I posted this nearly twenty years ago in The Skeptic, the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics. It’s interesting. This was before the World Wide Web came into its own, so there was no opportunity to Google topics and expand on them, and there weren’t any Web pages to link to in the newsletter. Besides, this was in the days before the newsletter was posted on the Web. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by so quickly.
MIOS was alway an interesting topic. I attended a number of Don Patton’s talks during those times past and obtained an inside peek into the world of Young Earth Creationism. I will post more MIOS articles in the weeks to come.
Creationism’s youth kick
By John Blanton
The Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) is a young-Earth creationist group based in Dallas. They hold monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at the Ridgewood Recreation Center on Fisher Road. MIOS Chairman Don Patton hosts this lecture series, which usually consists of a talk by Patton or some invited speaker. October’s topic, however, was a video presentation of a talk given by Russell Humphreys, a Ph.D. physicist working at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
The young-Earth creationists stick to the literal time scale of creation in the Bible, thereby implying the Earth and the universe are in the order of 6000 years old, certainly less than 10,000 years old. Humphreys stated up front in his presentation that Christian fundamentalists need to demonstrate this very elementary tenet of Genesis, or else they will be unable to defend the more subtle biblical principles. Humphreys’ talk bore down on five points that he considers severely limit the age of the Earth.
In his pamphlet, “Evidence for a Young World,” he cites 100 such examples, but he apparently finds these five the easiest to explain. Some of his examples would be better left in the filing cabinet for the sake of his young-Earth argument, but others raise thorny and quite legitimate issues for mainstream science to answer. I’ll go over the main points of these arguments and will just discuss some of the more interesting explanations from mainstream science. For a more thorough discussion of both sides of the issue the reader is referred to Authur Strahler’s excellent book Science and Earth History the Evolution/Creation Controversy:1
1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.
Figure1. Spiral galaxy photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope
Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.
2. Comets are another favorite for creationists. They would like to remind you that a 5-billion year-old solar system should present a very stable structure. It should not look like something that has just been born or that is about to die soon. Roll the clock back a few million years, and you should see the same thing you see now. The problem is that comets always seem to be dying, witness Shoemaker-Levy 9. Why are there still any comets left after five billion years?
Good question, and I wish I had thought of that one. Mainstream science can only postulate mechanisms for the creation of new comets to replace the ones constantly being destroyed. One proposed explanation is the so-called Oort cloud, a region of comet material thought to lie in a region 10,000 to 100,000 astronomical units out from the sun. Needless to say, creationists get a good belly laugh when you try to propose something like this. That’s probably how it will stay until mainstream science is able to provide experimental evidence to support either the Oort cloud hypothesis or else some worthy alternative.
3. Erosion Humphreys also likes to talk about erosion of the continents and the sediment that should result from this erosion. He states that with current rates of erosion the North American continent, for example, should be washed flat in fifteen million years. Yet there stand the Rockies (and even Comanche Peak). Humphreys asserts it’s safer to believe the continents were formed a few thousands years ago. Then there was a great flood that fairly well shaped the landscape as we see it now. Since the flood erosion has been going on much as we see it today.
4. Salt Humphreys’ fourth topic was salt in the sea. This is a classic creationist argument, and it goes something like this: Rivers wash salt into the oceans, but nothing seems to wash salt out of the oceans. Evaporation removes water from the oceans, and some it winds back up on land through rainfall. If this process has been going on for millions of years, then the oceans should be a lot saltier.
5. Population Perhaps Humphreys’ weakest argument was the one he finished up with, and it’s based on people, or population. Here is what he had to say about that: Mainstream science asserts that the stone age of civilization lasted about 100,000 years. Given the estimated average human population for that period about four billion people should have died during this time. The question Humphreys poses is, “Where are all of their graves?”
. . . . . O.K.
Following the video presentation, Don Patton fielded a few questions. He seemed to make some reference to the decaying speed of light conjecture, and I asked him if he was talking about Barry Setterfield, so we got off onto that subject. Setterfield has asserted that the speed of light was much faster in the past than it is now (it’s quite fast even today). This provides creationists with a way to explain why we can now see things millions of light years away if the universe is only a few thousands of years old. I cautioned Don against standing behind this thesis, since it is absolutely indefensible, but he still wants to stick with it. If you want to read up this subject some more, once again see Strahler’s book.
Patton’s lack of scientific acumen on the Setterfield conjecture and other topics seemed to bother others besides me in the audience. Glenn Morton stood up and reminded those in attendance that he is a creationist who once published in favor of the young Earth. He now renounces that position because the evidence is too much against it, and he urged others to abandon the idea. A problem he mentioned is that after you teach this concept to your children and then send them to college where they will learn otherwise, their loyalty to your other teachings will be threatened. One cheerful member of the group offered a solution: “Don’t send them.” In a subsequent phone conversation, Morton offered to debate against the young Earth argument if the matter comes up. That opportunity may come soon.
Prior to the meeting I had sent Don Patton a letter inviting him to address the NTS early in 1995, and at the meeting Don expressed his willingness to do so. We previously invited MIOS to give a presentation back in 1990, but Patton declined at that time, saying he didn’t think a 45-minute format gave sufficient time to explain the science of creationism. MIOS had initially agreed to the 1990 program, but that was before they consulted with Patton. Since we didn’t get word of the MIOS withdrawal until the day of the meeting we were left without a speaker. However, MIOS member Ron Huffman, not knowing of Patton’s cancellation, showed up, and we persuaded him to talk on the subject. It was a good presentation, and we had a lively discussion. Hopefully we will have another one this coming February.
MIOS is not the only creationist group based locally, but they are the only group with regular meetings open to the public that I know of. Early in October I received in the mail a notice that Kent Hovind would be presenting a creationism conference over a three day period at the Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Richardson. I took this as an invitation and showed up the first night, sitting in the very front row. This is the first I heard of Hovind, who seems to have a thriving, nationwide creationism conference business. Hovind is quite an interesting piece of work, and I will cover his presentation in the next issue.
1. Strahler, Arthur N., Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).
2. Dutch, Steven I., A critique of creationist cosmology, Journal of Geological Education, vol. 30, pp. 27-33 as cited in Strahler.