I recently came upon a brief Answers in Genesis article by Ken Ham that had me scratching my head. In it, Ham responds to an International Journal of Astrobiology article in which Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, examine what evidence our civilization might leave millions of years in the future—and how we might identify the existence of past advanced civilizations.
Before we get into Ham’s hypocritical critique (and all that is involved with that), here is the abstract of Frank and Schmidt’s paper, titled “The Silurian hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?”:
If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today? We summarize the likely geological fingerprint of the Anthropocene, and demonstrate that while clear, it will not differ greatly in many respects from other known events in the geological record. We then propose tests that could plausibly distinguish an industrial cause from an otherwise naturally occurring climate event.
In his piece, Ham does not react to Frank and Schmidt’s actual article. Instead, he reacts to (and links readers to) a Science Daily article on Frank and Schmidt’s paper. “Did Dinosaurs Drive Cars Through Bustling Cities?” Ham asks his readers. To be fair to Ham, he thinks Frank and Schmidt’s study is about whether dinosaurs drove cars through bustling cities because that’s what the Science Daily write-up suggests it’s about, and Ham does not appear to have read the actual article.
The Science Daily summary, by the way, is accompanied by an image of dinosaurs driving cars, so again, while Ham should have actually read the article before responding to it, his confusion is perhaps not surprising.
What did Frank and Schmidt actually write?
Frank and Schmidt ask what evidence of human civilization will still be here millions of years in the future—long after cities have crumbled to dust—and conclude that its impact on the environment will likely be the most visible symbol left behind. They then ask whether and how future researchers would be able to tell the difference between man-made climate change and past climate shifts driven by natural events such as volcanic activity. There is nothing in their article about civilizations of dinosaurs.
Sometimes I really hate popular science write-ups for the public.
But! The reason Ham’s piece caught my eye was not the bad science reporting. It was the hypocrisy. After mocking Frank and Schmidt’s study—Ham puts “science” in scare quotes—Ham writes this:
While most people would ridicule the idea of dinosaurs or some advanced pre-human being driving cars around earth, some Christians try to argue for something similar. You see, they’ll say there’s a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 and that during that gap, millions of years of history passed, including a pre-Adamic race. Satan is also thought to have fallen during this time, and that previous world was wipedout in a “Luciferian flood.”
This idea, called the Gap Theory, is just as wrong as the thought experiment of these evolutionists. It does not come from Scripture (and flatly contradicts Scripture, as you can see in this article). It is just one more way of trying to squeeze millions of years into the Bible when the Bible clearly teaches no such thing.
Some days I wonder if I know Ham’s young earth creationist talking points better than he himself does. See, there’s something big—something very big—that Ham leaves out as he mocks the idea that scientists would ever consider that dinosaurs might have driven cars (which, again, is a misrepresentation of Frank and Schmidt’s study). And what Ham leaves out has nothing to do with the Gap Theory, and everything to do with his beliefs about human society in the days of Noah.In an article on the construction of the Ark Encounter amusement park, Ham objects to the idea that Noah would not have had tools sufficient to building a boat on such a scale:
Many think Noah must have been some primitive person maybe using primitive stone tools. When God made man, man was obviously highly intelligent. Genesis 4:21 tell us that within a few generations people were making musical instruments. By the time of Noah, and with people living for hundreds of years before the Flood, who knows what sort of knowledge was accumulated and the kind of sophisticated technology that was developed? Noah may have had tools and other impressive technology that we would be jealous of!
I grew up on Answers in Genesis, I remember this argument well. It runs as follows: Humans were actually more intelligent immediately after the creation of Adam and Even in 4004 BC than they are today, given that humans have built up degenerative mutations over time. These first humans likely created an advanced civilization, perhaps with technology we can only imagine, before this advanced civilization was then destroyed by Noah’s flood in 2348 BC.
Answers in Genesis postulates that the pre-flood population may have been as high as four billion. Oh—and did I mention that during this time, humans coexisted with dinosaurs? So we’re talking an advanced civilization, plus dinosaurs.
This, then, is what upsets with me about Ham’s casual, mocking dismissal of the idea that scientists might actually have asked what evidence we would see today if dinosaurs had pioneered an advanced industrial civilization millions of years ago (which again, is not exactly what the study looked at, but fine)—it is Ham himself who believes that there was an advanced industrial civilization in the early years of the earth’s history, during the time of dinosaurs.
Indeed, studies like Frank and Schmidt’s ought to prove a problem for Ham—there is no evidence of any advanced civilization like the one he postulates in the earth’s past, and particularly no evidence of such a civilization in the past six thousand years (Ham’s time frame), recent enough that the physical evidence would not have all disintegrated.
As Tim Chaffey explains in another Answers in Genesis article:
Noah built the Ark sixteen centuries after God created man as an intelligent being, fully capable of designing and developing new technologies. Since lifespans approached a thousand years, achievements of the pre-Flood world’s best innovators could have been remarkable. We know they were capable of building cities, making musical instruments, and working with metal …
Noah’s culture was almost certainly at its industrial zenith while he worked on the Ark. Yet, the Flood served as a technological reset, obliterating any of the inventions and writings not preserved on the Ark.
There is a range, of course, in what young earth creationists assert about pre-flood technology. Chaffey insists only that it was industrial and and that the achievements made “could have been remarkable.” Ham writes that Noah “may have had tools and other impressive technology” so advanced “that we would be jealous of” it. In another article Ham suggests that while the pre-flood population might have been kept low by wars, it might have been as high as four billion.
Growing up in a young earth creationist church, I remember imagining a pre-flood society with advanced technology such as hover cars, and sky-scrapers far higher than any we currently have. It was to these childhood daydreams and imaginings that my mind went when I saw the image of dinosaurs driving cars that accompanied the Science Daily summary of Frank and Schmidt’s research.
Ham may have found Frank and Schmidt’s question of what evidence an advanced technological society in our world’s past would have left behind ridiculous, but it is he that posits the existence of just such a society (plus dinosaurs).
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