Saturday, July 24, 2004

A layman looks at evolution

I’m not a scientist. Maybe that disqualifies me from forming a scientific opinion about evolution. Even if that were so I’d still have a right to form a theological opinion about evolution.

However, evolution is taught in the public schools, and leading Darwinians pen high-level popularizations for mass consumption. So apparently I am expected to form a scientific opinion about evolution.

One problem I have with the evolutionary literature is that it doesn’t ask certain questions that I ask, and since it doesn’t ask them, it doesn’t answer them. Here are three questions I have about evolution.

1. Hydrophobia

To my knowledge, monkeys have a natural fear of water. This includes the great apes. And this comes from the fact that, unlike most other animals, monkeys don't know how to swim. So they're afraid of drowning.

By contrast, humans are not afraid of water. Indeed, humans revel in water--from babies in bathwater to water sports and high-end real estate. Yet if humans were an offshoot of the same simian branch or trunk, wouldn't we expect human beings to exhibit an instinctual and irrepressible fear of water?

2. Oil fields

A certain amount of our lives is spent at the local gas station. One day as I was gassing up the car I began to wonder what was the evolutionary explanation for oil fields. I’m not asking about the evolutionary explanation of fossil fuel in general. The idea, I suppose, is this represents the cumulative residual of millions of animals dying over millions of years.

The question, though, is how that manages to pool into oil fields? For if animals are dying at all different times and places, what I’d expect to see is a geological substratum honeycombed with numberless little pockets of oil.

So the question, from an evolutionary standpoint, is how all the isolated drops of oil collect in massive underground reservoirs? What is the pathway? And is the underlying rock porous enough for the oil to seep through and pool in one or more places? And one could pose some of the same logistical questions regarding coalmines. Perhaps a petroleum geologist would have a simple explanation for this, but I haven’t heard it.

By contrast, so-called flood geology seems to offer a very straightforward explanation. You had a global, one-time event, resulting in some massive collective deposits. They all died more or less at once, and the receding floodwaters would have dumped them into some concentrated areas.

No doubt a complete explanation is more complicated than that. The question, though, is whether a complete explanation is less complicated than that.

3. River valleys

Yesterday I was reading a newspaper article on an archeological dig in the Savannah River valley to uncover a pre-Clovis level of human occupation in the New World.

This got me to thinking of a couple of things. First, it's my impression that a lot of the evidence of "early man" is taken from river valleys—whether extant or prehistoric.

Second, the distinction between pre- and post-Clovis culture (as well as other gradations of the geological column) presupposes the law of superposition.

Now the law of superposition is a common sense principle. But doesn't that assume a fairly steady and stable process of deposition?

Yet I should think that a river valley would be inherently unstable. To begin with, you have a continuous process of deposition and erosion, going on at the same time.

Second, every now and then you have record rainfall, or a record snowpack in the mountains (with a record snowmelt come spring), resulting in torrential runoff.

Not only would this lay down a lot of new sediment, but it would scour out a lot of the old strata, both several layers deep as well as wide—eroding the riverbanks, where "early man" would camp out.

So how does an archeologist know that what he sees today is 15,000 years old rather than 150 years old?

This is even before we figure in the impact of a global flood.

4 comments:

  1. Exactly. Charlton Heston forgot that fact in Planet of the Apes, but Kiefer Sutherland saw the simian-like quality in the aliens of Dark City. Henry Morris embarasses myopics in The Genesis Flood. I stopped watching The Monkees on Saturday morning TV when Davy Jones threw Mickey Dolenz into the swimming pool. I hate inconsistency.

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  2. I'm not a scientist either, but here goes:

    1. Hydrophobia - Not all monkeys are afraid of water. The crab-eating macaque prefer to live in coastal, mangrove, swamp and riverine forests around Southeast Asia. They swim well and jump into water from nearby trees. Other primates can also swim when necessary, although many prefer not to.

    2. Oil fields - See this article at Wikipedia. Oil would naturually be concentrated in rock layers that formed from ancient seabeds if it comes from the remains of algae & small marine animals. Coal forms from terrestrial plants and would be concentrated in areas that had large concentrations of plants for long periods of time, such as rain forests & swamps. A single global flood is insufficent to explain the amount of oil & coal because there are is not enough surface area on the planet to simultaneously grow all the plants and marine animals required to make all of the coal and oil found. A single global flood (ala Noah) would required that all of that organic material be present at the time of the flood so that "the receding floodwaters would have dumped them into some concentrated areas". This is a huge amount of organic material. Some coal fields stretch over hundreds or thousands of square miles and can be several hundred feet think. And this is after geological compression has occured.

    3. River vallys - A lot of evidence for early man is indeed found in river valleys. This is not because it is the best place to date evidence but because that is where early man left evidence because that is where he lived. He lived there because that was where many of the food resources (plant and animal) and water was located. Many river valleys are inherently unstable as a whole, but many also have areas that are very stable for long periods of time. Rivers change their course (often quite dramatically) over time or even dry up. You can't assume that the river bank where early man may have camped is the same river bank that exists today. Many archealogical discoveries begin with someone finding something exposed by erosion as the river course shifts back and forth over time. All of that said, scientists must often establish that the law of superposition applies to a give site. They will use alternative dating methods such as carbon dating (especially when corrected with data from still other techniques such as dendrochonology (tree-rings), sedimentary, coral and ice cores) or other methods to do this. The effects of erosion and deposition do indeed complicate the dating of evidence found in those sites, but do not necessarily invalidate it.

    Hope this helps.

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  3. Forgot the Wikipedia link I mentioned in #2

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum#Formation

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  4. No definite answers but I'll add my thoughts. I agree with Rich's comments. Also consider...

    1. Being genetically related to other primates is not the same as being decended from them. We have some common ancestor. We don't know if that ancestor was a swimmer. We may have evolved a tolerance for water. Our genetic cousins may have evolved a fear of water. A large population of non-swimmers may have been wiped out in a local flood at a cruicial stage in their development, leaving the few who could swim best (our ancestors) to thrive.

    2. As Rich says, oil and coal comes from plant matter. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum. Also bear in mind that the surface of the planet is in constant motion. The ground you stand on today may have been ocean floor once. Sites of great forrests now lie under the sea bed.

    3. What Rich said.

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