As far as wonky pseudo-science goes, the expanding earth nonsense really stands out as a noteworthy endeavor. The high priest of an em-biggening (to borrow from the Simpsons) Earth is one Neal Adams, former comic book illustrator and the man that designed the Nasenex Bee from those commercials (for which he must be punished). I first heard about ol’ Neal from a podcast called “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Galaxy” (which hails from a little corner of the internet known as http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ ), where they actually interview the guy; apoplexy ensued, I can assure you.
Anyway, Neal “the Bee” Adams believes that the Earth is getting bigger through time. He’s convinced that subduction doesn’t actually exist, that oceanic crust is spontaneously generated at spreading ridges, and all sorts of fun stuff. Below, you’ll find an animation from Adams explaining his idea. Be forewarned, however, that the narration is strongly reminiscent of Kirk Cameron’s hyper-smug, aggressively ignorant young earth creationism spiels; those with heart conditions or anger management issues may wish to abstain.
It’s all pretty silly stuff; my favorite line is the “knee-jerk theory of Pangaea”; I hear that was Naomi Oreskes’ original title for “The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science” (a great read, by the way).
Though it would be easy (and entertaining, too; it would probably make a good drinking game) to pick apart all the inaccuracies with our “facts”, that’s not what we’re going to do here. Rather, what interests me is the WHY question: WHY do Adams, and others, believe what they believe?
First and foremost, as you must have gleaned from watching the ceaseless (10 minutes!!! Really!?! C’mon!) video above, the Expanding Earth theory is much more than an attack on the Earth Sciences. According to the theory, the earth must have been much smaller back in dinosaur days; to those of us who are shackled by our “reality-based” worldview (quote from the current Bush administration), this would seem to imply that the earth must have been much more dense in old times, right? Au contraire, gentle readers; Neil says the earth was MUCH lighter then (as reported from the podcast; I’ll link to it if I can find it in the archives). In fact it was the lessened gravity that allowed the Dinosaurs to walk around, since they would have been too heavy to survive otherwise. So how does the earth expand? Matter is being created and added through some “quantum” process. Duh.
So it’s not like Adams thinks we’ve mapped a few thrusts wrong, or incorrectly interpreted ophiolites. In fact, Geology is just one little wrong-bit on the vast, incorrect corpus of science itself. The Expanding Earth theory is a fundamental rejection of not just one or two sciences, but the ENTIRE body of science, its methodologies, its theories and interpretations, and its practitioners.
Why? Why is there such antagonism towards the sciences? The narration in the video pleadingly states that the universe must be simpler than we “experts” would have it. Such good old arguing from ignorance is a well-worn tactic from a variety of pseudo-science folks, of course, and sadly difficult to remedy. Facts have little strength when arrayed against someone who “knows” that they are meaningless.
None of this is new, of course; anybody who has gone to the mat with some bible-thumping young-earthers has heard all this before. What is new, at least to me, is the EXPLICIT statement of a scientific conspiracy meant to hide the truth, and promulgate our Wegenerian worldview at the expense of the TRUTH. My feeling is that most Creationists view us as sadly misguided individuals, blinded by our atheistic hubris into believing what we say about evolution.
But the expanding earth crowd calls us out on our duplicity; they state that we KNOW the earth is expanding, and are nefariously trying to hide it from the public. Man, if this is true, why the hell did I spend all of December and January furiously writing grants? Shouldn’t I have just called up my local Illuminati and had then send over a couple of sacks of cash (all the while cackling madly, mind you).
To my eye, this is anti-intellectualism of a different color. The creationists define the world into a humanistic, rationalistic view versus their divinely inspired book, forming their attacks on us in terms of heretical (sciences) versus canonical (them) language. Neil Adams’ approach is a distinctly Gnostic anti-intellectualism, wherein his intuitive understanding that the world simply can’t work the way we say it does gives him all the authority he needs to effectively throw out everything we know.
This is a disturbing trend. The creationists are, in many ways, beyond our reach. Their reaction to us is understandable, in the context that a world view requiring special creation at 4004 BCE is fundamentally incompatible with Canyon Diablo radiometric dating, natural selection, and deep time. More disturbing to me is the conspiratorial view of sciences, the rejection of reality in favor of a self-made delusion formed from a visceral dislike of scientists. Expanding earthers, holistic medicine types, vaccine-opponents, climate change deniers; all of these groups are symptoms of a broader disease at the heart of our society. This Gnostic anti-intellectual movement is more insidious and probably more pervasive in our culture than we realize. Additionally, I would argue that it is caused by our collective failure to have engaged the public in any meaningful way. It’s this disseminated distrust of scientists that has allowed the Discovery Institute to come into existence. It’s this that has allowed such a divisive group of creationists nut-jobs, each with their own pet story of creation, to present a unified front. The creationists and their rhetoric aren’t the only enemies we face in the struggle for the brains of America, and we might want to start thinking more about how we can make research more transparent and understandable for the regular folks out there if we ever want to move science funding and scientific work back into a valued component of our culture.