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Creationism's Geologic Time Scale

Should the scientific community continue to fight rear-guard skirmishes with creationists, or insist that "young-earthers" defend their model in toto?

Donald Wise

Creationism, the fundamentalist movement that rejects much of modern science because it conflicts with a strict literal interpretation of the Bible, especially the book of Genesis, has its philosophic roots in the Darwinian debates of the last century. Recently this movement has become a potent political force capable of challenging orthodox science in the arena of public opinion.

Figure 1. In the Biblical story of creationClick to Enlarge Image

The earth sciences in particular face a newly focused assault from the fundamentalist camp. Until recently the claims made for "creation science" as an alternative to mainstream earth science consisted of a hodgepodge of geologic ideas floating loosely in time and space. Lately, its proponents have made more sophisticated attempts to square geologic evidence with scripture. A broad array of publications now supply alternative Bible-based earth histories. Using these materials as ammunition, creationists advocate laws requiring that any teaching of the scientific theory of evolution in the public schools be "balanced" by teaching of the "evidence against evolution."

Scientists have objected strenuously to such laws, since the evidence in question consists of untestable and pseudo-scientific interpretations derived by using the Bible as the primary scientific text. If enacted, such laws would have chilling effects both on science teaching and textbook content. As the Supreme Court has held, such laws would also violate the constitution by lending governmental support to a sectarian group's interpretation of the Bible.

In the last decade creationists have skirted federal courts by appealing to state legislatures and local school boards. In such venues the major scientific resources at hand are the local scientists, most of whom have only limited knowledge of the claims, methods and arguments of the creationists. The results have been predictable. Science is on the defensive, and creationists are gaining credibility in the court of public opinion.

When creationist rhetoric reached a boil in our community, I decided to take advantage of 40 years of geologic teaching and research and the local, self-proclaimed "largest creation science resource center east of the Mississippi" to formulate a composite creationist time frame of geologic events—"creation science's" answer to the geologic time scale on which students of geology are weaned. The result (Figure 2) highlights both the creationist arguments and those geologic facts most difficult for creationists to explain. It thereby provides the scientific community with access to many creationist positions.

As a strategy this article proposes that science should abandon its traditional and failing method of item-by-item rebuttal of creationist attacks. Instead, science should go on the offensive, using such a time scale to demand that creationists defend their total view of the geologic record and all their implausible and commonly ludicrous "scientific" interpretations.

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