Friday, September 28, 2012

Dr. A's Geology Course: Fossils

Today Dr. A has another blog post in his Geology course I can enjoy, which gets into a few of the odd theories about fossils that some used to hold.   
We take it for granted today that mold, cast and mineralized fossils are the relics of organic life. It may surprise the reader to learn that this was once a minority view, verging literally on heresy. Instead, it was widely believed that they were not: the most common view being that the fossils grew in the rocks as the result of a mysterious force known as vis plastica 
This explanation fitted nicely with the religious views of the time. Many fossils, if interpreted as the relics of once-living organisms, would have to represent species that had gone extinct, since no-one could find their modern equivalents. Now theologians argued that God, being perfect, would not have made any species so badly that it would go extinct; dissenting scientists such as Robert Hooke were obliged to guard themselves carefully against accusations of impiety. . . .
Another view proposed at about the same time was that the fossils were created by God when he created the Earth. This is certainly conceivable (an omnipotent God can do what he wants) . . . .
What most interests me, as a Christian, is how such strange notions of what God must have done took hold in what was presumably a Christian culture, because it is quite obvious NOW that they are anything but BIBLICAL  The natural world SHOULD be understood from a biblical perspective to exclude the appearance of organic creatures in rocks, whether thought to grow there or to have been created there from the beginning.  But I suppose it's possible that some theological idea had taken hold at the time that led to these notions.  The history of all this would be very interesting.

Apparently they also didn't know how to reckon with the Fall as the explanation for the extinction of former "species" (which in most cases aren't Species in the sense of Kinds anyway but varieties of a Kind, not that it matters a lot, just a point of fact), and they also didn't figure the Flood as the cause of all those dead things.  Did NOBODY have that idea?  I'd really like to know why or why not.  Was it a lack of biblical knowledge?  Of course many creationists today don't take the Fall into account either but keep their theorizing confined to some notion of the perfections of God's original Creation -- big mistake -- and most also have really inadequate ideas of what a worldwide Flood would do, so I suppose there's no reason to expect that earlier creationists might have done any better.   Of course I have the benefit of Morris and Whitcomb's book The Genesis Flood.

How many theories were there at the time to explain these things?  Although these odd ideas were apparently strongly defended there must have been others out there being argued.

Such preconceptions no doubt often ruled in science.  Once you get an idea firmly fixed in your head, or a science gets it fixed in their collective head, all else has to bow to it.  We see this ALL the time in each other (hardly ever ourselves of course).  And it is of course what has happened in the case of evolution and the Old Earth -- EVERYTHING must be conformed to those ideas.  Although their proponents most piously quote the Creed about how Science is neutral, how it's all about discovering truth no matter what, that simply is NOT what they are actually doing, as they are determined to rationalize evolution and undermine the slightest claim against it by hook or by crook.  And they don't see that that's what they are doing.

I have often wanted to read a really good history of science but I don't know if one exists.  One thing I would like to see is all the theories about fossils laid out as they entered the scientific lore, who proposed the theory and when and so on, how the reasoning went, how widely it was accepted, how they agreed or disagreed with other theories and so on.

Maybe Dr. A would like to take on this project.  He's been doing a nice job with Geology, and it sounds like he might even be planning to get it published as a textbook.  I think he should, despite disliking his occasional slams against creationism.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dr. A's Course in Geology: Actualism.

Dr. Adequate's Course in Geology at EvC has overall been an extremely good presentation, interesting and even fun to read.

Although the evolutionists like to complain that creationists don't educate themselves about the sciences, including Geology, I have to say that most of what he has covered I had already researched myself, so I was already familiar with most of the concepts and terminology. That wouldn't stop them from screaming "learn something" at me of course, because what they mean is "give up and accept the Old Earth" and other tenets of evolution-related science. Nothing in the actual facts of Geology, so far presented in his course, requires me to accept an Old Earth.

Now he is getting to an area that does involve some controversy, in his post on Actualism.. This is controversial because, well, consider this quote from his post:
The reason why it [actualism] is mentioned particularly in geological textbooks is a historical one. For many centuries people have been trying to explain geology in terms of non-actual, magical processes: explaining, for example, that the Earth's strata were produced by God turning off the force of gravity and then turning it back on; or that God created fossils when he made the Earth so that coal-miners even when underground would have visible signs of his presence. Various religious sects still promote non-actual concepts of geology to this present day.
This is really a nasty bit of straw-manning or poisoning the well against creationism. You will note that he doesn't say WHO ever held such ideas, or who holds them today, or WHEN, or HOW MANY, and the like. I hadn't heard the one about the gravity theory of the strata, but I do know there were some pretty silly ideas about fossils a couple or so hundred years ago held by a few who studied such things, but there were also reasonable theories alongside the silly theories, and MOST of the scientists in those days were "creationists" at least in the sense that most believed in a Creator God they vaguely associated with the Bible.

However, as I've also pointed out about some ideas in biology as Darwin encountered them in his day, the "creationist" type of thinking was NOT biblical, and I even say that I think Darwin did us a favor by putting an end to that kind of nonsense once and for all. Unfortunately his own theory was a much bigger disaster for science and humanity than the stupid "creationist" nonsense ("creationist" in quotes because, again, it was not the same creationism as today's, which IS Bible-based.)

Likewise with Hutton, the "father" of modern Geology, who decided one day by contemplating a particular pile of rocks on the coast of Scotland that the earth had to be very very old. Through Lyell's popularization of Hutton's Old Earth views they eventually took hold and have dominated Geology ever since. As with Darwin, his theory did bring to an end some very silly ideas, about fossils among other things, but was also a much bigger disaster even than the unbiblical "creationist" notions. (Really, nothing could be sillier than the current explanation of the strata in terms of millions of years per slab of lithified sediment). I have a series of posts in which I examine Hutton's reasoning about Siccar Point and prove he was wrong that such a formation requires a very old Earth, but of course now we have radiometric dating which says he was right even though he was wrong.

Here's another ridiculous straw man from this post of Dr. A's:
If, on the other hand (for example) we split open two leaves of slate and found therein the first chapter of Genesis written in quartz, then this would falsify actualism; we could not even imagine that one day we would find any ordinary physical process that would explain the phenomenon: we know too much about the way in which the world works to consider that even for a moment.
Waste of breath, there, Dr. A., unless your intention is as I suspect, merely to poison the well.  But anyway, actualism is explaining things in terms of known real processes as he goes on to say. Sounds like a solid scientific theory to me.
As we have said, actualism (considered as the assertion that the geological record can be explained in terms of real processes) should be regarded as a scientific theory. Why? --- because it is testable. We can look at the rocks, and we would recognize if there was something in the geological record which could not be explained in terms of real processes.
Perfectly reasonable statement, and he continues from there with some perfectly unobjectionable examples of how this principle operates, which wouldn't be contested by anyone with the slightest grasp of how science operates, which includes most creationists. Maybe not some of the "creationists" who show up at EvC for some reason, but true Biblical creationists who accept the entire Bible as written (King James version anyway).

But he goes on insinuating that there is such a thing as Some People denying the principle of appeal to real processes (again, he never quotes them, just parodies them, which allows him to construct his straw man unhindered by reality):
Considered as a methodological principle, actualism may be stated in the phrase that we have used repeatedly in our articles on sedimentology: "If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

Take aeolian sandstone, for example. It looks exactly like lithified aeolian sand; we can understand it perfectly well in those terms. Therefore, this is the most parsimonious way to understand it.

Now, there are some people who (for religious reasons) dislike this: they wish that aeolian sandstone was something else altogether. These people, let us hasten to say, are perfectly entitled to their own beliefs. But they are not entitled to pass such beliefs off as scientific: when they daydream about alternative magical processes that might have formed something that looks exactly like lithified aeolian sand formed by actual processes, they have abandoned the scientific method in favor of wishful thinking.

For the proposition: "If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck" stands at the heart of all scientific thought. We may imagine that it is not a duck; we may imagine that it is in fact a magical fairy disguised as a duck.
Hokey dokey, let's take a look at this aeolian sandstone accusation. What he is talking about is sandstone layers that have diagonal striations across them, which is the evidence for original aeolian formation, which means formation in the air as opposed to in water. Sand dunes, for instance, display this characteristic even in the individual grains as their being blown by the wind and scraped against other particles shapes them so that all together they lie in this diagonal pattern.

He puts up a nice picture of same on his next post, which I will copy here:
Click to enlarge picture, to see the cross-bedding more clearly.

The problem with his way of characterizing the creationist objection to aeolian formation of sandstone is that the objection is not to the original formation of the sand but to the explanation from Geology that these strata represent former landscapes made up of sand dunes that existed in some period of time identified in terms of millions of years ago. They read the sand as sand dunes that were in that same place some millions of years ago. They picture this as a landscape with a "horizon" that existed before the upper layers now in place formed above it, which in the picture were whole other sets of "sand dunes" apparently, sand dunes neatly horizontally laid upon sand dunes and hardened into rock, presumably each layer representing a long long period of time. They have the job of explaining how those layers managed to form in such neat horizontality sand dunes on top of sand dunes which are normally a bit on the bumpy-dippy-wavy side but I'm sure they're up to such a task of fantasizing, which Dr. A points out is a characteristic of human imagination. They just don't think of their own "scientific" reasoning in such terms, alas.

So, it's not the original formation of the sand itself that is in question -- very probably it WAS originally wind-shaped, but the way the sand has been laid down just as all other layers have been, in nice flat horizontality, suggests layering by water, just as do all the other layers of all the other kinds of sediments. The characteristic orientation of the original wind-formed sand is still preserved in the sandstone, in the "crossbedding" or diagonal striations within the perfectly flat slab of sandstone.

But you don't get the LAYERS without the water, catastrophic in timing too. THAT's the creationist objection. Listen up, Dr. A, 'cause this is how real processes really work in the real world rather than in the geological fantasyland of in situ ancient romantic landscapes of sand dunes. REAL science. Actualism.

As Dr. A goes on with his discussion of Actualism he explains it as the term preferred over "uniformitarianism" which according to him is misrepresented by Some People, presumably creationists.
The view which we have called "actualism" is sometimes (perhaps more commonly) known as uniformitarianism...

The term "uniformitarianism" is misleading in itself: for when modern geologists call themselves uniformitarians, what are they claiming to be uniform? No more or less than the laws of nature themselves --- but not necessarily anything else. Every geologist will insist that many things have not been uniform over the course of the Earth's history: its flora and fauna, for example, have not stayed the same; its temperature has not stayed the same; the composition of its atmosphere has not stayed the same; the arrangement of continents has not stayed the same; the global climate has not stayed the same.

What has apparently stayed the same is that throughout all this change the laws of nature have been uniformly unbroken, and only actual processes have taken place. In modern parlance, a "uniformitarian" geologist asserts no more than that; he or she has no general belief in uniformity, merely in actualism.
Ah ah ah, now Dr. A. Are you really this ignorant of what the REAL objections to "uniformitarianism" are all about? You are indulging in a little play on words here. It's interesting that he wants to change the term if only because "uniformitarianism" HAS been a bone of contention with creationists and apparently he wants to sweep the whole controversy aside.

"Uniformitarianism" includes the idea of processes of slow formation over millions of years that are so dear to the hearts of Geologists. It was really Hutton's new Old Earth geology that brought in this concept, as he thought that Siccar Point demonstrated very very slow processes of building up of layers, then tilting of the stack, then slow layering going on above the tilted layers, which would take probably millions of years to accomplish as he theorized. This is the real "uniformitarianism" that creationists object to, not "actualism" as Dr. A is defining it, which is a perfectly reasonable description of scientific thinking. Uniformitarianism is on the other hand a leap of the imagination into the deep past to explain such formations as Siccar Point, based on a notion of processes going on at the same slow rate observed today. Which contradicts the Biblical presentation of a young earth. The young earth is not challenged by any TRUE principles of science, but it is challenged by the false ones such as Hutton's Old Earth theory. So I showed in my posts on that subject, using some very interesting drawings in Lyell's discussion of the phenomena of formations like Siccar Point, that an old earth is not at all needed to explain Siccar Point.

Anyway, that's what the REAL flap about "uniformitarianism" is all about, and it continues to be a real flap and Dr. A's attempt to dispense with it by renaming it Actualism is, well, a bit devious perhaps.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Speed of deposition of layers according to "science"

Just a typical little exchange at EvC in which the evolutionist puts down the creationist for drawing the natural inference from their idiotic millions-of-years-per-layer-of-rock theory.
[Creationist says:] Which is based on the theory that layers require millions of years to form or that each layer represents a long period of time.
[Evolutionist answers:] What theory's that? The one that you made up?

Geologists know perfectly well that some layers form rapidly. They are extremely adept at telling these layers from those that formed over much longer periods. Not all strata form at the same rate - obviously.
Now the creationist didn't ONLY say they "require millions of years to form" but gave the alternative wording that "each layer represents a long period of time" and that CANNOT be disputed Mr. Evolutionist. That's on all your idiotic Geological Time Table charts.

And of course it's not obvious at all that strata don't all form at the same rate, since we creationists know they were all laid down in the Flood, therefore they were all deposited rapidly. Yes, all of them. The geologists are fooling themselves because they believe in that ridiculous idea that a few feet of rock represent millions of years of time. That's just stupid to begin with, but then they want to say that some of them were laid down rapidly within those millions of years and others were laid down slowly also within millions of years and somehow they can tell the difference. Ha ha.