GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 285-7
Presentation Time: 10:05 AM


STEARLEY, Ralph, Department of Geology, Calvin College, North Hall, 1740 Knollcrest Circle, SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546,

Many professional scientists and many people with a serious religious commitment believe that some sort of ideological war exists and perhaps must necessarily exist between these two subcultures. Since the late 19th century this “warfare paradigm” has been promoted by some prominent individuals from both extremes. The geologic record, including that of the history of life, often has been a focal point for tragic-comedic pronouncements. The near-absence of instruction in the Earth sciences at the secondary-school level is a notable contributor to public misunderstandings of the fossil record. Thus, paleontologic practitioners who wish to help advance public awareness of the protracted history of life must defuse the warfare paradigm while simultaneously eliminating simple ignorance.

The discovery of biotic succession in the rock record is surely one of the most significant ones in the history of the Earth and life sciences. But unfamiliarity of the general public with fossil occurrences provides opportunity for misinformation. Early 20th-century Flood Geologists mocked biostratigraphic order and claimed that biostratigraphers exhibited circular reasoning. Many (but not all) contemporary Flood Geologists do understand that stratigraphic succession is real. Their approach to succession typically involves: a) a claim that much fossil zonation can be explained by some sort of ecologic zonation prior to a planetary catastrophe, plus b) a claim that a great deal of current biodiversity is the result of ultra-rapid evolution during the past few thousands of years; accompanied by c) a general vagueness regarding the extent to which entire biotas have been replaced in the record. These three tactics are disingenuous.

The “conflict thesis” for science-faith relationships continues to be promulgated by some, but historians of science have demonstrated that this metaphor is a distortion of what was historically a spectrum of approaches. The scientific enterprise prospered in cultures undergirded by Christianity and many of the founders of biostratigraphy were practicing Christians. Their labors demonstrated a structure to biotic succession, a structure incompatible with a single global catastrophic flood. This conjunction of strong faith commitment with observational honesty needs to be fostered.