Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Creating “Models” to “Confirm” Young Earth Creationism, or, How a Pair of Tortoises Travelled from the Amazon to the Seychelles | Righting America

by William Trollinger

“Seychelles Giant Tortoise eating” by flicksmores is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Young Earth creationism has its own, unusual scientific method. Most scientists will not recognize it as a “scientific method.” Be that as it may, it is a method that is very easily described. As we discuss in the “Science” chapter of Righting America

  1. Start with an incontrovertible truth: the earth was created in six, twenty-four-hour days about 6000 years ago, and – about 4300 years ago – there was a global Flood that created the geological strata seen today. 
  2. With this “starting point” (a crucial phrase—given their larger rhetorical strategy—at the Creation Museum), create a model that “confirms” these truths, and plug in the appropriate “observational science” (another crucial phrase in the rhetoric of the Creation Museum) into the model. 
  3. If the observational science does not fit the model, and/or if the model fails to confirm a young Earth and the global flood, then it is time to redo the observational science and/or the model.
  4. Here’s the bottom line: “Under no circumstances may observational science lead a young Earth creation scientist to raise questions about the truth of a twenty-four hour, six-day creation or a global flood.” (96)

It is all really simple. Create models to confirm what you already know. Anyone can do it. You don’t need much, or any, scientific knowledge to do so. 

Take, for example, the question of how animals departed from the Ark and disseminated across the Earth very quickly (they had to, given that – according to young Earth creationism – the global flood took place so recently). To explain how this happened, the Creation Museum posits the “biogeographical rafting model”:

When the Flood destroyed the world’s forests, it must have left billions of trees floating for centuries on the oceans. These log mats served as ready-made rafts for animals to cross oceans (97-98).

The museum then offers maps designed to describe how this took place. One shows a few rhinoceros on log rafts, with arrows indicating that they crossed the Indian Ocean on these rafts to either southern Asia or southern Africa. 

How those rhinoceros managed to get on a log mat and, even more, survive the voyage across the Indian Ocean is not suggested. Nor is any explanation given for why a rhinoceros would get on a log mat in the Indian Ocean in the first place (98).

But even more perplexing is the map that explains the distribution of two Geochelone (or giant) tortoises. As indicated on this map, these tortoises journeyed on land from the Amazon basin to the west coast of South America, where they boarded one of the billions of available log mats. The map then uses arrows to indicate the aquatic journey of these tortoises: from South America they journey to the Galapagos; from the Galapagos they then head out across the Pacific Ocean; after negotiating the waters between New Guinea and Australia, they proceed across the Indian Ocean; and then, just before they reach the east coast of Africa, they take a northward turn to the Seychelles Islands.

As presented at the Creation Museum, the story of the traveling tortoises is but one example of how the “biogeographical rafting model” confirms the young Earth and global flood. 

Really? For starters, Geocholone tortoises do not and never did live in the Amazon basin. Leaving aside this point, the “model” presents a pair of tortoises who crossed 700 miles of land and then 14,600 miles (a conservative estimate) of sea, who successfully managed the variable current systems in the Indian Ocean, and who survived for years on log mats in the Pacific and Indian Oceans (for that is how long it would take them to get from the Galapagos to the Seychelles). As we put it in Righting America:

It may be that one can observe big tortoises that appear to resemble one another in the Amazon basin and the Galapagos and Seychelles Islands. It may be that one can draw arrows on a map from point A to point B to point C. But does it really make sense to imagine that a couple of tortoises made this trek from the Amazon basin to the west coast of South America, then to the Galapagos, and then across the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean? Indeed, in what sense does the so-called observational science presented in conjunction with the “biogeographical rafting model” confirm anything, much less a global flood? (101).

Harry F. Sanders III and Troy Lacey would beg to disagree. In their recent Answers in Genesis (AiG) article, “Floating Log Rafts: A Model for Post-Flood Biogeography,” they go after those (like the authors of Righting America) who find the biogeographical rafting model preposterous. In response to critics like ourselves, Sanders and Lacey assert that “the biogeographic importance of log and vegetation mats is slowly gaining popularity, even in the mainstream scientific community,” which makes sense, given that “oysters, in particular, colonize the bottoms of boats even today.” And while

it may be frustrating to see ‘millions of years’ and ‘evolution’ appear in these papers, it is encouraging to see that creationist ideas, which were once scoffed at, are now being posited in mainstream scientific papers as legitimate and better explanatory concepts than previous evolutionary models.

Once again, really? For one thing, the Creation Museum is making the argument for the “biogeographical rafting model” not just for oysters latching onto the bottom of log mats, but for rhinoceros and giant tortoises and, in fact, for large animals of all sorts. For another, and more important, the notion of “millions of years” – which Sanders and Lacey breezily dismiss – is all important. Young Earth creationists do not have the luxury of animals very gradually dispersing across the globe. Given that they claim that all animals then in existence on the planet came out of the Ark somewhere in the Middle East 4300 years ago, they need animals to move across thousands and thousands of miles over land and over sea in an extraordinarily short period of time. For their young Earth argument to work, they have to have animals that traverse the globe at almost breakneck speed. Contrary to what Sanders and Lacey suggest, time is not irrelevant. It is the crucial variable.

And who are Sanders and Lacey? They write on all sorts of topics for AiG, from science to Bible. While AiG goes on at great length about its writers who have some level of academic, especially scientific, expertise, and while they provide biographical sketches of many of their contributors, there is nothing on the AiG website about Sanders and Lacey. Interestingly, Sarah Olson –  who found nothing “scientifically sound” in Sanders’ writings – was also “unable to find information about Sanders or his credentials and experience,” which led her to suggest that “perhaps he simply hasn’t any.”

But the science created and the evidence mobilized on behalf of the “biogeographical rafting model” really isn’t the point. Instead, the point of these models is (as we suggest in Righting America) to confirm AiG’s particular young Earth creationist interpretation (there are and have been others) of the opening books of Genesis, regardless of what science and scientists might say to the contrary. 

Then why bother with the science? And why be concerned with anyone’s expertise?