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The Great Debate: Dr Paul Willis and Dr Carl Wieland
John Stear

On the evening of Sunday 24 August 2003 a debate was held at the Northside Christian Church in Brisbane, Australia.  The debate was between Dr Paul Willis, palaeontologist and science journalist, and Dr Carl Wieland, a retired medical doctor and CEO of Answers in Genesis (AiG).  The subject of the debate was "Does scientific evidence support a literal creation?"  The debate was well attended, more than a thousand people crammed into the Northside Church's not inconsiderable theatre.  Apart from about twenty skeptics, the audience comprised mostly fundamentalist Christians.

AiG in its regular publication "Prayer News" reports on the debate saying inter alia:

"Feedback tells us that very few were convinced by Willis's confident performance." 

An unnecessary statement surely, given that the audience was mostly creationist and unlikely to be swayed by any argument, no matter how scientific, that threatened their young Earth beliefs. 

AiG uses a letter from an alleged correspondent known only as "Mark B", to attempt to discredit Paul Willis' arguments concerning the Grand Canyon's Coconino Sandstone formation, the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, and Mount St Helens/Spirit Lake region:  In his letter Mark B also supported Carl Wieland's erroneous claim that helium in ancient granites was proof of a young Earth.  Below is Mark B's letter:

"To be frank—Willis's performance was farcical; e.g. his citation of the Coconino Sandstone formation and the 'fossilized forests' at Joggins, Nova Scotia as 'proof' of an old earth.  I was particularly impressed that Carl demolished the above two examples of Willis, since Willis has a doctorate in paleontology and one would expect that he would have made his strongest points around geological/fossil evidence.  And yet, by EVOLUTIONISTS' own admissions, the Coconino Sandstone formation is 'yesterday's geology', and the Joggins forest example is precisely what we find in the Mount Saint Helens/Spirit Lake region (I am sure that evolutionists would love to date the geological data in the Mount Saint Helens/Spirit Lake region to 'millions of years', but I guess that even they are forced to accept that since this event was observed in 1980, it is not millions of years old).

" Willis claimed that the audience 'had not heard one piece of evidence for a literal Genesis creation' … Carl pointed out, in reference to the helium in zircons (if significant amounts of helium are still in 'ancient' granite zircons, then these crystals (and since this is Precambrian basement granite, by implication the whole earth) could not be older than between 4,000 and 14,000 years), if that is not evidence for a recent creation then I don't know what is!"   [my underlining]

Where to begin? Mark B says:

"I was particularly impressed that Carl demolished the above two examples of Willis, [Carl didn't, see below] since Willis has a doctorate in paleontology [sic] and one would expect that he would have made his strongest points around geological/fossil evidence."

Dr Willis, as well as being a palaeontologist, works full time as a science reporter and is required to have some knowledge of science across the spectrum.  Dr Wieland, on the other hand, is a retired medical doctor and surgeon.  His knowledge of real science is rather slim else why, along with most of his young Earth creationist (YEC) colleagues, does he make such fundamental errors, for instance, in the examples given by Mark B?  But then, even YECs like Andrew Snelling and Steven Austin who have bona fide science degrees, constantly err in the basics of their disciplines.  So what hope does Dr Wieland have to get science right?

Let's take Mark's claims in order.

The Coconino Sandstone formation

Perhaps the most effective refutation of the YEC claims about Coconino can be found at the web site of Greg Neyman, an "old Earth" creationist who holds a degree in geology from Memphis State University.  In "Coconino Sandstone", He refutes Snelling's and Austin's article, "Grand Canyon: Startling evidence for Noah's Flood!" in no uncertain manner.

Greg Neyman concludes his demolition of Snelling's and Austin's "startling evidence" with the observation that:

"The proposed young-earth model to explain the deposition of the Coconino Sandstone during the short time of Noah's Flood completely erodes away when you examine it closely.  And, if you accept the theory as fact, then you deny the erosion rates proposed by other creation scientists to create the material needed to deposit the sandstone.  In other words, you can't 'have your cake and eat it too'.  Part of the title of their article is 'Startling Evidence for Noah's Flood.'  The only thing startling about it is how fast it fails when a little common sense is applied."

The Joggins Fossil Cliffs

At the same site you'll find Greg Neyman's discussion of an article by YEC John D. Morris on Joggins.    Neyman quotes from what he describes as Morris' "very weak attempt to discount the trees and coal seams of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs as proving an old earth age".  Morris has this to say:

"While a fuller understanding awaits more research, we can say with confidence that the 'just-so story' told by Lyell and his modern-day disciples simply doesn't fit the facts."  

Greg Neyman responds:

"The first part of this sentence is an admission that there are problems with the young earth model.  The second part is not true....the facts fit perfectly with the model proposed by geologists."

Mount Saint Helens/Spirit Lake region

Basically, Mark B is in error when he says:

 "I am sure that evolutionists would love to date the geological data in the Mount Saint Helens/Spirit Lake region to 'millions of years, ...'"

Like YECs the world over Mark B has been mislead.  Scientists do NOT claim that sediment, etc., around Mount St. Helens has taken millions of years to develop.  Over millions of years one would expect to find consolidated layers of rock rather than layers of ash that are present in the debris.

Helium in ancient granite zircons

Mark B, in claiming that helium in ancient granites somehow supports a young Earth, is using as his source another piece of "exciting" news recently published (though not in any peer reviewed scientific journal) by the RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) under the auspices of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and the Creation Research Society (CRS). This research claims that a young Earth was assured because:

"... from the eyewitness testimony of God's Word, the billions of years that such vast amounts of radioactive processes would normally suggest had not taken place, it was clear that the assumption of a constant slow [radioactive] decay process was wrong.  There must have been speeded-up decay, perhaps in a huge burst associated with Creation Week and/or a separate burst at the time of the Flood." 

Sadly for YECs and in this case Mark B and AiG, it seems that once again the YEC scientists have engaged in faulty research.  See More Second-Rate Science from the RATE Group and Index to Creationist Claims and Rats in RATE's "Research" by Dr. Kevin R. Henke.

At the close of the debate Paul Willis rightly claimed that no evidence had been presented to support a literal Genesis creation.  He soundly refuted the "evidence" presented by Carl Wieland.  Evidence for an old Earth is all around us, but AiG and other YECs will never admit to it.  Therein lies the dilemma when debating YECs.  No matter how often their arguments are refuted they habitually disregard the evidence in favour of the "Book of Genesis", their book of myths.

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