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The Geological Society of Australia seeks to censor creation, intelligent design and Flood geology

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Published: 27 December 2008 (GMT+10)
Creationists study the geological evidence
Creationists study the geological evidence

This week’s feedback responds to a public policy statement on ‘creationism’ published in December 2008 by the Geological Society of Australia in their members’ newsletter, and made available on their website.

The policy is couched in inclusive and learned language but when you look at the substance it turns out to be neither. The statement is discriminatory and anti-scientific, aimed at censoring beliefs that run contrary to the party line of the Society. This sort of behaviour is more in line with a dictatorship, and demonstrates how far the present leadership of the Society has departed from the ideals of the Enlightenment, expressed in the statement widely attributed to Voltaire, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’

Here the published policy is shown in red with Dr Tas Walker’s responses in black.

The following Geological Society of Australia policy is reproduced in TAG at the request of members. To view this policy online go to [link].

Intelligent Design Policy: science education and creationism*

The Geological Society of Australia observes a basic policy of non-discrimination and affirms the right of scientists to adhere to or associate with scientific activity without restrictions based on nationality, race, colour, age, religion, political philosophy, ethnic origin, citizenship, language or sex. The Society endorses the universality of science within the natural world.

If by ‘science’ this policy means ‘knowledge gained by observation, interpretation, logic and testing’ then creationists would agree. But science is often used in the sense of ‘what most scientists say’, which is knowledge by decree and not by observation. Any professional scientist with integrity would reject the latter meaning. Let’s see from the context what the drafters of the policy mean.

Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Science seeks to explain natural phenomena using natural laws, verifiable and reproducible observations and logical analysis; it reaches explanations that are always subject to amendment with new evidence.

This describes the activities of operational science where experiments are set up and phenomena observed in the present. Many aspects of geology can be investigated this way, including the structure of minerals, the behaviour of turbidity currents, the erosion of coastlines, and the lithology of granites. However, geology has a historical component and past geological events are not accessible to observation. Neither are they repeatable. This is where creationist geologists differ from the mainstream; they have different beliefs about history. It seems that this policy seeks to silence such minority ideas.1 How will it be possible for incorrect geological ideas to be amended in the future if the Society has a culture of censorship? By making it politically incorrect for a geologist to promote a geological interpretation that is at variance with mainstream sets a dangerous academic direction for the Society. Indeed the very policy says that acceptable explanations are ‘always subject to amendment with new evidence’. Evidently not, if the logical interpretation of the evidence coincides with biblical history. The society wants to constrain the logical analysis to that which the policy formulators find philosophically acceptable.

The Geological Society of Australia considers that notions such as Fundamental Creationism, including so called "Flood Geology", which disregard scientific evidence such as that based on repeatable observations in the natural world and the geological record, are not science and cannot be taught as science.

The policy here attacks ‘Fundamental Creationism’ and ‘Flood Geology’ but does not try to define the terms or demonstrate that its opposition is based on any knowledge of these subjects. Creationist scientists do not disregard scientific evidence. There is confusion here between operational science and historical science. Recognize that it is impossible to study the environment during the Cambrian era because we cannot travel back in time to make our observations. Sure, we can study the Cambrian rocks in the present but the interpreted depositional environment is speculation. The sorts of scenarios that geologists are willing to consider are limited by what they already believe about the past. That is why geologists continually have disagreements. That is why creationists disagree with the mainstream. The disagreements are not about evidence but about beliefs concerning history. It’s a regressive step for the Geological Society to enact a policy that decrees certain beliefs off-limit and prohibits geologists talking about them.

An essential element in the teaching of science is the encouragement of students and teachers to critically appraise the evidence for notions being taught as science. The Society states unequivocally that the dogmatic teaching of notions such as Creationism within a science curriculum stifles the development of critical thinking patterns in the developing mind and seriously compromises the best interests of objective public education. This could eventually hamper the advancement of science and technology as students take their places as leaders of future generations.

Critical appraisal? Absolutely! Students and teachers should be encouraged to critically appraise different ideas about science. So why publish a policy that advocates censorship of the creationist view? It is not the creationists who are dogmatic. It would be good for mainstream geologists to try to understand the creationist viewpoint. By exploring evidence from different perspectives we discover new insights and gain a better understanding. We are not advocating ‘dogmatic teaching’, but that students should indeed be able to explore different interpretations of historical data. This would make for good education; the development of critical thinking skills that are so necessary for the advancement of science. Ironically, it is the Society’s policy that is dogmatic and artificially constraining of thought.

In some parts of Australia, the advocacy of notions like Creationism is confronting the integrity and effectiveness of our national education system and the hard-won evidence based foundations of science. The Geological Society of Australia cannot remain silent. To do so would be a dereliction of our responsibility to intellectual freedom and to the fundamental principles of scientific thought. As a consequence, the Society dissociates itself from Creationist statements made by any member.

The claim that creationism is threatening the foundations of science is scaremongering. Many famous scientists were creationists, including Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, John Ray, Nichols Steno, John Woodward and Louis Pasteur. Censorship is what threatens the foundations of science. The Society is actually guilty of the very offense they unjustly accuse creationists of: hampering intellectual freedom. Creationists are not advocating censorship or prohibiting views we don’t like, but the formulators of this policy are doing this.

This Policy statement sets out the views of a learned Society dedicated to scientific investigation in earth science, including research, resources exploration, and education. It is made with the agreement of the Society’s Executive Committee and the below-listed Past Presidents of the Society, which are taken collectively to reasonably represent the sustaining wisdom of the Society in this matter.

The drafters of this policy claim to be speaking on behalf of a learned society. Accordingly, then, it would be in order to become informed (learned) about the arguments that creationists are actually using (rather than some caricature picked up from the media) and respond in a learned manner. This attempt at censorship is hardly consistent with the response of a learned scientific society.

I would like to ask each of the past presidents of the Geological Society of Australia whose names were listed below the policy, ‘Do you really support this policy? Have you thought about its implications for the future of the Society as an association where geological ideas can be freely raised and discussed?’ Please reconsider your endorsement of this regressive, anti-academic policy that seeks to straightjacket thinking in a most anti-scientific manner.

* ‘Creationism’ includes Intelligent Design

Presidential Endorsements
Prof A J Gleadow (2006-2008) Dr J B Waterhouse (1984-1986)
Assoc Prof A J Crawford (2004-2006) Dr M J Rickard (1983-1984)
Dr J D Foden (2002-2004) Dr R D Gee (1981-1983)
Prof E C Leitch (2000-2002) Dr C D Branch (1980-1981)
Dr R A Henderson (1998-2000) Prof S W Carey (1977-1978)m
Dr D Denham (1996-1998) Dr N H Ludbrook (1968-1969)
Dr D I Groves (1994-1996) Dr M R Banks (1966-1967)
Mr P J Legge (1992-1994) Dr J A Dulhunty (1964-1965)
Prof D H Green (1990-1992) Dr N H Fisher (1959-1961)
Mr I R Johnson (1988-1990) Prof R T Prider (1958-1959)
Prof D M Boyd (1986-1988)

References

  1. Note that most geologists prior to Charles Lyell (1797–1875) believed that Noah’s Flood had indeed been a real, and global, event, just several thousand years ago. For example, Nicholas Steno, often regarded as the father of modern stratigraphy, was a 6-day, young earth creationist. He published the first geological history ever and it was within a biblical historical framework. So it’s only in relatively recent years that ‘Flood Geology’ has had minority status. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Great Turning Point
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