Friday, October 7, 2011

Tectonic plate movements, more straw man distortions of creationist arguments

On the Seashells on Tops of Mountains thread roxrkool asked pandion what he meant when he argued that it's only the very high mountains in the west and not the low mountains that contain fossils. I wondered too but I was more interested in answering the accusation that creationists think all mountains contain fossils, which isn't the case. I was hoping pandion would come back and answer her but he's ignored her post so far.

Eventually some others have answered her, but it's a frustrating exchange. One of the creationists, Robert Byers, whose posts are hard to follow said this:
...Another answer , mine, would be that these low mts only appeared after the flood as a part of the great upheavel that occured a few centuries after the flood.
The whole backbone of North america exploded and crumpled and from this came many of the mts there.
So no seashells on top.*
I assume he's talking about the movement of the tectonic plates which creationists do believe built the mountains after the Flood, although not as long as centuries afterward. There are differences of opinion about when it occurred but the timing that makes most sense to me is that it started with the eruption of volcanoes at the very beginning of the Flood although the movement may have taken quite some time to get underway. Kurt Wise connects the very start of the heavy rain of the Flood with the heat of the volcanoes as I recall, but I still have to go back and digest his thoughts on this subject.

From my reading on these things I get the impression that the original volcanic action that split the continents and started them moving away from each other would have occurred at what are now the formerly connected edges of those continents or around what are now the ocean bodies between them, and I think this is factually the case -- some of the oldest now-extinct volcanoes are around the Atlantic rim for instance. There's plenty of evidence of former, now-extinct, volcanism in the British Isles for instance and along the North American east coast.

I don't know what Byers, the creationist quoted above, means about how the "backbone of North America exploded and crumpled" or where he got that idea. My impression has been that the volcanic energy that split the continents, along with the lateral spreading movement that energy set in motion, for instance at the mid-Atlantic ridge --where the sea floor spreads or grows in opposite directions, moving the continents of Europe-Africa and the Americas apart from each other-- is what caused the relatively gentle folding of the Appalachians at the outset of the continental movement, but that the more dramatic higher thrust of the Rockies was caused by the greater resistance to that movement by the intervening continental mass of North America as you move farther West from the source of the movement. I hope I'm getting that said clearly. I'd expect something similar on the European continent --gentler buckling near their west coasts and higher mountain thrusts farther east (Alps?), but I'm not familiar enough with their topography to speculate. On the other hand that's a far bigger mass that that would have put up a much greater resistance, which would account for certain differences in the topography.

Then new volcanoes -- release of magma from the ocean floor -- could have been triggered BY the movement of the continental plates so that now the most active ones are around the Pacific rim where the continents are moving toward each other rather than apart.

Well, that's how I've been picturing it for some time now based on different readings on the subject so I'm glad to try to spell out the whole thing, however inadequately.

A couple posts after Byers' noted above, Coyote is objecting to the idea that the "upheaval" described by Byers could have occurred only 4300 years ago especially since conventional geology isn't aware of it. Well, what can one say? They ARE of course aware of the upthrust of the Rockies, they simply conceive of it in a much slower time frame. They operate from a completely different set of presuppositions that determines what they are able to think about these things, and for them their dating methods set it all in concrete so that anything a creationist says about shorter time periods than they acknowledge is going to be met with incredulity. That's just how this debate goes.

Then along comes saab93f to call us "cretins" and decry our refusal to accept the establishment interpretation:
There are plenty of things that our cretin counterparts say that leave me breathless but this "upheaval" has got to be the utmost.
What he means, I must assume, is that he can't wrap his mind around the short TIME FRAME of the upheaval. Byers' post isn't very clear but I assume he's mostly referring to the building of the Rockies by the lateral motion of the spreading tectonic plates, and establishment geologists think of it the same way as I understand it so there's no cause for his breathlessness over the event itself. It's the timing of the event that creationists and old earthers argue about, not the event itself.
It is just so frustratingly incomprehensible when they are presented with the calculations of the amount of energy needed to raise the mountains and move the tectonic plates and they just shrug their shoulders - God did it anyway.
Look, mathematical calculations about energy expenditure from events in the past are just as liable to sheer mystification as any appeal to miracle could be but the usual creationist interpretation of the movement of the tectonic plates does not attribute any of it to God's intervention. With your mathematical calculations you can't possibly have taken into account all the variables involved, and we know you are biased against young earth thinking for starters, so whatever numbers you come up with can't really be respected as evidence no matter how convinced you are of your own mathematical prowess.
It is presumably quite OK to disagree on the ethical issues or on morality - whether it is based on the Bible on Gilgamesh or the Quran but to blatantly oppose the calculations....I guess the only way a religion stays intact is lying.
See, these calculations represent god to him and he's ready to throw us to the lions for refusing to bow down to them despite their dependence on a collection of wild unknowns, essentially pure spin from mental cobwebs spun by old-earth spiders. We're "lying" too of course, that's their favorite hex against our disagreements with them. Amazing.

I noted in Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution is True, which is among other things a fascinating compendium of straw man caricatures of creationist arguments, his remark that the continents are separating much too slowly for creationist views to have any validity:
Now, thanks to global positioning satellite technology, we can even see the continents moving apart, at a speed of two to four inches per years, about the same rate that your fingernails grow. (This, by the way, combined with the unassailable evid4ence that the continents were once connected, is evidence against the claim of 'young-earth" creationists that the earth is only six to ten thousand years old. If that were the case, we'd be able to stand on the west coast of Spain and see the skyline of New York City, for Europe and America would have moved less than a mile apart!)
Sigh. The straw man arguments take up SO much of this debate. What's happening here is simply that Coyne has applied his own uniformitarianism, or his assumption of a constant rate of movement, to the separating of the continents, which of course requires a much much longer time than the 4500 years or so since the Flood for Europe and America to have separated to our current distance from each other.

But creationists are not uniformitarians and we figure the continents must have moved much faster at the beginning when violent volcanism originally split them apart, and have slowed down to their present rate over those 4500 years. As I sketch out above, the picture I have taken from my reading on these things goes like this:
  • the continents started out joined and were split apart by what must have been a pretty violent eruption of a line of volcanoes along the split line some time after the Flood.
  • This violent action would have thrust the land masses apart and buckled the land nearest to the erupting volcanoes into the Appalachians on the American side.
  • The volcanic eruptions became the source of the spreading magma-to-basalt sea floor of the mid-Atlantic ridge which continued to spread the continents up to the present.
  • This action would have been faster at the beginning, though probably because it had a great resistance of the land mass to overcome at the beginning it needed some time to gain the momentum to reach its maximum speed, and then over the millennia it gradually slowed down to its present rate.
  • Its present rate is nevertheless enough to jostle things on the Pacific rim from time to time still, volcanoes and earthquakes for instance.
When Old Earthers aren't objecting that we're wrong because it would take a lot more time on their assumptions to arrive at the current distance between Europe and America, they are objecting to our claim that the movement was faster in the beginning and then slowed down. They get all feverish over the idea as supposedly requiring WAY too much energy and generating WAY too much heat for the planet to survive at all, or at least Noah and his family and animals on the ark. But again their calculations are just their own mental spin based on their own presuppositions, they can't possibly have anticipated all the variables that would have been involved, and we know they are biased, so their cogitations don't amount to a real objection we have to honor. Jerry Coyne's misrepresentations of creationism in his well-respected book on evolution ought to be a clue that their thoughts on the subject aren't to be taken very seriously, not to mention all the ridiculous straw-man stuff at EvC.

I'm certainly no mathematician but I spent some time trying to plot just what the speed would have to be when it started out -- assuming maximum speed at the beginning just to make the calculations easier even though I think it might not have reached its maximum for a while as it had to overcome the resistance of the inert land mass in order to pick up momentum.

So what I did was figure a rough distance of 3000 miles to be traveled in a rough 4500 years, starting at the Flood itself and using Coyne's current rate of 2-4 inches per year. From this I figured that the AVERAGE SPEED that would have to have been maintained to arrive at the current rough distance of 3000 miles apart would have been 3/4 mile in one year, or 3960 feet or 47,520 inches, or 11 feet per day, and I put that number at the midpoint of the time between the Flood and today, or roughly around 100 BC or so. I figure that's the speed at which the continents would have been separating in 100 BC. Before that they were separating at a faster rate that increases back to the beginning, and since then at a slower rate that decreases to the present rate of 2-4 inches per year.

What I arrived at was that at the time of the Flood the speed of separation, again assuming maximum speed at that time though it probably hadn't yet attained that, was one and a half miles per year, or 7920 feet per year, or 600 feet per month or 20 feet per day.

Is 20 feet per day such an outlandishly fast rate? That's ten feet of separation on either side of the mid-Atlantic ridge being generated daily or less than 6 inches hourly, and that was when the originating volcanic action was at its peak so that doesn't seem outlandish to me -- think of how fast a lava flow moves. The sea floor spreads from the uprising of magma all along the Atlantic ridge. That's got to generate quite a bit of pushing power.

The continents would have been within sight of each other for some years although I haven't calculated that aspect of the situation. How many miles can you see across an ocean anyway? Of course there wasn't anyone around at that time to witness it, though I wonder if the first descendants of Noah to get to the western coast of Europe would have been able to see North America across the Atlantic. I suspect not but as I said I haven't tried to calculate all that. [Later: It's hard to get an answer to this question through Google but I finally got some estimates from a chat board -- 7 miles on a perfectly clear day if you're at sea level, 10 if you're higher, up to 25 miles if the land on both sides is high -- how high not said. So separating at a rate of a mile and a half a year you'd lose visibility between the highest points on the best days at about sixteen years. I suspect Noah's progeny weren't anywhere near the European coast for a few hundred years at the very least.]

*Concerning the demands for evidence at EvC:

Along comes Percy as Admin to challenge Robert Byers' post as not providing evidence but only speculating about what the Bible implies.
The idea here is to present positions that are supported by evidence, not speculations. We know you can describe scenarios consistent with Biblical accounts. Everyone concedes that you are able to do this. It is not in dispute.

What is being asked in this thread, and also in the recently closed Potential Evidence for a Global Flood thread, is whether there is any evidence that what you describe is what actually happened. Please present the evidence.
True, Byers refers to the Flood and to the Bible and that sets the tone of the post and doesn't fit what EvC requires for evidence, and the post is hard to decipher anyway, but if what he means by the "upheaval" and the exploding and crumpling "backbone of America" is simply the tectonic plate motion that built the Rockies, which is what I have to think he must mean, all he's said, really, that's different from what standard geology says is place it in a more recent time frame, perfectly standard creationism.

Excluding references to the Bible is an artificial requirement anyway, it seems to me. A witness report is evidence in itself, but they define it in such a way that it's just a "religion" and therefore inadmissible as evidence.

I'm so glad I have my own blog where I don't have to worry about tripping over their artificial rules all the time and can say what needs to be said.

If you want evidence for the more recent time frame, that's a matter of spelling out the whole picture, which would argue for instance that the strata could have been formed by nothing less than a worldwide flood, and that the strata obviously preceded the building of mountains that contain strata with fossils, and there is often evidence that volcanic mountains were formed after the strata were laid down too because there are magma dikes that penetrate up through the strata in the same areas and spill out over the top of them.

But there is no direct evidence possible to prove that all this happened within the last 4500 years that I know of. Again, it's a matter of finding the whole picture plausible or not -- and this is where it would help prevent reinventing the wheel over and over at EvC if some basic creationist presuppositions were simply recognized by all participants so they wouldn't have to be spelled out each time.

Of course if they simply want to exclude the creationist presuppositions because their own presuppositions disqualify them, which in fact is the reality there, then really it ought to be admitted that the debate is a charade anyway. The problem with the demand for evidence IS that evidence is defined within the presuppositions of Old Earth and evolutionary theory and is called Science too.

Posting as a creationist at EvC is a very weird experience of trying to avoid the boobytraps and Catch-22s all created by the enforcement of their assumptions that automatically preclude creationist assumptions. They call it "Science" which obscures their origin in the theories they are defending.


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