Press and Pop Culture

Geology, Fossils, and the Flood

In “The Fossil Record,” module seven of Jay Wile’s Exploring Creation with General Science, we learn that most fossils were hard-shelled animals and were incredibly similar to living animals, that “environmentalists” lie about current rates of extinction, and that catastrophism makes more sense than uniformitarianism. Or, in other words, the earth was covered by a massive flood, evolution does not occur, and “environmentalists” are hysterical, lying, alarmists.

After a brief survey of how fossils form, Wile highlights particular features of the fossil record and draws conclusions from them. First, the fossil record supports the idea of a universal flood since the vast majority of fossils are hard-shelled marine animals. Second, the fossil record shows that evolution does not occur. Wile explains that “many, many fossils” have living counterparts. The living animal and the fossil are incredibly similar. “Based on the fossil evidence,” Wile tells us, “we can conclude that organisms … experience little change,“ certainly not enough change to become a different species. Third, scientists are not to be trusted. They have wrongly concluded that some species were extinct simply because they have not found a living specimen. But we can’t know for sure that living individual isn’t hiding in some rainforest or dark, unexplored corner of the world.[1]

Then, as a purely political aside, Wile discusses rates of extinction. Citing numbers that seem to have come from a World Conservation Monitoring Center report ca. 1992, Wile claims that since 1600 only 484 animals and 654 plants have become extinct.[2] Perhaps he misread the report (or perhaps his source misread the report), leading him to assert that some of these extinctions “were the result of the natural ebb and flow of creation“ and only some due to human activity. The report[3] seems, rather, to blame human action for causing these extinctions above and beyond the background extinction rates. Wile also ignores the tentative nature of these numbers, which by the early 1990s scientists were using them as a sort of minimum approximation. Instead, he boldly claims that in the last 400 years just over 1,100 species have gone extinct and accuses “environmentalists” of “outright lies” when they suggest larger numbers. His use of the slur, “environmentalist,” serves to deny climate change and indirect human responsibility for the extinction of species.[4]

As a sort of preview for the next module, Wile concludes “The Fossil Record” by contrasting once again uniformitarianism and catastrophism. Uniformitarianism with its modest assumptions—geological processes remain largely the same throughout history and the earth is really, really old—and tidy explanations of geological features is somehow deficient. Wile prefers a Rube Goldberg-esque catastrophism.[5] He denies the consistency and regularity of natural processes.[6] Instead, he adopts a framework divided by the Biblical Flood—he devotes an entire page making the case for the universal deluge, sprinkled with a few choice quotations from Genesis 7. The antediluvian period is entombed below John Wesley Powell’s Great Unconformity.[7] Here Wile sketches the basic contours of a flood geology. Slippery uses of terms like evidence, speculate, article of faith, relevant data, and scientific allow him to conclude: “In the end, then, both uniformitarians and catastrophists must speculate. … Neither framework is any more “scientific” than the other.” Despite Wile’s claim, his possibly coherent and certainly labyrinthine exposition of catastrophism doesn’t make catastrophism scientific.

  1. Wile grants that mammoths are extinct, but that’s about it. I suppose even he had difficulty accepting that somewhere in the wilds of Siberia mammoth herds roam the permafrost just waiting for scientists to discover them. But mammoths are the exception that prove his rule.  ↩

  2. One wonders, or at least I wonder, if Wile thinks that somewhere individuals from this group of 484 animals might be hiding under leaves or lurking in the shadows, evading the searching eyes of scientists.  ↩

  3. Or rather, a preponderance of other quotations purporting to be from a report by the WCMC indicate that the original report highlighted the human causes of these extinctions.  ↩

  4. Wile does say humans caused the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and the Robust White-eye, but these are unusual.  ↩

  5. The term “byzantine” might apply as well, if not for the farcical aspects of Wile‘s exposition. His ornate description of catastrophism seems better suited for a Monty Python sketch than a science textbook.  ↩

  6. If you are worried that Wile seems to departed from anything resembling “science,” I share that concern. How can a science of geology be constructed on a model that assumes most geological features were produced by singular, miraculous events. How can we know when a geological feature is the result of such miraculous interventions or merely the mundane result of natural processes? What criteria are there to keep “explanations” from becoming simply a matter of making up stories about interesting geological features? Wile’s touchstone is the creation story in Genesis. As a thought experiment, it might be interesting to think how Dr. Jay Wile, PhD in chemistry, would apply a similar approach to “nuclear chemistry,” his area of expertise. Suppose radioactive decay was inconsistent or catalysts randomly lowered activation energy (almost unbelievably, he does seem skeptical about rates of radioactive decay, calling them “wild extrapolation” (you will have to take my word on this since I cannot bring myself to link to his blog post)).  ↩

  7. Of the antediluvian period, Wile thinks only the first three days of the Creation week were geologically important. Despite the 1650 years between Creation and the Flood, “there probably wasn’t a lot of geologically important activity between the end of Creation week and the worldwide flood.” Wile’s position is, at the very least, internally consistent. The Biblical narrative doesn’t include any significant catastrophes between Creation and the Flood. So, accordingly, Wile doesn’t find evidence of any in the geological record. Sure, a few small, local catastrophes “contributed only a little to the geological features below the Great Unconformity,” but on the whole nothing worth noting.  ↩

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