No Blade of Grass

godspeaks

I was trying to remember how I got to this topic, and then I recalled we were having crackers with our salad, and crackers are made of wheat, which is a grass. So we were eating grass. And I got to wondering how long people have been eating grass, and I recalled that grass has not been around all that long. The earliest grass fossils (as I recalled) were only 30 or so million years old. Being the skeptic that I am I decided to look it up. I entered something like “origins of grass” in Google, and this is one of the things that came up:

The origin of grass pushed well back into the ‘Mesozoic’

Michael J. Oard

Creationists are often challenged on the fossil record. Evolutionists commonly confront us with such questions as: if practically all fossils are the remains from a pre-Flood environment, where was such and such an organism at a particular time within the geological column? One of those challenges has been the first appearance of grass, which supposedly evolved in the Cenozoic. ‘Why aren’t grasses found in pre-Cenozoic rocks?’ evolutionists charge.

Whoa! Where is this coming from? And just who is Michael J. Oard, and why is he speaking in nonsensical terms?

And now we are back to the creationists. Michael Oard is associated with Answers in Genesis and has published several creation “science” articles in their in-house journalAnswers. Together with Peter Klevberg he has contributed “Green River Formation Very Likely Did Not Form in a Postdiluvian Lake”. Indeed. For the junk rag Creation he has written, among other things, “Do Rivers Erode Through Mountains”. His answer is that a global flood must be assumed. The geological evidence is … absent. He has also written the book “Flood by Design”. You see where this is going.

All right. That explains a lot. I should have suspected. The tip off should have been the language—in particular the way certain words are used.

  • creationists: not used in a disparaging context
  • evolutionist: used in place of the term “scientists”
  • Flood: capitalized as though the reader already knows which flood and of which fame

Of course, I should have glanced to the bottom of the page:

JOURNAL OF CREATION 21(1) 2007

That’s it. This is from a “creation science” journal. We started seeing this kind of thing 50 years ago:

Creation science (dubbed “scientific creationism” at the time) emerged as an organized movement during the 1960s. It was strongly influenced by the earlier work of armchair geologist George McCready Price who wrote works such as The New Geology (1923) to advance what he termed “new catastrophism” and dispute the current geological time frames and explanations of geologic history. Price’s work was cited at theScopes Trial of 1925, yet although he frequently solicited feedback from geologists and other scientists, they consistently disparaged his work. Price’s “new catastrophism” also went largely unnoticed by other creationists until its revival with the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, a work which quickly became an important text on the issue to fundamentalist Christians and expanded the field of creation science beyond critiques of geology into biology and cosmology as well. Soon after its publication, a movement was underway to have the subject taught in United States’ public schools.

[Some links deleted]

A subsequent book is Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris.

ScientificCreationism

Additionally court rulings, beginning, several decades ago, have prohibited teaching biblical statements regarding the creation of the universe, the special creation of the human race and Bible-based history in public schools. The courts have correctly ruled there is no factual basis for these stories and, further, that teaching them amounted to religious proselytizing through government authority and at public expense. Religious fundamentalists, particularly Christians in the United States, sought a way around these legal constraints by seeking to establish biblical stories as scientifically grounded, and thereby allowable under the law. “Creation science” was given birth in this manner.

What so impresses me about finding this item is that such things still exist. A Supreme Court decision in the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1982 affirmed that “creation science” is religion and not science. The Court further ruled in 1987 in the case  Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 that a Louisiana law mandating equal treatment of “creation science” with the principles of biological evolution was in violation of the Constitution, because the law was religiously motivated and served no secular purpose.

Creationists reacted to this ruling almost immediately, and religious proponents with legitimate scientific credentials began work on resurrecting the concept of Intelligent Design, most notably outlined over 200 years ago by William Paley. Paley’s idea was that living forms are so complex and so uniquely constructed that they cannot be the consequence of materialistic processes. They must have been designed by a higher intelligence.

I was living in Dallas, Texas, at the time, and a local religious organization under the direction of Jon Buell was in the process of developing a book directed toward science education at the high school level. The organization still exists. It’s the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and the book is Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. The book came out in 1989, and the FTE followed up with a second edition, which corrected some errors from the first. A follow up book, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems by Jonathan Wells and William Dembski came out in 2007. Wells and Dembski are fellows with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the leading organization promoting Intelligent Design.

pandas

The Pandas book did not fare much better with the courts than traditional “creation science” had before it. A plan to introduce the book into the science curriculum of the Plano, Texas, public schools was forced to back track under pressure from local citizens. A subsequent attempt by a school board in Pennsylvania led to the court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In that case Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design rests on religious concepts and has no demonstrated scientific merits.

I have previously reviewed the Pandas book in a disjoint series of posts.

Anyhow, seeing this item from the Journal of Creation brought back old times. These were times when the argument against creationism involved simply laying out a few facts and then enjoying a good belly laugh. It’s good to see the fun has not gone out of the game. Where to start?

Let’s take the “journal” article itself. If I had picked up this piece of paper early in the morning before having my cup of coffee I might possibly have mistaken it for something published in a scientific journal. Unfortunately I do not drink coffee, but I do read some scientific journals, and this item attempts mightily to impersonate one. For your reading pleasure, and in case creation.com ever goes out of business,  I have posted a copy of this item. It has:

  • A title
  • An author’s name
  • No abstract, unfortunately
  • The journal name, volume number and page number at the bottom of the page
  • A list of references

Let’s look at the references:

1. Oard, M.J., The geological column is a general Flood order with many exceptions; in: Reed, J.K. and Oard, M.J. (Eds.), The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AR, pp. 99–121, 2006.
2. P r a s a d , V. , S t r ömb e r g , C .A. E . , Alimohammadian, H. and Sahni, A., Dinosaur coprolites and the early evolution of grasses and grazers, Science 310:1177–1180, 2005.
3. Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005.
4. Anonymous, Dung grasses up dinosaurs, Nature 438:399, 2005.
5. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1126.
6. Prasad et al., ref. 1, p. 1,179.
7. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1127.
8. Barrick, W.D. and Sigler, R., Hebrew and geologic analyses of the chronology and parallelism of the Flood: implications for interpretation of the geologic record; in: Ivey, Jr., R.L. (ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International
Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 397–408, 2003.
9. Note: see also Catchpoole, D., Grass-eating dinos: A ‘time-travel’ problem for evolution, Creation 29(2):22–23, 2007.

This is so good. The references are numbered and cite original sources of the pertinent content. Some citations are to legitimate scientific research. Others, not so much.

The first reference cites Michael J. Oard, the author of this paper. Of course, what better authority to cite for this material than the person writing it. I don’t have a copy of the referenced book, The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, but Earth’s Surface Shaped by the Genesis Flood, also by Oard, is on-line. The following illustrates the level of science practiced by these old-style creationists:

Oard and Reed

Figure 3.2. Tas Walker’s biblical geological model for biblical earth history (courtesy of
Tas Walker, http://biblicalgeology.net/).

In Oard’s paper on the origin of grass, he seems to argue that the mythical flood of Noah in the Bible explains the fossil record for the origin of grass. That’s likely not Oard’s exact intent, because the story of creation in Genesis has that grass of all varieties came into being during the week of creation, about 6000 years ago.

In telling his story, Oard unfortunately finds it necessary to fall back on terminology used by real scientists. In their arguments for biblical inerrancy creationists often must use traditional scientific language. this is because the creationists have never gone through the process of creating a complete scientific framework for their suppositions. Left without a complete and coherent framework, they often find themselves posing their arguments in language that contradicts their argument. For example, “Mesozoic” and “Cenozoic” describe periods in Earth’s history millions of years in the past, which past is supposed to have begun only 6000 years ago in the creationists’ arguments.

Oard compounds his difficulties by having to rely on actual scientific research, research that contradicts his premise. He cites two articles from the journal Science, articles which also argue that dinosaurs ate grass. In making these references, he ignores the findings of the cited research. The following diagram is from Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005:

phylogeny of grasses

Phylogeny for grasses from GPWG (11)

This figure is a cladogram showing the phylogeny of Poaceae:

The Poaceae (also called Gramineae or true grasses) are a large and nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants. With more than 10,000 domesticated and wild species, the Poaceae represent the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Fabaceae, and Rubiaceae. Though commonly called “grasses”,seagrasses, rushes, and sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to the Poaceae, being members of the orderPoales, but the seagrasses are members of order Alismatales.

Grasslands are estimated to compose 20% of the vegetation cover of the Earth. Poaceae live in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests, and tundra.

Domestication of poaceous cereal crops such as maize (corn), wheat, rice, barley, and millet lies at the foundation of sedentary living and civilization around the world, and the Poaceae still constitute the most economically important plant family in modern times, providing forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch) and fuel (ethanol), as well as food.

[Some links deleted]

What this cladogram illustrates is something that is not supposed to exists in Michael Oard’s world. This lays out the biological evolution of different species of grasses. This evolution, according to Oard, was not supposed to have happened. Oard believes, and he wants others to believe, that all species were created at one time by a mythical person only a few thousand years ago. Yet, he is unable to tell his story, he is unable to make his argument, without falling back on the very science he denies.

What Oard seeks to demonstrate in his paper is that the geological record is produced not by successive layers of fossils laid down in chronological order by natural sedimentation processes, but are the result of a cataclysmic flood (the “Flood of Noah”) a few thousand years ago. What real scientists consider to be a chronological record is interpreted by religious fundamentalists as the result of “hydrological sorting” that occurred when almost all life on Earth was extinguished by the supposed flood. Creationists go to great lengths to fabricate this case.

The following is also from Oard’s on-line book:

Figure 3.3. Graph of the timing of the Flooding and Retreating Stages with Walker’s five phases (drawn by John Reed).

Figure 3.3. Graph of the timing of the Flooding and Retreating Stages with Walker’s five phases
(drawn by John Reed).

This is a graphical representation of the biblical account:

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.[g][h] 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

Oard takes the biblical story a step further as he starts to form the argument for hydrological sorting:

forming a myth

Figure 3.4. Walker’s two stages of the Flood (left) with the two phases of the Retreating Stage (right). (Stages and phases renamed and drawn by Mrs. Melanie Richard).

The Science papers describe research that incorporates not actual grass fossils, but fossil phytoliths recovered from dinosaur coprolites, fossilized dung. The phytoliths are typically silica formations in plants, and they tend to remain after the soft components decay. Since different plants produce different phytolith forms, scientist study phytolith fossils to trace the existence of the related plants. Finding phytolith fossils characteristic of Poaceae in fossil dinosaur dung has led the researchers to conclude that grass existed as far back as into the Mesozoic:

Grasses (family Poaceae or Gramineae), with about 10,000 extant species, are among the largest and most ecologically dominant families of flowering plants, and today provide staple foods for much of humankind. Dinosaurs, the dominant megaherbivores during most of the Mesozoic Era (65 to 251 million years ago), are similarly one of the largest and best known groups of organisms. However, the possible coevolution
of grasses and dinosaurs has never been studied. Now, Prasad et al. (1) report on page 1177 of this issue their analysis of phytoliths—microscopic pieces of silica formed in plant cells—in coprolites that the authors attribute to titanosaurid sauropods that lived in central India about 65 to 71 million years ago. Their data indicate that those
dinosaurs ate grasses.

[Dinosaurs Dined on Grass, Dolores R. Piperno and Hans-Dieter Sues. Science 310, 1126 (2005); DOI: 10.1126/Science. 1121020]

Oard takes this bit of serious research and runs with it, some may conclude further than is justified:

From a creationist point of view, this study pushes back another taxon in the continued extension of
fossil ranges with further research.1 Moreover, we can ask, why hadn’t grass been well documented from
earlier than the mid Cenozoic? Could it be that the Flood was too catastrophic for its preservation? We also wonder what other fossils will be found in much earlier and much later strata, according to the uniformitarian geological column.

The coprolites also bring up an interesting question in relation to the Flood paradigm. Where did the dinosaurs obtain grass and other vegetation during the Flood? The coprolites certainly mean that the dinosaurs died soon after eating. I suggest that these dinosaurs were not overwhelmed at the very beginning of the Flood but later, allowing for a time of terrestrial habitation (including eating) as the waters rose. The dinosaurs could have already inhabited relatively higher areas before the Flood, or else had fled to higher ground at the start of the Flood. But, then when these dinosaurs were overwhelmed by the Floodwaters, their demise and deposition within the strata was quick. Such an idea would favour the creationist hypothesis of ecological zonation and possibly the fleeing of the animals to higher ground as the Floodwaters continued to rise on the earth. Furthermore, this could offer support for the idea that the Ark did not start floating until Day 40 because it was built on higher ground.8,9

I can say little beyond what Oard has already stated. If ever there was fantasy on display, this is it. If ever ignorance were enshrined, this would be its temple. For this gift the civilized world thanks Michael Oard.

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One thought on “No Blade of Grass

  1. Pingback: No Blade of Grass | North Texas Skeptics

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