A Word to the Wise
Christopher C. Tew
5409 Mill Stone Drive Ooltewah, TN 37363
In Ronald Numbers’s 1992 book The Creationists, Dr. Kurt P. Wise of Bryan College (Dayton, Tennessee) was described as a creationist who “... insisted on honestly looking at the scientific evidence.” Dr. Wise’s hope at that time was, in his own words, “... to formulate a model of Earth history which is consistent with both the Scriptures and the physical data—constructed according to a code of excellence and integrity in ethics and practice.”
On 12 July 2000, Dr. Wise gave the third in a series of three presentations on “The Creation/Evolution Debate” in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s First Presbyterian Church (PCA. There was no presenter for evolution. While admitting that the title is somewhat misleading, Jim Suddath, the sponsoring minister, feels that his church’s congregation gets enough of the evolution viewpoint from the popular media).
I attended this presentation and also have an audio recording of all three presentations. The tape of the third presentation is somewhat edited and rearranged, and as all three presentations involved extensive slide shows, this commentary is limited to the third presentation to avoid possible misinterpretation of Dr. Wise’s remarks. All direct quotations come from the audio tape, with elisions and thought pauses indicated by “...” Because of differences between spoken and written language, all punctuation and capitalization is my interpretation. Where material that is germane to this commentary has been edited out, I have reconstructed the gist of Dr. Wise’s remarks from memory, but these should in no way be construed as his actual words.
Dr. Wise said that his purpose in making the presentation was to describe “... one example of a theory of science ... that the Earth is young.” He stated that “The purpose of this ... is not to demonstrate why the Earth is young, or why there was a global flood. But once you believe the Earth is young, once you believe there was a global flood, now, the purpose that ... I have is to understand the world in the light of that Truth ... what actually happened.” That is, having accepted a fiction as truth, we will adjust reality as needed to match the fiction, which we will then call "Truth." The main topic was to be an “incredible model” devised by Dr. Wise and his colleagues to reinterpret plate tectonics within the time constraints they draw from the Bible, “... a theory based upon the claims of scripture.”
Most of Dr. Wise’s presentation consisted of presenting this “model” of Flood geology and geophysics based on “runaway subduction” which he worked out with Drs. Steven Austin, John Baumgardner, Andrew Snelling, and other creationists. This model relies on work done by Baumgardner which is discussed briefly in Creationism’s Geologic Time Scale by Dr. Donald U. Wise (no relation) of Franklin and Marshall College (American Scientist, Vol. 86, ppg. 160—173). My purpose here is not to set out this model fully or critique it in detail. It is enough to say that this model plays free and loose with the most basic concepts of thermodynamics, heat flow and dissipation rates, and the physical properties of the Earth’s crust and mantle.
At several points in his presentation, Dr. Wise did touch on the legitimate scientific record, on evidence he attributed to “traditional geologists.” Wherever he dealt with the scientific record, Dr. Wise was either so incomplete that his audience lacked information necessary to reach an informed opinion, or he was uncharacteristically erroneous.
Dr. Wise noted that Antonio Snider (Snider-Pellegrini) had published a book in 1859 (actually 1858), La Création et Ses Mystères Dévoiles, etc. (The Creation and Its Mysteries Revealed), relating his early concept of continental movements to the Noachian Deluge. Dr. Wise did not mention the geological and paleontological evidence Snider used to reach his conclusions or that Snider was an old-Earth creationist. Perhaps these omissions were made because Dr. Wise had demonstrated his concern about the theological and scientific inadequacies of old Earth creationism in a previous lecture, and because Snider’s evidence would directly contradict the time frame and scenario Dr. Wise would construct during the course of his presentation.
Snider followed the lead of earlier authors—including Abraham Ortelius, Francis Bacon, and Alexander von Humbolt—in joining South America to Africa, and North America to Europe, along their now opposing coastlines. Realizing that the apparent fit of the continents to one another did not prove that they had been in fact so joined, Snider gave additional evidence for his reconstruction. This evidence, still valid today, was similarities in sedimentary rock formations and fossil flora and fauna in areas of those continents that were adjacent when the continents were so joined. The fossils Snider used are northern counterparts to the famous Glossopteris flora and the Gondwana fauna.
The reconstruction used by Snider and Dr. Wise is similar to modern geologists’ Pangaea assemblage of the continents in the late Permian except that it maintains the same basic latitude of the modern continents around the Atlantic Ocean and stretches the southern tip of South America around the tip of Africa. Modern geologists would note that the match is actually much better when the continental shelves are included, this removing the need to distort South America. Dr. Wise credited Snider with inventing a theory of plate tectonics, which Snider did not do.
By not mentioning the evidence Snider gave for his reconstruction, Dr. Wise did not have to explain why not a single species of the northern fossils Snider mentioned or any of the Glossopteris flora or the Gondwana fauna was aboard Noah’s Ark to survive the Deluge, how their fossils could possibly have been entombed in sediments laid down under the conditions he would later propose of the continents moving at meters per second (greater than 4 mph), or how the same sediments and fossils could have been deposited in matching areas on the opposing continents after they became separated.
The model contains certain anomalies that Dr. Wise mentioned and quickly passed over. He said that, “The distribution of the continents before the Flood, what it looked like, whether it was a single continent or multiple continents, what the arrangement was, we don’t know.” Despite this, his slides consistently showed, and he consistently mentioned, the Pangaea assemblage. Dr. Wise later added, speaking of Dr. Baumgardner adding a plate boundary to the model, “He kind of arbitrarily put in this blue line ... just drew a line. (He said,) ‘I think the subduction occurred here.’”
Where “here” is, is very much like the current Mid-Pacific Rise, which is not a subduction zone at all but a spreading zone. Thus the model starts with the continents in admittedly inaccurate positions, makes use of an arbitrary subduction zone which is in fact a spreading zone to set the direction of the continents’ motions, and requires wholly unrealistic rates of movement (that is, the model is in error about the three essential variables that control the subsequent positions of the continents), but nevertheless the model makes “predictions” that are remarkably similar to concepts from traditional plate tectonics that were known thirty years or so ago. Dr. Wise’s model, however, requires wholesale deviations from everyday experience and scientific knowledge.
To provide evidence of the four-to-six-hour-long earthquake which he claimed began “runaway subduction,” Dr. Wise discussed the Kingston Range in southeastern California, near the Death Valley region and the Nevada border. He took as validation for his model geological information that had already been common knowledge decades earlier: that the margin of the continent was once near the California/Nevada border and that large blocks of sedimentary rock had been broken off of the continent’s edge.
In the Kingston Range, he and his associates found that, “In the middle of a mile thick sequence of rocks, there are boulders ... about twelve boulders here (pointing at a slide image). ... This is a boulder that's ¾ of a mile long and a little over ¼ of a mile wide. This one over here, that you can’t see ’cause it’s kind of aimed in a different direction, is a mile long, little over a mile long. There’s one underneath here that is almost two miles long. These are HUGE boulders that have fallen from someplace over here and slid into place here— mile-sized boulders.
“We think this is pretty good evidence of a pretty big earthquake that collapsed the edge of the continent. So this was actually confirmation of our hypothesis. In fact, John (Baumgardner) suggested that this was happening out here, and we said, ‘You’re crazy, John.’ And we went out to show that he was, and he wasn’t. He was right!
(Keep in mind that this “evidence” was known to “traditional geologists” by the mid 1960s.)
“And the edge of the continent—the thickness at the Grand Canyon area, the thickness of the sediments is only about a mile. And you might think that's a lot, but that's only a mile in the Grand Canyon. But in Death Valley, it’s 25,000 feet thick. It’s over (sic) five miles. Just for this one layer—actually this is a single layer that’s only a thousand feet thick in the Grand Canyon. It becomes 25,000 feet in Death Valley. And here are those big boulders, right down here, signaling what we think is a collapse of the continental margin at the beginning of the Flood. (the reader should keep in mind that the “boulders” lie at the top of the thick sedimentary layer )
“(It is) Very exciting that we actually found physical evidence and confirmation. Just last year in November we (Wise and Austin) presented the evidence to the Geological Society of America—by the way, those boulders are traditionally understood to be GLACIAL deposits. Glaciers came (makes sound) and dropped those puppies into the water.”
Here Dr. Wise is badly mistaken. The boulders, generally referred to as blocks in the scientific literature, are surrounded by material called diamictite, composed of clastic rocks from fist to car size—some with the scratches and grooving that are usually indicative of glacial transport—and attendant fill material. It is the diamictite and not the blocks which are considered glacial materials by many geologists.
Dr. Wise got mileage from his incredulity that any scientist would think that mile-long rocks could be carried on top of a glacier. After saying, “Ice cannot carry a mile-diameter boulder,” Dr. Wise explained that the boulder’s mass would cause the ice to melt. This is a strawman argument and misdirection. Not only are the large blocks not what is traditionally called glacial material, but Dr. Wise has also made glacial transport of any large rock sound ridiculous, even though it has been clearly observed happening.
But of course, glaciers don’t carry most rocks on top of the glacier, as Dr. Wise gave the impression that geologists believe. The rocks are usually transported by (carried within) the denser yet still ductile ice in the base of the glacier. Glacial erratics, both ancient and those found underwater near the Arctic and Antarctic glacier fields today, can often be traced back to the point where the glacier incorporated them.
While it is not true that geologists have attributed the large blocks within the Kingston Peak Formation to glacial transport, there are several other “megablocks” that have been so attributed. At least six such blocks have been found in the Canadian province of Alberta. Five are near the town of Lethbridge, and the largest, being at over 4 km a block greater in extent than the blocks Dr. Wise says glaciers could not have carried, is near Edmonton. The closest rock formation matching this last block lies about 250 km northward. A similar block was moved by glaciers from Ailsa Craig, now an island off the coast of Scotland, to Wales, and others have been found in Poland and western Europe. Louis Agassiz, one of the last of the prominent 19th century old-Earth creationists, first proposed the likelihood that glaciers transported these erratic blocks over a century and a half ago.
Dr. Wise closed his discussion of the Kingston Range and the paper he read to the 1999 GSA meeting by adding, “And so we argued that this was actually a collapse of the continental margin due to a mega-earthquake, and we got most people to agree with us on that—although, of course, they wouldn’t go further, as far as we have gone.”
To the extent that Drs. Wise and Austin presented evidence that the blocks were broken from the edge of the ancient continent by an earthquake and slid into place along the seafloor, this summation is basically accurate, though there is no accepted definition for a “mega-earthquake.” It bears repeating that Dr. Austin’s paper as read by Dr. Wise contained little new information or interpretation, so its contents were hardly controversial to a group of trained geologists.
If, however, Dr. Wise meant his church audience to understand by “although, of course, they wouldn’t go further, as far as we have gone,” that he or Dr. Austin attempted to convince the members of the GSA that a six-hour-long earthquake caused “a collapse of the continental margin at the beginning of the Flood” or that he even presented evidence to that effect, then Dr. Wise’s memory of the presentation does not match that of another attendee who, coincidentally, has conducted and continues to conduct field research in the Kingston Range and Death Valley area.
Dr. Lauren A. Wright heard Dr. Wise’s presentation and remembers no mention whatsoever of a six-hour-long earthquake, the biblical Deluge, or creationism in general, let alone any attempt to persuade an expert audience of the validity of that particular interpretation. Because Dr. Austin’s paper was largely a repetition of previous research and knowledge, Dr. Wright attempted to speak with Dr. Wise afterward to inform him and Dr. Austin of the work of others that they were duplicating, but Dr. Wise left the hall, without taking questions, as soon as he finished reading Dr. Austin’s paper and was not to be found afterward.
Dr. Wright subsequently wrote to both Dr. Wise and Dr. Austin (Dr. Austin received his doctorate from the university where Dr. Wright taught). Dr. Wise and Dr. Austin did visit with Dr. Lauren on site the following year. Dr. Wright indicated that Dr. Wise retains his biblical interpretation, but Dr. Austin seemed at the time to be more interested in catastrophism in general.
By adopting the Pangaea disposition of the continents, even with qualifications, Dr. Wise has set a point in relative geologic time that does have a past. That past, the previous locations and movements of the continents, can be established by using the same kinds of stratigraphic, fossil, and paleomagnetic data that confirm the Pangaea assemblage. This time frame is logically valid for, and a necessary consequence of, both relative geologic time and the way Dr. Wise reckons biblical time.
At the time the large blocks in the Kingston Peak Formation broke from the continental margin, the Pangaea assemblage did not yet exist, and North America was far from the location Dr. Wise claims for it. Thus the Kingston Peak Formation and the blocks cannot be considered evidence for Deluge events because they predate the Deluge by many, many years.
At the time the Kingston glacial deposits were put in place, western North America was far enough into the higher latitudes, far south of its Pangaea position, to have been glaciated. This period of glaciation left clear evidence on several other continents as well, possibly indicating a world-wide ice age, the so-called “Snowball Earth.” The blocks, Dr. Wise’s “boulders”, had to have been even previously in place. Neither the blocks, the glacial deposits, nor any other aspect of the Kingston Peak Formation can be explained away by resorting to a flood-based model that starts with Pangaea. Beyond repeating the results of some previous, well-established research, Dr. Wise gave his church audience a demonstrably false interpretation of this entire topic.
Suppose, for fancy’s sake however, we follow Dr. Wise’s conceit that the blocks were indeed broken off the continental margin during the Deluge. Does this mean that his model describes a logical sequence of events based on reasonable assumptions? No, for as he has told us, the blocks, themselves composed of rock that comes from lithified Deluge sediment, lie atop thick sequences of sedimentary rock which, in his model, could only in prior turn have come from the Deluge. For these blocks to be “physical evidence and confirmation” of “a collapse of the continental margin at the beginning of the Flood” due to the four-to-six-hour earthquake his model posits, the following would have had to occur:
1) the earthquake initiating the events in Dr. Wise’s model begins and continues for 4 to 6 hours.
2) immediately after the earthquake begins and as it continues, about 1,000 meters of the Crystal Springs Formation, consisting of distinct, well-defined layers of conglomerates, arkose sandstone, feldspathic sandstone, siltstone, shale, and dolomite are deposited by the onrushing Deluge waters. While the dolomite is being deposited, undisturbed stromatolites formed by colonial bacterial and algae grow in what gives all appearances of being shallow, calm water.
3) all 1,000 meters of the Crystal Springs Formation instantly turns to solid stone adjacent to the terrible cataclysm of the earthquake.
4) about 500 meters of Beck Springs Dolomite, the upper part of which contains more undisturbed stromatolites apparently growing in similar conditions, is deposited by Deluge waters.
5) all 500 meters of the Beck Springs Dolomite instantly turns to stone as the earthquake continues.
6) over 100 meters of the Kingston Peak Formation, consisting mostly of shale and other fine-grained sediments that do not settle out of waters with any appreciable flow rate, is deposited by Deluge waters.
7) this lower part of the Kingston Peak Formation instantly turns to stone as the earthquake continues.
8) enough of the solid stone underlying some parts of the Beck Springs Dolomite situated well away from and uphill of where Dr. Wise’s boulders end up is eroded away so that the concluding throes of the four-to-six-hour earthquake cause large blocks of the Beck Springs Dolomite to break off as units and slide over other lower-lying parts of the Kingston Peak Formation and Beck Springs Dolomite.
9) the diamictite—whose solid stones are composed of clasts from the lower Kingston Peak Formation, the Beck Springs Dolomite, all members of the Crystal Springs Formation, and even some of the basement rock underlying the Crystal Springs Formation—is deposited around the large blocks, either by the Deluge or by later glaciers.
Why are the stromatolites important to a consideration of this chain of events? Modern stromatolites grow very slowly, often requiring several years to produce a millimeter of growth. Modern stromatolites are found growing in very un-Deluge-like conditions, requiring warm or hot temperatures and generally clear and hypersaline water. There is insufficient time and unlikely conditions for this growth to happen at all in the rain diluted and muddy waters of the Deluge. The Crystal Spring Formation contains over 80 meters of stromatolitic dolomite. The Beck Spring Formation contains about 18 meters more. There is no evidence that these ancient stromatolites formed under conditions that were substantially different than those of their modern counterparts.
The blocks Dr. Wise wishes to use as evidence of the beginning of the Deluge are formed from completely lithified sediments that Dr. Wise’s model proposes were only deposited during the subsequent course of the Deluge. This is a logical and physical impossibility. If the deposition and lithification are moved back a reasonable number of years before the Deluge, these events become part of an old-Earth creationism model, and Dr. Wise specifically rejects old-Earth creationism. Dr. Wise would seem to be left with an omphalism that has the sediments divinely emplaced, garnished with the illusion of life, and lithified at creation. That would be a miracle beyond the scope of anyone’s science, and it could not be part of or evidence for a predictive model.
In response to a later question about how creationists were able to distinguish pre- and post-Deluge sediments, Dr. Wise responded, “I make the distinction on the basis of the rocks ... rocks found across entire continents. ... That occurs at about the K/T (Cretaceous/Tertiary) boundary. ... All the Cenozoic, all the Tertiary ... is post Flood.”
In the modern world, a block similar to those found exposed in the Kingston Peak Formation lies off the north shore of Oahu. This particular block, at 20 km X 10 km X 5 km, is even larger than those Dr. Wise claimed to be evidence of the massive earthquake that began the Deluge. This block cannot be a remnant of the Deluge, for all of Oahu is post-Deluge by Dr. Wise’s own reckoning of biblical time. No one has proposed that this block is the result of anything other than normal geological processes. The block off the north coast of Oahu required neither Deluge, supernaturally huge earthquake, nor glacier to reach its position.
Dr. Wise would subsequently claim, without evidence other than necessity, that all the pre-Deluge ocean crust was cold and denser than the mantle. Small slivers of old ocean crust that have been preserved on what are now continental shields demonstrate that Dr. Wise’s model is incorrect in this particular. These slivers show the same pillow lava, indicative of hot magma being extruded under water, that is found in modern ocean crust near spreading zones. Two examples predating the Pangaea assemblage are to be found in the Sioux Lookout area of Ontario and the upper portion of the Dalradian sequence in northwest Scotland. Dr. Wise’s contention that the entire ocean crust was cold before the Deluge is not corroborated by the available evidence.
Concerning the formation of the Himalayas, Dr. Wise said that, “The slow, gradual motion of conventional plate tectonics has insufficient momentum to produce these huge mountains.” This is another strawman argument. While many geologists do speak of the collision of the continents as a figure of speech, none would attribute the upthrust of the mountains to a one-step process governed by momentum. Dr. Wise’s model completely ignores the consequences of the momentum it would generate on the distal ends of continents, weighing multi-millions of tons, moving at meters per second.
Noting that his model did not accurately move South America far enough north, Dr. Wise took this as “proof” of the model’s validity rather than the non sequitur it was. The only reason this makes any sense at all is that he told his audience that traditional geologists say South America’s final movement to join with North America was northward.
Dr. Wise does not accept traditional geologists’ time calculations, their interpretation of the deposition of sedimentary strata, or any of their other findings that contradict the Deluge, but because his model leaves South America too far south, he accepts their finding that it moved northward as proof that his group’s model is right. Dr. Wise says of this motion, “This was not something ... that John (Baumgardner) would have known at all.” Dr. Baumgardner could not have taken any beginner-level course in geology or geophysics without having read or heard about this.
Dr. Wise said his model also predicted that the descending ocean crust (really the far thicker lithosphere) would remain cool all the way to the core-mantle boundary, apparently a result of its having descended so rapidly in the model. This is quite contradictory, for his model requires a totally unrealistic level of heat transfer to initiate and maintain “runaway subduction,” while at this point his model correctly (in a very loose sense of the word) requires that heat does indeed not flow rapidly into the descending lithosphere. The model never explains where all the millions of cubic kilometers of mantle material that would have to get out of the way of the descending plates might go. Dr. Wise said that the descending material would take millions of years to melt and was still “pretty cold ... cold stuff” today. His use of “pretty cold” here is misleading.
Seismic studies of deep focus earthquakes indicate that the descending lithospheric plates can indeed be distinguished down to near the outer core, but by that point the material is only relatively cooler (and slightly different in density) than the lower mantle material surrounding it—it is well over 2,000° C, which is not what most people think of as cool or cold. Dr. Wise also places this cooler material directly under the subduction zone, which is inaccurate, as the plates extend at an angle through the mantle so that their descending ends end up far from the subduction zone. Geologists would agree, however, that millions of years have been required for the descending plates to reach their current temperature.
Dr. Wise presented his view of Earth’s magnetic field. He said that it was based on ideas by a 19th century scientist, Horace Lamb, that the magnetic field was imparted to the Earth at creation by a divine act. This idea was first created by Thomas G. Barnes, a creationist whom Dr. Wise did not credit. Dr. Wise claimed that “... Lamb’s model was ignored and not used because it demanded a young Earth ...” Dr. Wise did not mention that all of Lamb’s writings cited by Barnes are matters of public record. Dr. Brent Dalrymple examined all of those papers and found that they contain no model of the Earth’s magnetic field or mention of geomagnetism, no mention of any divine act, and no mention of divine creation.
At this point, Dr. Wise began to discuss a legitimate scientific paper by “non-creationists” R. S. Coe, M. Prévot, and P. Champs (henceforth Coe et al.) that appeared in the British journal Nature. Dr. Wise said that this paper concerned reversals (sic) in the earth’s magnetic field. As will become apparent, while this impression is crucial to Dr. Wise’s case, it is contradicted by the very article he claims to be basing that case upon.
In speaking of lava flows that might show rapidly changing magnetic fields, Dr. Wise said that during a reversal (sic), “The outside (magnetically sensitive minerals in lava) ... will be frozen in one direction, and this stuff (magnetically sensitive minerals) in the middle is going to be frozen in the opposite (sic) direction. ... Russ Humphries (a creationist) ... suggested that if this was true, we ought to be able to find foot-thick basalt lava flows ... that would show such reversal (sic). ... But if it flipped fast, it suggests that this idea that the Earth’s magnetic field is less than 10,000 years (old) ... must be true.” Dr. Wise did not explain what a rapid reversal might have to do with the age of the magnetic field. This is a non sequitur. As it turns out, neither he nor Humphries actually did any field research. What they “found” was a readily available a journal paper with a few words they could take out of context.
Traditional geologists have known for decades that magnetic reversals have occurred. There have been about 75 gross periods of normal polarity and an equal number of reversed polarity since the Pangaea assemblage. At a finer resolution, there are many more. The only reversals scientists have actually observed, however, have been those of the Sun’s magnetic field. That field changes about every 11 years, and the change happens over a period of two or three years. No one supposes that the Sun and the Earth have the same interior structures.
Geologists have made estimates of how long it might have taken for a complete reversal of Earth’s magnetic field to occur, and the best data available suggests that it usually takes anywhere from 1 to 5 thousand years. This is still the case, as Coe et al. point out in their paper. In looking at a map or illustration of magnetic reversals, however, one needs to see what is there rather than what Dr. Wise implied with his words and slides. The usual maps show only the long periods of normal or reversed polarity. The much-shorter period of change, the reversal itself, is either not shown at all or is only the thin border line between the long periods of stable magnetic fields.
Coe et al. were able to refine the time they sampled to a single lava flow, but their conclusion was that, “This is not to suppose that geomagnetic reversals take place much more quickly than the several thousand years currently supposed, but rather to suggest that polarity transitions may be punctuated by episodes of extraordinarily rapid field change.” Indeed, their work does not show a complete reversal, as the charts included with their report and their text itself make abundantly clear, but only one such episode of rapid field change. This is not, however, the conclusion Dr. Wise and his associates draw from the work of Coe et al., even though the entire time that he was talking about a complete reversal, Dr. Wise’s own slides failed to show the complete reversal he was claiming.
Dr. Wise described the research of Coe et al. by saying that, after publication of an earlier 1989 paper, “They were basically laughed out of court.” Dr. Wise did not mention that their original paper appeared in the respected, peer- reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research, and that an earlier paper (Watkins, Journal R. Astr. Soc. 20, 121—149 ) and a later paper (Baksi, A.K. Geophys Res. Lett. 20, 1607—1610 ) also addressed the same topic.
Dr. Wise continued, “(They) finally got this thing published in Nature in 1995. It took that many years, it took seven years (sic) to get it accepted in a journal that you can get things published within two weeks ( Dr. Wise laughs, followed by audience laughter).”
Coe et al. submitted their paper on 8 September 1994. It was peer reviewed and accepted for publication on 10 March 1995. These dates appear at the conclusion of the paper, as such dates traditionally appear in journal articles. The paper was published in Vol. 374, pages 687—692, 20 April 1995. Careless math aside, Dr. Wise cannot seriously maintain that this is a span of seven years. Dr. Coe has confirmed in a personal communication that the paper had no “shopping” history prior to the submission date above. The years between papers were spent “...checking, analyzing and questioning our results.” This is how real scientists work.
Continuing, Dr. Wise said that such rapid reversals (sic) were “... physically impossible if the magnetic field is generated by these dynamo theories.” However, as we have seen, Coe et al. did not claim that their research showed a reversal, only an episode of rapid field change. Dr. Wise did not mention seismic studies that do show the heat and density flows expected from the dynamo theory or computer modeling that shows how the field could form and why the reversals occur.
Dr. Wise then said that evidence of a magnetic field in the oldest rocks on Earth suggests that these rocks are less than 10,000 years old. This repeated his non sequitur, as the field and age do not depend on one another.
Beyond giving false information about the submission, publication, and contents of Coe et al., Dr. Wise has run into an even greater stumbling block. The lava flows Coe et al. sampled are all middle Miocene, during the recent Cenozoic, and by Dr. Wise’s own reckoning they belong to the post-Deluge period as he interprets biblical time. Therefore, in the context he uses them, they tell us nothing about pre-Deluge conditions when miracles occurred regularly or about possible magnetic reversal events during the miracle-influenced time of Deluge itself.
Moving to sedimentation processes and results, Dr. Wise said of his group’s model, “Add to this the fact that we also have a mechanism for moving material towards the continents ...” This is an interesting use of “fact,” as Dr. Wise had not even presented evidence to this effect. It is a fact that he and his group have a model. It is also a fact that that model is admittedly inaccurate and arbitrary and does not operate within normal geological and physical constraints, i.e., it is not “factual.”
Dr. Wise mentioned the soils and muck that would be caught up in his model’s Deluge and added, “...We now have a sediment source.” Actually, he doesn’t. A lot of sedimentary rock is mudstone which was apparently deposited by usual, regional, floods, but much more isn’t. Most is clearly defined limestone (from marine or [occasionally] fresh water that is typically still and relatively undisturbed); sandstone (sometimes deposited by either salt or fresh water, but often eolian [wind blown] dunes); shale (from calm deep ocean and fresh water mud and ooze); chalk and diatomaceous earth (exoskeletons of microscopic marine animals which could not possibly have reproduced at the required rate to produce all those exo-skeletons during the course of the Deluge); and evaporites (salt and gypsum, often lying deep under sedimentary deposits, which would mean that the waters evaporated before they deposited their sediment load, a clear impossibility). These kinds of sediments usually show no evidence of the inevitable mixing that would take place in a flood. In addition, Dr. Wise has still not explained how clearly defined sediments came to be on continents that were speeding through the ocean at meters per second.
Dr. Wise showed a slide of a typical Grand Canyon view and pointed out the Coconino Sandstone, mentioning that this sandstone formation covers about 30,000 square miles and is over 800 feet thick in places. Dr. Wise compared this with the Sahara, noting that the Coconino had more sand. The Sahara, however, is entirely post-Deluge by his reckoning, and therefore cannot be more than ~4,000 years old, which is indeed close to the age of the current desert. Dr. Wise did not mention that the Sahara is the third desert to occupy the same area, that sedimentary rock underlies the desert and would not have had time to lithify in his scenario before the loose sand was blown in place, or that fossils of mild-weather plants have been found there—all adding to the age of the location. He also did not not mention that some of the older sedimentary rock in the Sahara shows evidence of glaciation.
“Besides, there is evidence that the Coconino was deposited under water,” he added. He did not mention that the clear evidence is that most of it, especially the sections exposed in the Grand Canyon, is very dry, eolian dunes. The Coconino can best be seen as similar to the desert of Saudi Arabia, a desert whose dunes march into the sea. In this light, the Coconino is vast but otherwise neither unusual nor exceptional. The sabkha deposits of the Coconino that do represent a shoreline are in east-central Arizona, far from the Grand Canyon, and they are no longer sandstone.
Dr. Wise did not mention that tracks of early reptiles, including some running creatures, and arthropods similar to scorpions and spiders have been found at multiple levels on the Coconino dune surfaces, that flood waters would surely wash away any tracks on water-deposited dunes (considerable pre-K/T sediments were later deposited atop the Coconino Sandstone. A Deluge scenario would thus have to leave deep flood waters in place or reintroduce them soon after the prints were made.), or that the wind-blown Coconino dunes can be physically distinguished from water-deposited sands by the slope of the dunes and the shape and size of the ripples on their surfaces. He did not mention that the Coconino, using his reckoning of biblical time and the Pangaea assemblage, belongs to the years preceding the Deluge. He also did not mention that anyone in the Chattanooga area can see pre-Deluge eolian dune sandstone for the price of admission to Rock City.
Dr. Wise showed a slide indicating continent-wide sandstone deposits at the base of the Sauk Sequence in North America and said this was more evidence for his Deluge model. This deposit is from pre-Deluge time by Dr. Wise’s reckoning of biblical time. It is possible that Dr. Wise is confusing this sand with the later St. Peter Sandstone, but even that deposit was shortly pre-Deluge. In answering a question that was edited from the recording, Dr. Wise admitted that he could not prove that all the sands shown in his slide were continuous or contiguous, or that they belonged to the same sequence.
Dr. Wise said that currents flowing from east to west deposited the sands, something known to traditional geologists for decades. Dr. Wise did not mention that his model has North America going west (or Europe and Asia going east; the resulting water currents would be the same) at meters per second, so that the deposition, if it could occur at all during the Deluge or shortly after, should have been made west to east.
Dr. Wise continued by claiming that dinosaur skeletons at Dinosaur National Monument offered proof that the animals were caught up in the Deluge because many legs and necks were found articulated but separated from bodies, “... like the critters themselves had been ripped to pieces.” Dr. Wise did not mention that paleontologists have known for nearly a century that many of the fossils at this site were deposited in normal flooding, nor did he mention that several nearly complete skeletons each of Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Camarosaurus, and Barosaurus have been found there, all animals with long necks and legs. For the most part, complete skeletons go to museums, and fragmentary remains are left in place at the monument for tourists to see.
Dr. Wise moved on to a slide of a clam found as a fossil with its shell closed. Dr. Wise said that today we find only opened clam shells on beaches, so closed fossil clams are evidence of rapid burial during the Deluge. Dr. Wise did not mention that clams live in beach and ocean sediment and feed and breath by means of a siphon which protrudes to the sediment surface.
Many clams that die naturally are left where the weight of sediment keeps their shells closed after death. Many other clams die when storms cover their siphons with sediment or an undersea mud flow buries them deeper than they can escape. The clam shells we do see are the ones that get washed out by the tides; we never see the closed shells that stay buried. In concluding this discussion, Dr. Wise also did not distinguish between clams, which are bivalves, and other fossil shelled creatures which are brachiopods. The latter’s shells regularly stay closed after death.
Dr. Wise closed this portion of his presentation with a short sermon and exaltation which the Reverend Jim Suddath declared to be “a God moment.”
Even though Dr. Wise was considerate enough of his audience to answer several questions during the course of his presentation, the tape’s editor has excised all these questions and answers and lumped some of them in with the general q & a session after the presentation. I have replaced some of his answers above where they made sense, but most of the questions and answers follow.
Dr. Wise was asked about the Pleistocene Ice Age, and he discussed a single Ice Age his model predicted, providing some interesting information. “Siberia was never covered with ice. Central Canada was never covered with ice. Eastern Canada was, but not central Canada. ... You could walk through all of Asia without any ice. You could walk through Alaska, as long as you stayed away from the mountains ... down through central Canada ... had a beautiful zone where you walked right through the middle of Canada ...”
All of this is either incorrect or applies to different areas at different times scattered through multiple ice advances and retreats. Applied to the Pleistocene Ice Age as a whole, it is simply wrong. Applied to a specific period during one advance or retreat, most of it is wrong. It may, however, be “true” within the parameters of Dr. Wise’s inaccurate and arbitrary model. Dr. Wise does not mention that there were Ice Ages which occurred before the Deluge according to his reckoning of biblical time and the Pangaea assemblage. He also does not mention that seasonal banding in both Arctic and Antarctic ice cores reveals tens of thousands of years that can be physically counted and reasonably extrapolated to hundreds of thousands of years.
Questioned again on the Ice Age, Dr. Wise stated that his model provided for overlapping lobes or surges of ice that give the impression of multiple advances and retreats. This special pleading was presented without any evidence. The evidence for truly multiple advances and retreats comes from a variety of sources that all match in relative time (they also match well in absolute time). The evidence comes from studying continental land forms, Arctic and Antarctic ice cores, and ocean sediment cores. There is no reasonable doubt of these multiple advances and retreats nor reasonable doubt of ice ages before the formation of Pangaea. The ice age Dr. Wise speaks of happened in post-Flood times, so he cannot invoke miracles, and he is wrong. But of course, his model can always show a single ice age because the model is admittedly inaccurate and arbitrary.
For another question, Dr. Wise placed his model’s single ice age in the time of Job and Abraham between 500 and 1,000 years after the Deluge, well after the Egyptians and Sumerians developed writing. There are, however, no written records from the Bible, any other sacred scriptures, or imperial records that indicate an ice age during the period he claims.
In answer to another question, Dr. Wise stated his opinion that dinosaurs and human beings lived at the same time, “but I don’t believe they lived in the same place.” He did not mention that dinosaur fossils are found on all continents, including in areas where fossil hominids are found (though certainly not in the same strata). While he did mention that dinosaurs are found with plants and animals different from those found associated with fossil hominids, he did not mention that those found with dinosaurs are mostly extinct and do not appear in post-Deluge deposits, while many of those found with hominids are still around. He also did not mention that the “... beautiful zone ... right down through the middle of Canada ...,” which was available for human dispersal in his Ice Age model, passes right through prime dinosaur country in both Canada and the U.S. There are also very rich dinosaur fossil sites in long-populated areas of China.
Dr. Wise also said that dinosaurs lived alongside humans for up to two centuries after the Deluge. In fact, there have never been any human fossils found with any dinosaur fossils or vice versa (Dr. Wise specifically rejected claims by other creationists, including the Glenn Rose/Paluxy River prints). Dr. Billy Graham recently affirmed the pre-Deluge extinction of the dinosaurs in his national newspaper column. One wonders by what standards of evidence Drs. Wise and Graham might resolve their disagreement. Dinosaurs and humans lived far apart in time, not in geography or environment.
Dr. Wise answered a question about hominid fossils by saying that Lucy and other australopithecines were “... in fact apes ...” that happened to have the ability to walk upright, and they were not humans at all. To reach this conclusion he listed several characteristics, including curved phalanges and long arms, to support his opinion. He did not mention that many of the characteristics he noted for australopithecines were intermediate between true fossil (and modern) apes and humans, or that his discussion of arm lengths ignored length relative to body size, nor did he mention pelvis and femur adaptations, jaws and teeth, and skull to spine articulation that all place australopithecines within the hominid family. To Dr. Wise’s credit, it must be said, however, that by formal classification, australopithecines are not humans. That’s why they have a different name, “southern apes.”
Moving up the ladder, Dr. Wise commented on other hominids. Of Homo habilis he said, “Until they resolve that problem (large variations in fossil descriptions of H. habilis), we don’t know what Homo habilis is.” This is not exactly correct. We know what it is, or they are, for the bones won’t change. We might not, however, agree on what to call it or them. A change in the classification of any group of fossils doesn’t change the fossils, only the names. Whatever Dr. Wise might wish to call the fossils that are now lumped within Homo habilis, they are convincingly intermediate between the earlier australopithecines and the later Homo species. Their features are so intermediate that even other young-Earth creationists cannot agree on whether they are humans or apes.
Dr. Wise went on to mention “Homo erectus, which I believe is purely human. ...There’s no difference below the head—you can’t tell the difference.” Well, we do call it Homo for a reason, but the skull is very different in several easily distinguishable ways, and the rest of the skeleton has significant differences, too. The femoral neck and head of the thigh bone are intermediate between australopithecines and modern humans, the hole for the spinal chord which runs through the cervical and thoracic vertebrae is markedly smaller than in modern humans, and longer, less backwardly pointing spines appear on the vertebrae. All fossil hominids whose species names start with Homo are "human beings" in the original meaning of the Latin word, but they also are not all the same as Homo sapiens sapiens, modern human beings.
As can be seen, on some occasions Dr. Wise tried very hard to make his point, or create an impression in his listeners’ minds, without actually misrepresenting the scientific record. Reasonable people may disagree over whether he succeeded or not. Nevertheless, this raises even more questions about his basic lack of candor in discussing Snider’s theory, the Kingston Peak Formation, the formation of the Himalayas, the research of Horace Lamb and of Coe et al., the Coconino Sandstone, Dinosaur National Monument, and other instances where he was disrespectful toward his scientific elders and bore false witness about the legitimate scientific record.
Dr. Wise also discussed, to a greater or lesser degree, coal formation (completely edited out of the tape), ocean water temperatures and “fountains of the deep” or miraculously cohesive jets of superheated water that formed when ocean water came into contact with the lava exposed by “runaway subduction,” an ocean crust that at the time of the Deluge was uniformly cold and relatively level, the origin of sedimentary rock, mineral deposits, human life spans post-Deluge, asteroid impacts, and earthquakes and volcanoes. In several of these instances, his remarks repeated the arguments of young Earth creationists of the previous generation.
“I’m playing a very different game than a lot of these folks (other creationists) are ... A lot of them want to find evidence, I believe, to substantiate and bolster their position. I’m not looking for evidence. I don’t care beans whether the evidence is out there.
“I’m trying to understand the world in the light of the Truth of the claims of scripture. I’m not trying to find evidence for my position. I have sufficient evidence in the nature of God that these things are true.” (Dr. Wise’s statement made during the q & a session following his presentation)
“In contrast (to Dr. Wise’s model of young Earth creationism), those who believe the Earth is very old would have volcanoes and Earthquakes preceding man by millions and billions of years, and thus they have no explanation for that natural evil of volcanoes and earthquakes except through directly God; God’s nature. That’s God’s nature to do that, to kill those people without any sin being the cause of it.” (Dr. Wise’s closing statement on the tape as recorded during the q & a session)
The reader should compare these two statements with the opening paragraph of this commentary. The latter statement makes perfectly good sense to many people in eastern Tennessee.
An edited version of Dr. Wise’s presentation of 12 July 2000 can be ordered from The Tape Ministry, First Presbyterian Church, 554 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37402 for $6. All three presentations, the first dealing largely with theological matters and Dr. Wise’s version of omphalism and the second with evolution and paleontology, are available for $16.