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For the Record...

Don't Rock The Ark

In recent copies of Chemical and Engineering News a brief item appeared in the Newscripts feature by Kenneth M. Reese, followed in subsequent issues by comments from the readership. Because of the interesting and amusing content of the exchange we are re-presenting it here.*

[* Reprinted by permission of the American Chemical Society]

C&EN Newscripts Oct. 11, 1976:

Workers at the Dicalite division of Grefco Inc. have found the fossil skeleton of a baleen whale some 10 to 12 million years old in the company's diatomaceous earth quarries in Lompoc, Calif. They've found fossils there before; in fact, the machinery operators have learned a good deal about them and carefully annotate any they find with the name of the collector, the date, and the exact place found. Each discovery is turned over to Lawrence G. Barnes at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The whale, however, is one of the largest fossils ever collected anywhere. It was spotted by operator James Darrah, and Dr. Barnes is directing the excavation.

The whale is standing on end in the quarry and is being exposed gradually as the diatomite is mined. Only the head and a small part of the body are visible as yet. The modern baleen whale is 80 to 90 feet long and has a head of similar size, indicating that the fossil may be close to 80 feet long.

The diatomaceous earth must be taken from around the fossil with great care because the bones are fragile and disintegrate quickly when exposed to air. As sections of bone are exposed, they are coated with a plastic cement, which hardens, and covered and reinforced with bandages of plaster and burlap. The head and forepart of the whale required 2400 lb(s) of plaster and 700 yards of burlap 36 inches wide.

Another recent find at the Dicalite quarries was the skeleton of a small fur seal or sea hon, one of the few known specimens of the species. Smaller whales have been found, too, as well as fish and birds. On the whole, the discoveries are providing a valuable look at life along the coast of California 10 million years ago. The fossils will be used for public display and research at the Natural History Museum [of Los Angeles County].

C&EN Letters Jan. 24, 1977:

SIR: K. M. Reese made no comment concerning the implications of the unique discovery of a baleen whale skeleton in a vertical orientation in a diatomaceous earth quarry in Lompoc, Calif. However, the fact that the whale is standing on end as well as the fact that it is buried in diatomaceous earth would strongly suggest that it was buried under very unusual and rapid catastrophic conditions. The vertical orientation of the whale is also reminiscent of observations of vertical tree trunks extending through several successive coal seams. Such phenomena cannot easily be explained by uniformitarian theories, but fit readily into an historical framework based upon the recent and dynamic universal flood described in Genesis, chapters 6-9.

Larry S. Helmick, Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry, Cedarville College, Ohio

C&EN Letters March 21, 1977:

SIR: Dr. Helmick, how dare you imply that our geology textbooks and uniformitarian theories could possibly be wrong! Everybody knows that diatomaceous earth beds are built up slowly over millions of years as diatom skeletons slowly settle out on the ocean floor. The baleen whale simply stood on its tail for 100,000 years, its skeleton undecomposing, while the diatomaceous snow covered its frame millimeter by millimeter. Certainly you wouldn't expect intelligent and informed establishment scientists of this modem age to revert to the outmoded views of our forefathers just to explain such finds! Why, even the people of Noah's own generation couldn't buy the idea of a universal cataclysmic flood. (Of course, they missed the boat.)

Harvey O. Olney III
Texas Tech School of Medicine, Lubbock

C&EN Letters April 25, 1977:

SIR: The "whale of a tale" letter by Harvey O. Olney and the letters, quips, and quotes along similar lines which preceded it have, at last, gotten to me. These sorts of letters appeal to "common sense" to support the Creationist position, but "common sense" is possibly the least reliable guide to understanding science. (I think it was Einstein who remarked somewhere that common sense is "that collection of prejudices which one acquires up to age 18" or something to that effect.)

That's why it takes 10 years of school and work to train a reasonably competent chemist. However, I can make you a Creationist in 10 seconds: Repeat after me, "God made it that way."

At the moment, I don't know why that damn whale is standing on its tail. As a scientist, I'm going to wait until somebody with reasonable competence in paleontology somebody who knows firsthand the pitfalls of interpretation in this area has a chance to look at it. I do know this: "Polystrate" tree trunks, fossilized trees running through several layers, were accounted for by geologists decades ago in terms of natural forces, yet the Creationists keep bringing them up to "prove" the Flood of Noah.

I wouldn't rise to the bait in this whole area except for one thing: These Creationists want equal time in the textbooks to "explain" the Grand Canyon in terms of Noah's Flood (ignoring thousands of feet of terrestrial sandstone between marine layers). They want my kids and yours to believe that all of the fossil hominids, from the Australopithecines to Neanderthal, are merely degenerate sons of Noah (ignoring the fact that no combination of genetic, bacterial, or environmental disease will produce such beings today). They want you to know the continents were pushed apart by the Flood (Noah again) rather than drifting.

Evidence? Calculations? Data? Why none of these is necessary for a Creationist they merely appeal to your common sense!

By-the-bye: I'm not making this up. I have computer cross-indexed their major journal, the Creation Research Society Quarterly, back to the first issue. Printouts are available at cost.

I'm the first person to defend free speech. However, not everyone is entitled to equal time in the publications of the American Chemical Society. Let Mr. Olney and whale-tale lovers and all Creationists everywhere subscribe to the Creation Research Society Quarterly to keep up with Noah's latest doings, but please, ACS - enough already.

Don Weinshank

Natural Science Department, Michigan State University,
East Lansing

Personal letter to Albert F. Plant, publisher of C&EN:

Dear Al: First there was the interesting, but relatively innocuous, Newscripts item by Ken Reese about the baleen whale, which was followed by Helmick's letter with a reply by Olney, and now we're getting into it in more depth and detail with Weinshank's polemic. I'm not sure where it will all end, as fascinating as it is, but it's the sort of thing that would make a male chauvinist Italian throw up his hands, mutter something about cose di donne (women's stuff), and go down to have a biere with his buddies.

Anyway, Weinshank seems to have a bone to pick with the Creationists, with which I have no desire to become involved since it involves people's basic beliefs. However, he seems not to have heard of secular catastrophism (as distinguished from the synodical experience), which has amassed some persuasive arguments and compiled compelling evidence that Earth was not always secure and serene throughout its long and colorful history, even down to very recent times. And, perhaps the doyon of secular catastrophists of our own day is none other than Immanuel Velikovsky, whose heretical teachings of a quarter-century ago have been expropriated in current textbooks under someone else's byline as Prevailing Opinion.

Nevertheless, as such arguments, which almost continuously rage over differences, make up the sum and substance of the history of science, it is most appropriate to read about them in the pages of a journal as C&ENews.

Frederic B. Jueneman
San Jose, California

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