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Monday, May 01, 2006

2nd Point - Uniformitarianism

"Uniformitarianism is defined by the Glossary of Geology as "the fundamental principle or doctrine that geologic processes and natural laws now operating to modify the Earth's crust have acted in the same regular manner and with essentially the same intensity throughout geologic time, and that past geologic events can be explained by phenomena and forces observable today."(Robert Bates and Julia Jackson, Glossary of Geology, 2nd edition, American Geological Institute, 1980, pg. 677).

The idea of an old earth, is based on this principle of uniformity. It was started by James Hutton's book "Theory of the Earth". The idea was later expanded on by Charles Lyell in his three-volume series "Principles of Geology" published 1830-1833. Charles Darwin took Lyell's books on the Beagle where it got him thinking about slow biological change known as gradualism."

James Hutton was perhaps the father of Uniformitarianism, but Charles Lyell was the husband and primary salesman. Between the two of them, they spearheaded the movement swept through the scientific community. But did it do so on merit, or because of the world view that was becoming more popular among scientists of that time?

Hutton’s a priori commitment to materialism

"In 1785, before examining the evidence, the deist James Hutton, ‘the Founder of Modern Geology’, proclaimed:

‘the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now … No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle’ (emphasis added)

This philosophy was expounded and popularized by the influential lawyer-geologist Charles Lyell in his book Principles of Geology (3 volumes, 1830–33), which greatly influenced Darwin. The historian and philosopher of science, William Whewell, coined the term uniformitarianism for this philosophy in an (anonymous) review of Lyell’s second volume (Quarterly Review XLVII(93):126, March 1832). Uniformitarianism is a not a refutation of Biblical teaching on Creation and the Flood, but a dogmatic refusal to consider them as even possible explanations for the rocks and fossils we observe.

Reference - Hutton, J., ‘Theory of the Earth’, a paper (with the same title of his 1795 book) communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and published in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1785; cited with approval in Holmes, A., Principles of Physical Geology, 2nd edition, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., Great Britain, pp. 43–44, 1965."

Hutton and Lyell were successful in getting the scientific community to climb on board the Uniformitarian bandwagon. But evidence just kept raising its ugly head. Way back in 1976, Dr. Henry Morris (a hydrololgist) wrote this:

The Uniformitarian Century

One of the surprising developments of the past decade has been the resurgence of catastrophism in geological interpretation. Although the great men who were the real founders of geology (Steno, Woodward, et al) were not only catastrophists but believed in the Noahic Flood as the most important geologic event in earth history, the principle of uniformitarianism has dominated geological thinking for the past 150 years. The Scottish agriculturalist, James Hutton, and then the British lawyer, Charles Lyell, persuaded their contemporaries to reject the Biblical chronology and its cataclysmic deluge in favor of very slow processes acting through aeons of time. In his widely used textbook, Zumberge stated as recently as 1963:

"Opposed to this line of thinking was Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), a contemporary of Cuvier, who held that earth changes were gradual, taking place at the same uniform slowness that they are today. Lyell is thus credited with the propagation of the premise that more or less has guided geological thought ever since, namely, that the present is the key to the past. In essence, Lyell's doctrine of uniformitarianism stated that past geological processes operated in the same manner and at the same rate they do today."1

Nevertheless, the evidence for catastrophism was there in the rocks and it could not be ignored indefinitely. Uniformitarianism was proving sterile ¾ present processes operating at present rates simply could not explain the great geological formations and structures in the earth's crust, not to mention its vast fossil graveyards. Zumberge noted:

"From a purely scientific point of view, it is unwise to accept uniformitarianism as unalterable dogma.… (One) should never close his mind to the possibility that conditions in post geological time were different than today … "2

A few geologists (Krynine, Bretz, Dachille, et al) had even earlier begun to call attention to certain strong geologic evidences of more than normal catastrophism in the geologic column. Even Lyell, of course, had recognized the significance of local floods, volcanic eruptions, etc., but had included these in his overall uniformitarian framework. Such phenomena as the "scabland" areas of Washington and the earth's many meteoritic scars, however, had begun to convince some geologists that even "ordinary" catastrophes were not the whole story.

The New Catastrophism

The recent revival of catastrophism seems to have been associated with a number of brilliant papers by Stephen Jay Gould, a geologist and historian of science with impeccable credentials. Gould first stressed the necessity to distinguish between uniformity of natural laws and uniformity of process rates.

"Uniformitarianism is a dual concept. Substantive uniformitarianism (a testable theory of geologic change postulating uniformity of rates of material conditions) is false and stifling to hypothesis formation. Methodological uniformitarianism (a procedural principle asserting spatial and temporal invariance of natural laws) belongs to the definition of science and is not unique to geology."3

It is interesting to note that writers on Biblical catastrophism have always stressed that they are only rejecting the concept of uniform rates, not that of uniformity in natural laws. Gould was merely repeating what catastrophists had long emphasized.

More recently, Gould has recognized this fact, while also calling attention to the devious methods by which Lyell and others in the 19th century had persuaded their contemporaries to reject Biblical catastrophism in favor of uniformitarianism:

"Charles Lyell was a lawyer by profession, and his book is one of the most brilliant briefs ever published by an advocate ... Lyell relied upon true bits of cunning to establish his uniformitarian views as the only true geology. First, he set up a straw man to demolish ... In fact, the catastrophists were much more empirically minded than Lyell. The geologic record does seem to require catastrophes: rocks are fractured and contorted; whole faunas are wiped out. To circumvent this literal appearance, Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence. The geologic record, he argued, is extremely imperfect and we must interpolate into it what we can reasonably infer but cannot see. The catastrophists were the hard-nosed empiricists of their day, not the blinded theological apologists."4

Lest anyone misunderstand, it should be emphasized that Gould is neither a creationist nor a Biblical catastrophist. In fact he and other modern geological quasi-catastrophists are confident that their battle with the Bible has been won and that they can now safely and openly revert to catastrophism in their geological interpretations without the danger of appearing to support Biblical supernaturalism. Gould had said, for example:

"As a special term, methodological uniformitarianism was useful only when science was debating the status of the supernatural in its realm; for if God intervenes, then laws are not invariant and induction becomes invalid.… The term today is an anachronism.…"5
Read the entire article here.

An entire generation of Americans grew up being taught an imaginary geological column that is basically non-existent in the real world, and a theory of uniformitarianism that was unsupported by the evidence. They were led to believe that the rock layers were laid down over millions of years, gradually, by the laying down of dust and debris and other natural processes that continue to this day. This is, as we know now, a complete hoax.

As Dr. Morris mentioned, Uniformitarianism was a weapon in the holster of macroevolutionists to apply long ages to the earth and allow for the possibility of macroevolution. Now, of course, it is recognized that the rock layers are the remains of catastrophic water events. Creationists say, well of course, the year-long Biblical flood and its aftermath can account for these formations. Those who oppose creation must claim numerous different catastrophic events that somehow managed to leave their records all over the planet and yet could not have possibly been the Noahic Flood. Personally, I see this as a philosophical choice, ignoring the obvious explanation of the global flood because of the implications of allowing for the possibility of a Creator.

Uniformitarianism - Post Gradualism

In regards to Uniformitarianism, Warren D. Allmon writes, "As is now increasingly acknowledged, however, Lyell also sold geology some snake oil. He convinced geologists that because physical laws are constant in time and space and current processes should be consulted before resorting to unseen processes, it necessarily follows that all past processes acted at essentially their current rates (that is, those observed in historical time). This extreme gradualism has led to numerous unfortunate consequences, including the rejection of sudden or catastrophic events in the face of positive evidence for them, for no reason other than that they were not gradual." ("Post Gradualism", Science, vol. 262, October 1, 1993, pg. 122).

Since the layers of sedimentary rock were all laid down by sudden water events and since the record of those events are found all over the world, one would think that science would begin considering the possibility of the Noahic Flood more seriously. Yet most scientists don't even consider this. The widely held view that macroevolution is a fact, erroneous that it may be, has kept most scientists from exploring this possibility.

Dr. Morris logically reached a conclusion here:

"The only real reason for imposing a billion-year time frame on the catastrophes is the necessity to provide time for evolution. As a matter of fact, the strata themselves show evidence of being a complex of interconnected and continuous regional catastrophes combining to comprise a global cataclysm.

In the first place, the rocks of all "ages" look the same. That is, there are rocks of all kinds, minerals of all kinds, structures of all kinds, in rocks of all ages.

Secondly, every formation grades, somewhere, up into another formation continuously without a time break. This follows from the fact that there is no worldwide "unconformity." An unconformity is a supposed erosional surface between two adjacent rock formations, representing a time break of unknown duration between deposition periods. It was once believed that such unconformities were, indeed, worldwide:

"In the early history of stratigraphy, unconformities were overestimated in that they were believed to represent coeval diastrophism over areas of infinitely wide extent."15

It is now known, however, that all such unconformities are of very limited extent, and furthermore, that they have no particular time significance.

"Many unconformity-bounded units are considered to be chrono-stratigraphic units in spite of the fact that unconformity surfaces inevitably cut across isochronous horizons and hence cannot be true chronostratigraphic boundaries."16

From these facts, a simple syllogistic line of reasoning can proceed as follows: (1) since every formation was produced rapidly and catastrophically; and (2) since every such formation somewhere grades into another above it without an interruption in the deposition process; and (3) since the whole (of the geologic column) is the sum of its parts; therefore (4) the entire geologic column was formed continuously and rapidly, in a worldwide interconnected complex of catastrophes."

That is the most logical interpretation of the rock layers found around the world. It is the one I ascribe to and it is the one that fits in nicely with the worldwide flood model. It just doesn't work too well with the hypothesis of macroevolution, which requires long, long ages and rocks laid down multiple millions of years apart.


Anonymous said...

"Now, of course, it is recognized that the rock layers are the remains of catastrophic water events. "

But no.

Some are, sure. Many are not recognized as any such thing by modern geology. You can call up your local geology department and check. I'll go get a list of contact info in a bit . . .

-Dan S.

chaos_engineer said...

It is interesting to note that writers on Biblical catastrophism have always stressed that they are only rejecting the concept of uniform rates, not that of uniformity in natural laws.

So the Biblical Flood followed the same natural laws as the smaller floods and tsunamis that we have today?

This is an easy theory to test. We just need to look at modern flood sites.

Do modern floods produce one big layer of sediment, or hundreds of thin-but-distinct layers? Do animal carcasses get distributed evenly, or are they segregated by species? (With worms appearing all the way through, reptiles starting halfway up, and humans only at the very top?) Do the layers at the bottom appear to be unusually old according to radiation-dating techniques?

If yes, then that's pretty good evidence for a global flood. But if not, we either have to give up Biblical Literalism, or we have to assume that the laws of nature used to be fundamentally different and that we can't make meaningful statements about what happened in the past.

A Hermit said...

" ‘the past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now … No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle’

In other words, in order to do useful scientific research you have to work with what is known and can be observed, and leave out things like wishful thinking. Otherwise there's no way of deciding what is at work; it could all be the work of gremlins or fairies, right?

To use a simple example; if you're going to study thunderstorms scientifically you have to do it using meterological observations, and not invoke the existence of Thor swinging his hammer around as an explantion for thunder.

I notice you cut and pasted a quote from Warren Allmon; here's some free advice. Before you do that, you should look up what the man has actually said instead of relying on some creationist website's interpretation.

For example:

Cornell News Service

""There is no controversy among scientists whether or not evolution occurred," stated Allmon. "It is considered the best hypothesis available." Scientists are certain about evolution, he said, because of the tremendous amount of evidence that supports the hypothesis.

Statement on the Dover Decision

"We would like to believe that this case will mark the end of efforts to introduce ID into public school science classes, but exhortations to "teach the controversy" are likely to persist. All who care about science, science education, and the positive role of science in contemporary society must remain vigilant against future attempts to subvert the scientific way of knowing for religious or political ends."

Allmon appears to be best known for creating a program to teach museum docents how to counter misinformation from creationists. Whatever he has to say about uniformitarianism it's pretty clear that he doesn't think there is grounds for overturning the theory of evolution here.

This is a typical creationist tactic; take a couple of lines out of context, pretend it means something it doesn't and then cite the quote as evidence of a scientist "questioning evolution". I don't know if this deliberate on your part, or an example of how "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", but deceptive appeals of this sort tend to undermine, rather than support, your argument.

MOrris is, of course, being disingenuous here as wel; roclk formations are not uniform al over the world because of variations in local ecology, localized catastrophic events, etc. all of which are allowed for even within a contemporary naturalist view of geology.

You knew it had to be coming! Here's a talkorigins link!

"Modern uniformitarianism (actualism) differs from nineteenth century Lyell uniformitarianism. The prevailing view in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was that the earth had been created by supernatural means and had been shaped by several catastrophes, such as worldwide floods. In 1785, James Hutton published the proposal that Earth's history could be explained in terms of processes observed in the present; that is, "the present is key to the past." This was the beginning of uniformitarianism. Charles Lyell, in his Principles of Geology, modified Hutton's ideas and applied this philosophy to explain geological features in terms of relatively gradual everyday processes.

"Geologists today no longer subscribe to Lyell uniformitarianism. Starting in the late ninteenth century, fieldwork showed that natural catastrophes still have a role in creating the geologic record. For example, in the later twentieth century, J. Harlan Bretz showed that the Scablands in eastern Washington formed from a large flood when a glacial lake broke through an ice dam; and Luis Alvarez proposed that an asteroid impact was responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Actualism (modern uniformitarianism) states that the geologic record is the product of both slow, gradual processes (such as glacial erosion) and natural catastrophes (such as volcanic eruptions and landslides). However, natural catastrophes are not consistent with creationist catastrophism, such as "Flood geology." First, they are much smaller than the world-shaping events proposed as part of the creationists' catastrophism. More to the point, they still represent processes observed in the present. Meteorites, glacial melting, and flash floods still occur regularly, and we can (and do, as in the examples above) extrapolate from the observed occurrences to larger events of the same sort. The scale of events may change, but the physical laws operating today are key to the past."

University of Oregon. n.d. Uniformitarianism.

Further Reading:
Lyell, Charles, 1830. Principles of Geology. London: John Murray.

A rejection of the stricter aspects of Lyell's interpretations does NOT require a return to Biblical literalism. To conclude from the refinement of the uniformitarian view in geology that "An entire generation of Americans grew up being taught an imaginary geological column that is basically non-existent in the real world" is simply an unwarranted leap of imagination and not supported by the facts.

More T.O. links:

A Visit to the ICR: Part 4

"Missing ages? Missing strata? No problem. Lehi Hintze's Geologic History of Utah describes about 100 local geologic columns for that state -- all differ at least slightly from each other. The beauty is that they correlate from location to location, and one can build a history of the larger area from a number of local columns. The geologic columns of Utah are rich in Mesozoic strata and dinosaur fossils, unlike the state of Illinois (where I reside), which has neither Mesozoic age rocks nor dinosaur fossils in most of its local columns. An incomplete local geologic column is typical, and this means only that no sedimentary rock was being deposited during that geologic time period. What the ICR refers to as "inverted ages" are nothing more than folds and thrust faults -- concepts that are covered in introductory geology. The ICR sets up a "straw man" argument concerning geologic columns, indicating problems that anyone who has passed a 100-level college geology course knows are ridiculous."

The Geologic Column and its Implications for the Flood

This last is an excellent article, citing teh work of oil industry geolgists to support the existence and reliability of the geological column. If they were wrong no one would ever find any oil...


A Well Fueled Hermit

Anonymous said...

Very nice, Hermit!. Well fueled, indeed. What are they feedin' you guys up North? I want some . . .

Radar, can you tell us what state you live in? I want to dig up some local geology bits . . . although if you spent any significant time in the Northeast, I could happily go with that . . .

-Dan S.

creeper said...


Radar lives in Indiana.

creeper said...

"An entire generation of Americans grew up being taught an imaginary geological column that is basically non-existent in the real world"

It does exist, and it is not imaginary. The entire geologic column is found in 25 basins around the world, piled up in proper order. These basins are:

* The Ghadames Basin in Libya
* The Beni Mellal Basin in Morrocco
* The Tunisian Basin in Tunisia
* The Oman Interior Basin in Oman
* The Western Desert Basin in Egypt
* The Adana Basin in Turkey
* The Iskenderun Basin in Turkey
* The Moesian Platform in Bulgaria
* The Carpathian Basin in Poland
* The Baltic Basin in the USSR
* The Yeniseiy-Khatanga Basin in the USSR
* The Farah Basin in Afghanistan
* The Helmand Basin in Afghanistan
* The Yazd-Kerman-Tabas Basin in Iran
* The Manhai-Subei Basin in China
* The Jiuxi Basin China
* The Tung t'in - Yuan Shui Basin China
* The Tarim Basin China
* The Szechwan Basin China
* The Yukon-Porcupine Province Alaska
* The Williston Basin in North Dakota
* The Tampico Embayment Mexico
* The Bogata Basin Colombia
* The Bonaparte Basin, Australia
* The Beaufort Sea Basin/McKenzie River Delta

This, too, has been pointed out to you before.

And yet here you are, repeating the claim.

A Hermit said...

"What are they feedin' you guys up North?"

Seal blubber, mostly. There's lots available now that the Polar Bears are disappearing...