Friday, 2 May 2008

Creationism, language and structural geology

I wrote a little bit about this elsewhere, but I thought it was of interest to a 'bad science' audience. Dr. David Peacock, a consultant with Fugro-Robertson and well-known structural geologist, has just published a letter to the editor [extremely irritating paywall] in the May issue of the Journal of Structural Geology. The letter criticises the use of the term 'architecture' in published articles in the Journal of Structural Geology. In general, structural geologists use the term to describe the spatial arrangement of structural elements within larger structures, such as fault zones or geological basins.

So far, this is just an argument about arcane terminology in a fairly obscure field of scientific endeavour. However, one of Dr. Peacock's arguments against using 'architecture' is that it introduces a 'hint of creationism'. "Who is the architect?", he asks, going on to ask "Does use of the term imply divine construction or a belief in intelligent design?"

The answer to this latter question is clearly no. Geology has always borrowed terms from architecture (for a few examples, see here). This happens because some geological features are similar to features from the built environment (for example, here's a gratuitous picture of some nice folds). That doesn't imply that someone or something intelligent built them. More importantly, it seems to me that we would have to stop talking about structural geology entirely if we accepted Dr. Peacock's contention. The fact that the Earth has structure is what structural geologists study. So if you ask 'Who is the architect?', you also ask 'Who imparted the structure?' I make this point in a reply [paywall] to Dr. Peacock's letter, which at the time of writing is in press. The text can also be found here.

The wider point here is that the idea that any implication of 'structure' is an implication of 'design' is a classic creationist mis-direction. This is a point made eloquently in the context of evolution by Steve Novella. In structural geology, 'structure' and 'order' emerge from naturally occurring processes. There is no reason to think that saying a fault zone has an 'architecture' is also saying that some intelligence designed the fault zone.

1 comment:

enadin said...

I was glad to see this post. There is nothing wrong with any branch of science borrowing illustrative words from other fields. And it seems pretty silly for geologists to let their descriptions become stagnant for fear of branching into creative writing.