Reprinted from Creation/Evolution IX (1982)
Some years ago, NASA released the first deep-space photographs of the beautiful cloud-swirled blue-green agate we call Earth. A reporter showed one of them to the late Samuel Shenton, then president of International Flat Earth Research Society. Shenton studied it for a moment and said, “It's easy to see how such a picture could fool the untrained eye.”
Well-trained eyes (and minds) are characteristic of pseudoscientists. Shenton rejected the spherical earth as conflicting with a literal interpretation of the Bible, and he trained his eyes and his mind to reject evidence which contradicted his view. Scientific creationists must similarly train their minds to reject the overwhelming evidence from geology, biology, physics and astronomy which contradicts their interpretation of the Bible. In a public forum, the best way to demonstrate that creationism is pseudoscience is to show just how well-trained creationist minds are.
Pseudoscience differs from science in several fundamental ways, but most notably in its attitude toward hypothesis testing. In science, hypotheses are ideas proposed to explain the facts, and they're not considered much good unless they can survive rigorous tests. In pseudoscience, hypotheses are erected as defenses against the facts. Pseudoscientists frequently offer hypotheses flatly contradicted by well-known facts which can be ignored only by well-trained minds. Therefore, to demonstrate that creationists are pseudoscientists, one need only carry some creationist hypotheses to their logical conclusions.
Fossils and Animals
Scientific creationists interpret the fossils found in the earth's rocks as the remains of animals which perished in the Noachian Deluge. Ironically, they often cite the sheer number of fossils in “fossil graveyards” as evidence for the Flood. In particular, creationists seem enamored of the Karroo Formation in Africa, which is estimated to contain the remains of 800 billion vertebrate animals (see Whitcomb and Morris, p. 160; Gish, p. 61). As pseudoscientists, creationists dare not test this major hypothesis that all of the fossilized animals died in the Flood.
Robert E. Sloan, a paleontologist at the University of Minnesota, has studied the Karroo Formation. He told me that the animals fossilized there range from the size of a small lizard to the size of a cow, with the average animal perhaps the size of a fox. A minute's work with a calculator shows that, if the 800 billion animals in the Karroo Formation could be resurrected, there would be 21 of them for every acre of land on earth. Suppose we assume (conservatively, I think) that the Karroo Formation contains 1% of the vertebrate fossils on earth. Then when the Flood began there must have been at least 2100 living animals per acre, ranging from tiny shrews to immense dinosaurs. To a noncreationist mind, that seems a bit crowded.
I sprang this argument on Duane Gish during a joint appearance on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 21st, 1980. Gish did the only thing he could: he stonewalled by challenging my figures, in essence calling me a liar. I didn't have a calculator with me, but I duplicated the calculation with pencil and paper and hit him with it again. His reply? Creationists can't answer everything. It's been estimated that there are 100 billion billion herring in the sea. How did I account for that?! Later, I tried this number on a calculator and discovered that it amounts to about 27,000 herring per square foot of ocean surface. I concluded (a) that all of the herring are red, and (b) that they were created ex nihilo by Duane Gish on the evening of October 21st, 1980.
The continents are, on average, covered with sedimentary rock to a depth of about one mile. Some of the rock (chalk, for instance) is essentially 100% fossils and many limestones also contain high percentages of marine fossils. On the other hand, some rock is barren. Suppose that, on average, marine fossils comprise .1% of the volume of the rock. If all of the fossilized marine animals could be resurrected, they would cover the entire planet to a depth of at least 1.5 feet. What did they eat?
Creationists can't appeal to the tropical paradise they imagine existed below the pre- Flood canopy because the laws of thermodynamics prohibit the earth from supporting that much animal biomass. The first law says that energy can't be created, so the animals would have to get their energy from the sun. The second law limits the efficiency with which solar energy can be converted to food. The amount of solar energy available is not nearly sufficient.
The famous Green River formation covers tens of thousands of square miles. In places, it contains about 20 million varves, each varve consisting of a thin layer of fine light sediment and an even thinner layer of finer dark sediment. According to the conventional geologic interpretation, the layers are sediments laid down in a complex of ancient freshwater lakes. The coarser light sediments were laid down during the summer, when streams poured run-off water into the lake. The fine dark sediments were laid down in the winter, when there was less run-off. (The process can be observed in modern freshwater lakes.) If this interpretation is correct, the varves of the Green River formation must have formed over a period of 20 million years.
Creationists insist that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, and that the geologic strata were laid down by the Flood. Whitcomb and Morris (p. 427) therefore attempt to attribute the Green River varves to “a complex of shallow turbidity currents ...” Turbidity currents, flows of mud-laden water, generally occur in the ocean, resulting from underwater landslides. If the Green River shales were laid down during the Flood, there must have been 40 million turbidity currents, alternately light and dark, over about 300 days. A simple calculation (which creationists have avoided for 20 years) shows that the layers must have formed at the rate of about three layers every two seconds. A sequence of 40 million turbidity currents covering tens of thousands of square miles every two-thirds of a second seems a bit unlikely.
Henry Morris apparently can't deal with these simple numbers. Biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University dropped this bombshell on him during a debate in Tampa, Florida, on September 19th, 1981, and Morris didn't attempt a reply. Fred Edwords used essentially the same argument against Duane Gish in a debate on February 2, 1982. In rebuttal, Gish claimed that some of the fossilized fishes project through several layers of sediment, and therefore the layers can't be semiannual. As usual, Gish's argument ignores the main issue, which is the alleged formation of millions of distinct layers of sediment in less than a year. Furthermore, Gish's argument is false, according to American Museum of Natural History paleontologist R. Lance Grande, an authority on the Green River Formation. Grande says that while bones or fins of an individual fish may cut several layers, in general each fish is blanketed by a single layer of sediment.
For numerous communicable diseases, the only known “reservoir” is man. That is, the germs or viruses which cause these diseases can survive only in living human bodies or well-equipped laboratories. Well-known examples include measles, pneumococcal pneumonia, leprosy, typhus, typhoid fever, small pox, poliomyelitis, syphilis and gonorrhea. Was it Adam or Eve who was created with gonorrhea? How about syphilis? The scientific creationists insist on a completed creation, where the creator worked but six days and has been resting ever since. Thus, between them, Adam and Eve had to have been created with every one of these diseases. Later, somebody must have carried them onto Noah's Ark.
Note that the argument covers every disease germ or virus which can survive only in a specific host. But even if the Ark was a floating pesthouse, few of these diseases could have survived. In most cases, only two animals of each “kind” are supposed to have been on the Ark. Suppose the male of such a pair came down with such a disease shortly after the Ark embarked. He recovered, but passed the disease to his mate. She recovered, too, but had no other animal to pass the disease to, for the male was now immune. Every disease for which this cycle lasts less than a year should therefore have become extinct!
Creationists can't pin the blame for germs on Satan. If they do, the immediate question is: How do we know Satan didn't create the rest of the universe? That has frequently been proposed, and if Satan can create one thing, he can create another. If a creationist tries to claim germs are mutations of otherwise benign organisms (degenerate forms, of course), he will actually be arguing for evolution. Such hypothetical mutations could only be considered favorable, since only the mutated forms survived.
At all costs, creationists avoid discussing how fossils came to be stratified as they are. Out of perhaps thousands of pages Henry Morris has written on creationism, only a dozen or so are devoted to this critical subject, and he achieves that page count only by recycling three simple apologetics in several books. The mechanisms he offers might be called victim habitat, victim mobility, and hydraulic sorting. In practise, the victim habitat and mobility apologetics are generally combined. Creationists argue that the Flood would first engulf marine animals, then slow lowland creatures like reptiles, etc., while wily and speedy man escaped to the hilltops. To a creationist, this adequately explains the order in which fossils occur in the geologic column. A scientist might test these hypotheses by examining how well they explain the fact that flowering plants don't occur in the fossil record until early in the Cretaceous era. A scenario with magnolias (a primitive plant) heading for the hills, only to be overwhelmed along with early mammals, is unconvincing.
If explanations based on victim habitat and mobility are absurd, the hydraulic sorting apologetic is flatly contradicted by the fossil record. An object's hydrodynamic drag is directly proportional to its cross sectional area and its drag coefficient. Therefore when objects with the same density and the same drag coefficient move through a fluid, they are sorted according to size. (Mining engineers exploit this phenomena in some ore separation processes.) This means that all small trilobites should be found higher in the fossil record than large ones. That is not what we find, however, so the hydraulic sorting argument is immediately falsified. Indeed, one wonders how Henry Morris, a hydraulic engineer, could ever have offered it with a straight face.
Ever since George McCready Price, many creationists have pointed to overturned strata as evidence against conventional geology. Actually, geologists have a good explanation for overturned strata, where the normal order of fossils is precisely reversed. The evidence for folding is usually obvious, and where it's not, it can be inferred from the reversed fossil order. But creationists have no explanation for such strata. Could the Flood suddenly reverse the laws of hydrodynamics (or whatever)? All of the phenomena which characterize overturned strata are impossible for creationists to explain. Well-preserved trilobites, for instance, are usually found belly down in the rock. If rock strata containing trilobites are overturned, we would expect to find most of the trilobites belly up. Indeed, that is what we do find in overturned strata. Other things which show a geologist or paleontologist which way is up include worm and brachiopod burrows, footprints, fossilized mud cracks, raindrop craters, graded bedding, etc. Actually, it's not surprising that creationists can't explain these features when they're upside down; they can't explain them when they're right side up, either.
Each of the six preceding arguments subjects a well-known creationist hypothesis to an elementary and obvious test. In each case, the hypothesis fails miserably. In each case, the failure is obvious to anyone not protected from reality by a special kind of blindness.
Studying science doesn't make one a scientist any more than studying ethics makes one honest. The studies must be applied. Forming and testing hypotheses is the foundation of science, and those who refuse to test their hypotheses cannot be called scientists, no matter what their credentials. Most people who call themselves creationists have no scientific training, and they cannot be expected to know and apply the scientific method. But the professional creationists who flog the public with their doctorates (earned, honorary, or bogus) have no excuse. Because they fail to submit their hypotheses to the most elementary tests, they fully deserve the appellation of pseudoscientist.
Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover, pp. 127-133.
Gish, Duane T. 1978. Evolution: The Fossils Say No! San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.
Whitcomb, John C., and Henry M. Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.