While cooking my son and his friends breakfast burritos this morning, out of the blue, something began to trouble me. I started to think about the arguments of young earth creationism (YEC) and how these creationists are attempting to pit an unchanging collection of writings penned thousands of years ago with scientific discovery continuously being written even as you read this. How can we possibly have a debate between a finite fixed declaration and a living growing testament?
To say that the Earth’s history is determined by the writing in a book is simply absurd. This history is determined in countless ways that we experience every day through observation. Earth’s history is not what writers say it is. It is what everything around us says it is. For writers to have any impact, they are simply confirming that which is evident. Think about Pliny the Younger’s contemporary account of the eruption of Vesuvius. Even absent such account, scientists can conclude based on the remains in Pompeii and Herculaneum what actually happened nearly 2000 years ago. Of course literary history concerning specific human events does require that someone must have recorded it. But this is not the kind of history in question here. This historical argument made by creationists is concerning the natural world and those things which happened in history long before humans began to record it.
First let’s make clear that there is no such thing as “historical science” and “observational science” in the context of geology. They are one and the same. You can’t examine a rock or a geological formation in any meaningful way without also considering when it was formed. The claim that they are separate was made in bad faith during a creationist spectacle at the Creation Museum. More specifically, it was a debate between a creationist who founded the “museum,” Ken Ham, who mostly impresses upon small unsuspecting children his creationists ideologies, and a popular science advocate, Bill Nye (“the science guy”) who teaches kids of all ages about science. The claim that observation and history is separate is also the common mantra throughout all of the children’s “educational” materials sold by Ken Ham at his amusement park and his website. Children are taught in creationist books and videos produced by Ken Ham to respond to scientific claims with “were you there?” as a way to negate scientific claims concerning any past event. His goal – as was made very clear in the debate and all appearances afterwards – is to establish science as being broken into two distinct types of “science”: “observational science” and “historical science.” He does this, of course, without consulting any scientists who are not also creationists.
In the real world, history is the FRUIT of observation. Only through observing the world as it is can we know how it was. The past is not an illusion. It leaves itself everywhere. And we use it every day of our lives. We eat the past; we breath the past; we see the past; and we ARE the past. Our very genetics are a part of Earth’s history.
To better illustrate how history is observable, let us use the Hawaiian archipelago as an example. We will start with the NW most island called Kure Island. It is observably the oldest island of the chain. Other remnants of islands before Kure do exist further NW but they are submerged and no longer technically islands.
What can we describe about Kure through observation?
- There is no volcanic activity on Kure
- The island is much smaller than other Hawaiian islands
- The island has far more erosion than the other Hawaiian islands.
- The island is covered by a coral reef that took over as erosion nearly removed the island (it is an atoll rather than an island for this reason)
- The island will eventually join the other islands to the NW which have since become sea mounts (underwater islands)
Kure Island’s younger sister to the SE, Midway Island, is an estimated 28 million years old. Kure is undoubtedly older.
The Hawaiian archipelago was formed by the Pacific (tectonic) plate shifting NW over a “hot spot” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The hot spot is “fixed” as it extends into the Earth below the tectonic plate. As the plate shifted over the hot spot, it erupted several times, breaking through the plate and forming volcanoes. This happened over a very long span of time forming a chain of volcanic islands. If you look at a map of Hawaii, you will see that each island gets bigger to the SE. This is due to not only erosion of the older NW islands, but to the slowing of the movement of the plates which gives more time to each of the newer volcanoes.
The big island of Hawaii is technically the tallest mountain on Earth. Many species of birds and plants and fish and mammals only exist in Hawaii. When we observe this, we are observing history.
I don’t know why scientists never bring up Hawaii when arguing about creation myths and flood myths. In my view, Hawaii vacates any argument for a young earth. And as for a flood, I wonder why Hawaii has no fossils. Maybe because it is 100% volcanic rock. It stands alone as a very unique testament to a very recent geological formation (relatively speaking) in the tens of millions of years old. And never did Hawaii experience a flood which laid down “millions of dead things” as the science hack creationist Ken Ham so humorously puts it when speaking about the Grand Canyon and fossils in general. His claim is that all fossils died together in a great flood. Well, apparently this flood did not reach Hawaii.
At the end of the day, it does not matter if we were there when these volcanic islands were formed. They are here. And we are here. All we need to do is to observe the world to know it. With that having been said, can I interest anyone who debates creationists to use the Hawaiian Vacation argument?