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Actualism vs. Dr. Plaisted's Inadequate Uniformitarianism
Dr. Kevin R. Henke

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At his website A Reply to Dr Henke and Others, creationist Dr. David Plaisted states the following about catastrophes and "uniformitarianism":

"I also comment on the article Breakthrough Made in Dating of the Geological Recordat the same site. This article shows an agreement between argon-argon dating and astronomical time scales which is used to calibrate sedimentary deposits. This is very interesting, but the assumption is that the precession of the earth's axis has been constant for many thousands of years. If there were a recent global catastrophe, this precession might have been severely altered, invalidating this calibration. In general, uniformitarian assumptions such as this were foreseen in the Bible:

'Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water; whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.'
2 Peter 3: 3-6.

And Dalrymple (1984, p. 104) even defines uniformity, following Hubbert (1967, p. 31), by - 

(1) We assume that natural laws are invariant with time

              (2) We exclude hypotheses of the violation of natural laws by Divine                Providence, or other forms of supernaturalism.

However, the assumption of global catastrophes in the past calls such calibrations of dating methods into question."

In another essay When the Earth Tipped, Dr. Plaisted misinterprets a dubious newspaper article to suggest that the Earth's inclination was seriously disrupted by "Noah's Flood."  In reality, the highly questionable article says nothing about "Noah's Flood."

In his essays, Dr. Plaisted fails to recognize that scientists do not need to assume that the Earth's precession has been constant over geologic time.  To the contrary, Van Andel (1994, p. 243-244) discusses evidence for changes in the Earth's precession and obliquity cycles over at least the past 400 million years.  Strahler (1999, p. 268-273) also discusses the Earth's precession and obliquity cycles during the past 500,000 years and how they may affect glaciations.  The figures in Strahler (1999, p. 271) show that the cycles and how they affect Earth-Sun distances are not entirely regular over time.  Nevertheless, the changes in these cycles, as discussed in Van Andel (1994) and Strahler (1999), are too insignificant to support any proposed radical transformations in the Earth's orbital and rotational mechanics from "Noah's Flood" or similar tabloid claims in newspaper articles. 

Modern uniformitarianism (actualism) states that the geologic record is the product of both NATURAL catastrophes (like local floods, landslides, earthquakes, meteorite impacts, and hurricanes) and slow and gradual processes (such as lakes drying up over long periods of time and precipitating salt deposits).   Some of these catastrophes, such as the Cretaceous-Tertiary Yucatan meteorite impact, may have had worldwide effects. Actualism also recognizes that NATURAL conditions (such as climates) and processes (such as the spreading rates of tectonic plates or volcanic and earthquake activity) may quickly or slowly change at any time. That is, the rates of natural processes need not be constant over time.  However, because magic is untestable, actualism does not invoke the supernatural to explain the geologic record.  Indeed, actualism can easily explain the record without relying on ex nihilo creation miracles or any miracles associated with "Noah's Flood."

Dr. Plaisted's partial quotation of Dalrymple (1984) may create a misleading view that Dalrymple and Hubbert (1967), which Dalrymple quotes, reject all forms of catastrophes and are strict Lyell uniformitarians.   However, this is not the case.  When Dalrymple (1984, p. 104, 106) is viewed in its proper context, it's obvious that both Dalrymple (1984) and Hubbert (1967) fully accept actualism:

History, human or geological, represents our hypothesis, couched in terms of past events, devised to explain our present-day observations. What are our assumptions in such a procedure? Fundamentally, they are two:

        (1) We assume that natural laws are invariant with time

        (2) We exclude hypotheses of the violation of natural laws by Divine Providence, or other          forms of supernaturalism ...[reference omitted]

The principle of uniformity, if it has ANY meaning at all in modern science, includes no more than these two principles. Indeed, most modern scholars of the subject have concluded that uniformitarianism today is simply the application of the scientific method to nature and that the term is so confusing it should be abandoned ...[reference omitted].  Thus, in assuming and then condemning constant rates for geologic processes, Morris and Parker ...[reference omitted] and their colleagues have set up a straw man based on obsolete historical definition of uniformity that no modern geologist would accept." [my emphasis]

Again, under actualism, the rates of natural processes can be highly variable     and even catastrophic WITHOUT resorting to creationist magic.  In other words, one sandstone may have originated from the gradual accumulation of sand in shallow seawater, but another similar sandstone may have resulted from the overnight deposition of sand in shallow water from an ancient hurricane.  Careful studies may or may not be able to distinguish the radically different depositional processes of the two sandstones.

Natural catastrophes and gradual processes can easily occur without changing the fundamental laws of chemistry and physics.   Yet, without invoking unproven miracles, using poorly argued newspaper articles, relying on "Flood models" that conflict with the chemical and physical properties of the Earth's crust or entirely sterilizing the Earth with planetary collisions, how does Dr. Plaisted propose that any radical changes in the Earth's orbit, rotation and/or declination could occur during a year-long "Genesis Flood"?  How could the Earth have stabilized from such a super catastrophe in only 4,000 years?

Finally, Dr. Plaisted's quotation of 2 Peter is irrelevant.  Many creationists cite 2 Peter 3:3-6 to attack both the strawperson arguments of outdated Lyell uniformitarianism (e.g., Morris and Parker, 1982; Morris, 1978, p. 77-78, 93) and modern science's opposition to the young-Earth creationist (YEC) idea that miracles should be included in "science" so that YEC mythological interpretations of Genesis can be salvaged. 

While YECs tend to trust 2 Peter and every other book in their Bibles, many theologians consider 2 Peter to be a forgery (for example, see The Authenticity of the Second Epistle of Peter). By the early 2nd century AD, critics of Christianity were challenging the false prophecies of Christ's "soon" second coming (e.g., Revelation 1:3).   2 Peter is probably a shallow attempt by a 2nd century AD Christian(s) to counter this justified criticism. Since then, fundamentalist Christians continue to claim that the "second coming" is at hand, critics periodically call their bluff, and fundamentalists still inadequately respond to this criticism by quoting 2 Peter.  It hardly seems appropriate for anyone to cite such a dubious book to attack warranted skepticism of the claims of conservative Christianity or the efforts of geologists to understand the Earth's past.


Hubbert, M.K., 1967, "Critique of the Principle of Uniformity," in C.C. Albritton, Jr. (ed.), Uniformity and Simplicity, Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Paper 89, p. 3-33.

Morris, H.M., 1978, The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth, Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA.

Morris, H.M. and G.E. Parker, 1982, What is Creation Science? Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA.

Strahler, A.N., 1999, Science and Earth History - The Evolution/Creation Controversy, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York.

Van Andel, T. H., 1994, New Views on an Old Planet: A History of Global Change, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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