What Do Scientists Know About Prehistory?

Posted on January 9, 2012 in Darwin and Evolution, Dinosaurs, Early Man, Fossils, Geology, Intelligent Design, Marine Biology, Origin of Life, Origins, Philosophy of Science, Physical Science

Evolutionary biologists and geologists speak of events happening millions or billions of years ago as concrete facts.  They are not observational facts, though; they are inferences from indirect evidence.  Indirect evidence can often lead to different conclusions; in fact, some philosophers like Duhem and Quine argue for “under-determination of theory by data,” meaning that data can never converge to support just one theory.  Some can demonstrate logically that there are an infinite number of theories that can explain a set of data.  Evolutionary scientists counter that there are only one or a few that are reasonable (implying that theirs is among the limited set of reasonable ones).  Recent discoveries that threaten to overturn past reasonable theories, though, cast doubt on their confidence.

Was there a Late Heavy Bombardment?  You can give a prehistoric event a name – even an acronym, like LHB – and it begins to take on a life of its own.  Papers and articles on earth history routinely refer to a “Late Heavy Bombardment” of the inner solar system by large impactors some 3.8 billion years ago, long after the planets are thought to have formed.  Where did that idea come from?  Did it really happen?

The LHB was an inference from radiometric dating of Apollo rock samples from the moon.  Two basins, one thought to be the oldest (Imbrium) and another thought to be the youngest (Serenitatis) turned out to be relatively close in radiometric age.  Scientists “invented” the LHB theory to try to account for the surprising data.  Now, however, Astrobiology Magazine and PhysOrg are saying the LHB never happened.  New evidence from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has undercut the thinking on which it was based.

When did ichthyosaurs go extinct?  Consensus thinking about marine reptiles named ichthyosaurs (fish-lizards) was that they went extinct at the end of the Jurassic, 145 million years ago.  Now, according to PhysOrg, evidence suggests they did just fine, continuing to thrive and diversify, for another 50 million years.  According to the article, a new paper by European scientists “considerably changes our understanding of the evolution and the extinction of these dinosaur age sea reptiles”.   Notice how drastic the reinterpretation is:

Whilst it had been thought that these Jurassic ichthyosaurs died a little later at the end of the Jurassic, the new discoveries show that in reality almost all of these lines survived across the Jurassic-Cretaceous Boundary…. the team has been able to show that the extinction rates were very low during the Jurassic-Cretaceous Boundary. In fact it seems that the ichthyosaurs were not affected by the Jurassic-Cretaceous Boundary extinction event, contrary to many other groups of marine animals. The reason why the ichthyosaurs did so well during this period in comparison with other groups of marine animals remains a mystery, and will be the subject of future research.

The BBC News went so far as to say the new data “rewrites [the] fossil record.”  But what would cause selective extinction in the oceans?  The statement that the find “considerably changes our understanding” raises questions whether “understanding” that “considerably changes” was ever understanding in the first place – and, by extension, whether what they’re saying now, if it is a mystery requiring future research, constitutes understanding.

Snowball Earth never was:  As mentioned in the 10/22/2011 entry and on Science Daily, some scientists think “Snowball Earth” (a period of global freeze said to have occurred 710–630 million years ago) is another myth.  It never happened, say some French scientists, based on inferred carbon dioxide concentrations in certain rock strata.  Yet “Snowball Earth” was more than just a hypothesis, to many evolutionists.  They even named a geological age after it – the Cryogenian Period.

The article went on to state that “Earth has experienced several extreme glacial events,” including not one, but two Snowball Earth episodes during the so-called Cryogenian.  But then the article admitted, “Today still, the question of how this episode came to an end remains unanswered, given that ice reflects more solar radiation back into space than rocks do.”  If carbon dioxide levels could not provide enough global warming to melt the ice, the Earth should have remained frozen ever since.  How, then, could anyone believe it happened not once, but multiple times?

Overconfidence?  One would think that upsets like the previous two would cause scientists to humbly hedge their bets about other theories, but another article on PhysOrg gave good press to Hamed Sanei, a Canadian researcher, whose new explanation for the Permian extinction was stated as a matter of settled scientific fact.  His co-author, Benoit Beauchamp of the University of Calgary said, “this study is significant because it’s the first time mercury has been linked to the cause of the massive extinction that took place during the end of the Permian.”  How anyone could replicate or test this new notion was no hindrance to his chutzpah.  He even tied it to global warming: “We are adding to the levels through industrial emissions. This is a warning for us here on Earth today,” he preached.  Simultaneously, though, he was encouraging geologists to re-interpret five other assumed separate extinction events, suggesting earlier theories have left out a key cause.  He left it unanswered how mercury could have had selective effects on different organisms, removing most marine animals while preserving ichthyosaurs for 50 million years, till some other cause (more mercury?) did them in.

Seeing is believing:  Geologists deal so routinely with theories of millions of years of slow processes, it’s not often that geology can be watched in real time.  It happened on December 19.  From the sea and satellites, eyewitnesses watched the birth of a new island in the Red Sea on one day.  PhysOrg has the pictures to prove it: before-and-after images from the Earth Observing Satellite 1 of “an apparent island where previously there was none.”  The article added, “According to news reports, fishermen witnessed lava fountains reaching up to 30 meters (90 feet) tall on December 19.”  Instantaneous island formation, like that of Surtsey in 1963, are reminders that geological effects can occur quickly, depending on the forces applied.  There’s nothing like eyewitness testimony.

One of the big problems in creation-evolution discussions, often, is failing to question the assumptions of the evolutionary timeline.  Evolutionists have succeeded in generating a large vocabulary of so-called events that are incestuously tied to the long-age, slow-and-gradual, bottom-up, evolutionary world view.  These events take on a life of their own and are frequently never questioned.  But they should be, as the examples above show.  Here are a few of their hypothetical pseudo-events masquerading as facts:

  • Big Bang
  • Inflation
  • Primordial Soup
  • RNA World
  • Origin of Life
  • Snowball Earth
  • Late Heavy Bombardment
  • Great Oxygenation Event
  • Cryogenian and all the other assumed periods, epochs and eras
  • Permian Extinction
  • Jurassic Extinction
  • Cretaceous-Tertiary Impact
  • Out of Africa

Whether these hypothetical events have some evidential support is not the issue.  Every theory should have some evidential support.  The point is that evidential support can support any number of theories.  Theories are under-determined by data.  That being the case, why should evolutionists grab the ball and exclude other contestants?  They do, and they can, because they have succeeded in declaring themselves the only team qualified to play.  Even when they speak of controversies (e.g., the “Late Heavy Bombardment” article spoke of long-standing debates), they are only playing themselves.  It’s Darwin-Only Team A playing Darwin-Only Team B.

To make any progress in defeating the Darwin-Only demagogues, we’ve got to call foul.  We cannot simply accept their rules of the game, that every event must be interpreted in terms of bottom-up, slow-and-gradual, unguided processes over millions and billions of years.  The data do not dictate that position.  We must not adopt their vocabulary and assumptions.  When you hear a Darwinist talk about Snowball Earth or a Late Heavy Bombardment, stop him or her right there.  Ask, “What Late Heavy Bombardment?  What do you mean?  Where is your evidence?”  Point out to the person that new data show it to be a myth.  But don’t stop there; draw the logical conclusion that other unobserved events of the past might also be myths.  How would they know?

If they answer that this is how science makes progress, point out that it was not progress at all.   It was a rabbit trail, a dead end.  It never happened, but it was spoken of as scientific fact.  It was used to misinform the whole scientific community and the public.  TV documentaries and textbooks were produced about a mythical even that never happened.  That’s no different than teaching Alice and Wonderland as scientific fact.  Pound the point home: How do you know?  How do you know?  How do you know?  Point them to Surtsey, now hosting a diverse community of plant and animal life, and ask them, if you landed on this island for the first time, knowing nothing about it, how old would you say it is?  Memorize some of the major recent upsets in evolutionary theories.  Don’t accept their terms, their acronyms, their assumptions.  Get them to realize they may be living in Fantasyland.  Ten thousand Frenchmen in Fantasyland (sorry, French readers) do not constitute a society of knowledge.  The consensus might just be collective believers of a popular mythology.

Another comeback from some evolutionists is that you have no right to criticize the consensus without coming up with a better model yourself. That’s fallacious. There is nothing in science that requires replacing one myth with another. What are we supposed to do, replace Alice in Wonderland with Harry Potter? Science is supposed to represent knowledge, not speculation. It is perfectly fine to criticize a theory as implausible without proposing an alternative.  Saying “I don’t know” is better than serving up myths as if they were facts. Better no LHB, no RNA World, than introducing visions of fictional fantasies as if they were realities. Admitting what science doesn’t know, and cannot know, is a more honest form of progress.

We must get these deceived deceivers off their pedestals and, like Socrates, with well-placed questions, get them to realize they have no idea what they are talking about.  They won’t listen as long as they are looking down from a pedestal.  Point out that their pedestal is a house of cards floating on hot air.  If they’re smart, they will jump off out of fear or embarrassment.  When that happens, then you can look them eye to eye, on a level playing field, and have a meaningful dialogue.

2 Comments

Graceout January 9, 2012

Excellent points, all. When those with a non-Biblical worldview are allowed to control the language, it is only inevitable that a secular/pagan worldview will spread into society.

In that vein, I feel compelled to point out that, even the word ‘prehistoric’ is a meaningless or nonsense word within the context of a Biblical world view, unless one is discussing the pre-creation triune conference—but even that is recorded in the history book known as the Bible.

This is something I noted when a creationist friend of mine called an ugly deep-sea creature “prehistoric-looking” and I suddenly realized the inroads such thinking has made.

Thanks for another great, comprehensive post!

Steve Drake January 9, 2012

I’m not a Facebook user, but from what I’ve heard, I would click the “Like” button on this post.

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