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Smithsonian magazine: “When Continental Drift Was Considered Pseudoscience” Smithsonian’s account of tectonic history is significantly short-sighted.
The June 2012 issue of Smithsonian magazine reports six seismologists are on trial for manslaughter due to their failure to predict a deadly 2009 earthquake in the Apennine Mountains. Journalist Richard Conniff reports a couple of ironic aspects of the case:
The charge is remarkable partly because it assumes that scientists can now see not merely beneath the surface of the earth, but also into the future. What’s even more extraordinary, though, is that the prosecutors based their case on a scientific insight that was, not long ago, the object of open ridicule.
Conniff goes on to recount the saga of German scientist Alfred Wegener’s 1912 proposal that the earth’s continents were once “massed together in a single supercontinent and then gradually drifted apart.” Wegener’s ideas elicited international scorn. What the article fails to mention, however, is that half a century before Wegener developed his ideas, creationist Antonio Snider-Pellegrini published his proposal that continental sprint produced the earth’s present geography.
Antonio Snider-Pellegrini published Le Création et ses Mystères Devoilés (The Creation and Its Mysteries Unveiled) in Paris in 1859. It went largely unnoticed. Perhaps the bulk of the scientific community that year was preoccupied with Darwin’s new book.
Snider-Pellegrini based his idea on Genesis 1:9–10, which suggests that God created the earth’s original dry land as one large supercontinent. Like Wegener, Snider-Pellegrini noticed the earth’s continents seem to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. But Wegener’s proposal was greeted with international ridicule, partly because he failed to offer “a credible mechanism powerful enough to move continents.” Snider-Pellegrini, on the other hand, recognized the global Flood described in the historical account of Genesis 6–8 could provide the power to remodel the earth’s crust.
The Bible does not specifically describe plate tectonics, but the initiation of the global Flood was associated with a major tectonic event.
The Bible does not specifically describe plate tectonics, but the initiation of the global Flood was associated with a major tectonic event. According to Genesis 7:11, “
on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up.” Snider-Pellegrini surmised that the breakup of the supercontinent was followed by the rapid horizontal shifting of the plates of the earth’s crust into the configuration we see today.
The idea of plate tectonics didn’t get off the ground until the 1960s. Modern technological methods uncovered several phenomena inexplicable by old ideas of a stable crust. Maps of seafloor topography revealed trenches, mid-ocean rifts, and undersea volcanoes. The record of many chaotic reversals in earth’s magnetic field was found recorded in deep-sea volcanic rock. And modern seismographs showed most earthquakes originate at boundaries between plates, suggesting the plates move relative to each other.
Secular scientists are generally committed to the uniformitarian assumption that geological processes on earth have always proceeded at current rates. They extrapolate from today’s rate of continental drift (around 4 inches per year) to support the idea of an earth billions of years old. But their models of slow-and-gradual subduction of the seafloor into the mantle fail to explain a number of geological observations.
A catastrophic plate tectonics model, developed by well-known creation geophysicist John Baumgardner, is based on the Flood geology model. In this sophisticated multi-variable computer model, simultaneous cracks in the crust in the pre-Flood ocean basins and at the edges of the pre-Flood supercontinent triggered a domino effect of rapid seafloor spreading, subduction and tectonic movements. Once the great forces triggered by the initiation of the Flood had remodeled the earth’s surface, the tectonic effects soon slowed to the rates we see today.
The catastrophic plate tectonics model explains those findings which were left unexplained by the slow-and-gradual model. For instance, a collision between continents travelling at today’s speeds measured in inches per year would barely amount to a fender bender. Baumgardner’s model, however, based on Flood geology, calculates continental speeds in feet per second, quite sufficient to push up huge mountain ranges like the Himalayas. The catastrophic plate tectonics model also explains how layers of sediment laden with marine fossils came to be deposited all over the earth. The chaotic patterns in the record of earth’s magnetic field reversals also make sense in light of this biblically based model. (See Can Catastrophic Plate Tectonics Explain Flood Geology? and Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History to learn more.)
Baumgardner’s 3-D supercomputer code for modeling of the activity in the earth’s mantle, which takes into account what is known about the way mantle rock can deform over time, is used by secular scientists worldwide to model plate tectonics. This model demonstrates the feasibility of rapid tectonic movements as originally suggested in 1859 by Antonio Snider-Pellegrini. Of course, Snider-Pellegrini lacked seismographs, computers, and maps of the ocean floors. Nevertheless, he was able to use the scientific and geographic knowledge of his day to deduce a model of the earth’s history based on biblical history. Baumgardner’s valuable model of catastrophic plate tectonics is the legacy of Snider-Pellegrini’s biblical model.
The Smithsonian article also notes the seismologists are being held legally liable for their inability to peer into the future. The case will certainly explore the predictive expectations of modern seismology. In essence, the scientists are being held responsible for their interpretative predictions of observable seismographic data. The subsequent patterns of earthquakes can prove such predictions right or wrong.
By comparison, origins science involves scientific interpretations of observable data in an effort to peer into the past. Only eyewitness accounts of past events, however, can determine the accuracy of scientific conclusions concerning origins. Those past events cannot be subjected to empirical scientific tests. God’s eyewitness account of earth’s origin is found in the Bible. Biblical history concerning Creation and the Flood are not at variance with the observable facts of science, only with the interpretations made by those who reject the history in God’s Word.
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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.