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Journal of Creation 33(2):28–30, August 2019

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Rigid uniformitarianism and a hysterical fear of the scientific creationist bogeyman

A review of Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world
by Marcia Bjornerud
Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2018

by

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Marcia Bjornerud is identified as professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University. This lite book is a rather superficial overview of natural history, as viewed through the lenses of the evolutionary-uniformitarian paradigm. With this, the author attempts to connect historical geology with her obvious climate change and environmentalist agendas. The latter includes her prejudices against fracking, which features an uncritical repetition of claims about the alleged environmental damage that it causes. She also throws in some jibes against creationist scientists, including her dislike of creationist uses of evidences that support the creationist position.

Rapidly crystallized macroscopic igneous minerals

About the only positive feature of this book is the recognition that the crystals in pegmatites can grow at rates of inches per year (p. 127). (Throughout my years of undergraduate geology training, I was taught, as indisputable fact, that millions of years are necessary for crystals in a cooling magma to grow to macroscopic size.) In contrast, a cited study1 arrives at galloping crystal growth rates of 10-6 cm/sec to 10-5 cm/sec. This comes out to a 1 cm crystal grown from the magma in 1–12 days.

Doctrinaire uniformitarianism

The author effortlessly confuses observation and interpretation whenever she discusses geology. For example, she brings up (as monotonically do so many other books) the unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland (figure 1), and how it ‘confirmed’ to James Hutton that the earth must be very old. In common with virtually all uniformitarians who use this ‘evidence’, Bjornerud does not show even a glimmer of skepticism in the premise that the erosion needed to create an unconformity requires vast amounts of time to happen.

Bjornerud’s treatment of isotopic dating is no better. She admits (p. 49) that different minerals from the same rock commonly yield different dates, but assures us, after the fact, that this is “expected” because different minerals have different closure temperatures. This is the special pleading inherent in uniformitarian dating methods: Isotopic dating is valid because its results are consistent, while at the same time inconsistencies are ‘expected’. Heads I win, tails you lose. She also (p. 54) presents the 40Ar/39Ar plateau as proof of closed system over time. It is not. Results showing a plateau can be obviously incorrect, and must be explained away.2

The author brings up plate tectonics as proof of the validity of the standard uniformitarian geologic age system. In doing so, she appears to be blissfully unaware of creationist work on catastrophic plate tectonics. The prominence of catastrophic plate tectonics in creationist literature and on creationist websites makes her ignorance of this fact all the more inexcusable. (My saying this does not imply support for catastrophic plate tectonics. I favour the use of multiple working hypotheses by creationists, and this includes the development of models that allow for static continents as well as those that allow for moving continents.)

Scorning creationists and running away from the evidence of rapid metamorphism

The issue in question was summarized by Bjornerud3 in another publication as follows:

“A reservoir-flux systems model is used to explore the interplay among the hydrologic, metamorphic and deformational processes recorded in these rocks. The model suggests that the metamorphic ‘event’ may have been remarkably brief (<<1 My) and governed by subtle interactions among phenomena over a wide range of scales.”

Now all this is revolutionary because, according to standard uniformitarian dogma (which I well remember from both undergraduate and graduate school), it takes countless millions of years for metamorphic rocks to form. The possibility that any kind of metamorphism could rapidly occur, even given the constraints of the kind of slow mountain building that is assumed to unfold within the context of uniformitarianism, is startling.

Lysippos/CC BY 3.0siccar-point
Figure 1. The endlessly quoted unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland—a perennial but unproven argument for an old earth.

Marcia Bjornerud is visibly upset that scientific creationists have located her work, and dismisses these scholars with these patronizing words:

“We used some theoretical constraints to suggest that in this case, the spotty metamorphism might have happened in thousands or tens of thousands of years, rather than the hundreds of thousands to millions of years in more typical tectonic settings. This ‘evidence for rapid metamorphism’ is what someone at the Institute for Creation Research grabbed onto and cited—completely ignoring the fact that the rocks are known to be about a billion years old and that the Caledonides were formed around 400 million years ago. I was stunned to realize that there are people with enough time, training, and motivation to be trawling the vast waters of the scientific literature for such finds, and that someone is probably paying them to do it. The stakes must be very high. For those who deliberately confuse the public with falsified accounts of natural history, colluding with powerful religious syndicates to promote doctrine that serves their own coffers or political agendas, my Midwestern niceness reaches its limit” (pp. 10–11).

Oh dear! How dare any intelligent person think differently from the uniformitarian! Note also that Bjornerud does not point to any error in the creationist use of her work (and fails to mention that the author of the piece in question is just as well qualified in geology4). All she can do is try to confuse the issue by bringing up the inferred great age of the rocks (an issue entirely separate from rapid metamorphism) and then get all emotional about what she imagines to be the malevolence of creationist scholars.

A pathological prejudice against independent thinkers

The author’s aversion to creationist scholarship goes even deeper. It borders on hysteria. She confesses:

“My colleagues and I despair at the existence of atrocities like Kentucky’s Creation Museum, and the disheartening frequency with which young earth websites appear when students search for information about, say, isotopic dating” (p. 9).

Someone who has survived a massacre will no doubt be offended by Bjornerud’s usage of ‘atrocities’, regardless of how he or she feels about creationism.

Some old chestnuts

There is nothing new under the sun, and this is especially true of anti-creationists. Author Marcia Bjornerud dusts off the old Haldane argument that the discovery of a Precambrian rabbit would falsify the evolutionary-uniformitarian timescale. It would not. The Class Mammalia would be redefined as a polyphyletic group, with some mammals arising in the Precambrian and the rest in the early Mesozoic.

She also re-exhumes Dobzhansky’s self-serving wisecrack that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Tell that to Linnaeus, who, while disbelieving evolution and accepting Special Creation, invented the system of classification still used by biologists today. Then tell it to evolution-disbeliever and creationist Gregor Mendel, who discovered the laws of genetics. And so on.

We are, once again, assured that Genesis makes God out to be a deceiver. Either that, or Genesis is an ‘offensive dumbing down’ (to whom?) of the Creation. Then again, this only goes on to show the abject shallowness and rigidity in the thinking of this author.

Conclusion

This book has very little new to offer. It is a rehash of old evolutionistic and uniformitarian shibboleths, with little evidence of any kind of substantial understanding of the creationist position. The author’s undisguised hostility to creationist usage of her scientific findings alone discredits her as a serious author.

References

  1. Webber, K. et al., Cooling rates and crystallization dynamics of shallow level pegmatite-aplite dikes, San Diego County, California, American Mineralogist 84:708–717, 1999. (The page range to this reference as listed in her book, on p. 199, at pp. 718–717, is evidently a typo.) Return to text
  2. Woodmorappe, J., The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, 1999. Return to text
  3. Bjornerud, M., Fluid-triggered, rheologically buffered eclogite metamorphism, Bergen Arcs, western Norway, Abstracts With Programs—Geological Society of America 33(6):51, 2001. Return to text
  4. The paper concerned was evidently Snelling, A.A., Confirmation of rapid metamorphism of rocks, Impact 392, February 2006. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Dan B.
Old-earth geologists in general increasingly resemble that Japanese soldier still fighting WW2 on an island in the 1970s. As Prof. Bjornerud again exemplifies, they customarily throw about "millions of years" like confetti, whereas multiple discoveries throughout the solar system imply that MOY are more akin to gold dust (very few available to make use of) or indeed hens' teeth (none at all). Seems these geologists would benefit from a multidisciplinary perspective by occasionally lifting their noses up from the rocks. "Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see."
C Z.
She says, "Completely ignoring the fact that the rocks are known to be about a billion years old and that the Caledonides were formed around 400 million years ago."

I am curious, how does she know that? I want to ask her how she knows for certain that those rocks are billions of years old. She did not observe when the rocks formed, but she states it as fact. It seems to me she does not even realize her presumptions and bias; at least, those who believe the Bible admit theirs.
Bill P.
I admit I have no college degree in any field of science. (Spent my life working to pay for my wife's & son's higher education). Yet I've always loved science & the different fields of this subject. It always seemed to come easy to me during the years I attended a college prep high school run by the Catholic church decades ago. Even back then I had doubts & questions about what they were teaching me because they also were teaching from this world's evolutionary view. (In those days of strict schooling you were not allowed to question what they taught). Within a decade of graduation I became a believer in The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I loved reading Scripture in O.T. & N.T. Also read many books of science, geology, biology, etc. Even listened to people who claimed GOD used evolution in the creation process. (Something also seemed wrong w/what they were saying.). Then in the mid-1990's I began to come across work done by those who were in science that started their careers as evolutionists & after years of work became creationists. I ate up like candy what they wrote about in their studies.
I can only speak for myself. Believing that ALL of Scripture is GOD Breathed combined w/everything I've read by "True Creation Scientists" I truly believe that the World Wide Flood in Noah's Day was so "destructive" ALL over the earth that this earth is still recovering from what happened in "those days" some 4500 yrs. ago.
Again IMO their are no billions of years & their is no Global Warming. This earth (so to speak) is still healing from being torn apart by eruptions, & precipitation of water & snow that are way beyond what we can imagine today. I sometimes wonder what terror went through the hearts of those who refused to repent in Noah's Day.
GOD is worthy of praise & honor.
WR B.
“About the only positive feature of this book is the recognition that the crystals in pegmatites can grow at rates of inches per year (p. 127). (Throughout my years of undergraduate geology training, I was taught, as indisputable fact, that millions of years are necessary for crystals in a cooling magma to grow to macroscopic size.) In contrast, a cited study arrives at galloping crystal growth rates of 10-6 cm/sec to 10-5 cm/sec. This comes out to a 1 cm crystal grown from the magma in 1–12 days.”
Have you seen the latest YouTube videos about how to grow your own rubies? Real sapphires and rubies! It if not the cooling that is the problem. They crystallize instantly as they cool, but it is the melting that requires the right setup. And, melting is a function of heat and pressure. Maybe we need to consider astral-impacts more. They do produce lots of heat and pressure in a limited space and in a highly predictable pattern, they can even produce your pegmatites underground in an instant, as meltrock is forced into subcratering fissures that are opened, and cool just below the surface within a few days. Even we Creationist could stand to broaden our considerations.
Jim M.
Like Philip M. from AU, I like to consider the philosophical aspects of things and from that perspective, I would respectfully disagree with Philip that “nothing makes unifying sense except in the light of history”.

I suggest that the Standard Model of particle physics makes unifying sense of a large number of observations and, while those observations were made in a particular time sequence in history, the unifying sense is independent of the order, i.e the history, of these observations, can be understood without reference to the order/history, and thus is independent of that history.

I think that it is important to distinguish (as CMI consistency does) between Operational Science and Historical Science. This is not an artificial construct by creationists. Dr. Michael Turner, theoretical cosmologist at the University of Chicago is quoted in Science as saying, “The goal of physics is to understand the basic dynamics of the universe. Cosmology is a little different. The goal is to reconstruct the history of the universe.”

Clearly in Historical science disciplines, which, in addition to cosmology, include evolution and the part of geology that attempts to reconstruct the history of the Earth—as per the book reviewed in this article—the reconstructed ‘history’ is critical to providing a unifying sense. However, this is not the case for Operational science disciplines. The recent article by Dr Carter on RNA vaccines makes it quite clear that the development of these vaccines depended only on the dynamics of human cells and viruses, i.e. biology, and not at all on the history of how human cells and viruses came into being. Moreover, that article made perfect sense without any reference to evolution, refuting Dobzhansky’s assertion.
S H.
It is even more concerning that many people within secular ways of thinking are becoming increasingly dogmatic in not only their belief systems but those that they tolerate from others. As in other areas of our world it seems that tolerance and equality look very much like conformity. Much of what we are being told to believe looks a lot more ‘pharisaical’ than the Christian worldview they love to criticise. Ironic that the very foundation of free speech and critical thinking (Christian worldview) is seemingly increasingly silenced by those whose intolerance to other views is undermining the very democracy they claim to uphold. It apparently matters not if views and beliefs are destructive or even untrue, just as long as loyalty to the secular or even the latest ‘woke’ worldview remains. We’re seeing this across society as the new high priests appear in all areas of life. The modern day ‘Pharisees’ are not Christian but secular and obedience is demanded! How totally different from Jesus who comes to set us free from slavery and who gives life in all its fullness. The world imposes from the outside and enslaves where Jesus changes from the inside and frees!
Philip M.
Dobzhansky’s well-known statement, quoted in the article from Bjornerud’s book, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, no doubt many, including myself, find intriguing from a philosophical viewpoint. My reason is that since evolution is basically an historical narrative (albeit an atheistic historical narrative) as is creation, then Dobzhansky’s statement generalised is essentially saying that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of history”. Which is quite correct if we are looking for a unifying factor in biology. “Nothing makes unifying sense except in the light of history”.

History is the unifying factor of most if not all things. In biology, it is simply a case of which history we use.

(I know your article is criticising a book from a scientific perspective, and rightly so, but I like to view things also from a philosophical perspective.)

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