The principle of uniformity holds that “the present if the key to the past.” That is to say that the processes that are in motion today were also in motion in the distant past. There are various reasons why Young Earth Creationists object to this particular geologic principle arguing that it is both inaccurate and untenable; several of their reasons being based on misunderstandings of how this principle is applied in modern geology. Creationist publications from organizations from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) represent the principle of uniformity (uniformitarianism) as a concept that “evolutionists” need. The reasoning behind this is that this principle demands that the earth be much older that 6,000 years, and that nobody would “believe” in Darwinian evolution if the earth were to be believed to be so young.
The two main objections to the principle of uniformity are:
- The concept rules out a priory the possibility that any unusual events could possibly have happened. That is to say, YECs argue that uniformity, from the get-go, rules out large-scale cataclysmic events such as the “global” flood of Noah. They then argue that events like the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens as well as the remains of so called “polystrate” fossils are inconsistent with conventional geology and therefore prove the YEC alternative “catastrophic” model.
- The principle does not allow for change in rates such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, etcetera. The impression is that if it can be shown that certain rates have been demonstrated to have changed, then the principle is therefore false which, in their minds, would be a major blow to evolutionary theory as well as conventional geology.
On the first objection, YECs seem frustrated that their universal, global deluge is not acknowledged by conventional geology, and so they have proposed their catastrophic model as an alternative. YECs tend to present the modern geologists as blinded by their uniformitarian principle that rules out unusual events in the past, and therefore blinded to the evidence of a global deluge that occurred at around 5,000 years ago. — However, a little research combined with logic shows that this particular objection to uniformity is misguided and based on a misunderstanding. That is to say, conventional geologists do not rule out that global cataclysmic events can happen. Certainly there is the fact that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago would have been a universal disaster. We also have the geologic evidence for the event; the remains of the impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula, and a layer of iridium found at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary which has been found in numerous locations throughout the world. — Other mass extinctions have also been detected as happening in the last 440 million years:
The fact that mass extinction events have been proposed based on pieces of geologic evidence is by itself an indication that conventional scientists do not rule out the possible occurrence of unusual events and global disasters. If the evidence demands such an interpretation, then it is proposed. The reason that a universal deluge dating back to about 5,000 years has never been acknowledged has more to do with the lack of evidence than a preconceived notion that it could not have happened.
Also, contrary to claims that the Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption disproves the principle, it actually fits well within it; that is, we see volcanic eruptions happening today, therefore we know they happened in the past, the Santorini eruption in the 17th century BC being a good example. When a certain process happens, like a volcanic eruption, a mudslide, or a flood, it leaves a certain fingerprint, so if we find a similar or identical fingerprint in the geologic strata, then we can assume that a similar process or event was in play at the time as it was laid down. — “The present is the key to the past.”
As for the second objection about the “rates” always being constant, this other particular understanding of uniformity has been applied by YECs in their arguments against an old earth (i.e., the magnetic field decay, continental erosion, ocean sediments, etc.). They reason that if the current rates we see today in these other processes could not possibly be accommodated to suit a 4.5 billion year old earth, then this would count as evidence for a somewhat younger earth. In an online podcast from CMI, YEC speaker Calvin Smith then argues that this is problematic for assuming that Radiometric decay had remained constant saying that it is not right to pick and chose when rates may or may not have changed.
Well, of course, this logic is flawed for several reasons; one of them being that there is evidence that the rates of erosion, sedimentation, and the magnetic field decay rate have indeed varied. However, the rate of radiometric decay is another story; it has been tested and observed under numerous, extreme conditions and yet the rate hadn’t been altered. There were three instances where half-lives have been altered, but they are irrelevant to the conventional dating methods and do not affect the dates of rocks either on earth or on other planets, as two of them are extraterrestrial (i.e., fast-moving matter in space though no rock in our solar system is moving fast enough to affect the date, and physical conditions at the center of stars).
What this shows is that YECs have a distorted view of the uniformitarian principle… It would be unfair to say that these criticisms of the principle would never have been true, since they would have been earlier when modern geology was coming around. What has to be mentioned is that before, geologists had practiced a variety of uniformity now called substantive uniformitarianism. Today, however, geologists have long rejected that version in favor of another called methodological uniformitarianism… The variety that YECs spend their time knocking down is the one no longer practiced. Today’s geology does not rule out the possibility of unusual events and massive disasters; in fact they fit in well with uniformity. Also, the idea that all rate accumulations must have been the same for all times in all cases is not a concept in uniformity either; the process in play may have existed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they constantly happen with the same intensity.
The Dinosaur Extinction Page
Historical Perspectives: This Dynamic Earth. From the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Increased sedimentation rates and grain sizes 2-4 myr years ago due to the influence of climate change on erosion rates, (2 March 2001) by Zhang Peizhen, Peter Molnar, and William R. Downs. From Nature.
Reversals: Magnetic Flip, From the British Geological Survey.
Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective , by Dr. Roger C. Wiens (2002) From the American Scientific Affiliation.
Flood Geology is Uniformitarian!, by Davis A. Young (1979). From the American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Twelve Fallacies of Uniformitarianism, by James H. Shea (September, 1982). From the Geological Society of America.
Uniformitarianism: World of Earth Science. From Enotes.com
Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?, by Greg Neyman (29 January 2003). From Answers in Creation.
G321: Many Geologic Features are Catastrophic in Nature, by Greg Neyman (2005). From Answers in Creation.
CD200: Uniformitarian assumption is untenable, by Mark Isaak (2004). From the Talk.Origins Archive.
Flood Geology — one of the biggest irrationalities in Young-Earth Creationism. In order to rationalize the evidence the geological record that the Earth is older than 6,000 years, they say that Noah’s flood it responsible. This argument was used by Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In her book, Patriarchs and Prophets, she attempts to minimize the science of geology claiming that “apart from Bible history, geology can prove nothing.” In chapter nine entitled “The Literal Week,” she then goes on to say,
In the days of Noah, men, animals, and trees, many times larger than now exist, were buried and thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood. God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history; but men, with their vain reasoning, fall into the same error as did the people before the flood. (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 112)
I was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist – and still am officially a member, so it pains me to say that Ellen White was wrong, but . . . Ellen White was wrong. There’s no two ways about it.
Her anti-science arguments based on her “visions from God” have continued to infect the Christian community. I’m pretty sure that most YECs are unaware that they are indirectly embracing Ellen White, since many of them consider her a “false prophet.” — As an SDA, I can freely admit that our “prophetess” was at best wrong, and at worse dishonest. Afterall, my faith is in God, not in her.
I can, however, understand that she felt that Geologists were misguided and being led astray because of her particular, literalistic, understanding of the Bible. It is my contention that the world-wide-flood is based on a misreading of the Bible, and is therefore unbiblical. I don’t see the need to debunk her here because I already give more details in my post entitled “The Global Deluge – Is it Unbiblical.” Also, see Mark Isaak’s “Problems with a Global Flood” for Geological, Ecological and Biological evidence against the universal deluge.
But, back to the point of this post…
Young Earth Creationists have some sort of obsession with the Grand Canyon, apparently because they feel that it gives evidence for the flood of Noah. — Eric Hovind, Kent Hovind’s son, in a Creation Minute video mentions that the Colorado river enters the canyon at 2,800 feet above sea-level, and that it exits at 1,800 feet above sea-level, and that the top of the canyon is 7,000 feet above sea-level. Then he asks if the water from the river flowed uphill to form it, or if it was the result of a flood. Furthermore, on Kent Hovind’s website, it is claimed,
In contrast to all other rivers, we do not find a delta (a place where washed-out mud is deposited). This alone makes the evolutionist interpretation impossible.
First, I’ll deal with Eric’s Creation Minute. No scientist would make the absurd assertion that water flows uphill, so he is attacking a strawman. But he obviously did not do any independent research on the formation of the Grand Canyon. No doubt he would simply call them “evolutionist lies” like daddy Hovind does. — The answer is plate tectonics. The Colorado Plateau started out flat as the river flowed. Tectonic uplift pushed upwards causing the river to continually cut into the ground eroding it away to the canyon we have today.
Next, it isn’t true that there is no delta. All you have to do is do an internet search, and you’ll find the images of it really easily For example, the one below:
Next is the common YEC claim made about rapidly forming canyons. Mount St. Helens is commonly cited because of a rapidly formed canyon that the 1980 erpution formed. Apparently if a canyon can be carved quickly, then the Grand Canyon could have been as well. — Also, on a YEC blog I frequently comment on, the same one I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael (the blogger) which has still been ignored, a very similar argument is being repeated. Except, Michael is using a more recent example to argue his point. — His post entitled “Rapid Canyon Formation is Finally Admitted” alone shows his misunderstanding of how Geologists view the matter.
In his post, he cited a recent Science Daily article which talks about a newly formed canyon in central Texas. He then says,
This is another reason why a one-party closed system that formulates ideas on research based on an old time frame gets falsified more often than just on scientific advancements. Creation scientists with many years of research field experience and PHDs were way ahead of this discovery made by secular scientists with their PHDs. It’s funny how the secular scientists act like it’s so new, again they are afraid that it will turn the public more away from evolution and their funding dollars. Let’s rejoice! It’s a great day for creationism!
For the record, I am tired of YECs confusing Geology with Evolution. But more importantly, this doesn’t even come close to refuting evolutionary theory, much less the geological principle of uniformity. Michael has shown over and over again that he understands neither.
We know that the Grand Canyon couldn’t have been formed in a single event in only recent history for one basic reason: It doesn’t have the features it would have if it had been carved in a short, year long event such as Noah’s flood. The Grand Canyon has U-turns in it which is consistent with the formation of the canyon taking a long period of time, and inconsistent with a rapid event as seen below,
In contrast, the newly formed Texas canyon mentioned in Michael’s post has completely different characteristics. The photo in the original Science Daily article show the water’s path as an essentially more straight line and no meandering,
The path of the water flowing from the reservoir has a much straighter path. It is not meandering like the Colorado river in the case of the Grand Canyon. Therefore this cannot be used as evidence that the latter formation was also the result of rapid formation.
The last issue I have with Michael, as well as other YECs. And that is their understanding of the Geological principle of uniformity. This principle is often summed up as “The present is the key to the past.” — When Creationists hear this, they assume that Geologists necessarily believe that all accumulation of geologic layers – and canyons – had to have taken millions of years. Hence, the Creationists mistakenly think that since Scientists think the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be carved, that therefore they think that all canyons had to have been carved in long periods of time. This is not the case.
What uniformitarianism means is this: We see disasters happen today, therefore we know they happened in the past; We see floods happen today, therefore they happened in the past; Also, we see some canyons form rapidly today, and therefore some formed rapidly in the past as well. But also, we see slow processes in action today, and therefore slow processes happened in the past as well. Nobody ever denied that rapid formation can occur, but it is denied when all the evidence is inconsistent with rapid formation.– And the Grand Canyon, is an example that is only consistent long processes.
Even the Science Daily article affectively debunks Michael’s perception that uniformitarianism denies a rapid formation. Interestingly enough, though he quotes the article extensively, he somehow missed a very relevant section. In it is this detail,
Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years.
Such is not always the case, however. “We know that some big canyons have been cut by large catastrophic flood events during Earth’s history,” Lamb says. (My emphasis)
Hmmmm, wouldn’t this take away from the title of Michael’s post that “rapid formation is finally being admitted”? — Well, it certainly refutes the idea that Creation science has in anyway been vindicated.
This begs the question: Why did Michael leave this out? I guess it’s possible he only read what was convenient for him, or he would no longer have a strawman to knock down. Or maybe he has bad reading comprehension. Who knows? — I pointed out most of these points in my comments on Michael’s blog, and so far, he completely ignored them. I think it’s either because he knows he cannot refute them, or he is willfully ignorant. You make the call.
How was the Grand Canyon Formed, from Buzzle.com
The Formation of the Grand Canyon, from Grand Canyon Explorer
The Grand Canyon and Creation Science, From Answers in Creation
Grand Canyon Formed over Millions of Years, by by Dr. Jeff Zweerink, from Reasons to Believe.
CH581: Carving the Grand Canyon, by Mark Isaak, from Talk.Origins.
Geology of the Grand Canyon area, from Wikipedia.
Creationist Grand Canyon Argument