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.

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