Science vs. Flood Geology: Not Just a Difference in Worldview

(system) #1
Science goes where the data leads, flood geology does not.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Thanks, Dr. Davidson, for this clarion call toward a very real, even if impossible to completely embody, objectivity.

I too am very familiar with the responses that we are all looking at the same body of evidence but just come to different conclusions because we are wearing (whether deliberately or not) different lenses.

And I agree with the over-all thrust of your critique that this cannot successfully gloss over or justify the wide disparity conclusions around this issue. So I almost hesitate to push back at all lest it be construed as a willing detraction from or even disagreement with your main point. But I will risk that and ask if we shouldn’t use caution around phrases you use, I think as hyperbole (at least implied) in support of your point.

One such phrase: “Science has to be allowed to go where the data leads”, is, I realize, not so much a claim as an exhortation. But it is often paired with the presupposition that good science just simply, and passively follows data. I think care should be exercised not to feed that particular misunderstanding of science, even while the exhortation is still worth making: we should really attend to data, especially when there is a lot of it, that does not fit with a preferred model. But to think that any existing theory, no matter how greatly acclaimed could meet the standard: “A truly viable alternative must take into account all available data, not just the data that fit the model.” [my emphasis added], is, I think to invite unnecessary counter-punches that will end up weakening or detracting from an otherwise worthy point. No theory encompasses all data. There must always be room for the messy fringes where the theory seems flatly contradicted, or maybe just fails to adequately explain something. And as long as that fringe is sufficiently small compared with the impressive body of what the theory does explain (compared to any other available theory), then we probably keep it around with considerable warrant.

So while it is understandable that many want to foreclose on those who would forever be latching onto ill-fitting or unexplained fringe elements for ideologically-motivated obstructionist purposes against mainstream science, it will do no good for us to try to pretend that such ideologues have no material with which to work. Those very fringes are a sacred part of science (even naturalistically speaking!). And in our haste to defeat rampant abusers of that fringe, I wouldn’t want to deny the active and valuable presence of such edges.

Pointing out where these abusers misrepresent or even deliberately mislead others is a worthy activity, and their reputations should suffer accordingly --respectively calling either their competence or integrity into question. That too is needed to protect the true “fringe data” that may one day prove to be invaluable toward new insight.

(Preston Garrison) #3

This claim that “we are all looking at the same data, but come to different conclusions because our worldviews are different” is a common cop-out, but it actually implies that science is impossible. If it was really impossible to tell which of two drastically different hypotheses fits the data better, there would be no point in doing science at all. Science is expensive in time and money, and if it can’t really tell the difference between a world that is 6000 years old vs. 4.5 billion years, we might as well just individually choose whichever view we personally prefer, and then spend our efforts on some other more valuable pursuit.

But of course, that’s not how things really are. Science really is a good set of methods for finding out about the world. It’s perhaps revealing that the people who regularly intone this fallacy in fact do very little if any actual science.


But isn’t that the whole point? They claim that a certain kind of science is impossible for that very reason. They even have a name for it. Historical science. And since historical science doesn’t build technology, they figure it’s no real loss. They’re pretty sure that operational science doesn’t have that same problem (somehow), so really, why not just stick with the good stuff that gives us spaceships and iphones? That science is perfectly objective, no room for the different colored lenses issue at all. Probably because it’s repeatable. And because it can be done in a lab. Therefore; scientific.

Honestly, I don’t get it, and I can’t for the life of me see what is supposed to make these categories so different, but it’s fairly clever. I think they’ve packaged it pretty neatly. I’m sure they’d agree with you quite happily - they would just limit what you said to the historical science category and say; “absolutely, let’s spend our efforts on some other more valuable pursuit. Like… oh I don’t know… building a landlocked ark” :wink:


I heard Ham on a video explain that the Ark doesn’t float because God said he’ll never again judge the world with a flood. But then, in the exhibits, we see that he’s interesting in explaining the feasibility of different aspects of the Ark, right down to the removal of crap. Perhaps he’s too slick to attempt to build a floating ark.


This book (The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth) is one that I’d like to read. It seems thoughtful and direct. Thank you Dr Davidson and Biologos. I don’t know if Dr Davidson is available for questions, but if so, I’d like to ask one but first some background…

The Grand Canyon has been the subject of many books on both sides of the ‘young-earth-old-earth’ debate. Both sides use it as evidence of their point of view and, unfortunately, little progress appears to be made. As a secondary earth science teacher, I’m aware of another geologic feature on earth that, in my opinion, cannot be explained except from an old-earth point of view. And this is the Hawaiian island archipelago that consists of the 8 main islands that we all know of but continues as numerous seamounts underwater for at least a thousand miles further west and then north. Anyone who has been to the islands can see the stark contrast in terms of geological and biological features as you travel from the easternmost and volcanically active island of Hawaii to the westernmost and obviously geologically older island of Kauai. And maps and geologic studies show the progression continues underwater throughout the chain.

This seems to be clear proof of a very, very long period of plate tectonics and erosion over a hot spot beneath earth’s crust. I can’t see how any stretch of the imagination could explain this via a global flood. I once had the opportunity to ask a well-studied YEC about this and he was speechless. No, he didn’t change his mind about YEC but he had no counter answer either.

So my question is this… has the Hawaiian island archipelago been used as proof for an old earth in the young-earth-old-earth debate? If not, isn’t it time for a book on this?

(Preston Garrison) #7

Joel Duff is one of the authors on the latest Grand Canyon book. He has done some posts on island generation. Search his blog, Naturalis Historia, to find these. His blog is in general one of the best I know, fascinating, especially for a bench scientist like me who never did any field studies. He repeatedly finds biological and geological topics that are very interesting in themselves, and he points out the difficulties that they cause for any young earth view.

(Gregg Davidson) #8

Gregg Davidson responding -
Mervin, Thanks for the post. I’ll provide a brief response to the two main subjects you bring up. The first is your concern over what I will refer to as an “unfettered” view of science being allowed to go where the data leads. I think you are correct that if one applies an overly simplistic understanding of the statement, one could mistakenly think that scientists are always objective and results are always to be trusted. Such is obviously not the case, and we always need to be watching for personal bias and poor workmanship. The context of the statement, however, is simply contrasting two approaches to the study of creation. In conventional science, we study creation and, ideally, allow what we find to answer questions of how things formed and how they work - we follow the data. This is contrasted against those who start with a pre-determined answer and use selected data only to support that answer.
Your second concern was over the statement that viable explanations “must take into account all available data.” If this statement was saying a viable theory must neatly fit every piece of data into its paradigm, it would indeed overreach, and I would again be in agreement. The point, though, is not to explain every piece of data, but to “take it all into account.” The best explanation should be the one that satisfies the preponderance of the evidence. Too often, young earth arguments sound plausible because critical evidence (not just fringe data) is left unmentioned and unaddressed.
I recognize that much of this is semantics - but semantics can trip us up if we’re not careful, so thanks for bringing these thoughts up.

(John T Mullen) #9


It might be best not to deny that there is some difference in strength between evidence for or against singular events in the past (on the one hand) and evidence for persisting regularities in nature (on the other). The non-repeatability of the former does create greater room for doubt. No need to deny that.

But what must be emphatically denied is that historical evidence can never be overwhelming. Just as a forensic investigator can be rationally overwhelmed by the evidence that (for example) a certain person died of gunshot wounds, or poisoning, or whatever; so a bio-geneticist can be rationally overwhelmed by the evidence that (again for example) humans share a common ancestor with other primates.

Those who today deny common ancestry because it is a claim about the past fall into Mervin Bitikofer’s category (above) of “those who [latch onto] ill-fitting or unexplained fringe elements for ideologically-motivated obstructionist purposes against mainstream science.” But his very well-put point was that such ideologues sometimes do have “material with which to work.” In this case, the material they have to work with is a genuine difference in strength between evidence for historical events and evidence for abiding regularities.

(Gregg Davidson) #10

Tom - Preston is correct. Joel Duff addresses both the geology AND the biology of the Hawaiian Islands on his Natural Historian blog site - highly recommended. It is also a regular topic when we visit seminaries and churches talking about the evidence for an ancient Earth. One of the really cool aspects of the Hawaiian Islands is that we can use them to test the veracity of radiometric dating. First, note that we can now measure the rate of plate movement over the hot spot in real time using the same basic technically that allows a GPS unit to tell how fast our car is moving. The Pacific plate is currently moving over the hot spot at a rate of about 3 in/yr. Next, note that we can calculate the rate of movement in the past by measuring the distance between each island and dividing by the difference in their radiometric ages. If radiometric dates are unreliable, then we have no reason to expect that these calculated rates should be anywhere near what is measured today. So guess what rates we calculate? Between about 2.6 and 3.2 in/yr. I find it SO COOL that God has given us tools that not only allow us to look back into the unobserved past, but He has even given us ways to test for how accurate our methods are!

Joel Duff has similar examples that consider the genetic adaptations that are found from one island to the next - all consistent with what we find in the geologic record.

(Wookin Panub) #11

Actually that is not always the case, as science, which is just a collection of data by fallible human beings affected by bias, presuppositions, and faulty data. A person begins an experiment with a presupposition therefore it’s findings are based on that person’s presupposition. No matter what we do. We can’t get away from our presuppositions, and that goes for we creationists as well :slight_smile:


Hi John,

I see your point. I could have been a little more clear I think. I recognize of course that depending on the scientific domain, there can be differences in the degree of interpretation involved, in the strength of the available evidence etc. My point was that what is being confidently announced by creationists is a difference in kind (to steal their own terminology), not a difference in degree, and it is this difference in kind that I find to be questionable. They ground this on the assertion that historical science investigates that which is not testable, repeatable, falsifiable, or directly observable, which all sounds fairly convincing at first blush. In other words, it has none of the hallmarks of good “operational” science.

But of course, each part of the assertion falls apart with a little scrutiny. You can test and falsify historical hypotheses by working out the implications and strategically collecting new data that may prove inconsistent with your starting point, and in spite of assertions to the contrary, increasingly strained interpretations of the evidence cannot convincingly rescue a falsified hypothesis beyond a certain point. Every new instance of data collection (a new genome being published or a new set of fossils being characterized) serves as a repetition of previous tests in the same vein, offering a repeat challenge to the predictions of the underlying paradigm. This is not quite what Creationists have in mind when the use the word “repeatable”, but it’s difficult to see how it’s fundamentally different from performing repeat experiments in the lab (they are each instances of controlled data collection), especially given that these repeated samplings of, say, the fossil record in a particular geological layer may be performed far more often and in a far greater range of settings than is the case for particular “repeatable” experiments that lead to published results. As for observable, most of the work done in any of the sciences only involves indirect observation and inference, always adding layers of instrumentation and interpretation; and exactly the same reasoning is used to justify particular interpretations of the indirect evidence, whether historical or otherwise.

So my point is not that differences in the strength of the evidence don’t exist, it’s that the fundamental differences that many creationists point to are almost entirely illusory, and historical science deserves to be weighed on its own merits and not glibly cordoned off from criticism and investigation. Since much of their protection of creation science and their dismissal of evolution are based not on perceived differences in the quality of the evidence, but on these sweeping statements that supposedly rule the evidence out of court, it is this that I find objectionable. But clever. I’m always impressed by how effective some of these arguments are for convincing those who have no interest in looking behind the curtain. There will always be a willing and convinced audience for YEC speakers so long as the rhetoric continues to sound like this.

(John Warren) #13

In the original article, you state, “In this regard, flood geology is not only unscientific, it is unbiblical. The first chapter of Romans states that the Creator’s divine nature is manifest in His physical creation—in nature. If nature cannot be trusted
to tell a truthful story, what does that say about flood geologists’ conception of God?”

I completely disagree with your assessment of Romans 1:19-20. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” The only knowledge about God we can gather from nature is His eternal power and divinity, and that we are without excuse for not worshiping him. This passage has nothing to say about nature supposedly being able “to tell a truthful story.” Nature doesn’t tell stories–we do. And contrary to your assertion, old-earthers bring their suppositions, just as young-earthers do.

You say, “True science is practiced by those whose worldview stipulates that nature is understandable, that processes at work today on planet Earth can be used to inform us of what may have happened in the past,…” Old earthers go farther than relying on processes today to “inform” what happened in the past. Today’s processes are practically rule, and you construct theories consistent with this hermeneutic. But this is an exercise in affirming the consequent.

To me, it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck (i.e., billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the Earth) so why not allow people to develop their theory in the academy? What’s it going to hurt? The archeologist Schliemann found Troy by relying on ancient manuscripts.


It’s not billions. Try quadrillions. See Quadrillions, Quintillions and Beyond: The Vast Fossil Record Refutes the Flood Geology Hypothesis for the numbers. And this is for a single species. This is a great web site by Joel Duff BTW.

(Chris Falter) #15

Hi John,

Thanks for stopping by and making some interesting points.

The basic assumption for any scientific investigation is that scientific processes are consistent. e = mc2 yesterday, today, tomorrow, 5000 years ago, and a billion years ago. Radioactive decay rates are constant under constant conditions. Pure water has a PH of 7.0 at any point in history. And so forth.

The only way that any finding in any scientific discipline has any relevance is if the fundamental equations don’t change. If the fundamental equations are changing, then science as we know it ends.

Geologists have worked out the properties of the mantle, crust, and various types of rock; magnetic forces and the Van Allen belt; radioactive decay; plate tectonics; etc. These are all based on well-established laws of physics that applied to the state of the Earth 4000 years ago, 4 billion years ago, and just yesterday.

As a Christian, I see this constancy of the fundamental forces as evidence of what Genesis reveals: God is a God who puts the creation in order so that good things can emerge.

Grace and peace,
Chris Falter

(John Warren) #16

Bill, that article doesn’t take the ocean depth into account. The author just imagines the 100 Quadrillion squid-like creatures elbowing each other on the surface, apparently unaware of the vast amount of space beneath them.

(John Warren) #17

Fundamental equations don’t change. But assumptions must be made for any model, especially models of stuff that happened when no one was around to observe it.

(Phil) #18

Well, the same type of squid do not live in the ocean depths as live at the surface, and it is also sort of tough to envision a scenario where instead of a shallow sea in mid continent, there was an ocean depth.
I think the only depth there was time: deep time.

(Chris Falter) #19

I have a model that explains the causes behind Biologos forum posts. According to my model, the posts that appear under the alias “John_Warren” were submitted by an individual human being named John Warren.

Please note that I have no eyewitness testimony to confirm my model’s assumptions. I didn’t observe someone named John Warren type into an iPad or computer keyboard. So my model for what causes posts to appear on the Biologos forum could be seriously in error! John Warren might be the name of an alien from the Andromeda Galaxy, or the name of a clever parrot that types with its beak.

So, John…if you want to call into question the assumptions that certain scientific models make, you’re going to have to do more than just say that the models make assumptions that have not been confirmed by eyewitnesses. You need instead to identify specific assumptions and how they are less reasonable than alternative assumptions.

Ball’s in your court.


That is just a back of the envelope calculation to show how absurd the global flood is when it comes to explaining fossils. Even allowing for depth you also have to allow for all of the other species that were alive at the same time. There just isn’t enough room in the ocean.

And as Phil pointed out these fossils were laid down in a shallow mid-continential sea. No great ocean depths there that we know about.

For another back of the envelope calculation let’s try to figure out how deep the ocean would have to be to support all of these squids at the same time.
44.4 belemnites per square foot per Joel’s calculations.
Assume each belemnite requires a cube of 10 x 10 x 10 cubic feet of water to live. That’s 10 x 10 square feet for one surface which is probably too small.
Now the 100 sq feet would have to support 4440 belemnites if they could live anywhere in the column of water.
Now if each belemnite has it’s own 10 feet of vertical space that would require a depth of 44,400 feet.
Current average depth of the ocean is 12,100 ft.
So the required depth would be 3.6 times the average depth of the ocean.