Christian Geologists Influential at GSA Meeting
by Steven A. Austin, Ph.D. *
The Geological Society of America (GSA) is the largest and oldest association of professional geologists in North America. Its members are from academic institutions, industry, government, and private practice, and assemble once a year to further the professional practice of the earth sciences.
This year's GSA meeting was at the Portland Convention Center in mid-October. Geologists who are Christians actively participated, and both young-earth and old-earth creationist views were heard. Christian geologists found various ways to bring attention to their practice and faith--by leading a field trip, delivering scientific papers, assembling as the Affiliation of Christian Geologists, identifying with certain Christian academic institutions, and attending the "Darwin Day" presentation.
Mount St. Helens Field Trip
The GSA field trip "Dynamic Landscape on the North Slope of Mount St. Helens" involved 45 geologists, who traveled on October 17 in a full bus from Portland to Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens volcano. They hiked 8.4 miles round-trip to observe the landscape that has formed on the largest landslide deposit accumulated within human history.
That landscape includes the old breached, abandoned, and repositioned channel of the North Fork of the Toutle River. The geologists contemplated the new landforms produced since 1980 within the landscape at the volcano, and they discussed how landscapes develop river channels. Do landscapes evolve slowly by cumulative processes in a piecemeal way? Or do they appear abruptly by episodic events that surpass certain energy thresholds as barriers are broken? Participants overlooked a breached explosion pit at a rim of a "Little Grand Canyon," albeit at 1/40th scale of Arizona’s canyon.
This Mount St. Helens field trip was led by Dr. Steve Austin, Senior Research Scientist at ICR, whose peer-reviewed manuscript was published by GSA.1 Assisting Dr. Austin were geologists Dennis Bokovoy, John Whitmore, Tim Clarey, Van Wingerden, and Marcus Ross. Each participant was given the reprint of Dr. Austin's paper and a 60-inch-wide poster of the landslide deposit next to the volcano. A very positive response was expressed by participants who reflected on those extraordinary events that have occurred during the last 30 years at the volcano.
FAST Scientific Papers
At this year’s GSA meeting, many papers were presented by Christian geologists. Four noteworthy papers were delivered by young-earth creationists. These papers specifically focused on answering points of issue between old-earth and young-earth creationists in the areas of sedimentation and tectonics.
Two of these papers were on the petrology of the Coconino Sandstone of the Grand Canyon.2 Authors John Whitmore, Stephen Cheung, Ray Strom, and Paul Garner presented evidence that ocean water, not wind, deposited the distinctive crossbedding of the Coconino Sandstone. The evidence of ocean water currents was argued technically from the dolomite beds, dolomite grains, ooids, mica grains, microfossils, and bimodal texture. A third paper concerned a region of wind-blown sand dunes in Nebraska and how this deposit is very dissimilar from the Coconino Sandstone of Arizona.3 The argument could be made again texturally that the supposed desert dunes of the Coconino Sandstone could be formed underwater.
The fourth paper was on the timing and emplacement of two gigantic rockslide masses in western Wyoming.4 Dr. Tim Clarey, professor of geology at Delta College, displayed the field data that demonstrate the order of emplacement--the Heart Mountain rockslide preceded the South Fork rockslide. The above four papers are significant because they represent the preliminary results from the FAST program (Flood Activated Sedimentation and Tectonics), geologic research being sponsored by the National Creation Science Foundation through the Institute for Creation Research. A meeting of FAST researchers was held in Portland just before the GSA annual meeting.
Affiliation of Christian Geologists
Christian geologists also expressed themselves through an organization within GSA called Affiliation of Christian Geologists. Around 40 GSA members attended the evening meeting on October 18, approximately one third of whom were young-earth creationists. This shows that there are many within the GSA that take seriously the creation and Flood narrative text of the Bible. Their numbers and prominence within GSA appear to have been growing over the years.
Christian Academic Institutions
Of course, Christians were identifiable at GSA through their institutions. Noteworthy were Calvin College (Michigan), Wheaton College (Illinois), and Cedarville University (Ohio). Calvin and Wheaton are widely known for their old-earth and local-flood compromise positions. Surprisingly, the geology students from Cedarville University outnumbered the geology students from both Calvin College and Wheaton College. One Cedarville student even presented a research paper at GSA. Cedarville is known for a geology program that takes a young-earth and global Flood stand. The department is chaired by Dr. John Whitmore, a graduate of ICR and student-mentor of ICR's Dr. Steve Austin in the 1980s.
A distinctive of this year's GSA meeting was "Darwin Day" on October 19 commemorating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. Notably absent on the program for Darwin Day were creationists!
However, creationists were seen frequently at the sessions, apparently wanting to know what geological insights Darwin offered. Darwin was proven by careful historical documentation to be a geologist, though his geological papers were severely criticized. Powerful critiques of Darwin's interpretation of geology were offered for his understanding of the San Sebastian boulders (Tierra del Fuego) and the tectonics of Chile (Concepcion earthquake and tsunami of February 20, 1835). These critiques were from geologists who are themselves evolutionists! Geology was the major undertaking of Darwin on the voyage of the Beagle. Although Darwin's geology was doubtful, evolutionists praised his efforts to illuminate "deep time." One geologist asked, "If Darwin hadn't published Origin of Species, would we want to remember his geologic work?"
A panel discussion on Darwin Day featured Dr. Kevin Padian (University of California, feathered dinosaur paleontologist, President of the National Center for Science Education) and Judge John E. Jones III (known for the Dover Pennsylvania School Board decision), who was the recipient of this year's GSA President's Medal for Public Service. Judge Jones praised Dr. Padian, saying that he provided the most persuasive testimony that he heard in his courtroom! Judge Jones rehearsed how, as a student, he was taught geology and evolution. Creationists came away with a new awareness of the battle.
Creationists have shown themselves to be influential within GSA. Expect to hear more after next year's annual GSA meeting during November in Denver.
- Austin, S. A. 2009. The dynamic landscape on the north flank of Mount St. Helens. Geological Society of America Field Trip Guide. 15: 337-344. Reprint available from the author.
- Cheung, S. P., R. Strom, J. H. Whitmore and P. G. Garner. 2009. Occurrence of dolomite beds, clasts, ooids and unidentified microfossils in the Coconino Sandstone. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, session 35-4; Whitmore, J. H. and R. Strom. 2009. Petrographic analysis of the Coconino Sandstone, northern and central Arizona. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, session 35-24. Reprints available from the authors.
- Baechtle, K. P. and J. Whitmore. 2009. Characterization of the sand in the Nebraska Sandhills. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, session 35-2. Reprints available from the authors.
- Clarey, T. L. 2009. Timing relations between the South Fork and Heart Mountain fault systems with implications for emplacement, Wyoming, USA. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, session 223-10. Reprint available from the author.
Image Credit: Bruce Malone
* Dr. Austin is Senior Research Scientist and Chair of the Geology Department.
Cite this article: Austin, S. 2009. Christian Geologists Influential at GSA Meeting. Acts & Facts. 38 (12): 8-9.