|email - May 2006|
What do you have to believe to be a “creationist?”
In our March newsletter we called Velikovsky a creationist. Bob disagreed.
I enjoyed your article very much. However I was a little surprised by the statement that creationists have understood fossilization for 51 years, apparently referring to Velikovsky.
"So, creationists have published for 51 years what modern evolutionists have just discovered."
I wish to point out that Velikovsky was more of an evolutionist than a creationist in the sense that he believed that catastrophic events triggered large, rapid changes in lifeforms [perhaps he means, “landforms”].
A fan of yours,
Certainly Velikovsky was a catastrophist, but should he be labeled a creationist or an evolutionist?
Labels are tricky things. Some people think labels are bad, but others think they are good. We take the middle ground. Many people use labels because they are an efficient way of conveying information. But with the efficiency comes a lack of precision. Labels mean different things to different people, and labels more accurately describe some things that others.
The labels we are most concerned with are “evolutionist”, “creationist”, etc. These labels have their limitations.
Most evolutionists would claim to believe in Darwinian evolution, but they don’t. They really believe in Neo-darwinian evolution. Darwin believed that diet, exercise, and climate were the things that caused inheritable changes. Those ideas have been thoroughly rejected. The Neo-darwinian belief is that random mutations cause genetic changes, and natural selection retains the good ones, while eliminating the bad ones, and these tiny changes accumulate gradually over time. Some evolutionists are actually “theistic evolutionists” who believe that God caused the mutations, and used selection to create the various different kinds of life.
Strictly speaking, there is a difference between a creationist and a Biblical creationist. A creationist believes that some supernatural force created life. A Biblical creationist believes that force is the God described in Genesis. But now the term “intelligent design” is popularly used to describe people who used to be called creationists, and the term “creationist” now refers to Biblical creationists.
Strictly speaking, Science Against Evolution is not a “creationist” organization—it is an “anti-evolution” organization. We get lumped in with creationists because people generally assume that if life did not evolve then it had to be created. Indeed, that is the real problem with discussing evolution critically in school because the commonly assumed alternative is Biblical creation. That assumption, however, is in the mind of the beholder. The fact that so many proponents of evolution assume that the only plausible alternative is Biblical creation may be of significance.
The question before us now is whether Velikovsky was a creationist or evolutionist. It is difficult to say.
Evolutionists in Velikovsky’s day were primarily uniformitarians. That is, they believed that all geologic formations were produced by the same, slow, geologic processes one can observe today. The assumption is that these processes always operate at the same rate and magnitude as observed today. The present is the key to the past.
Today, continents are eroding very slowly. Today, continents are drifting very slowly. Today, some mountains are rising very slowly. If these rates don’t change, then it would take millions of years for any major changes to be evident.
The problem for uniformitarians is that today we see sudden changes in geologic formations. Mount St. Helens on May 19, 1980, was very different from Mount St. Helens on May 17, 1980. Floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions can cause significant geological changes in a very short period of time.
Evolutionists need long periods of time for evolution to occur. It weakens their position to admit that rock formations can be created in a short period of time. They are reluctant to admit that local floods can produce significant changes because it is just a short step to admitting that a world-wide flood could have produced even greater changes.
Velikovsky argued very persuasively in his books Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval that geologic features are the result of catastrophic changes rather than gradual small changes. But he never based his arguments on the Bible. Nor did he claim Noah’s Flood was responsible for most of today’s rock formations. He merely argued against the notion that geology proved that rock formations evolved over long time periods. He was truly a catastrophist.
But it is generally assumed, then as now, that one cannot be a catastrophist without being a creationist. If the ages of the fossils, as presumed by the uniformitarian assumption, are not correct, then there is not sufficient time for evolution to occur. If the rocks don’t show sufficient time for evolution to occur, then what is the alternative? Velikovsky was well aware of this. He wrote,
The theory of uniformity, as understood by Lamark and Hutton and developed by Lyell, became the cornerstone of the Darwinian theory, and Darwin went so far as to say that anyone who was unconvinced by Lyell’s teaching should refrain from reading the Origin of Species. The principle of uniformity, or the explanation of all past events in the history of the globe in terms of the processes in action in our own age, or the denial of catastrophic crises in the past, gave Darwin what he needed most for his idea of the origins of species: almost unlimited time. 1
The supplement to Velikovsky’s Earth in Upheaval is titled, “Worlds in Collision in the Light of Recent Finds in Archeology, Geology, and Astronomy.” In it he says,
The synchronization of Exodus with the end of the Middle Kingdom [of Egypt] was also the starting point of a reconstruction of ancient history from that time on to the advent of Alexander the Greek … The recent excavation in Jericho has confirmed the fact that the great walls of the city fell a few decades after the end of the Middle Kingdom. 2
It is clear from these and other statements, that Velikovsky accepted the Bible as historically accurate. Given that he rejected the principle of uniformity, understood its relevance to evolution, and apparently believed the Bible, it seems reasonable to us to call Velikovsky a “creationist” even though he didn’t proudly proclaim to be one.
So, the bottom line is, “Don’t read too much into labels. They give a general sense, but may not be completely accurate.”
After this newsletter, we received this email from Bob. We will give him that last word:
I was slightly surprised when I saw your treatment of my e-mail to you in your recent update. The thing that surprised me was that you thought I might possibly had misspoken regarding “catastrophic events triggered large, rapid changes in lifeforms [perhaps he means, “landforms”].
No, I meant lifeforms.
In “Earth in Upheaval” Velikovsky started his section labeled “Cataclysmic Evolution” with:
“An enormous expansion of radioactivity in bygone ages was postulated by various theorists as an explanation of great climate oscillations in climate in the past; the thermal effect of widespread radioactivity is likewise claimed as a motiveforce by the author of the modern version of the theory of drifting continents (Du Toit). It appears to me that if such radioactivity really occurred its mutation effect would not have failed to take place too.”
Later he says, “The theory of evolution is vindicated by catastropic events in the earth’s past; the proclaimed enemy of this theory proved to be its only ally. The real enemy of the theory of evolution is the teaching of uniformity;” (Velikovsky was well aware of the “jumpy” nature of the fossil record, predating Gould by many years).
I do apologize for not defining creationism and evolutionism. I was being brief in my e-mail to you, and from your past writings assumed you agreed with broadly equating creationism with the Genesis concept of multiple forms in the recent past and evolutionism with the concept that all life evolved via “random mutations and natural selection” from one or a few primitive bacterium-like ancestors who lived billions of years ago.
I still think, as I said originally, that "Velikovsky was more of an evolutionist than a creationist". Oh well.
Still a very loyal fan,
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Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval (supplement), 1955, pages 251-252.
2 Ibid. page 257