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Steno was a creationist (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Steno was a creationist (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CA114.28:

Nicolai Stenonis, known also as Nicolaus Steno, made important advances in anatomy and stratigraphy; he is credited with founding geology as a scientific field. He was a creationist.

Source: Morris, Henry M. 1982. Bible-believing scientists of the past. Impact 103 (Jan.),


CreationWiki response:

The main reason why points such as this one about Nicolaus Steno are made by creationists is that there is a myth amongst evolutionists that creationists don't do science. This is strongly contradicted by the fact that the fundamental principles of different scientific areas were discovered by creationists. It shows that a person, regardless of religious background, can do science. Steno's story also helps us to see how his faith could help him to work out these scientific principles.[1]

Steno (1631-1686) lived long before the theory of evolution was proposed, when the Bible was universally accepted as history. Steno was a man of his times. Still, his little writing on geography was noncommital on the age of the earth.

A common argument amongst atheists and evolutionists is that he could do no better than to be a creationist because those were the days he was living in. But the fallacy in Talk Origin's statement is that, although the theory of evolution was popularized centuries after Steno, evolutionary ideas were in existence since the time of the Ancient Greeks.[2]

I don't know where Talk Origins gets the idea that the Bible was universally accepted as history. There were plenty of atheists in the previous centuries before evolution, so it is not as though Steno was simply brainwashed by the church and had no choice. The situation of Steno is similar to that of creationists today in this regard: evolution is the predominant school of thought, but that doesn't mean that everyone believes in it. There are people that choose to disregard it for whatever reason. In the same way, Steno lived in times when the church was dominant in Europe, but that was no guarantee that Steno was going to be a creationist.

Talk Origins belittles the man's contribution to science, by focusing on the quantity (size) of what he wrote, calling it "his little writing on geography", but it was the quality of that work that makes him memorable.

It appears to be true that Steno's work may have been noncommittal on the age of the earth. "It should also be remembered that Steno's law is a statement of relative time, not absolute time: two rock layers, in principle, could have formed millions of years apart or a few hours or days apart. Steno himself saw no difficulty in attributing the formation of most rocks to the flood mentioned in the Bible".[3] But it is his young-earth creationist background that stands out and how his finding never contradicted it, which leads us to the second point Talk Origins tries to make.

Creationism played a part in keeping Steno's theories -- and geology in general -- from being widely accepted for several decades. In particular, belief in a young earth ruled out repeated episodes of deposition and mountains slowly rising above the sea.

There is no evidence of this reluctance to accept Steno's theories that I know of. Even if there was, why would it be blamed on "creationism"? Talk Origins here is just speculating, trying again to slander its opponents. In fact, various articles about Steno appear to show him to have been on fairly good terms with the church. There are many reasons why scientific discoveries take time to circulate, even in this present day.

Belief in a young earth does not rule out repeated episodes of deposition. As I noted above, Steno's deductions didn't contradict his belief in a young earth. During the flood there would be repeated episodes of deposition with ground and rocks rising and falling, thus forming mountains and valleys. The use of the word "slowly" might be quite leading here, but it is all relative. To Noah in the Ark, the flood may have felt as if it lasted an eternity, considering the amount of time he had to spend on that craft. As has been pointed out before, Steno's deductions don't appear to have said anything about absolute time where things take billions or millions of years to happen.

Steno's theories were founded on entirely "naturalistic" rules of inference. He explained the past in terms of existing processes such as sediments being deposited on top of older strata and molding to preexisting shapes (Cutler 2003, chap. 10).

The operative word in this response by Talk Origins is "naturalistic". What does it mean in this context? Is it like methodological naturalism where Steno must explain it in natural terms? Is it like philosophical naturalism where Steno's world incorporates nothing but the natural? No. Creationists, being more open than their philosophically naturalistic counterparts, allow for both natural and supernatural causes in their world. What do creationists use to come to their conclusions? Science, meaning deductions from observed phenomena and making hypotheses and testing those guesses and then based on observation, making general principles. If natural phenomena are adequate, that does not imply that God has no role, as naturalism asserts. In fact, it was the belief in the worldwide flood of Genesis that seems to have helped Steno come to some of his conclusions. Steno may have been describing the natural consequences of a supernatural judgement.

So Steno's theories were not founded on naturalism but on the scientific method; they are two different things. His theories do not say that sediments were deposited at the same rate as his day or today, which is why his findings could still incorporate what would happen in a global flood in a relatively short time.

References

  1. Great Creation Scientists: Nicolas Steno
  2. Newton was a creationist only because there was no alternative?
  3. Nicolas Steno
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