Pharyngula

The Geological Society of America is the major national professional organization for geologists, and they recently had a meeting in Denver where, in addition to the usual scientific meeting stuff, they did what geologists do for fun: they took organized field trips to look at local rocks. Among these trips was a tour of the Garden of the Gods Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, which sounds quite nice, except for one thing: it was organized by a team of young earth creationists who were attending the meeting, and they didn’t tell anyone. They were quite careful to hide their agenda.

Many attendees seemed unaware of the backgrounds of the five trip co-leaders: Steve Austin, Marcus Ross, Tim Clarey, John Whitmore and Bill Hoesch. Austin is probably the most well-known; he is chair of the geology department at the Institute for Creation Research, which describes itself as the “leader in scientific research from a biblical perspective, conducting innovative laboratory and field research in the major disciplines of science.” Austin has been very active in promoting a Noah’s Flood interpretation of the geology of the Grand Canyon.

Ross is a former Discovery Institute fellow, currently an assistant professor of geology at Liberty University in Virginia (the self-proclaimed largest Christian university in the world). The University of Rhode Island granted him a doctorate in geology in 2006 even though he professed that Earth was at most 10,000 years old. Clarey is a geology professor at Delta College, a community college in Michigan. Whitmore is a geology professor at Cedarville University, a liberal arts Christian college in Ohio. Hoesch is a staff research geologist with the Institute for Creation Research.

During the trip, the leaders did not advertise their creationist views, but rather presented their credentials in a way that minimized their creationist affiliations. Austin introduced himself as a geologic consultant. Hoesch said he worked “in a small museum in the San Diego area” (referring to his job as curator of the Creation and Earth History Museum in Santee, Calif., which was founded by the Institute for Creation Research and is now operated by the Light and Life Foundation). Likewise, Whitmore did not offer that Cedarville’s official doctrinal statement declares, “We believe in the literal six-day account of creation” and requires that all faculty “must be born-again Christians” who “agree with our doctrinal statement.”

This is deeply dishonest and cowardly. The clear presentation of a hypothesis is essential to doing good science; no rational scientist writes a presentation or paper in which he or she simply lists a bunch of observations, and then asks the audience to guess what he’s arguing about. If you’ve got a controversial hypothesis, you state it, you give your evidence, and then you listen and try to rebut challenges to your idea; you expose yourself to criticism, so that ideas are either discarded or strengthened. Austin, Ross, etc., were afraid to face a counter-argument.

Even more despicably, they then went home and crowed triumph, claiming that they had persuaded the scientists.

As the conference started, Whitmore and four of his colleagues, including Cedarville adjunct professor Steve Austin, Ph.D., took the Cedarville students and 40 other geologists on a field trip to Garden of the Gods near Pike’s Peak, Colorado. During the trip, the Cedarville leaders talked about alternative views for how the rocks formed, emphasizing short time spans and catastrophic formation of the rocks rather than slow formation over millions of years.

“The experts were skeptical,” said Whitmore, “but in the end, they conceded that the rocks we examined were deposited quickly and were deposited in water. We let the data speak for itself.” Whitmore also said the Cedarville students interacted positively with others holding opposing viewpoints. A peer-reviewed scientific paper was published describing the field trip stops and the new interpretations regarding the sites they visited.

They lied by implication. I’m sure many of the attendees on that field trip would be dismayed to hear that their authority is being used to endorse the patently ridiculous claim that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

Joe Meert also attended that same conference, and attended a talk by Marcus Ross. Ross is the fellow who got his degree from the University of Rhode Island for work on the distribution of mosasaurs in the Cretaceous — over 65 million years ago — while simultaneously claiming at creationist church meetings that the earth was young. He did the same thing here, presenting a credible science talk about “using ammonites as a correlation tool to put his mosasaur fossils in a stronger temporal framework”. His entire talk was about putting the data together to confirm the timing to many millions of years ago! So Meert confronted Ross directly in the Q&A.

After his talk, I asked the following question; “How do you harmonize this work with your belief in a 6000 year old earth on which a year long global flood took place?”. He was immediately flustered and then a bit tersely replied “My talk had nothing to do with a global flood or a 6000 year old earth so your question is irrelevant”. I then pointed out the fact that indeed his talk was completely counter to his public statements/creationist position because he showed correlation between strata/fossils, millions of year ages, evolution of mosasaurs and hiatuses in the rock record. He then replied (and I am paraphrasing to the best of my recollection) “Ok, for everyone in the audience who doesn’t know it, yes I am a young earth creationist who believes the Earth is 6000 years old and a global flood took place. However, I am not speaking as a young earth creationist here. When I speak at young earth creationist meetings I use a different framework than when I speak at the Geological Society of America meeting.”

Shorter Marcus Ross: I am a hypocrite and a liar.

I’m sure that the creationists will cry that he had to do this, because science defends a dogmatic orthodoxy and won’t let them speak otherwise. This is totally false. If someone wants to defend heterodox ideas, they should state them openly, not hide them and present theories they do not believe so they can acquire false authority in a field, as Ross tries to do, or so that they can lie and pretend that they had convinced an audience, as Austin did.

And that’s all Marcus Ross is trying to do. He’s trying to build up credibility by presenting all of the data and interpreting it in a rational framework (he learned something at URI!) at scientific meetings, only so he can turn around and spend that reputation to endorse laughable absurdities at creationist meetings. It is contemptible.

Comments

  1. #1 Rachael
    June 16, 2011

    Here, I searched out some good pictures:

    Just to give you a general idea of what Garden of the Gods looks like:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Garden_of_the_Gods.JPG

    Fountain Formation outcrop actually at Garden of the Gods:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/10/Fountain_fm_garden_of_the_gods_2003.jpg

    You can hopefully get a sense of the variation in sediment size/sorting in the layers – some look smooth (sandstone probably) and some look pretty rough (very coarse sand to gravel conglomerate). It’s plainly layered. The stuff at the top that’s the darker color is probably mudstone; I’ve seen the funky white strips in other Fountain mudstones, and am not entirely sure what causes that beyond a vague “some kind of chemical leeching, I guess” explanation. Toward the bottom of the outcrop there’s a rougher layer sandwiched between two smoother layers, which looks like it may be pinching out. This is pretty typical for the Fountain, since in alluvial fans sediment gets laid out in big lobes that tend to wander back and forth across the plain, rather than being stacked precisely on top of each other. Unfortunately no obvious scours in this photo…

    I couldn’t find a good picture of a scour in the Fountain itself, but here’s an example from a different formation:
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logan_Formation_Cross_Bedding_Scour.jpg

    If you look down toward the handle of the rock hammer, that’s a small scour where the layers on top cut into the layers below. That sort of thing is pretty typical in the Fountain. The Fountain also displays that kind of cross-lamination (the pretty little thin layers you see) though in the Fountain it’s all red. :)

    Another good picture of a typical Fountain outcrop:
    http://images.wikia.com/geology/images/9/97/Fountainfm3wagner.jpg

    Here’s a close-up of the Lyons, just to maybe give a sense of what I mean by well-sorted and well-rounded. Though it’s also very well cemented, so it’s hard to pick out individual quartz grains:
    http://www.paleocurrents.com/cert_classes/2003_03_15_3/HTML/img_8132.htm

    Had a bit of a harder time finding a good Lyons Formation photo, but there are a few here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/flight0001/3965153893/in/photostream/

    Hopefully you can kind of get a sense of the internal layering of the rocks. That’s the large-scale cross-bedding you tend to get out of sand dunes.

    /nerdingout

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