Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John D. Morris Reads the Fossil Record

There are a few articles in the current Acts & Facts to cover.  One, by John D. Morris (current president of the ICR and son of its founder -- and if Henry M. Morris was "the father of modern [young earth] creationism," does that make John D. the "brother of modern creationism?"), is basically an advertisement for Morris' and Frank Sherman's new book The Fossil Record.   He states that the book was written "with Christian students in non-science majors in mind," out of concern that such students would have their faith swayed by evolutionary interpretations of fossils in biology classes or the media.  One wonders if this is a tacit admission that many of their statements would not stand up to the knowledge a science major would acquire.

Obviously, a short article is not going to provide us with the full wealth of Morris and Shermer's opus.  But in the article, Morris offers a few comments that do not fill me with confidence in his insight into the fossil record.  He states, for example:
The Fossil Record doesn’t just show how a full understanding of the fossils contradicts evolution; it specifically supports creation and the Flood. It documents the sudden appearance of basic types, not a slow development of one type from some other type through transitional fossils. Fossils exhibit stasis, not the change that evolution requires. The animals represented in the fossil record typically died in catastrophic conditions of rapid water movement, not in uniform conditions. Fossilization occurred through rapid burial. The case is strong for the creation/Flood scenario. Only a willful commitment to naturalism would lead one to conclude evolution and uniformity instead.
Note that "stasis" is a property of well-represented fossil species.  A fossil species with many specimens will show variations between specimens (just as living species do).  Some of these variations will make individuals look a bit more like species that preceded it; others will make other individuals look a bit more like later species.  But the latter sort of variations do not become more common (or the former type less common) over the duration of the species in the fossil record; the species as a whole shows no "microevolution" before being replaced by another, similar but distinct species in the same genus.  But here is the relevant point: there are observed instances of speciation.  Furthermore, the ICR (like Answers in Genesis and most other young-earth creationists) admits -- indeed insists -- that one species can change into another.  "Stasis" as the term is used by paleontologists means that the fossil record has a paucity of evidence for the very level of evolutionary change that they insist has happened!  Species well-represented enough to to demonstrate stasis, meanwhile, often themselves form transitions between genera.

And what is one to make of the claim that fossilized animals died in "catastrophic ... not in uniform conditions?"  "Uniformitarianism" means that geological processes at work in the present were at work in the past; it does not mean that the past was an unbroken succession of mild spring days.  Floods and storms and tsunamis and earthquakes occur today; a "uniformitarian" would assume that they occurred in the past (indeed, since the worst flood, earthquake, meteorite impact, etc. of the last century was probably worse than the last flood, earthquake, or impact of the last year, a "uniformitarian" would hardly be shocked at the suggestion that the worst natural catastrophes of the last million centuries were probably worse than the worst such catastrophes known from recorded history).  A herd of Centrosaurus drowning in a flooded river in the late Cretaceous is just as "uniformitarian" as a herd of caribou doing so in the last century (and that one doesn't find the "ceratopsian kind" and the "deer kind" fossilized in the same watery catastrophes hardly seems like support for a single global flood depositing most of the fossil record).

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