Pioneer of creationism
An interview with geologist Clifford Burdick
This article was originally published in Creation magazine in 1987, and is now being given prominence as a web front page feature because of its archival value. Clifford Burdick was an important pioneering identity in biblical Geology and this interview with him contains many useful teaching points. However, please note that CMI today does not use the claim of trilobites inside a human sandal print, also known as the ‘Meister sandalprint’, because the evidence is ambiguous. The print is not part of a trackway, and the geology of the area is such that all sorts of flat, sprawled shapes arise from natural processes.
Dr Clifford Burdick had a long career as a creationist geologist. One of the first modern-day Flood geologists, his findings have at times caused controversy and amazement. In 1945 he published one of the first scientific critiques of radiometric dating, and among his many important discoveries he found ‘young’ fossil pollen in supposedly ‘old’ rock in the Grand Canyon. He also made several attempts at finding Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat. Dr Burdick has authored more than 50 published papers.
Dr Burdick, how did you become a creationist?
As a science teacher I taught the evolutionary point of view—as I had been instructed. Eventually, I met up with the well-known biblical geologist, George McCready Price. Our friendship lasted until he died in 1962. He gave me lots of material to read and helped me see the creationist position and that evolutionists were not reasoning logically. George was really the pioneer creationist who startled the world after the famous Scopes Trial of 1925. You see, most people were convinced that the evolutionists had proved their case in that trial, but George got many of them on the creationist side. It took two or three years to get evolutionary thinking out of my system. I give him the credit.
What was the state of the creationist movement at that time?
Rather fragmentary. They were just beginning, mainly through Price’s work, to show the fallacies of the evolutionists. In my opinion Price was a little weak on some aspects of geology, such as the Ice Age, and a good segment of the budding creationist movement still straddled the fence. Some believed in a short biblical age; others believed the Gap Theory—that the world was destroyed and remade before the time of Adam and Eve.
How did support for creation grow through all this?
After the Scopes Trial, in Tennessee, everybody seemed to feel evolution was proved. It took someone like Price to pop the balloon. He got geologists like Byron Nelson and myself interested, as well as biologists such as Frank Marsh and Harold Clark. Each of us in turn became a stronger advocate of the creation position. There were others too, like Ben Allen, who actively backed early projects such as the search for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat.
What was your involvement in the search for Noah’s Ark?
Well, first off you have to realize the impact of bona fide sighting of such an Ark fitting the biblical description if it were found at that location. While it might not prove the biblical Flood account, it would satisfy one of the main predictions of a literal global flood model. Ararat is so high—5165 m (17,000 ft)—that only a catastrophic world-wide flood would allow a boat to rest there.
I got involved in the search after speaking with Benjamin Allen. Eryl Cummings and others had reported that a Russian military group had sighted the Ark, and others broadcast this over the radio. Some of this group had come to the United States because of the Bolshevik Revolution. I remember meeting one of them, an accomplished archaeologist. We had a difficult time raising funds for the project. We tried to reach Ararat in 1946, but didn’t get there. But we went 20 years later when a man by the name of Crawford raised the money. I have made several expeditions since, and even filed a geological report of the area with the US and Turkish Governments.
What is the status of the search for Noah’s Ark so far?
Many other scientists and myself were involved in a documentary movie called In Search of Noah’s Ark. Nobody has yet fully documented finding the Ark, though I was involved in analyzing salt crystals and some petrified wood from the area. The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson did a write-up in February, 1979, about my work with the crystals, and some of this news got on television. A Frenchman found hard wood embedded in ice and brought it to New York, but I really can’t say whether it is like the wood of that area. Some think it may be related to a railroad the Russians built in the early 1900s.
The project is now being run mostly by geologist John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research—the son of ICR president, Dr Henry Morris. I introduced John to the area in 1971 while lecturing on a Middle East tour with the Bible-Science Association. We spent several days together, and I passed on lots of data about Mount Ararat to him.
And he took up the adventure from there?
Yes, but it is a very dangerous mission to go up there. On one expedition John and his fellow workers were on a rock that was hit by lightning and nearly got killed. Nothing conclusive can be said, but the area is covered by a huge glacier, and exceptionally warm summers are needed to melt the ice-cap. These warm summers cycle about every 15 years.
You have been credited with publishing one of the first convincing scientific critiques of radiometric dating. Where did you get the data to write this article?
The data were all there in the literature of the field, but were not really what the layman would see. Of course, I had experience as a mining geologist. One time I discovered one of the largest copper sites in the North American continent, and did they ever mine it! So I was able to gather data from my reading and research which evolutionary geologists either passed over or called ‘anomalous’.
Of course, that’s a fraction of the information you can gather today. What is interesting about this radiometric dating is that Willard Libby, the Nobel Prize winner who invented the carbon-14 method, assumed an equilibrium condition between the production of carbon-14 and its disintegration. It was a critical assumption. Well, we found that the system has not yet reached a steady state, which means the earth cannot be more than thousands of years old, because it only takes about 30,000 years to reach equilibrium based on the half-life of carbon-14.
Could you tell us about your work in the Grand Canyon and with fossils?
Over the years I made many trips to the Grand Canyon, lecturing and leading tour groups. I found many evidences for creation which contradicted the geologic column. The kind of sorting, sedimentation and cyclic depositions found in the canyon walls speak of receding floodwaters on a massive scale. Another point concerning the canyon is that some rare fossils even of jellyfish and vertebrates have been reported in Precambrian formations. These are way out of order if you accept evolutionary chronology, but are explained by possible flood and sediment mixing under catastrophic conditions. The same is true of microfossils such as pollen and spores of higher plants in the Precambrian.
So the Grand Canyon is excellent evidence for the creation model?
In 1974, I published a creationist guidebook of the canyon called Canyon of Canyons, which is not full of the standard evolutionary explanations. The Grand Canyon was once ‘Exhibit A’ for evolutionists, but it is now ‘Exhibit A’ for creationists.
Why did the fossil spores and pollen you found in the Grand Canyon cause such excitement?
Well, I found ‘young’ fossil spores and pollen in ‘old’ rocks. By ‘young’ and ‘old’ I mean the alleged evolutionary time frame, which dates these at millions of years apart in much the same manner that it dates humans and trilobites apart. We found no graded evolutionary series of simple to complex plant pollen and spore types. In fact, we found the same types from top to bottom. As scientists we accept the facts on face value, and cast aside the ‘old earth’ and evolutionary theory.
It’s another instance of facts opposing the evolution theory and supporting creation. Creation predicts coexistence of some of these by a flood model, and by the fact that both have existed since the Creation Week.
How were you able to make these discoveries?
I developed a new method so that spores and pollen were more readily separated and more easily seen and photographed under the microscope. Some tried to duplicate my work, and could not, because they used the old methods of separation, and told me that my work which they originally liked so well suddenly was now sloppy.
What changes have you seen take place in creationism since the early days?
We have a lot more outstanding scientists and better data now. More information is coming from geology, paleontology and the like. Gentry’s work with radiohaloes from short-lived isotopes, and Barnes’ work with the earth’s magnetic field decay, put limits on the age of the earth in thousands of years, not millions.
Biologists such as William Tinkle, Walter Lammerts and Frank Marsh have demonstrated experimental limits to genetic variability of the different kinds of plants and animals. I’ve been in this work over 40 years and have made findings in field geology which have punctured many of the main theses of the geologic age column.
Where has this put creationism today?
Today the organization of creationists is much better. Yet many of these scientists came out of a background where the idea of a worldwide flood was anathema. Creationism came to a head first in North America, then spread throughout the world. I’ve lectured all over Europe and found little sentiment there for creationism, though groups like the Victoria Institute and the old Evolution Protest Movement (now the Creation Science Movement) were active in England. Australia seemed like a fertile area to me, even way back. I sent materials to scientists there when some heard of my work and wanted details.
What did you send to the Australian scientists?
Most notable was the information from my work at Antelope Springs in northern Utah. I went up there in August 1968 with William Meister. A couple of months before, he had found a human sandal print with several trilobites right inside the human print in shale. (See update at beginning of article.) I found a couple of child’s footprints at the same location. The finds were corroborated by other geologists, including Dr Melvin Cook of the University of Utah.
The Australian scientists who received this data said they jumped for glee because of the importance of the finds. You see, the human prints were found with trilobites in a so-called ‘Cambrian’ trilobite bed. This showed that trilobites and human prints were fossilized together, but humans were not supposed to be contemporaneous with trilobites. The Cambrian is dated at about 500 million years by evolutionists, and humans are supposed to have evolved only in the last four million years or so.
What advice do you have for young creationists studying science?
Get educated in Christian universities! We need young men and women who understand both sides of the issues and you can’t get that at secular colleges because they don’t have the materials available to do enough research on our side, and neither will they tolerate such work. In my experience many of the youngsters from my own denomination who went to secular universities became evolutionists because of indoctrination.