Mount St Helens and Catastrophism

4 October 2014

There is an illuminating article at … which shows quite clearly that sedimentary geology can be laid down very quickly and this contradicts the consensus gradualist view of geological chronology. However, the difference between ICR and neo-catastrophism is not in how long it takes events to unfold but the overall time scale of earth history. Whereas ICR might like to reduce the latter along the lines of Biblical numbers and therefore over egg the role of the Biblical 'flood' event neo-catastrophism is markedly different. For starters, it doesn't recognise a flood event in the manner that Creationists might perceive it and rather than a single transgression event is prepared to think in terms of multiple outpourings of the sea upon the land as a result of volcanoes and earthquakes (like the recent Japanese tsunami or the Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean) and is open to changes in the axis of rotation leading to realignments of the geoid and movements in the boundaries of the oceanic basins. Neo-catastrophism does not usually embrace Pole shift but does not turn its face against the possibility. Likewise, the Expanding Earth theory is in many ways attractive but its leading proponents have contrasting models on how it all works. Some, such as Richard Guy, think in terms of the Earth expanding all the time, a bit like the Plate Tectonics and the expanding ocean basins, a sort of gradualist mind set. Others see it as episodic – bursts of expansion (or continental drift) in league with burst of evolution (in the aftermath of major catastrophic events).

Not all Creationism involves a Young Earth mind set as the Genesis account is open to several interpretations. It might be regarded as a post-catastrophe scenario, the earth and its remaining inhabitants emerging out of a major disaster of some kind that involved temporary darkness and upheaval. We live in exciting times. Science is coming up with all kinds of surprises and overturning consensus ideas in the process. The 19th century debate between catastrophists and uniformitarianism should be regarded as old hat – but many people are prepared to cling to those debates in which catastrophism was hamstrung by the flood enthusiasts. The problem is that the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Okay, they managed to out-manoevre the Biblical brigade but in the process they killed off every kind of catastrophism. This is why it is so difficult for orthodox science to look at catastrophism as an explanation for virtually anything. It is regarded as out of order – unmentionable.

One might think it reasonable to think in terms of sedimentary layers being laid down quickly at the K/T boundary but resistance to the asteroid theory involves just that. Gradualists insist sedimentary layers prove it all happened over a long period of time whereas common sense would demand it happened quickly and lots of sediments were laid down as a result of tidal surges and so forth. Hence, the K/T boundary event is still challenged – but the adherents of gradualism need to have a look at the Mount St Helens event and see just how wrong their thinking might be. 

Likewise, the Carboniferous coal beds are viewed in a gradualist process when it is obvious these were laid down fairly quickly. In that respect, Creationist organs such as ICR are providing a service, opening the debate which consensus would like to close down. The difference between neo-catastrophism and creationist theory is that the former thinks in terms of very long periods of uneventful earth history punctuated by the occasional catastrophe – sometimes marking the close of geological periods. Creationism on the other hand would seek to condense earth history into an extreme time capsule.

A good overview of all the arguments surrounding neo-catastrophism can be found in Trevor Palmer's book, Perilous Planet Earth, Cambridge University Press:2003. It is now available in paperback and it outlines in close detail the decline and fall of catastrophism in the 19th century and its re-emergence in the late 20th century. The resurrection of catastrophism involved Velikovsky as well as Clube and Napier and various others, all meticulously catalogued by Palmer. He doesn't take sides, one might say, and he does try to stick to a neutral agenda. Of course, in reality, he is a neo-catastrophist and he is the current editor of SIS journals. It is a book that has a wide remit, from Noah's flood to Darwin. As a professor of biology he is the author of various articles on punctuated evolution – and this subject is a major part of the book. However, he outlines all the well known catastrophists of note and even looks at Hancock and Bauval in a serious manner – rather than sniggering behind the knuckles.

None of this is to say that gradualism was a bad thing in itself as the ascendancy of the uniformitarian principle also went hand in hand with social changes (a political version of gradualism, an evolution of society if you like). Most of us like the idea of pensions, hospitals, universal education and adequate housing etc., and these are all down to socialist pressure on the elite. Socialism is an idea rooted in gradualist philosophy – humans making their nest  a more agreeable environment. Therefore, it might be we should not view gradualism in earth history as a necessarily bad thing as it has been a useful exercise in many ways. It has provided us with reams of information that may otherwise have been ignored and attributed to the 'flood' (without bothering to go further). Neo-catastrophism, it could be argued, is a rationalisation of uniformitarianism, placing it on a more even keel.

Anyone that wishes to discuss any of these points is welcome to go to the Forum (on this site). It is open to all members and even to outsiders. One needs to click on the link and obtain a password – a fairly quick process. However, uncivilised comments will not be posted, only serious ones in the spirit of free speech and scientific endeavour will be uploaded. The views on this post are not necessarily to be taken as those of the membership at large  – which is why it is a good idea to make your point on the Forum.

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