardly unreasonable to expect the bookstores overseen by the NPS to reach the same standard by refusing to countenance a counterfeit of science on their shelves.

And legal sabers are now rattling on behalf of “creation science”. The Alliance Defense Fund — a Scottsdale, Arizona, organization that describes itself as engaged in “the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values” — reportedly threatened to sue if A Different View is removed from the bookstores or even if it is relegated to their Inspirational Reading sections, describing such actions as patently unconstitutional. Standing in the way of such a suit, of course, is the formidable obstacle of the Supreme Court’s ruling (in the 1987 case Edwards v Aguillard) that “creation science” is intrinsically a religious view.

For the time being, A Different View remains on the shelves. David Barna, a spokesperson for the NPS, told the Associated Press (2004 Jan 7) that NPS headquarters was likely to tell Grand Canyon National Park’s administrators not to restock the book. But Barna then told The New York Times (2004 Jan 18) that NPS headquarters decided that “the book can remain on sale as an alternative theory to the Grand Canyon history — but one that the Park Service does not necessarily support.” The Baptist Press news service reported (2004 Jan 27) that the bookstores ordered over 300 additional copies of the book; Elaine Sevy, a spokesperson for the NPS, commented, “Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it.”

For his part, Professor Elders, whose concern about the presence of A Different View in the park’s bookstores helped to spark the controversy, offers suitably scriptural advice: “speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee” (Job 12:8).

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank Alan Gishlick and Wilfred Elders for helpful comments.

[A version of this article appeared under the title “Creationists and the Grand Canyon” in The Humanist 2004 Mar/Apr; 64 (2): 5–6, 47 and is reprinted by permission.]

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Ohio Teachers on Teaching Evolution and Counter-Evolutionary Concepts in Biology Classrooms

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Ohio Teachers on Teaching Evolution and Counter-Evolutionary Concepts in Biology Classrooms
Author(s): 
Kim Bilica, University at Buffalo (SUNY) and Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech University
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The Question*

How did the 2002 state curriculum standards debate influence Ohio teachers’ decisions to emphasize evolution and counter-evolutionary concepts in biology classrooms?

The Context

From January to December 2002, the debate about the role of biological evolution and alternatives to evolution (specifically, “intelligent design”) in Ohio’s life science curriculum standards was intense. The controversy surrounding the place of evolutionary theory and alternative “theories” is consequential inasmuch as the science curriculum standards were being revised as part of the state accountability structure under No Child Left Behind (US DOE 2002). These standards would provide the basis for the high-stakes, state-level Ohio Graduation Tests. This debate has occurred in other states as special interest groups and others have argued that evolutionary theory is plagued with weaknesses and that science standards should have a requirement to “teach the controversy”.

The argument against evolution tends to be rejected because evolution is widely accepted by scientists and science educators as a central, unifying theme in science and as the cornerstone of the biological sciences (AAAS 1990, 1993; NRC 1996). Evolutionary theory provides an explanation for the changing patterns and diversity of life on earth. The evidence that life on earth has changed and continues to change is substantial and there is no “controversy” to teach. Furthermore, the tenets of “intelligent design” are not plausible as alternative explanations because they are derived from philosophical and logical arguments rather than cumulated scientific evidence. As such, the design arguments lack explanatory power.

While the resolution to the debate came out — arguably — in favor of evolution (see RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 [5]: 4–6), the grades 9 and 10 Life Science curriculum standards included the statement:

Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.) (Ohio Academic Content Standards, Standard H, p 138).
Because Life Science Standard H includes a parenthetical that mentions “intelligent design”, the standard could be construed as an invitation to teach (but not test) “intelligent design”, thus formally introducing non-scientific tenets into the public biology classroom. With the ambiguously stated life science standard, and with the March 2004 Ohio State Board of Education’s approval of a model lesson plan promoting counter-evolutionary tenets, the decision is now left to the Ohio biology teachers to interpret the Life Science standard and to translate their interpretation into classroom instructional practice.

The Details

In an effort to understand better the effects of the controversy in Ohio biology classrooms, a state- wide descriptive survey study was conducted in spring–summer 2003. In April 2003, 900 Ohio biology teachers received a 62-item paper survey that included questions about the classroom emphasis they place on evolution and counter-evolution concepts in the classroom. The instrument also collected information about the teachers’ academic preparation, certification status, regional location, school type, and perceptions on the role of evolution in science.

By June 2003, 210 of the surveys were returned (23.3% return rate), and of these 189 were entered into the analysis of data. The teachers were academically well prepared, professionally qualified, and experienced. A majority of the teachers were certified to teach biology in Ohio (94%), and 55.5% had taken a course in biological evolution as part of their academic training. Thirty-one percent (30.6%) of the teachers had obtained a bachelor’s degree, and 65.6% earned a master’s degree. The teachers were experienced with a median 13 years of teaching experience (mean = 15 years).

Eighty percent (80.2%) of the teachers were teaching in public schools, and of all responding teachers, 55.1% were located in suburban regions, 30.8% from rural, and 14.1% from urban areas. All were teachers of secondary school science, with 82.8% located in high school, 14.5% in middle school, and 2.7% in both middle and high school. Written comments were made by 81% of the respondents on an optional section of the survey instrument. The large proportion of surveys with written comments was interpreted as evidence that this issue was significant to these teachers.

Data indicated that the responding sample of teachers gave little to no emphasis to counter-evolutionary concepts (“intelligent design” and creationism); whereas they gave moderate to strong emphasis to evolutionary concepts (diversity, human evolution, pace and rate of evolution, evidence for evolution, speciation, descent with modification, and natural selection). With the advent of the new standards for life science, teachers reported that they would not decrease emphasis on evolution (88%), nor would they change the content that they would use to teach evolution (71%). When asked about emphasis on counter-evolution concepts, however, the responding teachers demonstrated less unanimity. Thirty-one percent (31%) of the teachers agreed that they would give some emphasis to “intelligent design” and creationism in their classes, and an additional 11–16% were undecided about their emphasis on anti-evolution content.

The study also demonstrated that certain specific factors influence teachers’ emphasis on evolutionary and counter-evolutionary concepts. These factors: professional and academic preparation (certification status, college degree, and having a course in evolution), personal beliefs about evolution in science, and perceptions of support from principal and from the community.

The Bottom Line

Because biology teachers are left to interpret the confusing parenthetical statement about “intelligent design”, and as a result of the model lesson for Standard H, the door to the inclusion of non-scientific tenets in the science classroom is now open. The results from the small sample responding to this survey seem to indicate that the teachers will not change the emphasis they place on evolution in their classrooms; however,one third of the teachers intend to include counter-evolutionary concepts in their classroom curriculum. Furthermore, 11–16% of the responding teachers were undecided about their emphasis on counter-evolution concepts, leading to the possibility that one half of the responding teachers could potentially address “intelligent design” and/or creationism in their classrooms.

Who is Affected?

Most proximally, this survey speaks of a select sample of teachers in Ohio; however, as the nationwide debate over “intelligent design” and the perceived need to “teach the controversy” continue to spark flare-ups in other regions, the information provided by Ohio teachers in the context of their state debate may illuminate the actions and activities of educators, administrators, and state policy boards in other states.

Caveats

As with any survey research, the power of the study rests largely in the ability of a small portion of responding individuals to represent the positions of individuals across a larger population. In studies with very large populations, such as all biology teachers across the state of Ohio, achieving a substantial representation becomes very difficult. Because the return rate was substantially lower than anticipated but not entirely unexpected, the researchers, in an abundance of caution, decided that the data in this study were not necessarily representative of all Ohio biology teachers. Instead, the data could only be interpreted from within the responding sample, a group who are likely energized and interested in the Ohio debate. Still, the value of the data rests in the ability to voice the concerns of the teachers who otherwise were not specifically considered in the state curriculum debate.

The Study

This study was conducted by Kim Bilica, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech University. A manuscript is currently in progress for potential publication. [*The research summary format is based upon a ASCD ResearchBrief (http://www.ascd.org/cms/index.cfm?TheViewID=887). Used with permission. The findings of this study were originally presented at the NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 1–3, 2004.]

References

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1990. Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

[AAAS] American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

[NRC] National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington (DC): National Academy Press.

Ohio Academic Content Standards. 2002, December. Available on-line at http://www.ode.state.oh.us/academic_content_standards/acsscience.asp. Last accessed October 1, 2003.

[US DOE] United States Department of Education. 2002. No Child Left Behind Act. Available on-line at http://www.nclb.gov/. Last accessed April 15, 2003.

About the Author(s): 
Kimberly Bilica
Assistant Professor
Learning and Instruction
515 Baldy Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo NY 14260-1000
kbilica@buffalo.edu

Gerald Skoog
Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
Box 41071
College of Education
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX 79409-1071
gerald.skoog@ttu.edu

Questioning "Flood Geology"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Questioning "Flood Geology": Decisive New Evidence to End an Old Debate
Author(s): 
William Parkinson
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2004
Date: 
January–February
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Especially since the publication of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb’s book The Genesis Flood (1961), young-earth creationists have claimed a scientific basis for their view that a historic, worldwide flood shaped the major geophysical features of the earth. A key problem for "flood geologists" is the order and sequence of fossil remains in the geological record. In order to construe the bulk of the geologic column as a result of a single global deluge, flood geologists must replace the current scientific explanation of the fossil record as a result of preservation of series of contemporaneous ecological associations of organisms with one that is consistent with the aftermath of a major geologic catastrophe.

Modern taphonomic studies clearly distinguish the patterns of deposition of organic remains after severe modern flooding from those produced by other processes. The fact that the bulk of the fossil record does not show evidence of the sudden, catastrophic deposition expected from a massive flood means that most of the fossiliferous strata were laid down by some other geologic process. Furthermore, contravening the expectations from a large flood, the fossil record records a succession in the history of life consistent with a theory that is based on the emergence of new species via descent with modification from common ancestors.

A critical requirement of the flood model is to provide a reasonable explanation for this observed stratigraphic succession of both flora and fauna — a universal feature of the fossil record. In an attempt to solve this problem, flood model advocates quickly seized upon the fact that ecosystems naturally vary; as one travels from the seashore to the highlands or from the equator to the poles, the characteristic plants and animals that make up ecological communities will also vary. Invoking this well-documented observation, flood model advocates applied the term "ecological zonation" (EZ) to the hypothesis they developed to account for the observed stratigraphic succession of organisms.

In brief, EZ postulates that, as the water of the Flood rose, organisms were buried according to the ecological zones in which they lived. Thus, according to flood model proponents, marine organisms would be buried first, as sediments derived from the breakdown of rocks that formed the land flowed into the continental shelf and farther into the ocean basins. The next layer would be organisms from near-shore terrestrial environments, and as the water continued to rise, organisms from higher elevations would finally fall victim, or so the explanation goes. Thus, EZ is supposed to account for the well-documented biostratigraphic succession from marine organisms to amphibians and on to organisms fully adapted to terrestrial environments. The development of EZ in the first place is a recognition by flood geologists that the fossil record does not look at all like the outcome of a large-scale flood.

Naturally, flood geologists have overlooked a few facts that demonstrate that EZ is untenable. I will review two significant flaws in the EZ hypothesis that also expose the fundamental explanatory failure of the flood model: its inability to explain the distribution of organisms (the biostratigraphic order) and the pattern of the layers of rocks (the lithostratigraphic order) of the geologic column.

EZ doesn’t do it

The first argument rests upon the observations of the geological record for North America, as summarized in the Geological Society of America’s Decade of North American Geology (DNAG is a series of books about the physiographic geology of North America issued through the 1980s in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of GSA, including an authoritative timescale as of 1986). These observations document that in the past, during most of the early Paleozoic Era, most of North America was covered by broad shallow (epeiric) seas. Indeed, geological atlases show that most of the North American continental interior and continental shield (craton) was covered by these shallow seas and was of very low relief — a relatively flat seabed, with no major valleys or mountains. By contrast, the area known as the Canadian Shield — a large region of Proterozoic rock with little in the way of more recent fossil or sedimentary deposits — was apparently not covered by these shallow seas.

Thus, in North America the Cambrian Period (see Table 1), for example, is dominated by strata bearing organisms of marine origin. Similarly, the Ordovician and Silurian periods are also composed almost exclusively of marine deposits. Later, the Devonian and Carboniferous periods are also composed of large amounts of marine strata, except for deposits near the Appalachians and part of what would become the Rocky Mountains. This is because a series of continental collisions that occurred during that time period formed the Appalachians, proto-Rockies, and several other areas of significant relief.



Except for the Canadian Shield, the oldest North American deposits in undisturbed strata always contain marine organisms; terrestrial organisms only occur in more recent strata. Evolutionary theory accounts for this by the successive diversification of descendants that colonized the land from ancestors who were solely or chiefly living in the water. There are no undisturbed strata in which organisms from, say, the Phanerozoic are mixed with or appear in strata older than those of the Proterozoic.

This observation is extremely damaging for young-earth creationists promoting EZ during Noah’s Flood to explain the distribution of rock layers and organisms in the geologic record. Even the work of John Woodmorappe (who is also known as Jan Peczkis; 1999) that attempts to discredit the geologic column as an artifice built up by loose deductive reasoning inadvertently confirms that the Canadian Shield constituted dry land during the Phanerozoic. It also confirms that the rest of North America was covered with water during the purported "pre-Flood" period. This means that the terrestrial organisms in the sediments throughout North America had to have been transported thousands of kilometers from their habitats on the Canadian Shield to their final deposition locations. To accomplish this, somehow terrestrial vertebrates and plants had to have been uprooted from their original locations, floated into their present positions, and then settled out of the water carrying them to be deposited in a way that preserves the major components of the biocenosis (a natural assemblage of organisms or a living community).

But this raises other serious problems for EZ — and puts this model at odds with another creationist "explanation" for the geologic column, hydrodynamic sorting (HS). Proponents of HS argue that organisms that can float, swim, or even outrun flood waters will be found higher in the geologic column that those that cannot. How is it possible, then, for organisms with such divergent hydrodynamic properties first to be transported together long distances then later to settle to the bottom and be deposited in a manner that preserves local ecological communities? EZ fails to explain how (younger) rocks of the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic eras have come to have fossil terrestrial organisms situated in their proper ecological context, rather than as mixed assemblages of fossil organisms whose ecological relationships with other organisms have been disrupted by the violent waters of the Flood.

Furthermore, how can transport and burial of nearly all terrestrial flora and fauna come to mimic the order that evolutionary theory would require (for example, assemblages of marine organisms in earlier deposits, with near-shore amphibians, then reptiles, and then birds and mammals, each associated with its own particular flora in successively later deposits)? Flood model advocates embrace EZ to explain this succession, but with almost all of North America covered by epeiric seas prior to the onset of the Flood, as even Woodmorappe’s study (1999) shows, they are forced to accept that the only place where EZ could operate as envisioned for terrestrial organisms is in the area of the Canadian Shield, from where the organisms would be transported by the Flood waters over the rest of North America.

One of the biggest challenges for EZ is the "dinosaur freeway" documented by Martin Lockley (Lockley and others 1992). For example, the Caririchnium ichnofacies (a rock unit characterized by a distinctive suite of trace fossils) is a megatrackway consisting of the footprints of sauropods and theropods (plant-eating and meat-eating dinosaurs, respectively) can be found over an area of 80 000 square kilometers. Of course, the Caririchnium ichnofacies and numerous other similar ichnofacies were formed by the actions of many dinosaurs walking on dry land.

But on the flood model, the terrestrial animals responsible for these tracks must have been transported by water from terrestrial habitats far removed from the areas where the trackways were produced. To make that journey, these animals had to survive long-distance water transport, touch down over a wide area on the North American continent, and somehow make tracks on the seabed before they all perished in the Flood. Only wildly ad hoc hypotheses seem capable of explaining the survival of the organisms until they reach the site, or the creation of these tracks, especially given that all of these areas were already under the waters of the epeiric seas prior to the arrival of the organisms (see, for example, "Bibliolatry revisited" by Wilfred Elders, p 33). Of course, the standard — and most rational — conclusion is that the area that was a seabed in the Paleozoic was a terrestrial habitat much later and that the tracks were made by the animals that lived on the land then.

There are more problems for the transport model when we consider the presence of paleosols (ancient soil horizons preserved in the fossil record). In these cases, the soils are arranged in distinguishable layers, clearly an in situ feature. In addition, many paleosols have preserved traces of root systems, including even fine-scale features such as rootlets. Examples of paleosols from the Mesozoic include those of the Triassic Delores Formation documented by Blodgett (1988) and various Cretaceous paleosols studied by Sigleo (1988), to name but a few. If these soils had to endure transport over thousands of kilometers from the Canadian Shield, how did they re-assemble as distinct layers after being mixed up by the violent action of flood waters — including re-assembly of root systems?

So it is easy to see that flood geology is at odds with most of the observations of North American geology. EZ is one model that has been proposed to reconcile these observations with the flood model, but EZ only works if inappropriate ad hoc modifications are made to overcome problems such as those posed by the need to transport ecological communities over large distances and subsequently deposit them mostly intact.

Sedimentary, my dear Watson

Flood geologists have recognized several other problems for the EZ model. For example, one would expect serious erosion and transport of sediment in the worldwide flood. Acknowledging that most present-day sediment cover is found on the cratons of the continents and that the surrounding ocean basins have very little sediment contained within them, Kurt Wise and others (1994) concede that, if the Flood had occurred, the continental rock should have been eroded and subsequently deposited as sediments in the ocean basins — which is clearly not the case. They are forced to postulate that all the sediments and rocks that now cover the continents came from the area of the ocean basins and continental shelves. The mechanism they propose is complex and beyond the scope of this article, but clearly the creationist model requires that virtually all of the sediment that now is contained in sedimentary rock on all the continents was transported over considerable distances to its present location. Taken in conjunction with the earlier observations about geologic deposits in the North American epeiric seas, this means that all the sediments, as well as most of the terrestrial flora and fauna, must have been transported over great distances before being redeposited in an arrangement that resembles their original ecological relationships — and all within a very short time. And time presents the next problem for the flood model.

Readers of RNCSE know that young-earth creationists (YECs) are fond of arguing that the many types of isotopic age determination are based on a series of false premises, untenable assumptions, and biased calculations (see Dalrymple 2000; Thomas 2000; York and Dalrymple 2000). However, there is one aspect of geochronology that is incontrovertible even by such creationists: that isotopic age determination yields progressively older dates for progressively lower stratigraphic levels — even though YECs refuse to accept that these methods accurately estimate the ages of these deposits in the millions of years. This consistency among methods for producing older ages in lower strata is thoroughly verified (Dalrymple 1991). From the geological literature, it is clear that the ages of the upper and lower strata are not separated by a few months (as the flood model requires), but by millions of years.

Since this determination of older ages in lower strata is based on a different relative proportion of isotopes of radioactive elements, it is fair to ask how the flood model accounts for this situation. In essence, the flood model requires that the sediment and its component radioactive elements, after being transported quickly and forcefully over great distances, came to rest in a manner that would place radioactive materials that yield the oldest dates in the lowest strata with progressively higher strata showing younger dates by virtue of a smaller proportion of isotopic decay products. There is no known mechanism that could allow for such segregation. After all, hydrodynamic sorting is based on the qualities of density, buoyancy, and displacement, not on isotopic composition, which should have no effect on the placement of these deposits.

Organic change correlates with geologic time

Another significant feature of the stratigraphic record that cannot be explained by transport is the clear "vector" of biological complexity that runs throughout the geologic column. In recent years some creationists have claimed that organic complexity does not increase from lower (older) to higher (younger) stratigraphic intervals. Although there was never any doubt among paleobiologists about the falsity of this claim, it has, nevertheless, been decisively answered by James Valentine and others (1994) in an article in Paleobiology entitled "Morphological complexity increase in metazoans". Valentine and his coworkers demonstrated that organic complexity indeed increases afrom lower-to-higher stratigraphic intervals.

Taking somatic cell types as their comparative measure of complexity, Valentine and his coworkers noted that at the older end of the scale, the placozoans (which have no tissues, organs, organ systems, heads, or tails) possess only four somatic cell types, while mammals, emerging much later in evolutionary history (represented in their study by hominids), possess over 200 somatic cell types. Plotting times of origin of body plans against cell type numbers, they discovered that complexity, as measured by the number of somatic cell types, increase in the fossil record, at an average rate of about 1 cell type per 3 million years.

Clearly, organic complexity does increase throughout geologic time.

Of course, this finding completely contradicts any model according to which the pattern of deposition of fossil organisms was produced by their transportation in a single violent flood into their present positions. What mechanism can flood geologists invoke to explain how organisms naturally subject to simple hydrodynamic principles nevertheless should end up in the fossil record in a manner that mimics the pattern that we would expect to find if organic evolution were true?

Tracks and traces

A further problem for the flood model is the abundance of trace fossils and tracks: there is no significant stratum in the Mesozoic (or even later in the Cenozoic) in which we cannot find either individual prints (ichnites) produced by terrestrial organisms or plentiful terrestrially-produced suites of trace fossils created by ecologically related organisms (ichnocoenoses). This means that at no time in the Mesozoic was the earth so completely flooded that terrestrial organisms could not walk upon the surface. If, in fact, a global flood had covered the earth during the Mesozoic, terrestrial animals hardly could create trace fossils on the surface! Thus at no time during the Mesozoic was the earth entirely covered by water.

The implications of fundamental geologic and paleontologic observations for flood geology are profound. When creationists are forced to realize that the geologic column cannot be explained in terms of transport mechanisms, then they are forced to recognize that the geologic column represents the product of natural forces acting over an immense span of time. A corollary of this recognition is that measurable morphological change, so richly documented by the fossil record, is real and indeed, a product of evolution. However, the response typical of YECs is to invent ad hoc modifications of their models in an attempt to make observations consistent with a short-term worldwide flood. In every case, the standard evolutionary and geological models produce satisfactory explanations of the observation that are corroborated by independent research in several scientific fields.

References

Blodgett RH. 1988. Calcareous paleosols in the Triassic Dolores Formation, southwestern Colorado. In: Reinhardt J, Sigleo W, editors. Paleosols and Weathering Through Geologic Time: Principles and Applications. Boulder (CO): The Geological Society of America. p 103–22.

Dalrymple GB. 1991. The Age of the Earth. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press.

Dalrymple GB. 2000. Radiometric dating does work! Some examples and a critique of a failed creationist strategy. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 14–8.

Lockley MG, Holbrook J, Hunt A, Matsukawa M, Meyer C. 1992.The dinosaur freeway: A preliminary report on the Cretaceous Megatracksite, Dakota Group, Rocky Mountain Front Range and High Plains, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. In: Flores R, editor. Mesozoic of the Western Interior, SEPM, Midyear Meeting Guidebook. p 39–54.

Sigleo W. 1988. Paleosols from some Cretaceous environments in the southeastern United States. In: Reinhardt J, Sigleo W, editors. Paleosols and Weathering Through Geologic Time: Principles and Applications. Boulder (CO): The Geological Society of America. p 123–42.

Thomas D. 2000. Nuclear isochrons. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 26–9.

Valentine JW, Collins AG, Meyer PC. 1994. Morphological complexity increase in metazoans. Paleobiology 20 (2): 131–42.

Whitcomb JC, Morris HM. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Implications. Phillipsburg (NJ): The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Wise KP, Austin SA, Baumgardner JR, Humphreys DR, Snelling AA, Vardiman L. 1994. Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global model of earth history. In: Walsh RE, editor. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh (PA): Creation Science Fellowship Inc. p 609–21.

Woodmorappe J. 1999. The essential nonexistence of the evolutionary-uniformitarian geologic column: A quantitative assessment. In: Studies in Flood Geology: A Compilation of Research Studies Supporting Creation and the Flood. 2nd ed. El Cajon (CA): Institute for Creation Research. p 105–30.

York D, Dalrymple GB. 2000. Comments on a creationist’s irrelevant discussion of isochrons. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (3): 18–20, 25–7.

About the Author(s): 
William Parkinson
3415 Bryce Drive
Lake Stevens WA 98258
ameradian1@aol.com

Bibliolatry Revisited: Review: Grand Canyon

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Reviewer: 
Wilfred A Elders
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Grand Canyon: A Different View
Author(s): 
Tom Vail (ed.)
Green River (AR): Master Books, 2003. 104 pages.
On August 10, 1869, Major John Wesley Powell and his party — the first Europeans to explore the length of the Grand Canyon — reached the confluence of the Río Colorado and the Chiquito Colorado (Little Colorado), 71 days after leaving Green River Station, Wyoming. Their frail wooden boats were in need of repair, half of their gear was lost, their dwindling supply of food was thoroughly soaked, and their clothing was in rags. Yet the scenery inspired them with awe. Powell wrote in his diary:
We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth and the great river shrinks into insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above: they are but puny ripples, and we are but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among boulders. We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channels, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not (Powell 1895: 247).
The Canyon’s falls, rocks, channels, and walls are now familiar to people around the globe. Each year more than 4 million visitors view its spectacular scenery, and tens of thousands of them hike to the river or raft its rapids. Among them were participants in the National Center for Science Education’s (NCSE) third whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in August 2003.

Powell felt pigmy-like against the immensity of the Canyon. Just as its scale dwarfs our everyday sense of place, its geology dwarfs our human sense of time. Perhaps here, more than anywhere else on the planet, we can experience a sense of “Deep Time”. Powell (1895) also wrote, “The thought grew in my mind that the canyons of this region would be a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved bible of geology.” Today we know that the colorful, “rock-leaved bible” exposed in the vertical walls of the Canyon displays a span of 1.8 billion years of earth history (Beus and Morales 2002). But wait! There is a different view! According to a new book about the Grand Canyon, this time span is only 6000 years and the Grand Canyon and its rocks are a record of Noah’s Flood and the 6 days of creation (Vail 2003). In asserting that these were the only two significant geological events in the earth’s history, this text rejects the whole idea of the geologic column and radioisotope dating, which must surely be among the most robust ideas in science. During my visit to the Grand Canyon in August 2003, I learned that this book, Grand Canyon: A Different View (GCDV), was being sold in bookstores within the national park (Elders 2003).

To me GCDV is remarkable; it is the only young-earth creationist (YEC) text that I have enjoyed reading. Its author and compiler, Thomas Vail of Canyon Ministries, has been a river guide for many years and knows the Grand Canyon at river-level better than most people. However, it is not his ideas that I found attractive but rather the striking layout and many beautiful photographs of the Grand Canyon that enhance the text. These are largely the work of another river guide, Charly Heavenrich, about whom Vail writes, “Although he does not share the creationist point of view, he is profoundly moved by the canyon and the depth of courage and ability he sees in the people who travel with him” (GCDV, p 104). The book is remarkable in another way: because it has 23 co-authors — a veritable “Who’s Who in Creationism” (Steven Austin, John Baumgardner, Ken Cumming, Duane Gish, Werner Gitt, Ken Ham, William Hoesch, Russell Humphreys, Alex Lalomov, John MacArthur, Henry Morris, John Morris, Terry Mortenson, Michael Oard, Gary Parker, Scott Rugg, Andrew Snelling, Keith Swanson, Larry Vardiman, Tasman Walker, John Whitcomb, Carl Wieland, and Kurt Wise). To borrow a line from the classic movie Casablanca, Vail must have sent out a call to “round up the usual suspects”. For example, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, the authors of the seminal YEC text, The Genesis Flood (Whitcomb and Morris 1961), each contribute a brief introduction.

The format of GCDV has each chapter beginning with an overview by Vail followed by brief comments by other contributors. A note on the contents page lays out the ground rules of such participation: “All contributions have been peer reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective”. This perspective is extreme biblical literalism. Thus, in my opinion, GCDV combines both bad theology and bad science.

As a scientist, perhaps it would be inappropriate for me to dwell on GCDV’s bad theology. It should be sufficient to remind myself that mainline Christian denominations long ago rejected the idea the earth began on Sunday, October 23, 4004 bce, at 9:00 in the morning, London time (Nicolson 2003: 149) and that they espouse the findings of evolutionary scientists. (See, for example, published statements on evolution by Pope John Paul II.) On the other hand, the words of Paula Vail (Tom Vail’s wife, to whom GCDV is dedicated) epitomize the YEC worldview. She writes, “[T]he Bible has proven correct in every detail to which it speaks.” She goes on to state that these details include “the water cycle, the jet stream and movements of the winds, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, atomic structure, oceanography, dinosaurs, medicine, and astronomy” (GCDV, p 94).

GCDV complements and builds on the much more detailed YEC text on the geology of the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research (Austin 1994). My review of that book in RNCSE concluded that Austin had written a contribution to “bibliolatry” (absolute dependence on a group of sacred writings as infallible) rather than to geological sciences (Elders 1998: 14). Austin countered that I was trivializing creationist scholarship and urged me “to come to grips with the fact that creationists have a continuing research program at Grand Canyon” (Austin 1999: 14). My response was that this research fell far short of having the quality and quantity necessary to overthrow the paradigms of science and cause a revolution in geology (Elders 1999). GCDV gives us a bird’s-eye view of that continuing “research” program.

Unfortunately GCDV presents YEC ideas as a series of assertions without substantive documentation of evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and in this regard GCDV is an extraordinary failure. Just one small example: Vail (GCDV: 32) writes, “… in the creationist’s view, the carving of the Canyon would have taken place when the sedimentary layers were still soft, allowing the catastrophic erosion process to quickly and easily cut through the layers”. Today the Canyon walls stand 1600 m high in a series of cliffs and benches. These benches form where softer rocks, such as the Bright Angel Shale, have been eroded. The cliffs are formed of harder, more resistant rocks such as the Redwall Limestone. Given that all these rocks formed from muds, clay-rich in the case of the shales and calcium carbonate-rich in the case of the limestones, the onus is on Vail to demonstrate that plastic muds could stand in such enormous cliffs while being catastrophically eroded.

For another example, we can turn to the problem that radioisotope dating presents for young-earth creationists. The words of Henry Morris in GCDV (p 17) nicely encapsulate their problem: “The dating of rocks by the radioactive decay of certain minerals is undoubtedly the main argument today for the dogma [sic] of an old earth”. Vail’s book extends the well-worn, and previously refuted, YEC arguments attacking radiometric dating of igneous rocks in the Grand Canyon (see, for example, Stassen 2003). In GCDV (p 39), Snelling reports new radiometric dates from a Proterozoic intrusion in the Grand Canyon, the Bass Diabase Sill, as follows: K/Ar 841 million years (Ma), Rb/Sr 1055 Ma, U/Pb 1249 Ma, and Sm/Nd 1375 Ma.

However, Snelling’s treatment is too brief to discuss potential problems with these samples such as alteration, possible argon loss, the low content of uranium in basaltic rocks, isotopic ratios that may be inherited from source areas, and so on, that are well known to produce avoidable errors in isotopic age estimates. However, he goes on to claim that the spread in the reported ages discredits the whole concept of radiometric dating! His conclusion is, “Indeed, the obvious way to explain the gross disagreements between these dates is that the decay rates have been different in the past than they are today” (GCDV, p 39). Snelling needs to develop this theme, and particularly to explain the thermal consequences to the planet of compressing 4.5 billion years of radioactivity into less than 6000 years and the consequences to the cosmos of changing the fundamental laws of physics.

Space considerations prevent discussion here of all the absurdities propounded by the authors of GCDV. However, the chapter “Fossils in the Grand Canyon” (GCDV, p 48–55) offers some particularly egregious examples. For example, without offering any evidence, Wise (GCDV, p 54) refers to fossils in the Grand Canyon that were the product of “... a continent-sized floating forest”. Ham (GCDV, p 55) correctly points out that, “As we look at the Grand Canyon, we see layer upon layer of rock that contains billions of dead things.” But he goes on to say, “The evidence from the layers is consistent with their having been laid down catastrophically, by hydrodynamic action of water — exactly as we would expect from the global Flood of Noah.” Austin (1994: 147) concurred with this view, stating, “It is not clear whether the order of appearance of organisms in Grand Canyon, or anywhere else on earth, for that matter, is necessarily any different than a random order which a flood might produce.”

According to Austin, the time elapsed between the 6 days of creation and Noah’s Flood was only 1656 years (Austin 1994: 65). These numbers require that all of the billions of fossils in each of the layers of the Grand Canyon (and, for that matter, all other fossils in so-called “Flood rocks” throughout the world) would have to have lived together during this postulated 1656 years. This situation requires that the carrying capacity of the ecological niches occupied by these organisms in the YEC “pre-flood” world would have to have been many orders of magnitude greater than is possible in the geologist’s evolutionary world.

This raises additional problems for the YEC position. According to Genesis 1:1–31, the dry land (rocks?) and plants were created on Day 3 of creation, marine animals and birds on Day 5, and land animals, including humans, on Day 6. The sources of the sediments supposed to have been deposited by Noah’s Flood could have been both “created” and “post-creation week” rocks. However, “created” rocks could not be the source of the fossils found in the “Flood” rocks, since all organisms should have been created later and presumably were living in the postulated 1656 years elapsed between creation and flood. According to Austin (1994: 57), the Great Unconformity at the base of Grand Canyon’s Paleozoic section marks the onset of Noah’s flood. If the sedimentary rocks below this unconformity, the Late Proterozoic Grand Canyon Supergroup, formed during and after Day 3 of creation week, they should carry a record of the abundant life between creation and the flood and should therefore be the among most fossiliferous on earth.

Unfortunately for the YEC position, this is not the case. The only fossils reported from the sediments of the Grand Canyon Supergroup are algal stromatolites and scattered occurrences of obscure micro-organisms (Beus and Morales 2002: 66).

GCDV disagrees with Austin (1994) on where to place the base of Noah’s flood in the geological record of the strata of Grand Canyon. Tasman Walker states, “Most creation scientists place the Flood’s commencement either within, or at the base of the Grand Canyon Supergroup” (GCDV, p 36–7). But reducing the amount of exposed “pre-Flood” sedimentary rocks compounds the problem. If not in the Grand Canyon, where on earth do “post-creation and pre-Flood” sedimentary rocks occur? We should be able to recognize them easily, as they would have to be much more highly fossiliferous than any “Flood” or “post-Flood” rock and contain fossils drawn from the whole geologic column. Such occurrences are unknown to science. In spite of Gish’s claims to the contrary (GCDV, p 44–5), the so-called Cambrian “explosion” of life, following the world-wide paucity of fossils in the Precambrian, is a major problem for the YEC position.

What were the conditions under which the “flood” rocks of Austin and Walker were laid down? GCDV actually illustrates some excellent evidence about the environment of deposition of some of the Paleozoic rocks, containing (p 48–9) photographs of trace fossils in the Cambrian Bright Angel Shale that Vail calls “fossilized worm tubes”. These are the products of marine animals that were filter feeders and deposit feeders that burrowed in the mud of the Cambrian sea; and they were living in place, just as their counterparts do in modern seas today (Beus and Morales 2003: 98). Many other horizons within the strata of the Grand Canyon are replete with examples of bioturbation and animal tracks. A well-known example is the abundance of invertebrate and vertebrate trace fossils in the eolian deposits of the Permian Coconino Sandstone. These dune-bedded desert sands even have well-preserved raindrop impressions (Beus and Morales 2003: 173). These occurrences all indicate that animals lived and died in, or on, the sediments in which we now find their traces, rather than having been transported there by catastrophic flooding, as is repeatedly asserted by GCDV.

Most YEC authors writing about paleontology, such as Gish, limit themselves to criticizing evolution rather than carrying out their own research. One exception to this rule is Austin, a creationist who actually does fieldwork and research. But the bad news is that Austin’s religious predilections lead him to make unwarranted conclusions and to appeal to unlikely processes. For a scientist who asserts that the fossils in the strata of the Grand Canyon occur “... in the random order which a flood might produce,” Austin has devoted considerable effort in recent years to the study of a decidedly non-random fossil occurrence in the Grand Canyon, the nautiloids near the top of the Whitmore Wash Member, the lowest unit of the Mississippian Redwall Limestone.

These nautiloids were free-floating, chambered cephalopods, similar to the modern nautilus, but they were straight (“orthocone”) instead of coiled, and averaged about 45 cm long. They occur in an approximately 2 m thick horizon, overlain by a chert-rich zone of the Thundersprings Member of the Redwall Limestone (Beus and Morales 2003: 115). Austin (GCDV, p 52) writes, “... this fossil bed occupies an area of at least 5700 square miles and contains an average of one fossilized nautiloid per square yard.” He interprets this as having been caused by “a catastrophic event of regional extent, resulting in a mass-kill of an entire population of nautiloids,” an event caused by “a massive sandy debris flow.” In oral presentations (Austin and Wise 1995; Austin and others 1999), Austin described this debris flow as “a hyperconcentrated flow” that he likened to a pyroclastic density current or ignimbrite, moving over a very gentle gradient, and he also stressed the common association of the nautiloids with vertical structures he calls “water-escape pipes”. All this he takes as a manifestation of Noah’s Flood (GCDV, p 53).

It would take a great deal of space to discuss fully Austin’s ideas about this interesting occurrence. Such a discussion would have to consider the following issues: (i) Is the number of nautiloids exaggerated and is extrapolation to such a large area justified? (ii) Is the interpretation of a mass-kill event warranted? (iii) Why are such fossil concentrations usually attributed to accumulation over long intervals during which sedimentation was restricted? (iv) Is the mechanism of a high velocity “hyperconcentrated flow” that moved enormous distances over a low gradient probable, and is it required by the structural and textural nature of the deposit? Austin knows these occurrences better than anyone and should answer these questions.

I have examined these nautiloids in only a few localities within the Grand Canyon National Park, to which he was kind enough to direct me, where I noted that a nautiloid fossil occurred about once every 4 or 5 square meters. From this I infer that either Austin has collected most of the samples from these localities or the abundance of nautiloids claimed is exaggerated. However, unlike Austin, I hesitate to extrapolate from observations at a few isolated localities to a huge area. Furthermore, most of the nautiloid fossils I saw, and that Austin illustrates, were intact. Could they have survived the turbulence that must occur in a fast moving, subaqueous, debris flow? In nature, mass-kill events certainly occur — by red tides, volcanic eruptions, and storm-induced processes flows, for example. However, in order to recognize a mass-kill, we need to understand the population structure of the animals concerned, and to consider factors such as episodic spawning, variable growth rates, the complex diurnal behavior of cephalopods, and so on.

Evidence bearing on the question “Did this nautiloid assemblage accumulate instantaneously or over many generations?” should be present in the deposit itself. Do the dolomitization and the prominent chert horizon overlying the nautiloid bed represent diagenesis during a hiatus in deposition? Similarly, are Austin’s “water escape tubes” actually poorly preserved animal burrows (Skolithos)? High concentrations of fossil nautiloids occur elsewhere, for example, in Morocco and in the Czech Republic. Ferretti and Kríz (1995) describe several such examples in the Silurian of the Prague Basin and attribute them to the effects of surface currents or re-deposition in shallower environments by storm events during broad scale fluctuations in sea level. Why not the same in the Grand Canyon?

Different creationist authors in GCDV adopt two contradictory philosophical positions: (1) their interpretation of sacred texts is all that is necessary to interpret the geology of the Grand Canyon; and (2) their interpretation of the geology confirms the sacred texts. As an example of the first position, we can cite Walker who writes, “Before we can properly understand geology, we need to know the earth’s history. Unlike secular geologists, creationists don’t need to speculate about history because we accept the eyewitness accounts of past events, preserved in a reliable written record — the Bible” (GCDV, p 36). On the other hand, Gary Parker states, “When biblical creationists/ flood geologists offer explanations for the rock layers in the Grand Canyon, they appeal neither to biblical authority (the Bible doesn’t mention the Grand Canyon!) nor to mystical or supernatural processes. They appeal, instead, directly to the evidence we can see, touch, and measure” (GCDV, p 25).

Thus Walker appears to promote starting from biblical authority whereas Parker appears to operate from a position that Walker would call “secular geology”. But is that the case? According to his brief biography (GCDV, p 101), Parker “has published a number of books from both a secular and creationist point of view”. Only one of them is referenced in GCDV (p 103), but from that book (Parker 1985) we can follow a trail that illustrates where his self-professed “secular” approach has led. In the 1985 edition of that book (the version available to me), he writes, “Grand Canyon seems to be part of a crack in the earth’s crust. It starts in Mexico and runs underground all the way up to Yellowstone Park” (Parker 1985: 53). He continues:
Grand Canyon started as a sort of earthquake fault. … The floodwaters poured down into the crack from all directions in great abundance. The soft sediments washed away quickly too before they turned into rock. And that would make the canyon form very fast. And of course further erosion has sharpened the features of the canyon over the past several thousand years since the Flood (Parker 1985: 54).
If Parker has evidence of a crack running from Mexico to Yellowstone that he can “see, touch, or measure,” I urge him to publish his findings, for this tectonic feature is totally unknown in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Similarly, although there are several faults that cut across the Grand Canyon, one of the remarkable features of the region is that the course of the Colorado River seems to be so little controlled by faulting (Beus and Morales 2003, Figure 14.4).

In another attempt to “come to grips with the creationists’ continuing research program at Grand Canyon,” as Austin advised me to do, I consulted another of the references cited in GCDV (p 103). Vardiman (1999) offers an even more startling insight into creationists’ geological thinking in discussing the occurrence of animal tracks in the Coconino Sandstone, just below the rim of the Canyon:
Another fascinating mystery is why there were animals leaving footprints so late in the flood. … Dinosaur tracks, which are often found in the Morrison formation, are located at even higher levels in the geologic strata. It would appear that some animals were able to escape the water until later in the flood. Many were strong swimmers but they may have migrated to higher ground or clung to floating vegetation and were killed later as the waters finally reached them. Dr John Baumgardner, a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has suggested that circulating water inundating the continents may have formed giant whirlpools with dry floors near the center until late in the flood. This may have allowed animals near the center of the continents to initially escape the flood waters but were then overwhelmed when the events of the flood reached their zenith (Vardiman 1999: 17).
The Morrison Formation occurs approximately 3000 m above the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks. Since fossils of these dinosaurs are absent from the intervening strata, apparently all of them possessed the necessary agility to escape. This is surprising, because a simple calculation of the centripetal force necessary to sustain a whirlpool 3 km deep and with a radius of 3 km reveals that the water at its base would have to rotate at a linear velocity of more than 30 000 km per hour! Bigger whirlpools require bigger velocities. We see footprints of fast-moving dinosaurs, but where are the footprints of these supersonic whirlpools?

What is the intended readership of GCDV? Vail takes as his text a question from the Book of Joshua 4:6, “What mean ye by these stones?” It seems appropriate to direct him in return to Job 12:8, “Or, speak to the earth and it shall teach thee”. Mortenson writes, “The Scriptural geologists of today find that the evidence in the Grand Canyon confirms the Word of God. Many use the Canyon as ‘Exhibit A’ in their defense of the authority of Scripture against vague forms of theism, atheism, and deism that continue to dent a biblical worldview” (GCDV, p 35). Grand Canyon: A Different View is not a geological treatise. It is “Exhibit A” of a new, slick strategy by biblical literalists to proselytize using a beautifully illustrated, multi-authored book about a spectacular and world-famous geological feature. Allowing the sale of this book within the National Park was unfortunate. In the minds of some buyers, this could imply NPS approval of young-earth creationists and their religious proselytizing.

References

Austin SA, editor. 1994. Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe. Santee (CA): Institute for Creation Research.

Austin SA. 1999. Trivializing creationist scholarship: A reply to Dr WA Elders. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (2): 11–4.

Austin SA, Wise KP. 1995. Nautiloid mass-kill event at a hydrothermal mound within the Redwall Limestone (Mississippian), Grand Canyon. Abstracts with Programs — Geological Society of America 27 (6): 369.

Austin SA, Snelling AA, Wise KP. 1999. Canyon-length mass kill of orthocone nautiloids, Redwall Limestone (Mississippian), Grand Canyon, Arizona. Abstracts with Programs — Geological Society of America 31 (7): 421.

Beus SS, Morales M, editors. 2002. Grand Canyon Geology. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Elders WA. 1998. Bibliolatry in the Grand Canyon. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 18 (4): 8–15.

Elders WA 1999. Creationist scholarship and the Grand Canyon of Arizona. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (2): 15–9.

Elders WA 2003. Different views of the Grand Canyon. Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 84 (38): 384–5.

Ferretti A, Kríz J. 1995. Cephalopod limestone biofacies in the Silurian of the Prague Basin B. Palaios (Research Letters of the Society for Sedimentary Geology) 10: 240–53.

Gish D. 1990. Evolution, The Fossils STILL Say No! Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Nicolson A. 2003. God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. New York: HarperCollins.

Parker GF. 1985. Dry Bones and Other Fossils. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Powell JW. 1895. The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons. Flood & Vincent. [Facsimile edition: New York, Dover, 1961].

Stassen C. 2003. A criticism of the ICR’s Grand Canyon dating project. Available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/icr-science.html. Last accessed March 9, 2004.

Vail T, compiler. 2003. Grand Canyon: A Different View. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Vardiman L. 1999. Over the Edge. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Whitcomb JC, Morris HM. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House.

About the Author(s): 
Wilfred A Elders
Department of Earth Sciences
University of California
Riverside CA 92521
wilfred.elders@ucr.edu