Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Silvestru's Global Flood: Part one

This was becoming a long blogpost.  To make commenting on specific points easier, I have broken my discussion of the video below into a few different blog posts. This is the first post and mostly discusses the whole video in general.

In early September, 2011, my coworker posted on a Facebook group comments and a link to a video of Dr Silvestru discussing how he feels the global flood occurred.

The relevant part of the video is more than an hour long and it took me some time to watch it, take notes and research, to the extent I was able, his claims.  Although my coworker’s post mostly matched the aims of the Facebook group, discussion was squashed by the time I was able to add my comments.  As an aside, I do not exactly feel that my coworker was being restrained or censored so much as the limitations of Facebook Groups made his discussions unwieldy.  He might reasonably feel his views were censored by a philosophical group that should be anti-censorship, but I hope he can also see that Facebook’s everything-on-one-page format becomes annoying when multiple threads are simultaneously drawing comments.

Perhaps inviting people to an off-site location, on a Google Group or the like, would have been wiser and allowed me to post this critique somewhere.

Anyway, by the time I began writing this critique, the discussion is no longer ongoing at that Facebook page and I am not sure where to put this.  That’s part of the reason I have been coy about naming my coworker.

One reason Silvestru's arguments are hard to rebut is that neither I nor his target audience have the background to really understand or debate his claims.  I believe that my unnamed coworker is in the same position.  Some of his arguments, though possibly not difficult to learn to follow, appear arcane enough that I have passed on the business of trying to learn the necessary background.
I think Carl Sagan described what I think to be a similar phenomenon in discussing the work of von Daniken.  I used “I think” twice as I going from memory and cannot find his exact quote.  He said something like,
“With my fellow astronomers, I felt the astronomical aspects of his claims were weak, but the archaeological claims appeared strong.  Then I spoke to archaeologists and found they felt the archaeological claims were weak but the astronomy looked strong.”
I feel there is something universal here.  Generally, if we do not have extensive knowledge in a field, we are inclined to accept the claims of others.  Sagan wasn’t an archaeologist, so he provisionally accepted the validity of the archaeological claims.  Silvestru’s audience, myself included, are not knowledgeable about geology, so it is easy to accept his claims.  Even if we do not, it is hard to determine if and where his errors or misrepresentations are.

Near the beginning and at the end, he mentions large and dramatic events that I can agree happened.  He starts his talk by mentioning large-but-local floods, and suggests there was a 1,000 year long ice age.  At the end of his talk, he shows a chart with three extinction events.  I am not sure that he did, could, or even should tie them into the main theme of his talk.

Why shouldn’t he tie them into his talk?  As an evolutionist, I think that the problems regarding the story of the Flood are too big and diverse to ever be answered, but that same size means that Flood proponents should focus on segments or individual issues and offer some in-depth solution to each...eventually bringing them into a whole, a ‘modern synthesis’ if you will.  Silvestru does first step; he focuses on a possible explanation for the Flood without looking into the Ark or it’s contents.  Silvestru isn’t a naval engineer or biologist and, to his credit, he doesn’t try to be.

At some point though, he needs to dig into the larger picture.  I would, someday and from someone, like to see a Young Earth Creationist timeline that includes the Age of the Earth, the Flood, the rise and fall of the tower of Babel (and an explanation for why the endeavor was stopped, but manned journeys to the moon and unmanned journeys much further have not been), about when Silvestru’s one-thousand-year Ice Age (I presume this is Veith's 600 year-long ice age as well) occurred and how and what caused the other two extinction events Silvestru touches upon.  Also, when did the huge-but-local flood occur in the US (come to think of it, he may have said it happened at the end of the Ice Age).

Somewhat related, I would also like some connection to other reasonably well-dated events, such as construction of the pyramids, which I think occurred both before and after the Flood.

Should a reader choose to look into this, I can definitely accept error bars or +/- or the like.  I do understand that exact figures are hard to find dealing with events thousands of years in the past and would not imagine using uncertainty (or uncertainty only) as a reason to attack the claims.  Still, I do feel that such a timeline would immediately show the problems with the Biblical narrative.  Some events could be simultaneous, like the building of Babel and an Ice Age mostly affecting Europe and other Northern locales, but I think that agreed upon dates for Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Indian, Chinese and other civilizations would make the gap between Flood and recorded history very busy.

Either as a discussion of one of Silvestru’s first points or as big-picture aside, I need to mention uniformitarianism  vs catastrophism.  I am by no means an expert, but I think creationists (as catastrophists) overly simplify the uniformitarian view, both original and as it is understood today.  Uniformists accept gradual, slow change through local and entirely natural forces.  This might typically mean erosion and storm damage, for example.  However, it doesn’t deny the effects of earthquakes, large floods, volcanoes, or even meteors.  Uniformists do accept that some catastrophes do happen.  I suppose that if the flood was caused by entirely natural forces, as Silvestru tries to show, it could even fit into the uniformist view.  Let’s bar the Flood for the moment but still note that, for example, the Uniformist view allows both slow and fast burial of fossils.

Now, onto the video.  At 51 minutes, Silvestru states “The Genesis Flood happened after the natural laws were set and should therefore be explainable by existing scientific methods."
Note that I try to quote accurately,
but I do not promise 100%.
I do promise not to distort quotes deliberately.
 I find this to be bad theology.  If the Flood can be explained by natural laws, I see two problems.  First, there is no need to add God to the narrative.  Because Silvestru has kept his focus narrow (and I do approve of his focus), he does not defend the building of the Ark or any of the biological claims.  Perhaps there was a Flood, life survived on high mountains (Silverstu will later offer a depth of 3km and does not go into detail about mountains growing after the Flood), and people of the Bible saw the evidence of the Flood and added it - with embellishments - to the Bible.
 A second problem works like this:  God created the world and built in the Flood so that two thousand years after He (pardon the crude description) hit the ‘start button’, calamity would strike.  If he didn’t know humanity would become so evil they needed wiping out, then we should see unnatural causes for the Flood.  If he did know, even before he started, he is no better than a three-year-old frustrated with his toy for not working right.

 Silvestru asks the rhetorical questions “Where did the water come from and where did it go?”  Admirably, he goes out of his way to reject two other Creationist explanations: the Vapor Canopy and Walt Brown’s Deep Earth water deposits of water.

 His mechanism is described from fifty-four minutes to one hour, although he adds to that description somewhat through his talk.  It seems that when plate tectonics started, it started fast and brought a lot of hot mantle to the surface.  The description sounds reasonable as he describes it, but I don’t think I could do it justice.  Even if I want to give it the best and most positive possible description, even if it is entirely true; my description and eloquence would fail.  Let’s just say that the ocean floor becomes quite hot.  This causes it to expand and rise one mile and super-heated water to evaporate and rain heavily around the world.  For more detail, watch the video.

 In twenty to forty days, Silvestru claims, the ocean floor raised one vertical mile and either at the same time or soon afterwards, the continents sank by a mile.  Again, I haven’t even tried to understand the evidence for this, or even looked for it.  As I heard it, it seemed reasonable that if part of a sphere swells, another part of the sphere should dimple.

Now on to specific points, some of which I can argue against, some of which, I cannot.  To facilitate commenting, I have broken up the rest of the video into several blog posts.

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