Monday, October 24, 2005
Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe Pt. 1
This is part one of a book review. I'm doing it in multiple parts for a few reasons:
- There's a whole lot of information in the book.
- It's taking me a while to go through the book, and I don't want the blog to go stale.
- It's a great book and worth the extra exposure.
I'm half-way through chapter four. So far, a few things have really stuck out that I like about the book:
- It can basically be used as an introduction to geology. It defines numerous terms, helps to read geological maps, and helps acquaint you with geological terminology. In fact, this is one of the reasons I started with this book. Geology is one of my worst subjects, but there have been a lot of geology articles in CRSQ lately.
- Austin is fair to those he disagrees with. Austin tries to give a good overview of the evidence used against the creation hypothesis, and while he provides rebuttals, he does so very respectfully, which is sometimes missing in creationist literature.
- The book is very well footnoted. Depending on what I find interesting, there are a whole lot of footnotes to research for further information. Chapter 3, for example, contains 121 footnotes, most of which are references to other work.
Since I'm supposed to be educating my readers about creationist research, I'll point out some of the experiments and research referenced in the first few chapters:
- In the Coconino sandstone, there are lots of footprints. Austin references an experiment that was performed to determine what kind of environment the footprints were laid down in. The experiment referenced observed the tracks of animals made on most sand, on dry sand, and underwater. The tracks observed in the Coconino sandstone match those made in the underwater environments.
- Austin himself has done research on nautiloid deposition in the redwall limestone. I'll probably report more on this later. He shows that the orientation of nautiloids along a northwest to southeast axis indicates water moving in a single direction with a significant current.
- Austin points to research done on investigating the relationship between water depth, water velocity, sand wave height, and depositional characteristics. He uses the work of Rubin and McColluch to show that some of the Grand Canyon sandstone was deposited at a depth of 180 feet, with a minimum velocity of three feet per second.
- Austin also points to grain-size research which indicate that Coconino sandstone was depositted under water.
This just scratches the surface of the information available in the book. Austin goes in to some detail about how interpretation of geological strata works, and many of the different types of unconformities, faults, and other structures important for interpretation, and what they point to.
Also, it has probably the best presentation I've seen of how interpretational frameworks shape they way that data is interpretted.
What's also interesting is that it seems that those outside creationism have been fairly impressed with this book, at least as far as they can be impressed with creationist literature.
Austin has done extensive research on catastrophic processes and has found that many geologic features once thought to require vast periods of time to form can in fact be replicated by short-term events. In his article "Uniformitarianism--a Doctrine that needs Rethinking" he outlines the misconceptions of founding geologist Charles Lyell and shows how uniformitarian thinking has become a misapplied dogma in many cases (the Channelled Scablands of Washington state being the most classic example). I concur with this analysis, as do many geologists. But Austin has swung to the opposite extreme such that he can't see long-term equilibrium even when it's staring him squarely in the face. His attempts to explain every geomorphic feature as a relic of past process leads to some rather humorous and incomprehensible logic.
Much more could be said about the ideas presented in this book, it being an easy target for critical analysis. Many readers may even consider it unworthy of a response. I disagree. For a young-earth creationist book it has reached a new level of scholarship, and as such it provides a new opportunity to evaluate an old idea. Although my review has been critical, I want to assure my readers that I've tried my level-headed best to see things through Austin's eyes in hopes of finding some spark of internal consistency and insight previously missed in a catastrophist model of earth history. But having made this attempt with no enlightenment, my childhood view of an old earth and long-term erosion seems more logical than ever.
Not a stunning endorsement, but nevertheless it seems almost like an endorsement when coming from the Skeptical Inquirer.
Anyone keeping up with the NCSE might be interested about what they had to say about the book. I haven't read this in detail, but probably will eventually as I read the book. But, interestingly, the NCSE has graciously allowed Steven Austin a rebuttal to their article.
Anyway, this has been a very interesting book, and I've learned a lot, especially from Chapter 3. I'll report more on the rest as I get into it.
Also, just a teaser for sometime in the near future, Austin did some great work in the RATE group about how the different methods of radioisotope dating not only differed from each other, but did so in a non-random, repeatable way.