Sunday, January 16, 2011

WEIT: Continental Drift

On page 16 of WEIT, Coyne mentions continental drift and the problems it poses for young earth creationism. We know from evidence such as geographical fossil distribution (see image below) that the continents were once together. We know from GPS satellites that the continents are moving at 2–4 inches per year. And plate tectonics, which posits many millions of years of drift, already explains the observed evidence. It can even make accurate predictions. For example, oil companies use plate tectonics to figure out where to drill.

Coyne doesn't mention the proposed YEC explanation for continental drift, runaway subduction, but I don't really blame him; the whole concept is a mess. Basically, the YECs think that around the time of the flood, entire continents moved thousands of miles across the earth at about 4 miles per hour – roughly the average person's walking speed. They provide no mechanism for this phenomenon, and the heat released by billions of tons of land moving that fast would be enough to boil away the world's oceans. If YECs want to use the catch-all, unfalsifiable "God did it" as the explanation for these problems, that still leaves the problem of why God would want to move the continents around in the first place.

The real problem with runaway subduction is that it takes the Bible as a given and then tries to reconcile it with our observations, no matter how absurd the result. Objectively speaking, it makes far more sense to start with the observable evidence and then find the simplest and best explanation for that evidence – precisely as traditional plate tectonics already does.

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