Saturday, February 08, 2014

My Thoughts on the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

Part 2: The Fossil Record

When I was a kid growing up in churches, I can remember how creationists loved to talk about the "fossil record".  In particular, they loved to talk about "missing links". The picture they drew of the fossil record was one where a fossil was laid down every now and then of a particular individual creature who happened to be unlucky enough to fall into a bog or something.  Thus, to create an evolutionary continuum, one had to fill in a lot of wide gaps, or missing links.  One got the impression that these fossils were few and far between, and that it took a lot of imagination to envision a hereditary linkage between them.

Bill Nye starts out his 30 min. presentation talking about limestone underneath Kentucky, where they are holding their debate.  He makes the startling statement (and Ken Ham will never address this) that every layer of this limestone (millions of layers going down for miles beneath the ground) contains fossilized creatures which "lived out their lives".

But Bill Nye doesn't really take this far enough, in my opinion.

When I was with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, I traveled all over the world and spent a lot of time with scientists studying long cores brought up from underneath the ocean floor.  Rather than talking about ice cores, I wish Mr. Nye had looked into what the IODP does.  The IODP regularly brings up many hundreds of meters of continuous core from underneath the ocean. I'm talking about hundeds of meters (even miles) of continuous core going straight down beneath the ocean floor. These cores are sometimes frozen, sometimes solid rock, or mud. They often show the same kinds of bands (like tree rings) which can be used for measuring their age, but this is just one of several independent ways the age of sections of core can be measured. Experiments are done on samples taken from the cores using instruments on board the ship, and these experiments give age estimates which generally agree to a high degree.  And they agree not only with other samples from the same core, but with other samples taken from cores that come from all over the world.  All of this information from literally thousands of miles of core samples taken from hundreds of locations from pole to pole is publicly available, and tons of research has been done on it.

And of course, the age estimates are always in the millions of years.

But there's another thing: every cubic centimeter of the stuff (be it rock or clay or mud, etc) is filled with tiny fossils. These little beings are called foraminifera and diatoms (and others). And they can be seen to be evolving over time. They evolve gradually and lay down so many fossils that if one took photos of samples from every few centimeters one could literally make a movie documenting ages and ages of evolution, though smooth, continuous changes (in fact this has been done).

They evolve both inside and out, and in many ways. If one looks at two specimens from, say, 100 meters apart in the core (which might equate to a few million years), they look as different as a polar bear and a pumpkin. The only way we know they are related by descent is that a complete record of their gradual evolution is available to us.

This is partly what Bill Nye was talking about when he was talking about the order of fossils in layers. When you look at these layers of tiny fossils, they occur in a very specific and predictable order.  If anyone were to find a sample containing creatures from different layers, it would be like finding an iPhone on Mars. It just doesn't happen. Anywhere. Ever.

I concur with Ken Ham's assertion that Christians (and people of other faiths) can be good scientists.  Aboard the IODP's ship, the JOIDES Resolution, I met many scientists from all over the world who were believers in God. In fact, I would say that a surprisingly high percentage of the scientists I met were religious in one way or another. Many of them would pray before meals, or could be found reading their Bibles (or other sacred books) on the decks now and then.

But I never met a scientist aboard the JOIDES Resolution that was a young-earth creationist. The reason is, the evidence for a long history of earth (and life on earth) over many millions of years is just absolutely overwhelming, and incredibly well documented with every core that comes up.  


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Carole Brenton said...

“But I never met a scientist aboard the JOIDES Resolution that was a young-earth creationist. The reason is, the evidence for a long history of earth (and life on earth) over many millions of years is just absolutely overwhelming, and incredibly well documented with every core that comes up.”

This is false reasoning. The fact that all the scientists aboard the JOIDES Resolution are evolutionists does not in any way give credence to their worldview. This statement is akin to a 15 year old wanting to do something because ‘everybody else is doing it’.

The only thing you can truly know from the evidence of the ice cores is that these animals were all together at death. It says nothing about when that death occurred. In fact that is what the geological record shows – the order in which animals died.

Let’s introduce a couple of other terms that are relevant to this discussion.

• Uniformitarianism – the doctrine that present-day processes acting at similar rates as observed today account for the change evident in the geologic record.

• Catastrophism - The doctrine that changes in the geologic record are a result of physical processes operating at rates that are dramatically higher than are observed today (note: although the biblical view is one of many catastrophist views, not all catastrophist views are biblical).

Evolutionists, having the presupposition of long ages and holding to the doctrine of uniformitarianism, interpret the evidence through that view.

Creationists, having the presupposition that God created everything as recorded in Genesis and holding to the doctrine of catastrophism (Noah’s global flood), interpret the evidence through that view.

The evidence itself can be interpreted either way.

And that’s the point.

The question posed for the debate, if you’ll remember, was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?” I thought Ham addressed the question repeatedly. I thought Nye only wanted to prove he was right.

At 7:11 PM, Blogger Timothy Blaisdell said...


You're right. If I'd based any of my statements or beliefs on the fact that the scientists I met with the IODP thought that way, I would be wrong.

But that's not what I did. That was my last paragraph, and I was merely stating what I thought was an interesting fact: on the one hand, I was surprised that so many of the scientists I met were believers (and from all over the world), and on the other hand, none of them were young-earth creationists.

As I said, I don't know much about ice cores. But with regard to the cores that the IODP brought up, it would be simply ridiculous to say that they showed merely "the order in which animals died". They showed nothing less than evolution occurring. And not just so-called "micro-evolution", but evolution that gradually changes every aspect of a creature: what it eats, how it behaves, it's internal and external size and structure, everything.

Again, you try to equate the presuppositions of creationists (which really are presuppositions, because they are ideas the creationists hold to prior to whatever research they do), with the "presuppositions" evolutionists supposedly hold.

I'm sure that scientists, being merely human, bring all sorts of faults to whatever they try to do. I'm not trying to paint all science as always living up to its ideals.

For clarity, recall the story of Galileo. Galileo had evidence for things that contradicted his church's doctrines of his time. The people who saw his evidence, and went about trying to reconcile it with doctrine -- the people who, for example, in an attempt to keep the earth at the center of the universe, tried to explain how the other planets odd movements were really just complicated orbits about the earth, or how the bodies which appeared in Galileo's telescope to be moons of Saturn were really just orbiting earth in a bizarre, corkscrew fashion, etc. -- those people were bringing presuppositions to the table. If one of them had said to Galileo (and I'll bet he did hear things like this) "Look Galileo, you have this presupposition that the earth and the other planets must be orbiting the sun, and that these other planets must have moons, ...", can you see how ridiculous that is? What can you even say to that?

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Timothy Blaisdell said...

I've said this before and I'll say it again: the fact that all life on earth has shared ancestry (which is not exactly "evolution", but close to it) is a fact as well-established now as any fact in science. Christianity needs to come to grips with this, the same way it had once to come to grips with the earth orbiting the sun, and so on.

Since I don't see Christianity disappearing into the woodwork any time soon, it seems to me like this is going to have to happen.


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