There’s a new geology book coming out, written by a group of geologists and examining the geological evidence for evolution (& the lack of support it offers to creationism). It sounds like a good book & I’ll look forward to getting my hands on it (hopefully one of my geology colleagues will buy a copy!) – but what I didn’t like was Michael Shermer’s comments:
Creationism began with the fossil record and there it shall end. Before Darwin, the geological strata with their accompanying fossils formed the first geological theory of life on earth–creationism coupled to flood geology. It was Darwin who stood that theory on its head and showed that, in fact, these same fossils could be used to support his new theory of evolution by natural selection. Ever since Darwin, geology has unequivocally supported evolution and not creationism, and yet today Intelligent Design thrives in popular culture. Here at last we have a definitive collection of world-class geologists and paleontologists who systematically demonstrate precisely why geology destroys all design arguments, and reveals instead a deep and rich history of life on earth. A perfect companion to all science courses.
As Brian points out, over on Laelaps, Shermer’s phraseology verges on elevating Darwin to the sainthood. But – creationism hardly began with the fossil record: the creation story (including the idea of a global flood) has been around for a lot longer than that. Nor was Darwin the first person to begin to question the explanations for the fossil record that prevailed in the early 1800s. While a ‘typical’ creationist reading of the fossils might claim that they supported the Noachian flood, many of the geologists of Darwin’s day – men who had a significant impact on his thinking, such as Charles Lyell – were most definitely not flood geologists.
And Darwin also recognised that the fossil record of his time presented some problems for his theory of evolution by natural selection. In fact, he spelled them out in Origins, and stated(correctly) that future scientists would find the transitional fossils that his theory predicted.
Yes, Darwin was a great scientist – but like all scientists he built on the work of others and made mistakes, and we shouldn’t be viewing him almost as some sort of biological saint, or deifying him (as one of my students suggested last year). The story of evolution is interesting enough without that.