Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Sadness of Kurt Wise

Kurt Wise, for those of you who may not know him, is the favorite creationist of virtually everyone involved in fighting creationism. We like him because, unlike most creationists, he is willing to criticize his colleagues when they make really stupid arguments. His “debut” in the creationist world was an appearance at the International Conference on Creation in 1978, where he pummeled Henry Morris and John Whitcomb for their claim that the Lewis overthrust was evidence for the flood.

Wise got his PhD in paleontology from Harvard, where none other than Stephen Jay Gould was his thesis adviser. He was openly creationist at the time (there was a movement begun to deny him his PhD on that basis, but Gould defended him). He is a man of great intelligence and (sometimes) intellectual honesty, which is why it sort of makes me sad to see articles like this at the Answers in Genesis website from him.

The article is an attempt to determine which hominid fossils were “pre-flood” and which were “post-flood” by comparing the Biblical text to the fossil record. And the result shows the kind of mental gymnastics that one has to perform to reconcile Biblical flood geology with the real world. His basic argument is this: after the flood, animals immediately spread all over the world and diversified as God commanded. They underwent very rapid speciation and filled all the empty niches with all sorts of new species, but all derived from the originally created “kind.”

But humans didn’t follow God’s command. Rather than spreading out around the world, humans stayed in one place, at Babel, where they built their famous tower. And it was only after God “confused their languages” and forced them to disperse around the earth. Therefore, he concludes, when we find human fossils in a different area of the earth from Biblical times, we know that they must have existed after the tower of Babel, and therefore after the great flood as well, because only after Babel did humans spread out. And no, I’m not making that up:

While the animals were diversifying and spreading out from the Ark, the Bible tells us that humans rebelled against God and stayed in one place, desiring to give themselves a name above that of God. When God forced them to obey His command by creating distinct languages, they dispersed from Babel in small family groups.

In these small populations, built-in human variety revealed itself in large regional differences in brain size and body form, with no discernible difference in intelligence, cultural prowess, or spiritual sensitivity. For example, in Europe are found Neanderthals (neanderthalensis) with larger brains than modern humans, and in Indonesia are found “hobbits” (floresiensis) with smaller bodies and brains than any modern human.2

Preserved in post-Flood sediments older than any Neanderthals and Hobbits are Homo erectus fossils.3 Aside from the skull, Homo erectus skeletons are virtually indistinguishable from modern humans, so the evidence indicates they are human. And, since humans did not disperse across the world until after Babel, the distribution of Homo erectus across the Old World (Java, China, Africa) suggests they not only date from after the Flood, they also date from after Babel. Homo erectus is thus not only the oldest human fossil we have following Babel but the only human fossil for some time after Babel. From this we infer that the Homo erectus form is probably what humans looked like at the time of Babel.

The problems with this argument are so many and varied that one could go on all day without exhausting them. Homo erectus, you may recall, had much smaller brains than modern humans. They are also much less sophisticated than modern humans in terms of their use of stone tools (they certainly could not have built a tower of any kind, much less one that reached up to the heavens). Do you recall the verse in the Bible that suggest people a few thousand years ago had brains half the size we do now? Yeah, I don’t either.

If the people at Babel were Homo erectus rather than Homo sapiens, why are their remains never found with the kinds of tools that we know were around 4000-4500 years ago when the creationists say this all took place? If the folks at Babel were Homo erectus then, according to the Bible, they must have already had the ability to speak and write, yet we see no evidence of modern language in erectus.

If Homo erectus was at Babel a mere few thousand years ago then we should find evidence showing that erectus had sophisticated cultures. We don’t. Yes, we do have some evidence of erectus having some primitive rituals, but we don’t have any evidence of them building temples and cities and civilizations. If they existed at the time of Babel and built the tower of Babel, we certainly should find evidence of such culture among them and we simply do not.

There are lots of other howlers in the article as well. Like this one:

Dotted around the world, sitting on top of rocks we think date from the end of the Flood, are piles of sediment thousands of feet thick. We deduce, then, that these are post-Flood sediments, leaving a record of conditions on the earth for the centuries immediately following the Flood.

The nature and thickness of the sediment suggests that centuries of catastrophes continued to occur while the unstable earth was recovering from the violence of the Flood. Some of these catastrophes, such as supervolcanoes, created excellent conditions for preserving fossils. These fossils show animals appearing on each continent–and being buried in local catastrophes–long before humans are found on that same continent.

I love this notion of post-flood catastrophes. Why? Because we find the same evidence for the same types of catastrophes – volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, massive tectonic events – in the strata that creationists claim were during the flood as well. It’s pretty difficult to explain hundreds of major meteor craters in rocks that were supposed to be buried under a global flood at the time. It’s even more difficult to explain massive volcanic eruptions that were clearly aerial (meaning they took place in the air, not under water – we know this because the lava flows are not pillow basalts, the kind created by eruptions under water) in rocks that were supposed to have been buried under miles of water at the time.

It doesn’t matter what strata the creationists claim were deposited by the flood, it is trivially easy to find the evidence of a wide variety of events within those strata that could not possibly have formed during a flood: limestone and chalk formations (which require shallow, tranquil water for very long periods of time), paleosols (topsoils, which take very long periods to form and obviously can’t do so underwater), meteor craters, burrows and trackways made by terrestrial animals, nesting sites (dinosaurs left huge nesting sites all over the world in strata allegedly deposited during the flood – they must have been damn special dinosaurs to manage to build nesting sites and give birth to their young while growing gills or treading water), terrestrial sandstone formations, and much more.

Another howler:

Apes follow this same pattern. Before humans left Babel, it appears that apes had already spread over much of the Old World and had diversified into a large array of species. “Lucy” is one of the more famous specimens of one of these ape species–Australopithecus afarensis.

The leg and arm designs that God placed into apes allowed them to move comfortably in trees. These designs make ape fossils easily distinguishable from human fossils.

Ape fossils are easily distinguishable from human fossils? Wise needs to tell his fellow creationists how to easily distinguish between them because they don’t seem to have a clue. Jim Foley at the TalkOrigins archive has a chart showing how all the major creationist authors classify various hominid skulls and the results are rather amusing. Creationists always claim that it’s easy to distinguish apes from humans, yet they themselves cannot agree on which specimens are ape and which are human. Ironically, several of those creationist authors have classified numerous specimens of Homo erectus – the very ones Wise says built the tower of Babel, as apes. The Java man specimens and the Peking man specimens are all Homo erectus, yet 3 out of 6 creationist authors consider the Peking man specimens to be apes, while 4 out of 6 consider the Java man specimens to be apes. So much for being “clearly distinguished.”

Kurt Wise is a very intelligent guy, and most of the time he’s intellectually honest. But you can only bang your head up against reality so many times before you just sound silly trying to rationalize away the evidence.