Review: Science and Earth History

Creation Evolution Journal
John R. Armstrong, geologist and deacon, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work Under Review
Science and Earth History: The Evolution/Creation Controversy
Arthur N. Strahler
Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987. 552 pages.

The paired shibboleths creation and evolution hide complex issues involving so many disciplines that a comprehensive study provided an exceptional challenge. Arthur N. Strahler, a retired professor and former chairperson of the geology department at Columbia University and a textbook author for thirty-seven years, accepted the immense task in 1981. Having thoroughly examined every aspect and available source of the contentious topics, he checked with numerous colleagues and updated this remarkably readable account to include events as recent as the U.S. Supreme Court's June 19, 1987, decision on the Louisiana creationist legislation. He retained a sense of humor, maintained proper context for his quotations, avoided ad hominem arguments, and criticized each side for the distortions and arrogance which have arisen. Thus, a gentleness rarely encountered amid the bitterly opposed factions characterizes his encyclopedic study. Arthur Strahler is neither a creationist nor a humanist; he is a distinguished scientists who expresses "what natural science is about and how scientists are doing it" through patient explanation of the conflict.

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Lois Darling's fine cover drawing of Charles Darwin's venerable and benign visage is featured under Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel representation of God (almost identical!) in delicious irony. Another three hundred illustrations enhance this volume, in which large pages accommodate about one thousand words per page in two compact columns. Abbreviated and expanded tables of contents and an exhaustive bibliography and index allow quick access to any topic or source. The price is very reasonable for such thorough documentation.

Fifty-four chapters comprise nine parts and a brief "Summation and Verdict—Creation Science Assessed." Philosophy and scope of science, contrasted to pseudoscientific scenarios, are introduced in part one. Research fields and belief fields have been distinguished according to Mario Bunge's criteria ("What Is Pseudoscience?" The Skeptical Inquirer 9:1:36-46). Theology only enters the fray when the fields are mixed in pseudoscience; theists who accept mainstream science have been quoted, including Jesuit scholar James Skehan and the Church of England's Archbishop John Habgood of York, without severe criticism. Part two, "Creationism—Its Roots and Tenets," refers to the "creation science" movement within fundamentalism rather than to the whole gamut of theistic interpretations which do not necessarily confuse the fields. According to this usage, with which I concur, most biblical believers are not creationists.

Parts three through six contrast two views of cosmology and astronomy, geology and crustal history, origins of landscapes, and stratigraphy and the fossil record. The predominant interpretations are independent of Darwinian bias, though all of these sciences are labeled "evolution" by creationist literature and insinuated to be evil. Evolutionary theories as such come into play in the final three sections—"Integrity of the Evolutionary Record Under Attack by Creationists," "The Rise of Man and Emergence of the Human Mind," and "The Origin of Life on Earth—Naturalistic or Creationistic?"

Early history of geological theories may deserve more coverage—not only to show how long ago some creationist explanations began but to demonstrate that diluvialism included moderate positions and greater adaptability to fresh evidence than modem creationism allows. Nonetheless, errors and omissions are few and minor.

Anyone seeking understanding of the issues treated by this book ought to acquire a copy.