Topics: Geology, Causality, Scientific method Pages: 56 (11864 words) Published: March 11, 2013
Creation Research Society Quarterly 2012. 49:135–152.
Volume 49, Fall 2012


Battlegrounds of Natural History:

John K. Reed, Emmett L. Williams*


ctualism is a fundamental assumption of secular natural history. It replaced the Christian view of causality through providence, and it asserted an absolute physicochemical and geological continuity. Though often confused with uniformity and uniformitarianism due to secular obfuscation, actualism, at root, is a method of geology that limits historical processes and events to observed present-day causes. Actualism fails as an absolute explanation of historical causality: it cannot be precisely defined, it surreptitiously assumes unjustified metaphysical positions, and its secular formulations fail logical and empirical truth tests. Only when justified as a contingent manifestation of providence does it avoid these problems. However, that formulation is of little help in deciphering the rock record, because it was largely shaped by nonactualistic discontinuities.

George Gaylord Simpson, prominent
twentieth-century evolutionist and formidable foe of early creationists, faced an unexpected attack late in life. His
neo-Darwinian/Lyellian views were
challenged by secular revolutionary
views of biohistory (punctuationism)
and geohistory (neocatastrophism). In
1970 he published an argument against
critiques of uniformitarianism. He failed
to slow the new trend but did a service to
all by identifying six foundational topics

of natural history (Figure 1). Having addressed the first, naturalism (Reed and Williams, 2011), this paper addresses the
second, actualism.
Actualism emerged from the optimistic idea of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that science (modeled after Newtonian physics) could unlock
Earth’s past. But today’s climate is different. Christians object to its underlying materialist philosophy, and atheist philosophers, who have embraced postmodern relativism, object to its presumed

* John K. Reed PhD, Evans, Georgia,
Emmett L. Williams PhD (1934–2011), Alpharetta, GA
Accepted for publication April 2, 2011

positivism. This situation reinforces
the necessity of assessing fundamental
assumptions and methods—all serious
intellectual battlegrounds. Errors here
have led to many misconceptions. The
solution lies in a reevaluation of basic
axioms. Some creationists have begun
this task (Klevberg, 1999; Lisle, 2009;
Reed, 2001; Reed et al., 2004; Reed and
Williams, 2011), but much remains to
be done.
Delayed and weak efforts in this work
have resulted in (1) fuzzy positivism, (2)
“methodological” naturalism, and (3)
“scientific” history. Although positivism
as a philosophical school is defunct,
its spirit lives on in the smug superiority of today’s science. Methodological naturalism is an unnecessary accretion


Creation Research Society Quarterly

Figure 2. Constant Prévost, French
naturalist who coined term “actualism.”

Figure 1. Simpson’s (1970) six foundations of natural history.

that Plantinga (1997, p. 143) has called
“provisional atheism.” And nature, as
a modern secular idol, has swallowed
history (Reed, 2000).
Geology was built in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on the foundation of a vast prehuman
prehistory accessible only through scientific study of rocks and fossils. Thus, actualism is linked to deep time. That is
why a strain of anti-Christian prejudice
permeates geology. Even creationists are
not immune; widespread use of the term
“origins science” is indicative of this problem; no one discusses “origins history” as distinct from “operations history.” Sadly,
“origins science” is merely Simpson’s
(1970) “historical science” with a theistic
façade. It is curious that those who reject

a lengthy prehistory accept the corollary
that the past is accessible primarily by
scientific inquiry. The difference...

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