Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bishop Robert Vasa, Not a Historian.

Bishop Vasa in his 06/14/2007 editorial "Evolution — thoughts on scientific, faith-filled positions" in the "Catholic Sentinel" attacked what he calls the "doctrine of evolution" after having spent a day long outing with unidentified "scientists." These "scientists" who ever they were, seem to have given the Bishop some very bad instruction. These fall into several general categories of error; historical, conceptual, scientific and out-right frauds.

The historical errors began with his incorrect understanding of what was called "uniformitarianism" back in the late 1700s and the timing of these scientific developments. Surveyors, and civil engineers who were laying out and constructing the canals and roadways which as much as anything else created the industrial age, learned that there were obvious differences in the rock they worked with and that when seen across large distances these rocks formed sequences. This was the direct parent of modern geology. It discovered that some of these rocks contained objects that were similar to bones and shells of living organisms. These were fossils, and years of study established that fossils were the remains of creatures that had once lived, but were now extinct. This idea that species could have died out and disappeared from the earth was objected to by two main arguments; the religious tradition from Genesis that all animals created had been saved by Noah, and the then current rationalist argument regarding the "nature of nature." This later point was expressed by none-other than Thomas Jefferson following his discovery a fossil giant sloth, "Such is the economy of Nature that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct." But, by the time 12 year old Mary Anning discovered the first fossil ichthyosaur in the year 1811, it had become impossible to still argue that no species had become extinct. This discovery was the origin of the science of paleontology.

Two types of proposals, theological and scientific, were offered to account for the apparently obvious vast ages of these fossils and sedimentary formations which towered over the world, and reached to the deep seas. The tallest mountains on earth contain fossils, as do some of the deepest ocean basin floors. The first theological response was that all of the earth's geology was created in just one year by the great biblical catastrophe of Noah's Flood. This soon had to be dumped, because the fossils showed that there had been many successions of marine, and dry land organisms, wetlands and deserts were isolated from one another. Neither forty days of rain, nor a year of soaking could produce these deposits. Further, this was repeated through-out what became known as the geological column. The new theological arguments were that the geological and paleontological facts were to be harmonized biblically by two new theological positions; the thousands of geological strata represented past creations and Genesis was restricted to the most recent, or that the first book of Genesis "days" had actually been vast ages themselves, and the second book was a nearer "creation." These are known as the "Gap" and the "Day Age" theories of biblical creation.

The nineteenth century scientific response was the work of genius, and it was quite simple; the modern earth was the product of the same sorts of events that are active today. "The present was the key to the past" became the core idea of all of geology. The geological history of earth became then a series of small catastrophes, regional rather than global, and occurred over millennia rather than a single year. Glaciers moved constantly, but their total movement was measured in years- not minutes. Lava could rush down the sides of volcanoes at hundreds of miles per hour, but eruptions were hundreds or thousands of years apart. The built-up mountains these volcanoes produced wore down slowly as it was written in the Bible: Job 14:18- But as a mountain falls at last and its rock is moved from its place, 19- As waters wear away the stones and floods wash away the soil of the land, so you destroy the hope of man" (USCCB).

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) published his landmark "Principles of Geology" in three volumes, 1830-33. During the young Charles Darwin's five year journey around the world on the HMS Beagle, he was accompanied by the first of these volumes that established the ancient creation of the earth when setting off from England, (the second of which he received after arriving in South America for the first time). This first volume, Darwin wrote allowed him, "to see through Lyell's eyes" when he landed on St Jago off the west coast of Africa.

This leads us to the second gross error foisted onto the Bishop Vasa by his "scientists." The Bishop was apparently told that, " ... a major reason for speculating about uniformitarianism is that evolution requires tens of millions of years, and so once the theory of evolution is accepted then eons of relative geological tranquility are likewise required in order to provide a suitable environment for the long and excruciatingly slow evolutionary processes." Lyell's books on geology were the first conclusive combination of facts and concepts that established the uniformitarian geology still universally accepted today by professional geologists. These books built on nearly a century of accumulated geological data. Charles Darwin did not publish his books on evolution until after 1859, nearly 30 years after the ancient earth was established as a scientific fact. Perhaps some defender of this gross error would like to present the evolutionary ideas that had preceded Darwin's. This is also invalid because these earlier concepts had no use for long periods of time, as they had been largely invented to accommodate religious teachings of their era.

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