15 March 2008

Belated creationist response to Giant's Causeway post

Way back in December I wrote about the Causeway Creation Committee's efforts to get 1) their theories dogma presented in the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre and in the Ulster Museum, and 2) intelligent design taught as part of the science curriculum in Ulster schools.
The Giant's Causeway,
a World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland:

(c) The National Trust

Then the news went quiet and I forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when someone called "Paul" left a comment on my original post, saying he'd posted a reply at the Causeway Creation Committee's website.

In the meantime, I started a new blog called Data Not Shown as an outlet for posts that might not reflect the views of The Beagle Project team (or, perhaps more importantly, our potential donors), or were otherwise way off-topic.

So as not to ruffle feathers, I've posted my reply to Paul on Data Not Shown. Since nothing in this post is likely to be controversial amongst Beagle Projecteers or the wider circle of potential Beagle Project donors, I will post my response to Paul here. You see, unlike the post that inspired the creation of Data Not Shown, I'm not arguing here that religion and science are (or aren't) compatible, I'm arguing that young-earth creationism and science aren't compatible, which is not controversial. Not only that, but this post falls squarely into the reasons to build a Beagle category.

Now, back to the Causeway Creation Committee's response. "Paul" begins with a quote from my original post (“As I have said before, and will assuredly do again, creationism is not just an American problem. The creationist creep is real, friends, and it's transatlantic”) but then quickly degenerates into name-calling (my boldface):

Previous to Darwinism, Creationism was the general scientific view – transatlantic. Thankfully it is still possible to be a Christian and a scientist, unless of course you live in a communist country, or some other kind of atheist utopia.

That's funny--well, not actually funny ha ha--but "funny" in the sense that that's the second time this week that someone has tried to claim that communism is an atheist ideology. Not only is that claim factually wrong but it also reveals something about the writer. You see, Paul appears to be aping the Discovery Institute's Wedge Strategy, which asserts that evolution (and by their extention atheism) is at the root of larger evils including "socialism", which is lumped right in there with such horrors as "hard rock" and "dirty books". Paul continues (again, my boldface):

thebeagleproject.blogspot.com states: “The 'Causeway Creation Committee' believe that Noah's flood, not a 60 million year-old volcanic eruption followed by accelerated cooling, created the distinctive hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway.”

Well actually we do believe that a ‘volcanic eruption followed by accelerated cooling, created the distinctive hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway'. The only real difference is the dating and of course the rapid cooling...

"Only" rather trivialises this, don't you think? I mean, if we were having an argument about, say, less than 0.01% error or something, then maybe the word "only" would be appropriate, but we're talking about 60 million years vs. 4,500 years.
...which was most probably caused by fairly rapidly undulating water levels. The rising and falling sea levels deposited layers of earth between eruptions and as the sea rose it cooled each layer quickly, causing it to crack into columns.
Actually the cooling begins immediately after the basaltic lavas flow away from their superheated source and encounter anything relatively cold, be it water, air or surface rock. In other words, the cooling of lava (and subsequent fracturing) does not necessarily require water.
thebeagleproject.blogspot.com fails to point out that although they share much of the theory of formation of the hexagonal rock structures, they have no plausible explanation for how or why it occurred other than ‘volcanic eruption followed by accelerated cooling’.

Paul's right: not being geologists, "we" at the Beagle Project don't have a plausible explanation ...which is why we humbly turn to the peer-reviewed literature for help from experts in the field who do have an explanation which is not only plausible but testable. We critically read about the evidence and only then do we adopt the explanation as our own.

In the spirit of consulting peer-reviewed literature, I linked my original article to a simple Google Scholar search for "Giant's Causeway". But because it seems that wasn't convincing enough for Paul, I suppose I should now go ahead and spray some more direct links to primary citations for 1) the origins of (mostly) hexagonal basalt columns such as those found at the Giant's Causeway and 2) the correlated global evidence supporting a 4.5 billion year-old earth.

The simple fact is that no such structures, or anything of any distinctiveness for that matter can occur within a uniformitarian system. You see in a vain effort to remove any possibility of Noah’s flood from public consciousness, the more atheistic elements of the scientific community have removed global catastrophes from the text-books – leaving their somewhat concocted version of geologic history.

That's right, folks, we scientists spend all of our days and our many sleepless nights picking through science textbooks to remove evidence of catastrophes ...well, uh, except for the Big Five major extinction events which are widely accepted and taught in science classes, not least that pesky Cretaceous-Tertiary event that everyone knows about because it killed the dinosaurs. And what was that bit about "no such structures" occuring within a uniformitarian system? Well, I'm no geologist but I'm pretty sure that the science of geology is all about explaining, with precision, exactly how "such structures" can indeed form within a uniformitarian system.

Please see the column entitled ‘The Bible and Science’ by navigating through the About Us tab.

Okay, so I went there, and, though it's muddled, I think they are saying that religion and science are "inseparable", and that "this is the view held by the world's greatest scientists" which are, apparently, George F. R. Ellis, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. What, no Darwin? Alas.
Various quotes follow, interspersed with assertions like

"the philosophical view of the atheistic naturalist scientist (as opposed to the observational scientist) is that human life is of no more worth or value than a dust cloud or a black hole."

Aaaargh, I feel a spirited digression coming on ...if you want to read it, click on over to Data Not Shown.

The accusation that the Causeway Creation Committee spends not enough of its time reading 'peer-reviewed dino-science' could be partly due to the issue that increasingly, scientists that make proposals that are non-Darwinian are ignored by the peer-review system. This is an issue that Ben Stein investigates in his film soon to be released – ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.’

The modern synthesis was "ignored", then? I mean, that was a serious challenge to "Darwinian" evolution and it was not only not ignored, it formed an updated foundation for how we understand evolution today. Mind you, that doesn't mean Darwin was Wrong, it just means viewing his theory from a more advanced perspective, that is, illuminated by genetics. This just sounds like more complaining on behalf of people who are "ignored" not because their proposals are "non-Darwinian" but because their science lacks rigour.

I was actually taught the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill at school, and presumably so was the author of the article at thebeagleproject.blogspot.com. They seem to know the story well [not really, I just looked it up on the internet -n]. The different features of the causeway are referred to as different items belonging to the giant. And of course there is the name ‘The Giant’s Causeway’ – tends to give it away. So rephrasing the question I might ask “If you can teach a myth like that of Fionn mac Cumhaill, then why must the account of Noah’s flood be silenced with such aggressive force?”

Finally, it seems that Paul and I might be in agreement on something! I mean, as long as they teach Noah's flood as a "myth" just like the Fionn mac Cumhaill story, then yes, I do think it can and should be explained. We don't really think Fionn mac Cumhaill created the causeway, and we also don't really think that Noah's flood did it either. They're just good stories to help us understand how people used to make sense of the world.

Imagine it: hey kids, long ago, before the enlightenment, there was a myth that a giant made the causeway *snickers* and there was this other myth too that a big flood sent by an angry man in the sky 4,500 years ago made the causeway *more snickers*.

Especially since it proposes a cause to the causeway, which otherwise remains a scientific conundrum.

It's not a conundrum. See spray of primary references above.

So to my friend at thebeagleproject.blogspot.com - I gather that you are a Tolkien fan. I encourage you to send me an email, and I will happily send you a book which is one of my favourites. It was dedicated to Tolkien by one of his best friends, and I’m sure you will find it a worthwhile read.

I am a Tolkien fan, and I can only presume the "friend" Paul is talking about here is C.S. Lewis, who was not a young-earth creationist. Seriously, Paul, please don't try to convert me. It's condescending, and anyways, I've already been converted... twice. See, until I was about eighteen, I was an evangelical Christian. I read the Bible and absorbed its lessons with an open heart and mind, and yes I even read some C.S. Lewis (though it doesn't sound like you have), and then I decided, after careful contemplation and "soul"-searching, that it's just not for me.


Richard Carter, FCD said...

Uh-oh! Now you've done it: got into a written argument with a creationist.

Life's too short, Nun, believe me. You'll get absolutely nowhere with this: totally different paradigms, you see (yours right, theirs stupid). It's like trying to play chess against someone who thinks they're playing draughts [checkers]: a totally fruitless exercise!

nunatak said...

Thanks for your concern, Richard, but I know exactly what I'm getting myself into; I was raised creationist, you know. If my aim were to change Paul's mind then you're right, it's fruitless. Only Paul can do that, by opening himself to intellectual honesty. But that's not my aim. Rather, I think it's important to think through one's position and try to articulate it to others, constantly testing it with new facts and logic, and in the process learning new things like the origin of beautiful basalt columns, if for no reason than for one's own betterment.

psiloiordinary said...

Nice post.

More power to your elbow.



Richard Carter, FCD said...

Yes, sorry, forgot to say that: nice post!