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Feedback archiveFeedback 2008

The Geological Society of London again moves to silence debate on creation science

by and Jonathan Sarfati

Published: 17 May 2008(GMT+10)
Vesuvius

Photo of Mt Vesuvius from wikipedia.org

This week’s feedback responds to a recent policy statement on creationism by the Geological Society of London, one of the oldest such professional institutions in the world.

In January 2008 the editor of Geoscientist, the in-house magazine of the Society, wrote an aggressive opinion piece about creationists, saying that they were not even worthy of their contempt.1 A few months later, Geoscientist published a call to bar the creationist viewpoint from the public information centre at the Giant’s Causeway, UK.2

Now, the Council of the Geological Society of London has issued a statement critical of young-earth creationism, creation science and intelligent design, saying they should not be considered as scientific.3 Clearly the issue is of concern to the Society and we are pleased that the Council has made a public statement. It gives us the opportunity to respond and set the record straight.

‘Young Earth Creationism’, ‘Creation Science’ and ‘Intelligent Design’

A Statement by the Geological Society of London
Approved by Council 10 April, and published 11 April 2008
This Society upholds the right of freedom of belief for all. The freedom scientists enjoy to investigate the nature and history of the Earth is the same freedom that allows individuals to believe—or not—in a deity.

Freedom of belief means that government cannot prescribe what an individual should believe; they cannot try to force an individual to act contrary to their beliefs, or discriminate against individuals on the basis of their beliefs. However, the Council, through this statement, seems to want to influence government to remove the freedom of individuals to promote beliefs that are contrary to the Council’s views.

Science's business is to investigate the constitution of the universe, and cannot pronounce on any concept that lies ‘beyond’ nature.

Central to science is observation and measurement, activities that can only be performed in the present. Events of the past lie ‘beyond’ the ability of scientists to observe, so all statements about what happened in the past, including geological interpretations, rely on assumption and opinion.

Geologists have often referred to Pliny the Younger’s writings [on Vesuvius’ eruption] when interpreting the geology of the area, and that is scientifically valid. Likewise, it’s scientifically valid for creationists to refer to biblical history when interpreting the geology of the globe. In fact, the pioneers of geology such as Nicholas Steno did just that.

Concerning ‘Intelligent Design’, science is well able to recognize design when it is present, and several scientific disciplines rely on this, including forensic science, archaeology, and the SETI project. In the same way, scientists who point to evidence of ‘intelligent design’ in living organisms are presenting conclusions that are absolutely valid within the realm of science. Questions about of the nature of this intelligence tend to be ‘beyond’ scientific investigation, which is why ‘intelligent design’ advocates generally don’t venture into this area.

Likewise, young-earth creationism, or creation-science, is a valid scientific approach to questions about the past. It’s based on recorded history. The Bible records historical events that have consequences for geology, as does Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Geologists have often referred to Pliny the Younger’s writings when interpreting the geology of the area, and that is scientifically valid. Likewise, it’s scientifically valid for creationists to refer to biblical history when interpreting the geology of the globe. In fact, the pioneers of geology such as Nicholas Steno did just that. (See Geological pioneer was a biblical creationist.)

This is the meaning of ‘agnostic’, the word coined by former GSL President Thomas Henry Huxley, to describe a scientist’s position of being ‘unable to know’.

Steno

Nicholas Steno (wikipedia.org)

Frequently the term ‘agnostic’ is used in the sense of ‘I don’t want to know’. Long term atheist Antony Flew changed his mind about atheism and became a theist in 2004—because of the scientific evidence. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans that the evidence of the Creator’s power and nature is so clear that all people are without excuse (Romans 1:20). It’s interesting that the Apostle describes how people will deny that knowledge and suppress the truth, something that is relevant to the Council’s statement.

This Society has therefore long operated according to the view that religion and science only become incompatible with each other when one attempts to trespass upon the domain of the other.

The fact is that the Bible and evolutionary science are making competing claims within the same domain. The Bible says that this world was created by God in six days about 6,000 years ago; the Geological Society of London says this world formed by itself by natural processes over millions of years and that no supernatural activity was involved.

Clearly these two claims are incompatible, which is why the Council says that science is ‘incompatible’ with religion. But the Council is confused on this issue because it promotes resources (in its ‘Further information’ section below) that say the exact opposite—that science and religion are compatible. This confusion arises because the Council uses the word religion in two different ways.

But beware of such claims about ‘domains’—see who decides where the boundaries lie! Christian should be suspicious about antitheists deciding the scope of Christianity’s domain. In practice, this allows the antitheists to shrink the boundaries all the time. Of course, God owns the entire universe, so nothing lies outside His domain. See further discussion in Is evolution compatible with religion?

Further, the Council does not appreciate that there are two different kinds of science, ‘experimental’ and ‘historical’, or operational and origins. Statements about the origin and evolution of the earth are questions of ‘historical’ science—ideas about what happened in the past. Everyone has a belief about how the world came into being and everyone interprets the evidence based on that belief—their worldview. That is why we think it is better to use the term ‘worldview’ instead of ‘religion’. When the Council uses the term ‘religion’ they imply that some people have a religion and are biased, and that some people don’t. But the fact is that everyone has a worldview and everyone is biased. Atheistic evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse explicitly admitted, ‘Evolution is a religion.’

The incompatibility the Council refers to only arises because they are comparing apples with oranges—things that are not the same. If you assume naturalism/atheism as your worldview you end up with the ‘science’ of evolution over billions of years. However, if you assume that the Bible records accurate history (biblical Christianity) you end up with a young earth and a global Flood. Different worldviews lead to different scientific explanations.

The Council rightly recognizes that naturalistic science is incompatible with the biblical worldview. They also recognize that some worldviews (i.e. some religions) are compatible with evolution over millions of years. And remarkably, the Council is promoting those ‘compatible’ religious views in the section below ‘Further information’. Could this activity by the Geological Society of London be described as their ‘attempt to trespass upon the domain of the other’?

The idea that the Earth was divinely created in the geologically recent past (‘Young Earth Creationism’); attempts by Young Earth Creationists to gain acceptance for what they misrepresent in public as corroborative empirical evidence for this view (‘Creation science’); and the allied belief that features of the universe and of living things are better explained as the direct result of action by an intelligent cause than by natural processes (‘Intelligent Design’), represent such a trespass upon the domain of science.

We don’t think it is becoming of the Geological Society to use derogatory terms like ‘misrepresent’ as a way of discrediting people who hold different views. All the ideas they cite here are alternative views that should be aired and discussed—not censored and suppressed.

The Geological Society of London is the oldest national learned society for the Earth sciences in the world, and embodies the collective knowledge of nearly 10,000 Earth scientists worldwide.

The Council is here using an argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy and has no place in scientific debate. Copernicus and Galileo challenged the consensus view of the scientific establishment when they promoted the radical heliocentric scheme. Alfred Wegener fell foul of the geological establishment for decades when he proposed his idea of continental drift, first proposed by the creationist Antonio Snider in 1859. I’m surprised that Geological Society would actually use this argument from authority.

Furthermore, we suspect the Council is not aware of the range of views held by its own membership. If they checked we think they would find a percentage of their membership were young earth creationist and disagreed with this policy statement—unless those members felt too intimidated to say.

On their behalf it wishes, during the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth, to place on record the following facts as being long established beyond doubt.

‘Long established beyond doubt’! It’s a standard political tactic to declare that the debate is over. That way you do not have to defend your position. Surveys have shown that more than 40% of the population of the USA would not accept the following statements as fact, so the debate is not over.

  • Planet Earth, along with the other planets in the Solar System, was formed approximately 4560 million years ago.

This is said to be a fact but it is not. It is a subjective opinion based on personal worldview, albeit held by a large number of geologists. To recognize that this is not factual, ask yourself how all this was observed scientifically. Where were these 10,000 geologists standing to see it happen?

This statement is based on the Nebular Hypothesis for the origin and formation of our solar system. Note the word hypothesis! A hypothesis is a speculation, and in this case it is a speculation about what may have happened in the unobserved past—discounting the historical account of the Bible. There are plenty of problems with this, such as:

  • Although the sun has over 99% of the mass of the solar system, it has only 2% of the angular momentum. This pattern is directly opposite to the pattern predicted for the Nebular Hypothesis. Evolutionists have tried to solve this problem, but a well-known solar system scientist, Dr Stuart Ross Taylor, has said in a recent book, ‘The ultimate origin of the solar system’s angular momentum remains obscure.’4
  • Earth and the other inner planets were allegedly formed from fragments that collided and fused together. However, the fragments would have bounced off each other, rather than melted and clung.5
  • There should have been insufficient material for the cores of Jupiter6 and Saturn7 to form. And even if it could form, they would have spiraled in towards the sun.
  • Uranus

    Photo of Neptune: NASA

  • The Ice Giants, Uranus and Neptune, should not have been formed at all! One evolutionary astronomer admitted:
‘Pssst … astronomers who model the formation of the solar system have kept a dirty little secret: Uranus and Neptune don’t exist. Or at least computer simulations have never explained how planets as big as the two gas giants could form so far from the sun. Bodies orbited so slowly in the outer parts of the solar system that the slow process of gravitational accretion would need more time than the age of the solar system to form bodies with 14.5 and 17.1 times the mass of Earth.’8
  • Life has existed on Earth for thousands of millions of years. It has evolved into its current form by a combination of genetic variation and natural selection-and is likely to go on doing so for as long as it continues to exist.

Again, the idea of life existing on Earth for billions of years is one interpretation of the geologic strata. There are other ways of interpreting the same evidence. Further, no one knows how the first living cell could have assembled itself from non-living chemicals. In fact, there is no scientifically defensible explanation for how life originated, or how the many biochemical systems within cells and multi-cellular organisms arose. There is no evolutionary mechanism that can provide the needed increase in genetic instructions. The fossil evidence is lacking. The genetic evidence is confusing. So this dot-point is simply story telling, not fact.

  • Close study of the structure and organisation of living animals and plants clearly indicates their common ancestry, and the succession of forms through the fossil record, as well as the genetic record contained in every living organism, provides powerful evidence of the reality of evolution.

Similarity of form can be explained using the concept of common design, which would bring great honour to the Designer, an explanation that avoids many of the problems that the common-ancestor explanation has.

This is not a fact but an assertion, and it is based on hope rather than evidence. There are gaps in the fossil record and in the molecular record. Similarity of form can be explained using the concept of common design, which would bring great honour to the Designer, an explanation that avoids many of the problems that the common-ancestor explanation has. Evolution is simply one explanation for the evidence but there are others.

Further information

  • For a statement on this subject by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science, go to <www.royalsoc.ac.uk/news.asp?year=&id=4298>

The Royal Society statement is similar to this one by the Geological Society. It contains many unsubstantiated assertions and arguments from authority. If those who drafted these statements had read a critique of evolution such as Refuting Evolution they would realize that their arguments have been long refuted.

  • For a recently updated (2008) version of the US National Academy of Sciences booklet Science, Evolution and Creationism, go to: <www.nap.edu/sec>. This document will tell you what is and is not science, summarises the scientific evidence for evolution by natural selection, and highlights repeatedly how leading religious figures have spoken out in favour of evolution as being consistent with their world-view.

This document has been thoroughly refuted at: Science, Creation and Evolutionism: Response to the latest anticreationist agitprop from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Science, Evolution and Creationism.

This dot-point also illustrates the inconsistency of the Council. Their main statement above says that science and religion deal with different domains and that incompatibilities arise when one domain trespasses on the other. But here they do their own trespassing by saying that evolution is consistent with religion.

Of course people who hold an evolutionary worldview (whether atheist, agnostic, Christian or Hindu) find that evolution is consistent with their worldview. But evolution is not consistent with the worldview of those who believe the Bible records real history.

The question is, ‘Which worldview is correct?’ This debate should be in the public arena and open for intelligent discussion. The Council’s attempt to silence and suppress debate is counter productive.

  • For a statement on Intelligent Design issued by the International Society for Science and Religion, the main academic international society dedicated to the relationship between science and religion, see www.issr.org.uk/id-statement.asp.

The International Society for Science and Religion is an example of a religious group that does not take the Bible as history. The article essentially promotes naturalism and its thrust would be contrary to the attitude of many pioneers of modern science.

  • For an account of evolutionary knowledge, see vertebrate palaeontologist Prof. Kevin Padian's evidence, given in trial (Kitzmiller v Dover): http://tinyurl.com/2nlgar. This destroys the bases of young-Earth creationists' assertions regarding critical gaps in the fossil record.

For information on the problem the fossil record presents for evolution see:

See also: Fossils Q&A and Refuting Evolution: The Links are Missing.

For books and DVDs that deal with the fossil problem see: Bones of Contention, Evolution the Fossils Still Say No and Artistic Ape Anecdotes: The Art of Deception (DVD).

  • For a clear account of evolution given by one of the world’s leading geneticists, showing how it is compatible with religious belief, see The Language of God by Francis Collins (Free Press, 2006). Francis Collins is Head of the Human Genome Project.

Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian but does not take Genesis as history, which is an inconsistent position. This is why the Geological Society again trespasses into religion here—to promote a ‘religion’ that agrees with their view. The inconsistencies within Collins’ book have been discussed in the Journal of Creation review, Harmony and discord.

  • Alexander, D. & White, R. S. (2004). Beyond Belief: Science, Faith and Ethical Challenges, Lion, Oxford, 219pp. Gives an accessible account of science and its interaction with religious views, including sections on evolution (with a critique of intelligent design), the age of the Earth and global environmental issues.

Once again the Council is promoting a religious view that opposes the plain teaching of the Bible. More trespassing. For information on the other view see:

  • Gould, Stephen J. 1999. Non-overlapping magisteria. A succinct and entertaining exposition of the lack of conflict between science and non-literalist religious thought. Published in: Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms. Jonathan Cape, pp. 269–283.

This concept is refuted at: Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA and Who’s really pushing bad science?

  • Pope Pius XII 1950, Papal Encyclical Humani Generis

Why not cite one of his predecessors, Leo XIII, incidentally quite a strong chessplayer, in the Encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893):

Inspiration Incompatible with Error
“… It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. The system of those who restrict inspiration to things of faith and morals cannot be tolerated. All the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.
“… And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author. Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write—He was so present to them—that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers.”

See 15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History and Creation and Change.

See also The Great Turning Point: The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology—Before Darwin which documents how anti-biblical geological ideas undermined the Christian church in the UK. It also documents how some of the prominent members of the fledgling Geological Society deliberately politicked to compromise the authority of the Bible among the leadership of the Church of England. So, trespassing by evolutionary geologists to tell Christians how to read the Bible is not a new phenomenon.

ENDS

This statement by the Council of the Geological Society of London suggests it is governed by people who are hostile to the biblical worldview (the historic-grammatical view that has been the orthodox view of Scripture in the Christian church until the advent of a new geological philosophy in the early 1800s). The Council is not used to defending their naturalistic worldview against alternatives, and it’s clear that they do not want to start now. Perhaps they imagine that by throwing their weight into a council resolution they will be able to silence discussion before it starts. However, their problem is not going to go away because people today are becoming more informed (and concerned about the effects of evolutionary philosophy on our culture). If the Council is going to be prepared for the ongoing battles with creationists we suggest they read some of the links and literature mentioned here, and engage with what creationists are actually saying.

References

  1. Nield, Ted, Fighting the fight, or slaying the slain? Geoscientist 18.1, January 2008. Return to text.
  2. Zalasiewicz, J, and Bazley, T., Giant’s Causeway myth and reality, Geoscientist 18.4 April 2008. Return to text.
  3. ‘Young Earth Creationism’, ‘Creation Science’ and ‘Intelligent Design’, Geological Society of London, 11 April 2008; <http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/views/policy_
    statements/page3635.html
    >. Return to text.
  4. Taylor, S.R., Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective, Cambridge University Press, p. 53, 1992. Return to text.
  5. Muir, H., Earth was a freak, New Scientist 177(2388):24, 29 March 2003. Return to text.
  6. Psarris, S., Jupiter: King of the planets and testament to our Creator, Creation 30(3):38–40, 2008. Return to text.
  7. Psarris, S., Saturn: the ringed planet, Creation 30(4), 2008 (in press). Return to text.
  8. Naeye, R., Birth of Uranus and Neptune, Astronomy 28(4):30, 2000. Return to text.

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