Re: Where is Geology 401?

Norm Smith (
Tue, 21 Apr 1998 21:57:39 -0400

Thanks to Glenn Morton and Greg Billock for their
replies to my question about Geology 401. It is
a great benefit to get the reactions of such
folk who have experience in their field.

Glen wrote:

>I would suggest one of two sources for this. First
>is Derek Ager's The Nature of the Stratigraphical
>Record and an article I published in the
>Creation Research Society Quarterly, Morton, G. R.
>(1984). Global, Continental, and Regional
>Sedimentation Systems and Their Implications
>Creation Research Society Quarterly. 21:23-33.

I read that book by Ager a few years ago. I don't
have a copy before me as I write this. As I recall
it dealt more with an examination of the nature of
the strata with the intent of suggesting alternative
scenarios for their placement, than it did with
a quantitative assessment of the reliability of
correlations. It might be a good idea for me to
take another look at it. I have over the past few
years scanned through every book on the subject that
I have been able to find in the library at the
Colorado School of Mines (which I suppose is a
decent geology library). I have read those that
seemed relevant to my question.

I do have before me your article in CRSQ June 1984.
I'll mention in a moment some of the questions it
leaves unanswered for me.

Greg wrote:

>The same place "Engineering 401" is. Perhaps you
>get the idea..... Engineers tell me there is some
>actual academic value to their field, but there's
>no 'Eng 401' class. All there are is Fluid
>Dynamics classes, analog electronics classes,
>CPU design classes, FEM classes, all a jumble!

>And chemistry! There's no Chem 401. You have
>organic, inorganic, bio, synthesis. Good grief!
>And they expect us to believe they can make
>drugs?! :-)

>If you want to get a higher level view of geology,
>you'll have to get more than one book, I'm afraid.

Admittedly, I may have used too broad a term in
asking for "Geology" 401. Probably I should have
asked for "correlation" 401. I have a somewhat
different picture than you describe of how available
such texts are in other fields - but my
experience is limited. I am most acquainted with
math departments (I know some think math folk
need to get a life anyway so this is a bad
example.) Anyway, the foundations of mathematical
analysis can be found presented in any of
several single texts. Twenty years ago almost all
graduate math schools, at least I was told, used
the same text by Rudin. No serious math student
gets to start a graduate program without knowing
that book inside out. In a similar way, I can't
imagine anyone doing radar design without being
intimately familiar with the radar "Bible" by
Skolnik. It is a comprehensive presentation of
everything you could want to know about radar
fundamentals. For spacecraft attitude determination
and control one can go to the "bible" by Wertz.
For acoustics its Skudrzyk. For signal detection
it is Van Trees and so forth. At any rate it
is not simply convenience I am looking for
(although that would be a big help) - I am
looking for any place where I can find a coherent
and comprehensive quantitative treatment of the
fundamental questions of geologic correlation.
Not just a "trust me this is the way it is"
presentation but rather a quantitative analysis
of correlation methods and their reliability
as I described in my first note on this.

Glenn wrote:

>In other words, you are expecting a statistics book.
>Why should geology, which settled on its foundations
>a century ago, have to repeat this because Christians
>won't go on field trips to actually look at the rocks.
>Have you ever been on a geologic field trip over a
>large subregional area?

I would expect that a "foundations" type of book would
have a strong statistical flavor because of the
nature of the subject. Also, I don't see what the
foundations being settled a hundred years ago has to
do with the need for such a text. I have a
hard time believing that a graduate geology
student can get away with not having a
course that thoroughly examines those
foundations. I find it simply amazing that some
academic has not written a thorough quantitative
analysis of correlation reliability. If someone
questions the reliability of radar designs I would
know exactly where to point him whether he is a
Christian or of any other persuasion. Why should
a Christian be thought weird for wanting to see
a quantitative assessment rather than simply taking
the experts declaration? Why shouldn't a Christian
want to obtain as clear a picture of the evidence
as possible?

Yes, I think a Christian should be willing to look
at the rocks. It seems to me that the reason he
would do so (besides the fun of it) is to assess
the accuracy of the claims made in what he reads.
However, if the claims in what he reads are not
clearly and thoroughly presented, it is hard to
make the assessment. No I haven't been on many
trips with a live guide. I haven't seen many
available except from park personnel who often
haven't been that well informed in my experience.
There are a couple of books of detailed field trips
put out by the Colorado Geological Society (or was
it the Rocky Mountain Geological Society) in 1960
and 1980 with emphasis on the Colorado front range
that I have spent quite a while running around the
region with.

Now, of course, I am not simply overcome with concern
for the plight of geology grad students here. I
just wish that there was a text made for them that
I could read. It just seems that one ought to be
able to verify for oneself the degree of validity
in claims of correlation without the benefit of
decades of personal geologic field work or
without the need to personally synthesize the
results of a thousand journal articles.

I don't mind being candid about my conjecture of
what the real situation is. I suspect that the
degree of reliability in coarse correlations over
large distances is higher than what several
"creation" writers would have one believe. I
also suspect that the degree of reliability in
much of the less coarse correlation over great
distances is considerably less reliable than
many "mainstream" writers would lead one to
believe. I find it hard to determine for myself
where the true situation lies.

Let me relate an experience. I was reading a paper
claiming to show a tight correspondence between
radiometric dates and dates from traditional
non-radiometric methods (the name Evernden comes
to mind without looking it up, which isn't
essential here.) There was a long string of
references supporting the data points in this
correspondence. I found that one of these
references was to a study in my state - my
county in fact. I went to try to see for myself
(so what I made a few questionable fence crossings).
I could clearly see the radiometrically dated
layer at this spot and could also see the excellent
outcrop of the traditionally dated layers. What I
couldn't see for myself was any trace of fossil
content despite considerable exploring and poking.
After following further reference chains I came to
the conclusion that one skull fragment has been
found in this area. Now I am certainly not claiming
that no conclusions can be drawn from sparse data,
but I had to say to myself, wait a minute folk,
there are significant questions about fossil
density and correlation distances that are
simply not being addressed in this group of
related articles. Nor were there any references
pointing to where these questions are addressed.
This type of disappointment with what I find when
I try to check out the field data is not an
isolated occurrence. I keep thinking surely
somewhere these fundamental questions are

Well, actually that is overstated above. I have
come to doubt that there really are places where
the fundamental questions of correlation are
addressed. What I have come to suspect is perhaps
that while indeed there are a fair number of
instances where remarkable correlation of certain
formations can be shown over great distances, that
much of the finer detail that is put forth has
demonstrable validity only within a more limited
region. Again this is only a suspicion - one that
I have tried in vain for some time to check out
one way or the other.

Glen, thank you for pointing me to your 1984 article
and also for the paragraph about the redwall in your
previous reply. I have a rough notion of how long
distance correlation is done. Such descriptions as
these leave significant questions still. For some
formations one sees a quantitative description of
some elements in the correlation - such as the
description you included of the Pittsburg coal
seam. However, in most cases such as the rest
of the notable examples that you describe in the
article, one is left wondering just how much of
the evidence for the particular correlation is
unquestionable and how much is in the eye of the
beholder. I am not being critical of your paper
for not answering this question, if indeed it could
be answered in a short paper. I would believe that
you had your own objectives in writing and were,
as always, space limited. I am saying that this
always seems to be the case and that I can't find
a good treatment of these questions anywhere.

Another group of questions that are left unanswered
in articles such as yours are questions about
percentages. What fraction of the earth's formations
are so clearly traceable as those you describe?
To what extent do multiple examples of such
clearly traceable formations occupy regions
in common? Numerous such questions can be
asked. Again, I am not critical of your article for
not addressing these questions - I couldn't see how
they could be given an adequate answer in a short
article. I am saying that I haven't been able to
find any place where they are addressed well.

Clearly a motivation for writing this is get a
reaction from more knowledgeable folk as to whether
a quantitative assessment of correlation reliability
is to be found anywhere. That such is so hard to
find naturally makes one suspect that such an
assessment has not been collected. Again it
seems hard to believe that one must read a
"thousand" journal articles and travel the world
over to get this understanding at some useful

Thanks again,

Norm Smith