Leonard Brand is absolutely convinced that science and religion are reconcilable, and that the two working together can generate a true and complete understanding of the world. He has gone to great lengths to show that religious scholarship can take the knowledge of science and use it to improve our understanding of his god, and that conversely, feedback from the Bible can enhance our understanding of the science. Brand even has a model of how this works.
Isn’t that sweet? He claims to be willing to modify his religious views to adapt to scientific knowledge. There’s just one catch.
He’s a freakin’ young earth creationist. The earth has to be young, Adam & Eve have to have been real people, evolution can’t have generated the diversity of life on earth billions of years before the Fall because there was no death until Eve took a bite out of the apple.
The Great Controversy and salvation story holds together only if moral evil (human greed, murder, theft e.g.) and natural evil (suffering and death from volcanoes, storms, and earthquakes) are the result of human sin. If life evolved over millions of years before Adam and Eve sinned, then moral and natural evil are not intruders in the universe, but were an integral part of God’s creation process. Efforts to contrive a way out of this logic have not been successful. For example, William Dembski tries to make evil the result of human sin, even though humans and sin (in the standard geological model) did not exist until after millennia of death and evil on earth. This simply illustrates the desperate efforts necessary if we reject a recent literal creation but don’t wish to put the blame for evil on God.
Although there isn’t space here for a full discussion, I will argue that the theory of large-scale evolution, with its millions of years for life on earth, is in direct conflict with Bible Christianity and the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. If a literal one-week creation is not true, then there were eons of evil, suffering, disease, natural evil, and death on earth before the existence of any humans or any human sin.20 Also if the time scale in the Bible is not true, that undermines confidence in the truth of other parts of Scripture. These are among the reasons many of us hold to the biblical time scale and reject an evolution process that produces the major types of organisms.
Oh. So the syllogism works like this:
Christianity is falsifiable, and would be falsified if the earth were more than about ten thousand years old.
The evidence and science show conclusively that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that animals were evolving half a billion years before humans appeared.
Therefore, argle-bargle ptang ptang zeeeeyooop wanka-wanka-wanka “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON” <*pop*> science must be adjusted to fit my dogma.
It’s not really falsifiable if you’re going to automatically reject any evidence that falsifies it, is it?
What follows gets worse and worse. Brand is trying desperately to show that creation theology can contribute to our understanding of the natural world, so he trots out a series of examples where he claims creationism has been enlightening. They are all embarrassingly bad.
For example, he discusses the Coconino formation in Arizona. This is a known eolian formation: it’s the product of windblown sand dunes becoming cemented and compressed in place. There’s tons of evidence that this is the case. They look like dunes, they’re made up of sand like dunes, they contain footprints of lizards and millipedes rather than clamshells and worm burrows, they’re desert dunes, mmm-kay? Creationists are convinced that they had to be formed by a global flood, though, so they strain to interpret some of those footprints as formed by reptiles, walking on the sea floor, entirely underwater. Galloping underwater, even.
The Coconino Sandstone (SS) in northern Arizona is interpreted as an accumulation of ancient desert sand dunes, which have been cemented into sandstone. The only fossils in the Coconino SS are fossil animal tracks. These tracks have been argued to be evidence supporting the desert origin of the Coconino sand deposits. However this evidence was investigated because of a desire to understand how the Coconino SS fits into a global flood process. The evidence resulting from this research can only be explained if the vertebrate animals made their tracks while entirely underwater.
You know, even if you find an occasional smudgy footprint that you want to pretend was formed underwater, you have to look at all of the evidence. And that shows that these footprints were terrestrial:
- “One of the most common observations is that the tracks have bulges
or sand crescents on one side, thereby proving that they were made
on inclined surfaces” (Lockley and Hunt 1995).
- Tracks showing possible loping, running, and galloping gaits are
found throughout the Coconino Sandstone. These can only have been
made on dry land.
- Tracks of small arthropods, attributable to spiders, centipedes,
millipedes, and scorpions, occur abundantly in the Coconino
Sandstone. (Schur  has some excellent pictures.) Some of
these trackways can only be made on completely dry sand.
- Raindrop impressions also appear.
This is exactly what I mean by cherry-picking. Creationists ignore the 99.99% of the evidence that refutes their hypotheses.
You know what makes this argument even more ridiculous? The author of this paper on the Coconino, which supposedly demonstrates that the formation was produced in a great flood, was…Leonard Brand. Yep, he’s only citing his own papers, and we already know his philosophy of throwing out anything that might conflict with his dogmatic Christianity.
Brand cites another example: whale fossils in Peru (Why is this haunting me lately? Creationists everywhere seem to be suddenly citing this one work).
In Peru the Miocene/Pliocene Pisco Formation contains many thousands of fossil whales, buried in thick sediments composed of the skeletons of microscopic diatoms, and in sandstone. Previous study by geologists and paleontologists interpreted the sediment as slowly accumulating, with sediment only a few centimeters thick being added each thousand years. Then a group of Bible-oriented creationists began to study this accumulation of fossil whales. They became quickly aware of something that did not catch the attention of previous researchers. The whales and other fossil vertebrates are exquisitely preserved, and this is not possible unless the dead animals were quickly buried, so that each whale was buried in weeks or months, not thousands of years
The paper is online. You can read it. Guess who the author is? That’s right…Leonard Brand. He actually has several papers published in reputable journals on the stratigraphy of this Peruvian formation; given his peculiar method of interpreting data, though, the journal editors might want to scrutinize his paper submissions more carefully in the future. He doesn’t mention young earth creationism in any of them, he’s extremely circumspect about exposing his most un-geological notions by, for instance, nowhere mentioning any dates at all, just blandly describing the depth and distribution of the strata. There is nothing overtly objectionable in the papers. But his interpretations elsewhere are dishonest. (By the way, why am I stuck writing about geology? I’m a biologist! We need more geologists to take this stuff on.)
He claims that these whale fossils are evidence of Noah’s Flood. That makes no sense. The whales are found scattered in different layers in a formation 240 meters or more thick, consisting “mostly of sandstones, siltstones, and tuffaceous beds” and diatomaceous mudstones. These are alternating layers created by different modes: tuff is the product of volcanic ash, for instance. These were not whales killed in a grand catastrophe, but the consequence of multiple deaths on different occasions in which the whale corpses drifted into shallow bays, settled on the bottom, and were covered by the precipitating skeletons of blooms of diatoms. This doesn’t fit with the flood model at all. And it’s from the Miocene/Pliocene! It’s about 5 million years old…a little fact he omits from all of his accounts.
Of course, that dating stuff isn’t too be trusted. He simply waves it away and predicts that someday we’ll have true knowledge that will allow us to fit the radiometric dates to a young earth.
Radiometric dating is still in stage 1 ["Conflict and confusion"], with some stage 2 ["Research in science and deeper Bible study, with hindsight"] research. We have not resolved the conflict, but we can make a prediction as to what we believe the outcome will be. I predict, based partly on faith (religion) and partly because of evidence (science) that some time in the future new evidence will show (science) that we are now seriously misinterpreting the radiometric data, and it actually gives only relative age, not age in years. Scientists who take this prediction seriously will be in the best position to understand the new evidence when and if it appears (science) before Jesus returns to earth.
There is no scientific evidence that radiometric data has been misinterpreted. He’s bullshitting us all with that.
But I’ve saved the best for last. Good scientists keep Occam’s Razor sharp and well-honed; you don’t get to just invent ad hoc excuses to stick by a falsified explanation. Adjustments to hypotheses are incremental, and we try only to advance them just far enough to still be open to testing.
Creationists have no such scruples, because they’re never going to have to test their hypotheses. Occam’s Razor is blunted or discarded entirely. So here’s my favorite explanation ever for God holding the sun still in the sky while Joshua fought a battle.
Lets now discuss Joshua’s long day. Certainly this is going too far, to actually think that the sun stood still that long, in spite of the totally predictable, finely balanced and very complex pattern of movement of the heavenly bodies. But on the other hand, how much do we know about the options that an infinite God has at his disposal? And maybe that sun trick wasn’t so disruptive after all. If I try to imagine how it could be done if I had no physical limits, but was not allowed to influence the movement of the sun or moon or the earth, here is a speculative suggestion. A system of giant mirrors could be used to deflect the sun’s image, so that from a human perspective the sun did stand still. Then later the mirrors could slowly move the sun back into its normal schedule. Did God do it that way? Of course we have no idea (God is certainly much more creative than us), but this scenario just illustrates how utterly futile it is for finite humans to think we can decide what God can or cannot do. He created the “laws of nature” and he knows how to use them to accomplish his will.
I’m imagining swarms of rocket-propelled angels holding an array of gigantic mirrors in space, steadily shifting and swiveling them to keep the sun focused on one spot on earth for an entire day. That god is one cunning engineer, capable of constructing astronomically colossal magic tricks in space to fool a few armies, but totally unable to provide adequate water supplies to his desert nomads.