The Lone Ranger vs the Big Science Consensus
National Geographic retells the lonely battle of J Harlen Bretz against the scientific establishment, and what made them so pig-headed.
Glenn Hodges tells in bold narrative how one man, not even trained in geology, figured out the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington state. It’s a story we’ve told before, but this article in National Geographic, with Michael Melford’s stunning photographs, is a keeper. The headline and subtitle give a flavor of what’s below:
Formed by Megafloods, This Place Fooled Scientists for Decades
Geologists couldn’t account for the strange landforms of eastern Washington State. Then a high school teacher dared to question the scientific dogma of his day.
“Harley Bretz” was so intrigued by the odd landforms he saw, the idea of a megaflood struck him as the explanation. It was after his insight that he decided to learn geology. Excited with his hypothesis, and now armed with a PhD (and a more-dignified name ‘J Harlen Bretz’), he expected the rational, fair-minded scientific community to share his excitement. He published his theory in 1923. Boy, was he in for a shock!
It was geological heresy. For almost a century, ever since Charles Lyell’s 1830 text Principles of Geology set the standards for the field, it had been assumed that geological change was gradual and uniform—always the product of, as Lyell put it, “causes now in operation.” And floods of quasi-Biblical proportions certainly did not meet that standard.
So were they convinced by the evidence? Were they open to following the evidence where it led? Were they free of anti-religious bias?
It didn’t matter how meticulous Bretz’s research was, or how sound his reasoning might be; he seemed to be advocating a return to geology’s dark ages, when “scientists” used catastrophic explanations for the Earth’s features to buttress theological presumptions about the age of a Creator’s divine handiwork. It was unacceptable. How did canyons and cataracts form? By rivers, of course, over millions of years. Not gigantic floods. Period.
Wow. This is not only shocking true history, but shocking that National Geographic would print it. The scandal is as bad as the Piltdown Hoax in anthropology, smearing egg all over the faces of the so-called ‘experts’ in science. Hodges doesn’t let up. He uses the occasion to show that die-hard critics stick to their consensus, sometimes to the death.
Of course, for some of Bretz’s most stubborn critics, even eyewitness experience wasn’t enough. Bretz’s arch-adversary, Richard Foster Flint, a Yale geologist who remained a premier authority in the field until the 1970s, spent years studying the scablands and resisted Bretz’s theory until he was virtually the only one left who did. He finally acknowledged the scablands flooding (grudgingly, with a single sentence in a textbook in 1971), but as philosopher Thomas Kuhn observed, new scientific truths often win the day not so much because opponents change their minds, but because they die off. By the time the Geological Society of America finally recognized Bretz’s work with the Penrose Medal, the field’s highest honor, it was 1979 and Bretz was 96 years old. He joked to his son, “All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over.”
And now, the rest of the story. Hodges brings the Scablands story up to date, saying that today’s geologists invoke several floods, not just one. But does that show science’s march of progress toward the truth? If Bretz had taught a sequence of floods, would that have muted the opposition?
Perhaps it’s just as well that he didn’t. That sort of neat resolution might obscure what’s arguably the most important lesson of the scablands’ story—the caution that “nature has the answers, not us.” Just when we think we’ve got nature figured out, we find that among her many powers is the power to confound us, again and again and again.
But you can trust the geologists today. Now they know.
Hodges’ article triggered a mini-flood of comments.
Hold this article up to school boards! When they discuss science standards, and present their simplistic views of “the scientific method” and the march of scientific progress, and the dangers of ‘creationist pseudoscience’, make them read this. A catastrophic flood theory was right! This is no creationist writing this: it is National Geographic, one of the chief mockers of Biblical creation. This is HISTORY. It is recent history. Science teachers, science reporters and professional geologists caught in the ‘web of belief’ of scientism need you to help extricate them.
After looking at what happened in the Bretz case, you need to follow up with the question, “What scientific consensus today results from anti-Biblical bias?” The answers are obvious. Darwinian evolution, and the moyboy addiction. Charlie & Charlie & Co. (Lyell, Darwin) pulled the wool over scientists’ eyes with visions of endless ages of gradual processes. The Channeled Scablands are only a tiny remnant of world-wide evidences of global catastrophe. But the consensus cannot see it, and will not see it, because Lyell and Darwin have blinded their minds.
The die-hards may have to kick the bucket before Big Science reforms. That means that creation ministries to youth who are not yet addicted have profound significance.