A Survey of Creationist Field Research

Creation Evolution Journal
Title: 
A Survey of Creationist Field Research
Author(s): 
Henry P. Zuidema
Volume: 
2
Number: 
4
Quarter: 
Fall
Page(s): 
1–5
Year: 
1981

A solution to the question of origins cannot be found in the library stacks. The search goes on in the laboratory and out in the field, in biochemistry, paleontology, geology, and supporting disciplines in science. It was therefore inevitable that the "scientific" creationists would have to make a showing in "original research" to lend substance to their claim that the scientific data support biblical revelation over evolution. A summary of some field projects by the Institute for Creation Research will thus be of interest to those seeking to assess the validity of "creation-science."

The Search for Noah's Ark

Among the early ICR projects were the expeditions, begun in 1971, to Mt. Ararat in search of Noah's ark. Though this age-old quest might seem barely amenable to scientific study, there is a Jacques Cousteau allure of being "on the scene" in scientific endeavors and, moreover, ark searches over the years have received good press.

The leader of these expeditions was John D. Morris, son of ICR director Henry Morris. Young Morris at that time had a B.S. in civil engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where his father, a hydrologist who has written extensively on flood geology, had earlier been chairman of the civil engineering department. John Morris recently was awarded a Ph.D. in geological engineering at the University of Oklahoma.

From these expeditions came John Morris's Adventure on Ararat and The Ark on Ararat, two books still featured in the ICR catalog. Adventure on Ararat is described in glowing terms in a 1974 handout as, "A fascinating first-hand story of the search for Noah's ark, believed still to be preserved in a frozen lake somewhere on the high slopes of Mt. Ararat. Exciting adventure, danger, miraculous protection." These books record an enterprise that very evidently was poorly financed and manned.

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A chief backer was a middle-aged Michigan businessman who managed to keep going on the arduous mission to the snow fields at the crest of the 17,000-foot peak. The group of young explorers admittedly had minimal mountaineering experience. The requirements for the volunteers, in fact, had little to do with climbing abilities or scientific background. The criteria specified that participants, financed by families or church groups, should be literate and fluent so as to better relate on their return their experiences to audiences. And they had much to tell.

The group found itself in a restless corner of Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union and Iran and where Kurdish tribesmen long have been in revolt. Suspicious natives fired on the party. Equipment was looted. Bad weather harassed them. There were rock falls, and, during a storm, three members were knocked down by lightning. There was even a brief dispute about leadership which Morris soon settled, convinced, he wrote, that Satan had entered the camp.

There were "sightings" of the ark in the inhospitable terrain of treacherous gorges, but the ark eluded discovery. Morris, writing from his engineering background (as he points out in his reports), nonetheless concluded that the ark must have had a capacity equal to 567 standard railroad stock cars which could hold 50,000 animals. Drawing on zoological research, he saw no great problem concerning the handling of the varied cargo. In time of peril, he argued, such as during floods and forest fires, animals may undergo personality changes and freely mingle.

Future attempts to achieve success have been under discussion, but a member of the ICR staff has counseled that "the Lord will reveal the Ark at a time of His own choosing."

An Expedition to the Bannock Overthrust

Another challenging task was undertaken by the Institute in its investigation of the Bannock overthrust complex, which extends along adjoining corners of Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho. Mapping of rock outcrops in the area by the U.S. Geological Survey and various universities for over half a century shows widespread faulting along mountain fronts with strata pushed up and over other strata, this causing a doubling-up of the normal rock sequence in comparison to what is in adjacent undisturbed regions. The rocks involved are millions of years in age and more recent strata are found buried beneath overthrusts of much older formations.

This set of conclusions on overthrusts conflicts with the opinions of many creationists, including Professor Harold Slusher who teaches physics at the University of Texas-El Paso and who is head of the physical sciences department at Christian Heritage College, of which ICR is a division, and Clifford Burdick, who has been the advisor on geology for the Creation Research Society and was a consultant for, but nonparticipant on, the ark expeditions.

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Assigned to the Bannock project, Slusher and Burdick, together with John Morris and Frank Baxter, proposed that the overthrusts and, in fact, the whole geologic column were the misconceptions of faithless stratigraphers in an attempt to support a sequence of evolutionary deposition over vast eras. To some creationists, such as John Morris, there was a destruction of preexisting strata during a worldwide flood, hence a mixing of sediments and their fossils. All this happened just prior to the Ice Age. Therefore, if they could prove that the Bannock overthrust, with attendant implications, did not exist, then evolution would be deprived of a major support, since fossils would lose their significance.

The four researchers were not pioneers in this venture. The same ground had been covered by George McCready Price, a "scientific" creationist of another generation, whose text, The New Geology, has a place in history as a classic example of pseudoscience.

The initial step in investigations such as these is to consult the literature of previous projects in order to determine what others have already done. Maps and reports were available that could have led the explorers to key areas, such as Monticello Canyon in Utah. There was no need to accept them as authority, but they did indicate where best to search.

Published reports of the ICR Bannock investigation in the November 1974 Acts & Facts, and elsewhere, suggest a hasty reconnaissance of a small part of the overthrusts region in the Wasatch Mountains near Ogden, Utah, and the Heart Mountain area in Cody, Wyoming. The research team reported some evidence of very rapid deposition of strata with an absence of thrusting or sliding. Yet there were inconclusive results, which will necessitate that some factors be rechecked.

Major oil companies, impelled by current energy needs, subsequently invested millions in stockholders' money in the costly venture of deep drilling in order to reach oil and gas which geologic maps suggested could be deeply buried beneath the overthrust. If creationist doubts proved to be valid, would the investments be misspent? Or would geophysics save the oil seekers from metaphysics?

The drillers penetrated ancient sterile strata, which thrust faulting had forced atop more recent petroliferous rocks. They were guided by the recovery of rock fragments and microfossils that have been identified in other oil and gas reservoirs. The result? They struck it rich with the discovery of new fields in both the Rocky Mountain (including the Bannock) and Appalachian thrust belts. The geologic column still stands.

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Exploring Along the Paluxy River

If one were to accept the concept of a very young earth only a few thousand years old, would that mean that dinosaurs and humans existed together at the time of the deluge? This hypothesis has long fascinated ICR, and exploration to research it was started in 1975 in the Paluxy River area, near Glen Rose, Texas.

Few fossil localities have been explored so diligently over so long a period of time as was the Paluxy site. Tons of dinosaur tracks have been removed for display, such as that at the American Museum of Natural History. Paleontologists insist that there are no "human tracks" among these, but science is nourished by the unknown, and such a find would bring crowds to any museum door.

ICR actively entered the Paluxy scene as a result of interest that had been stimulated by a motion picture made by the Films for Christ Association, an Illinois operation. The film makers, in turn, had been attracted to the area by the writings of Burdick, who had been pursuing for forty years evidence of "giant humans" in North America.

Burdick has announced possession of human tracks, or at least plaster casts of these, and a large cat track, claimed to be that of a sabre-tooth tiger. The latter is mentioned in John Morris's book, Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs . . . and the People Who Knew Them, as "reported found in the Glen Rose limestone," the rock through which the Paluxy River has cut its channel. While references to the tiger track are vague, Morris points out that, since these cats are thought to have evolved some 50 million years ago and the Glen Rose strata are dated by geologists as being at least 100 million years old, this discovery "is almost as damaging to evolutionary theory" as are the purported human prints. "One well-documented factual observation," he says, quoting another creationist writer, "would rob the theory of the huge time spans regarded as the conditio sine qua non for evolution to have occurred."

Therein lies the rub. As of this article, not one impression of a human foot, in stone, has been removed from the Paluxy rocks under the precautions needed in such work so as to be available for scientific study. The ICR museum has impressions, but these are plaster casts, and paleontologists want original material for description and identification. There were some rubber pullings taken by the film makers, but word from the museum is that these have now "deteriorated."

Much of the locality where the tracks were supposedly found is state park land and therefore could not be removed without a permit. This is unfortunate, as Morris indicates. In 1975 he and Professor Edward Blick, a member of the ICR advisory board and also on the engineering faculty of the University of Oklahoma, were taken on a tour by Cecil Dougherty, a Glen Rose chiropractor who has been examining the river bed for many years. Dougherty showed them the "manlike tracks." These, Morris said, "included perhaps the most perfect track ever found. This recently exposed track was in a most vulnerable position and, within a year of its discovery, had completely eroded away."

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Morris deplores the fact that other fundamentalists have been critical of the ICR operations in that area. Several universities, including Baylor (which is Baptist), Southern Methodist, and a group of Seventh Day Adventist colleges, have examined the dinosaur trackways. "Baylor studies have been the most extensive," he says, "but, of course, the idea of man prints is ridiculed." The Adventist schools, including California's Loma Linda University, studied the tracks (some of which appeared to be prints of moccasins) but felt that the case for human occupancy in the days of the giant reptiles had not been proved.

The subject is further fogged by the many reports of the fabrication of humanlike prints by residents of the Glen Rose area in an attempt to enhance tourist trade during the economic depression of the thirties.

Other Field Research

The April 1975 Acts & Facts reported the discovery of a new flood tradition by Les and Kathy Bruce, son-in-law and daughter of Henry Morris and missionary linguists with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. They had been working with the Alamblak tribe, who live along the Karawari and Wagumpmeri Rivers in northern Paupua-New Guinea, and had managed to combine into one tale various versions of a flood story from the four clan groups of the tribe. The conclusion was that, since "all nations are descended from the three sons of Noah," then "it would be expected that, through stories passed down (through generations], many of them would retain distorted memories of the great flood." The ICR people felt that this tribe's ancestors had to have had personal knowledge of the deluge, since the tribe now lives too far from Ararat and Babel "to have obtained the flood story from some other source." They disregard the fact that major floods have occurred throughout history in many parts of the globe and that this could be why "such flood stories have been found in tribes all over the world."

In light of this "original research," it appears that the claims of "scientific" creationism can easily be questioned. In fact, after investigating ICR's several field projects, Professor Donald J. Weinshank of Michigan State University could only conclude that "not one of these came even close to observing the accepted standards of the scientific method."

So, as the Institute for Creation Research pursues its mission to "save the world from Darwinism," it might well consider getting out of field work altogether and concentrating on what it does best—library research and quoting evolutionists out of context. Creation "science" is on safer ground being a species of literary criticism. The natural world is too full of booby traps for the eager believer and ICR has turned up nothing to date that its followers had not believed all along.

About the Author(s): 
Henry Zuidema, a paleontologist, is also a science writer and former editor of Earth Science. During 1947-1951 he discovered the Ruby Valley (Montana) fossil insect and plant locality.

Copyright 1981 by Henry P. Zuidema
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.