This is one of the first items I wrote about MIOS for The Skeptic, as our newsletter was called back then. This was one of the more enjoyable aspects of my visits to these creationist meetings. I met Clyde McKnight and his wonderful family. Clyde and people like him kept reminding me that creationists are not a mass of uneducated people. Dr. McKnight is like so many well-educated people who follow their faith rather than the facts presented to them.
by John Blanton
The Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) is a local group supporting the “creation science” concept. MIOS meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Wadley Blood Center. I urge skeptics to attend these meetings and weigh the evidence presented there. Contact me for details. The following is a report on one of their meetings, which was attended by Scott Faust, Ron Hastings and myself:
The speaker of the evening was Dr. Clyde V. McKnight, who holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Nevada at Reno. Dr. McKnight spoke on the physical basis for a water canopy that would have preceded Noah’s flood (and would provide the flood waters themselves). We three from the NTS were there, eager to hear what support a qualified scientist could provide for the biblical flood story.
Dr. McKnight started by citing some of the usual, non-scientific, bases for the flood, such as the direct description of the flood in the Bible and the biblical implications of conditions in the time preceding the flood. Then, before he detailed his thoughts on the physical basis for such an event, particularly the basis for the water canopy, he outlined some of the personal beliefs that have helped him form his hypotheses.
Dr. McKnight stated that he firmly believes the “laws of physics are operative at all times (e.g., gravity and the second law of thermodynamics always apply). However, he went on to state that “Miraculous events are not subject to scientific analysis,” that “the effects of miracles are [however] subject to scientific analysis,” and, finally, that “the laws of physics are at the discretion of God.” He went on to state that “Unfounded conclusions have no scientific basis,” and there is “no [such thing as] continuous miracles.”
The four concepts for a water canopy are, as Dr. McKnight described them, 1) an ice canopy model, 2) a water canopy model, 3) a cloud canopy model and 4) a water vapor canopy model. Dr. McKnight quickly threw out the first three models as having no valid bases. They were either insupportable by physical laws or else do not coincide with the biblical record. The vapor canopy model, however, he asserted was the “most logical model.”
The hypothesized water vapor canopy in the earth’s atmosphere would be equivalent to forty feet of liquid water covering the surface of the Earth, and it would be stabilized by temperature inversions. Its presence during the biblical period prior to the flood would have the following effects:
Heat from the sun would be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere (the greenhouse effect). Differential heating of the vapor canopy (equatorial solar heat flux versus polar heat flux) would produce jet stream-like flows in the atmosphere (Dr. McKnight concedes this is only a guess and that no analysis has been done to support this contention). These jet stream flows would produce uniform ground temperatures from the equator to the poles (and result in a more ideal earthly climate).
There are objections to this vapor canopy model, and Dr. McKnight has outlined them: A temperature of approximately 220 degrees F at its base would be required to keep this layer in vapor form, and the addition of a regular atmosphere of air below this layer would result in a two-atmosphere surface pressure. Dr. McKnight, however, sees this doubling of the surface pressure resulting in the presence of larger animal life forms [than we have now] prior to the flood. He credits this possibility to the increased partial pressure of oxygen under these conditions, and he cited hyperbaric chamber evidence (without giving specifics) to support this.
Finally, the condensation of all of this water over a short period, Dr. McKnight stated, would result in the release of 10.86 X 10^24 calories of heat energy, and this would cause a 2100 degree Celsius temperature rise in the atmosphere. I was sitting in the front row while Dr. McKnight was giving his talk, so I could not see Ron Hastings sitting in the back, getting ready to make an objection. This last statement stopped Ron cold. The figures agreed with what Ron had come up with, and he just threw up his hands. There was no need for a skeptic to come to a meeting to get a physics lesson from a creationist.
Dr. McKnight stated that due to these facts, the flood could “not [be] supported by the laws of physics,” and “a miracle is the only answer.”
I, personally, had no trouble with that. My only objection would have been with any contention that there was a scientific basis for the flood. Dr. McKnight and I both work for the same giant electronics company, and the following day I sent him a note through the company mail telling him how much I enjoyed his talk and how I agreed with his contention that there was no scientific basis for the flood. The following is Dr. McKnight’s reply in full:
March 11, 1990Dear John,
Thanks for your note – giving talks is not exactly my cup of tea. Most of the people I know would not try to do away with the miraculous, but there may be some problem knowing exactly what part of such an event supersedes natural laws – esp. an event like the flood. There are some who have a problem ever finding a specific point where they will say it was supernatural. Other events which we would call “miracles” do not violate any natural laws – as in many of the events of the book of Esther.
As to there being no physical, scientific basis for the flood, it depends on what you mean. I believe that the cause of the flood was supernatural in some respects. There is, however, a physical, scientific basis for the flood in the geologic record. Modern science is no longer comfortable with the idea of a world-wide flood and its possible religious implications. It has set about to reinterpret data which was previously accepted as resulting from such a flood. I did try to emphasize that science can evaluate the results of a miracle -this would include the flood.
I really feel that belief in the miraculous is an area where we have much in common with evolutionist. Although there is no real evidence to support the theory of evolution (and much to the contrary); yet the theory is adhered to with an unshakable religious faith because “the only alternative is unthinkable.”
One of the benefits of putting out your own newsletter is that you get to have the last word.
Dr. McKnight has missed the point entirely. By hanging his argument on a miracle, he has defeated it entirely. If he is allowed to invoke a miracle whenever his thesis gets into a bind on a scientific basis, then he can have anything he wants. He doesn’t need to do field research, and he doesn’t need evidence. He is free to make any assertion he wants (even one that does not agree with the biblical account), and no one can successfully contradict him. There is absolutely no way to rationally counter an argument that allows for miracles (in favor of the argument). To attempt to do so would be like playing chess with an opponent who has his hand on your king. Check your opponent and, bingo, the game is over. He invokes a miracle and removes your king.
To validate his case, Dr. McKnight must prove it from the weakest position. He must discard all of his special privileges and his what if’s. He must then bring forth real evidence of such overpowering magnitude and credibility that no argument will stand up against it. That is the way that science works. That is what stands behind the laws of gravity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. And right now, that is what stands behind the present theories of biology and geology.