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Roslyn's essay and what her lecturer thought

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Essay topic:

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?


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Walter Brown proposes a "scientific case for creation" 1 as it is described in Genesis 2. Within this argument he attempts to demonstrate that the Bible's account of a worldwide deluge 3 is accurate. Robert Schadewald's "Six 'Flood' Arguments Creationists Can't Answer" 4, disputes particular creationist views, but only as a means of demonstrating the lack of testing behind creationist theories and hence their unscientific foundations.

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What constitutes scientific foundations? Perhaps something originating from a process of observation, formation of an explanation or hypothesis, and conduction of controlled, repeatable testing of this hypothesis. Scientific evidence could be defined as the results obtained from such a process.

Since Brown's flood argument serves as a premise toward his overall conclusion that "the scientific evidence concerning origins supports the creation model" 5, assessment of his evidence (presented as numbered categories) will depend largely on how scientifically reliable it is. For these purposes every effort will be made to ignore the multitude of flaws within his argument which are irrelevant to the issue of scientific evidence.

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The basic outline of Brown's argument can be summarised as follows 6 :

P1: Archaeological evidence indicates that Noah's Ark probably exists
P2: Many of the Earth's previously unexplainable features can be explained only by this flood.
P3: The Seemingly Impossible Events of a Worldwide Flood Are Really Quite Plausible if Examined Closely.
C1: The Earth has experienced a worldwide flood
...[other premises]

P1 depends on Brown's categories 83-91. These categories rely on mentions and reports of the Ark's existence (83), reports of sightings of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat 7 (84, 86, 87,88,89), and the reported existence of photographs depicting the Ark protruding from ice (90, 91). comment If, for the sake of argument, we attempted to express these categories scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of ice on Mr. Ararat. A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's categories, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. By this reasoning none of categories 83-91 offers scientific proof, and they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.

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P2 asserts that that a worldwide flood is the only explanation for certain geological features of Earth, including "continental drift, mountains, and ocean trenches". Neglecting that these features are in fact explained by the theories of plate tectonics (so a deluge is not the only explanation), a declaration that these phenomena "can be viewed as direct consequences of a ... [worldwide] flood" 8 may (if we are feeling particularly generous) constitute a hypothesis, but certainly not scientific evidence.

The categories supporting P3 suffer similar flaws. That "every mountain range on the earth contains fossils of sea life" 9 is a scientifically proven and accepted fact. This sentence doesn't even constitute a hypothesis, because it doesn't aim to explain anything. No stretch of the imagination can label it 'scientific evidence'.

In short, Brown's 'categories' are not scientific evidence (it could even be argued that they aren't evidence, but that's another matter). They do not entail the premises which they are intended to support, hence we cannot accept Brown's conclusion, that "the earth has experienced a worldwide flood".

Brown's weakness, his lack of scientific evidence, is Robert Schadewald's subject. Schadewald attempts to draw attention to the lack of scientific foundation in creationist doctrines by actually comment testing creationist hypotheses. Schadewald leads us from specific "well-known creationist" 10 hypotheses, through calculations based on simple mathematical or physical laws and from these tests, concludes the hypotheses are fallacious. Upon first glance this may seem compelling, but let us consider one example in more depth.

Schadewald's first objection to creationist explanations can be summarised thus:

P1: Creationists believe the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' is evidence for the flood.
P2: Fossils indicate there were n creatures
P3: If n creatures were simultaneously resurrected, they would take up x amount of space.
P4: The Earth's surface area is less than x
C1: Creationists are wrong.
comment

Firstly, can we accept P1? Do creationists actually hold this view? Walter Brown offered us 108 views (and those final few were certainly grasping at straws), surely he would have included this one if he had considered it legitimate. Suppose we accept that P1 is a creationist doctrine. Taken out of context as it is, we cannot interpret how creationists interpret the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' as evidence. Schadewald could easily misrepresent the creationist stance and go undetected.

P3 assumes that all the fossilised creatures were alive simultaneously. As observed by Martin Doepke 11, Schadewald hasn't accounted for creatures dying (and becoming fossilised) before or after the alleged flood. As this would decrease the number of creatures resurrected at the time of the flood, overcrowding may no longer be an issue. P4 would be false, and the premises would not entail the conclusion. It emerges that without careful definition of P3, this argument is invalid: it is possible for all premises to be true and the conclusion false.

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In this light, at least the first of Schadewald's arguments is not particularly compelling. His second argument (and the third to a lesser extent) suffers the same flaw. His fourth and fifth arguments seem credible, but his sixth argues as Brown attempted to: Schadewald asserts that geologists have a good explanation for overturned strata. However, he stops here, without offering this alleged explanation for us to judge.

comment

Certainly Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's: he actually makes some attempt to explain his beliefs. Brown's 'evidence' is little more than a series of declarations and circumstances. It is the selective nature of Schadewald's explanations which detract from the merit of his objections, both to specific flood hypotheses and to unscientific creationist methods.

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[Lecturer's overall comment]

Footnotes

  1. Brown, Walter. "The Scientific Case for Creation: 108 Categories of Evidence" in Monash University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 90.
  2. First book of the Old Testament of The Holy Bible.
  3. Chapter 7.
  4. Schadewald, Robert University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 103.
  5. Brown, op. cit. p. 90.
  6. These sentences are taken from Brown op. cit., but their formatting is the author's.
  7. According to Genesis 8:4, "the ark rested on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat", from the King James version of The Holy Bible, Zondervan Publishing.
  8. Brown, op. cit. p. 98.
  9. Category 105, ibid.
  10. Schadewald, op. cit. p. 105.
  11. Acquaintance, and fellow first year philosophy student at Monash Clayton campus.

What is your argument?

In the introduction to Philosophy essays, it is a good idea to state the case you are going to argue. This lets the reader know where they are going.

Very good paragraph

The student here provides a definition of a concept that is central to the essay - 'scientific foundations'. She has attempted to come up with her own formulation of this concept - " Scientific evidence could be defined as..." This is good - it shows evidence of her thinking for herself.

A brave attempt

This is good because the student has provided a clear outline of the argument she is going to assess. It is a 'brave attempt', because she has chosen to represent the argument formally as a sequence of premises and a conclusion. (Note that is not always necessary to use this strict format - sometimes it is just as good to summarise the argument in your own words.)

Well argued

This paragraph is good because the student has made a clear attempt to EVALUATE the argument of a particular writer - in this case it is Brown's first premise. The student's evaluation is well put - she is arguing that what Brown presents is not a 'proof', but only a 'hypothesis'.

Also well argued

This paragraph is another good example of a student evaluating ideas - in this case Brown's second premise.

Not really 'testing'

'Testing' is not the right term - better would be 'drawing out the consequences of' (Schadewald is not conducting - or even proposing to conduct - experiments). In philosophy essays, you have to be very careful with terminology. When you are writing you need to be sure the term you are using is the right one.

Fair enough

The student provides an objection to Schadewald here which seems to be a reasonable one. This helps to support her main argument - which is that 'whilst Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's, they still have problems'.

Too brief

It is not so helpful to mention other arguments (and their flaws) without explaining what these arguments are. When you have a word limit of only 1000 words or so, you will often need to limit your discussion to only a few arguments. It is best to indicate your intention in your introduction - e.g. "In this essay I will confine myself to Schadewald's first argument - and then stay clear of additional arguments that you are not going to be able to elaborate on."

A clear conclusion

The student has expressed a clear point of view here - clearly she is more convinced by Schadewald's arguments than Brown's, but notes that Schadewald also has problems. Expressing a clear point of view is exactly what we want students to do in their essays. As a minor criticism though, it would have been helpful if the student had signalled her position in the introduction (e.g. In this essay I shall argue that...).

Lecturer's overall comment

Comment:

This is an outstanding essay.

Strengths:

The essay received a High Distinction because:

  1. it presents a clear point of view - i.e. 'that Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's'.
  2. it is very well structured: First Brown's arguments are clearly outlined and then evaluated; next Schadewald's argument are outlined and then evaluated; finally the essay provides a clear conclusion.

Weaknesses:

The only minor criticism is that there is mention of Schadewald's other arguments (2-6), without adequate discussion of these.

Grade:

High Distinction

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