Northern Ireland is home to the Giant’s Causeway, one of the world’s most spectacular geological phenomena. This is part of an enormous lava field that was first produced when the modern North Atlantic began to open, and is still growing at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and, most spectacularly, in Iceland. Fragments of the initial outpouring were separated from each other as the Eurasian and North American plates moved apart to form the Atlantic Ocean, and now can be found in locations from Greenland and Denmark. The Causeway itself consists of the basalt formed by the solidification of massive successive outpourings of lava. The slow cooling of this rock forced it contract, fracturing as it did so into hexagonal columns up to 10 m high. Tens of thousands of years must have passed between successive outpourings, because we can see, in between the basalt layers, the baked remains of soil formed by weathering of the lower one.
Careful examination shows a complex succession of processes:
- The formation of the lowest basalts in 11 separate episodes
- A pause of at least 100,000 years, during which the first interbasaltic soil layer was formed by weathering. This weathering was accompanied by the erosion of stream valleys,
- Changes in chemical composition beneath the crust in the lavas feeding the eruptions
- The formation of the middle basalts, slightly different in chemical composition from the lowest
- Their slow cooling to give more than 40,000 regular columns
- More weathering, to give the second interbasaltic layer
- Formation of the upper basalts, which ever since have been more slowly modified by weathering and erosion.
- As shown by radiometric dating, all this happened between 50 and 60 million years ago.
Or was it more like 4,369 years ago? That is the view held by Answers in Genesis, the world’s leading creationist organisation, which assigns the opening of the Atlantic Ocean to the convulsions formed, around that date, by Noah’s Flood. The date itself is arrived at by adding up the time intervals listed in the biblical book of Genesis. There is, of course, nothing in the biblical flood account that even hints at such convulsions. We can trace the idea to the Seventh-day Adventists prophetess Ellen B. White, whose views indirectly influenced the 1961 book, The Genesis Flood, foundational text for the 20th-century revival of Young Earth creationism. “Creation science” has since been further modified to take account of plate tectonics. The trouble, of course, is that the entire geological record must, according to Young Earth dogma, be shoehorned into a 6000 year interval. This leads to numerous absurdities, such as continents moving as fast as rowing boats, and an ice age that reached its peak during the lifetimes of Abraham and Isaac, but none of this seems to bother Young Earth creationism’s true believers.
Readers may be surprised to learn that these true believers include among them some of Northern Ireland’s most influential politicians.
Mervyn Storey, MLA (Member of the [ Northern Ireland] Legislative Assembly), who from 2008 until 2014 was Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee, is a former vice-chairman of the Caleb Foundation. This body rejects the whole of modern geology as well as evolutionary biology, and claimed credit (if that is the correct word) for temporarily persuading the National Trust visitor centre at the Causeway to give Young Earth creationism parity of treatment with scientific geology. The resulting outrage led to a letter writing campaign with its own Facebook page (which survives as a discussion forum), and eventual removal of the offending language. Amongother prominent MLAs, Edwin Poots and Paul Givan are also closely associated with Caleb. Poots was briefly (from 28 May this year until 22 June) leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and in that capacity nominated Givan to be Northern Ireland’s First Minister.
Givan was first mentioned in this blog almost exactly 4 years ago, .in connection with his work, along with Poots, in persuading Lisburn City Council to advocate the teaching of creationism. I am happy to say that the schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic, wrote back to point out that Lisburn City Council had no authority over school curricula, that these curricula were generated in consultation with the Northern Ireland Department of Education, and that the schools themselves had highly professional trained staff, who would not take kindly to this suggestion.
Givan assumed office on 14 June. Within days it became clear that his position was untenable, and at the time of writing we expect to see Donaldson announce his successor very shortly. I have criticized Donaldson before for many reasons (see here), but at least advocacy of creationism is not among them.
Site photographs by the author. Givan image, official photograph (2016)
Western Washington University, a well-respected publicly funded university in Bellingham, WA, is conducting a review of the naming of its buildings, in the course of which demands were expressed for the renaming of the [TH] Huxley College of the Environment, and as a result the University’s Legacy Review Task Force has invited comment. Background information including links to solicited academic comment is available at https://president.wwu.edu/research-and-resources.
My own initial reaction was outrage, but closer examination convinced me that serious engagement is a more appropriate response, given aspects of Huxley’s legacy of which I was not aware. There is no doubt, however, that the movement to rename is seriously misguided, and can be traced back to the long-standing creationist tradition of pretending that evolution science is responsible for racism. The attack on Huxley, as spelt out in a submission by one member of the Task Force (Why is TH Huxley Problematic?) has therefore evoked a detailed rebuttal by Glenn Branch of the [US] National Center for Science Education.
With the encouragement of a WWU faculty member, I have drafted the following letter, for which I invite signatures. If you wish to add your name, and especially if you have some academic, educational, or related standing, and please let me know, either by comment here or by email to me at psbratermanATyahooDOTcom, giving me your name, and position(s) held. I will then include you among the signatories when I forward the letter to Paul Dunn firstname.lastname@example.org – President’s Chief of Staff and Chair of the Task Force, with copy to Sabah Randhawa email@example.com – President of the University. Alternatively, you may wish to write to them directly as an individual.
We welcome the opportunity to comment on the proposed renaming of Huxley College of the Environment.
We are used to making allowances for people of the past, on the grounds that their behavior was conditioned by their time and place. For example, your own University, and the State that it serves, are named after a slave-owner. But Huxley, his detractors may be surprised to hear, requires no such forgiveness. Like most Englishmen, and most scientists, of his time, he believed in the racial superiority of Europeans, and this misguided perspective affected his anthropological studies. It did not, however, affect his progressive social outlook, and as the evidence submitted to the Task Force shows, he was deeply opposed to slavery and to all forms of unequal treatment and discrimination, argued in favor of equal treatment for women and against Spenserian “Social Darwinism”, and campaigned vigorously on behalf of Abolition during the American Civil War.
The attack on Huxley has deep roots, and is part of a wider creationist strategy to discredit evolution science. For this reason, the case has attracted attention from as far away as Scotland and New Zealand. The creationist connection accounts for the presence, among critics of Huxley cited in support of renaming, of the creationist Discovery Institute, and of Jerry Bergman, associated with Creation Ministries International, among other suspect sources. Ironically in this context, Bergman once wrote for support to the National Association for the Advancement of White People.
However, despite these tainted connections, current discussion of renaming at Western Washington is part of a praiseworthy worldwide process of re-evaluation, and student involvement in this is to be commended. It may therefore be helpful to display prominently in the Huxley Building a brief summary of his achievements, including his campaigning against slavery, and on behalf of equal treatment for women, in which he was far ahead of his time.
This is the letter referred to in the post “TH Huxley’s legacy, a campus building renaming controversy, and appeal for signatures”
Legacy Review Task Force
Western Washington University
Dear members of the Legacy Review Task Force,
May 20, 2021
I write on behalf of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers
Association that works to promote and defend the integrity of science education.
NCSE applauds Western Washington University’s thoughtful and considered approach to studying the question of the naming of its Huxley College and appreciates the invitation to the public to offer input.
On the basis of its extensive experience and expertise with organizing opposition to pseudoscientific attacks on science education, particularly evolution and climate change, NCSE wishes to emphasize the importance of attending only to reliable and objective scholarship in considering Thomas Henry Huxley’s significance.
Because Huxley was so important in the history of science, his beliefs and actions have often been
misrepresented, taken out of context, or exaggerated by ideologues with axes to grind. Unfortunately, especially in the era of the Internet, it is easy for well-intentioned but ill-informed readers to be misled by the writings of such ideologues.
In particular, Laura Wagner’s “Why is TH Huxley Problematic?” (to be found on the Research and
Resources section of the Legacy Review Task Force material) cites the following problematic
· “Richard Owen and Charles Darwin on Race: A study in contrast,” a blog post that appeared on
a website styling itself Evolution News & Science Today. That website is operated by the
Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the de facto institutional home of
“intelligent design,” the latest incarnation of creationism.
· “T. H. Huxley’s Hideous Revolution in Science,” an essay that appeared in Executive Intelligence
Review, a newsletter published by the political movement founded by Lyndon LaRouche,
infamous for, among other things, denying the harmful effects on the environment of DDT,
chlorofluorocarbons, and greenhouse gases.
· The Darwin Effect, a book published by a creationist publisher and written by a young-earth
creationist who himself, in 1985, complained that he was the victim of reverse discrimination in
a letter to the newsletter of David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White
People (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/bergman-and-racism.html).
To be sure, the fact that the authors of these problematic resources have scientifically indefensible views and a record of promoting them through assassinating the characters of their opponents
does not, of itself, show that their specific claims about Huxley are mistaken. But it strongly
suggests that they are not worth taking seriously.
Instead, what ought to be taken seriously are the views of qualified scholars, and it is laudable that the Legacy Review Task Force solicited observations about Huxley’s significance from such
scholars as White, Lyons, Reidy, and Rupke. These observations do not of themselves settle the
question of the naming of Huxley College, but they, and similarly reliable and objective scholarship, rather than ideologically motivated attacks on Huxley, should be at the basis of any decision.
NCSE would be happy to discuss the provenance of the problematic resources with you further if
needed. In any case, we hope that the Legacy Review Task Force arrives at a satisfactory resolution to the question it faces.
Deputy Director, NCSE firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtroom Sketch of Ken Miller testifying at the Dover trial, via betterrightthanhappy
The lesson of Kitzmiller: Science bridges divides, by Nathan H. Lents and S. Joshua Swamidass, Dec 28, 2020 , shows how the Kitzmiller trial itself, and, more generally, the defence of science against obscurantism, bridges the gulf between believers and nonbelievers. My own view is that the deeper gulf is one found within all three Abrahamic religions, between those who are willing to accommodate their reading of the sacred texts to scientific (and I would add historical) reality, and those who insist that these texts, literally interpreted, are the infallible word of God.
Ken Miller, Genie Scott & Barbara Forrest: 15 Years After Dover, by Faizal Ali, Dec 26, 2020, with links to interviews of three major participants; Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, and Barbara Forrest. As many readers will know, Ken Miller, biology professor and major textbook author, has been defending evolution against creationist attacks for 40 years, Eugenie Scott was at the time director of the (US) National Center for Science Education, which acted as consultant to the plaintiffs and was instrumental in forming the legal strategy, and Barbara Forrest, philosopher, testified that the trial that Intelligent Design should not be considered science because of its reliance on the supernatural.
As this blog piece points out, that last argument (technically: intrinsic methodological naturalism) should give us pause, and is now rejected by many philosophers and scientists, including me, in favour of a provisional methodological naturalism that would be willing to examine supernaturalist explanations on their merits, if they had any. Indeed, the piece argues that judge Jones’ blistering verdict in this case was only made possible by the incompetence of the School Board, who made their religious motivation obvious.
The Discovery Institute continues to claim that Kitzmiller was wrongly decided, and even that “recent scientific discoveries have confirmed and extended the concept of irreducible complexity.” https://www.discovery.org/2019/01/revolutionary-michael-behes-intelligent-design-documentary-is-now-free-online/ Most recently, to mark the 15th anniversary of the trial, the DI featured a debate on the issues https://www.discovery.org/v/the-kitzmiller-v-dover-trial-and-intelligent-design-fifteen-years-on/ between Michael Behe and Joshua Swamidass. While I have a poor opinion of Behe’s ideas, I admire his willingness to discuss them. I would also praise him for not abandoning his post at the trial when things got difficult, unlike several of his Discovery Institute colleagues.
I was curious to see what are the major creationist organisations had to say about the trial, even though they were not directly involved. Answers in Genesis mentions Kitzmiller as part of a recent (December 2020) long discussion of US court cases, claiming that “The Kitzmiller ruling has stifled debate in classrooms and prevented full discussion of topics related to biological origins. The result is that indoctrination has replaced education, at least in this one area.” No need to spell out my own reaction to that claim. Also in December 2020, Creation Ministries International offers us a review, by Jerry Bergman, of Ron Milliner’s Fake Evidence: A look at evolutionary evidence for over 90 years in the court cases from Scopes to Kitzmiller, Elm Hill (Elm Hill Books appears to be a self-publishing service under the umbrella of HarperCollins Christian Publishing). This review is not yet available to non-subscribers, but it seems clear from elsewhere that the book’s title is a fair summary of its thesis, that it is yet another example of the evolution-is-a-conspiracy genre, and that Jerry Bergman can be expected to approve.
Every so often you come across a piece of writing so extraordinary that you cannot help but share it. One such piece is a sermon on global warming by American pastor John MacArthur. Full of beautifully constructed rhetorical flourishes, it is forcefully delivered by an experienced and impassioned preacher to a large and appreciative audience.
For me, as a man of science, it is the most complete compilation of unsound arguments, factual errors and misleading analogies as I have seen in discussions of this subject. But it’s important because climate change is a big election issue this November in the US, where there is a growing movement of evangelical Christians who deny its existence, while Joe Biden promises a “clean air revolution”.
The minister of the COVID-denying, law-defying Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California – which has encouraged worshippers to congregate as normal despite state COVID-19 restrictions – MacArthur is an impressive figure whose Study Bible has sold almost 2 million copies.
He regards the infallibility of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as essential to his faith, and his sermon about global warming can only be understood in that context. MacArthur’s rejection of the science is shared by other major US ministries and organisations such as Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International and the Discovery Institute.
Consensus science is the first refuge of scoundrels … invoked only in situations where there is a political, social, financial agenda but no scientific support.
The reverend has the most serious reasons possible for rejecting the scientific consensus concerning the age of the Earth, the origins of humankind, the history and prehistory of the ancient near East and the peopling of continents: it is totally incompatible with the Genesis account of creation, Adam and Eve, the flood and the dispersion of peoples from the Tower of Babel.
Error, denial and misunderstanding
As for global warming itself, the reverend channels standard climate change denial, but all his arguments are unsound and have been convincingly refuted to the satisfaction of an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists (see in-depth discussion at Skeptical Science). He understates the amount of global warming, incorrectly describes the full record as dating back only 30 years, and cites the Little Ice Age as evidence that the changes currently taking place are natural. There’s more:
Here’s the key, friends, this is the real deal. Legitimate science recognises a close correlation between sunspots and climate change … The sun is the source of temperature changes because of its infrared variations. … There is absolutely no evidence that CO₂ contributes to warming. On the contrary the opposite is true. Warming produces CO₂ … It’s the other way round.
Here we have a collection of half-truths and misunderstandings, typical of denialists claiming to represent “legitimate science”. As the graph below shows, the 11-year sunspot cycle is a minor deviation, and the temperature increase since 1980 has occurred despite the fact that over that period the amount of solar energy falling on Earth has gone down slightly. Incidentally, this solar energy input is concentrated mainly in the visible, not the infrared, region of the spectrum, and it is the roughly balancing heat outflow from the Earth that is in the infrared.
MacArthur offers a false dichotomy between saying that CO₂ warms the oceans, and warmer oceans release more CO₂. Unfortunately, both these statements are true. There is a positive feedback loop: human-released CO₂ is the primary driver, but its effect is amplified by the fact that yet more CO₂ is then released from non-human sources. Regarding CO₂ itself, MacArthur seems to be even more confused:
By the way, plants produce CO₂. What man produces is marginal … Industry doesn’t affect CO₂ in the environment or atmosphere.
Plants do produce CO₂ but they absorb more than they emit. However, when it comes to humans, their activity may cause only a small imbalance each year between CO₂ emission and natural uptake, but this imbalance is cumulative. CO₂ levels are now 50% above pre-industrial, and subtle atomic differences clearly show that fossil fuel is the source. But according to MacArthur, “There is no scientific reason to believe that ice caps are melting”.
Despite the Arctic Monitoring and Assement Programme’s video on this subject, the reverend does not think that the evidence for ice-cap melting is scientific, and that other factors are at play:
This is all political [and] financial agendas, class warfare, class envy … By the way, US$100 billion has been spent to make a case for global warming … driven by the socialist mentality … even some of the feminist mentality that resents male success.
All is now clear. Talk of global warming is part of a politically motivated conspiracy. But US$100 billion? That’s 600 years’ worth of all federal climate research spending. Clearly, those pesky socialists and feminists are formidable fundraisers. However, none of this matters because environmentalism is fundamentally misplaced. As MacArthur puts it, citing Revelation and the integrity of scripture:
God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.
And that is a statement that would leave anybody who cares about this world speechless.
This piece first appeared in The Conversation, where it has had over 300,000 reads. I thank my editor there, Jane Wright, for many helpful suggestions.
This from Matt Young on pandasthumb:
Does gold have a purpose? asks an unnamed author in Evolution News & Science Today. The author goes on to observe that there is more gold on earth than astrophysicists can account for and also that gold has risen to the surface of the earth faster than might be expected. They go on to note the “availability of many essential elements at the surface of the earth …” and also discuss the use of gold in medicine. They are somewhat breathless at the discovery that the body can metabolize gold:
Gold nanoparticles, which are supposed to be stable in biological environments, can be degraded inside cells, [boldface in original]
even though, as they note, gold salts have been used for decades in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
At any rate, the article stresses the “mystery of biological gold” and claims several hints why gold may have a purpose: its abundance and seemingly unlikely transport to the surface of the earth, the ability of cells to “metabolize” [sic] gold, the fact that gold persists in the body, and the usefulness of gold for therapeutics. The conclusion of the article is Read the rest of this entry
Mike Pence is a highly intelligent and extremely able trial lawyer, and a committed creationist. As I write, he is one heartbeat (or should we now say one breath?) away from being President of the United States, and in the event that Donald Trump manages to retain power in November, will be his heir apparent. Here is what I wrote about his stated views on creationism and evolution not long after he was sworn in as Vice-President. I hope that four weeks from today all of this will be of historical interest only, and am reposting this in order to help make that happen.
Above: Donald Trump risen from his hospital bed to reveal himself to his followers (Getty Images via Business Insider)
The now Vice-President of the United States stands accused of having said that evolution is “just a theory”; see here and here. No he did not say that. What he did say (full text below, with notes) was far, far worse. Much more detailed, much more closely argued, and much more dangerous. Read the rest of this entry
“You have good genes, you know that, right? You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.” – Donald Trump
“Donald Trump is now openly employing Nazi eugenicist rhetoric in his campaign of fear, hatred and bigotry. This has become a pure battle between good and evil.” – Michael Mann via Twitter. It is hard to disagree
But nothing here that should surprise us. Here’s a compilation of quotations that I first posted back in September 2016:
I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in
QUOTE: All men are created equal – that’s not true. When you connect two race horses, you usually end up with a fast horse. Secretariat doesn’t produce slow horses. I have a certain gene. I’m a gene believer. Do you believe in the gene thing? I mean I do. I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in.
I have like a very very high aptitude
Well I think I was born with a drive for success. I was born with a certain intellect. The fact is you have to be born and be blessed with something up there. God help me by giving me a certain brain. It’s this [tapping his head], it’s not my salesmanship. This – you know what that is? I have an Ivy League education [true, just about: he spent his last undergraduate year at Wharton, the business school of the University of Pennslyvania, which is Ivy League], smart guy. I have like a very very high aptitude.
I mean, like, I’m a smart person. You’re born a fighter, and I’ve seen a lot of people who want to fight but they can’t. Some people cannot genetically handle pressure.
I always said that winning is somewhat, maybe, innate. Maybe it’s just something you have; you have the winning gene. Frankly it would be wonderful if you could develop it, but I’m not so sure you can. You know I’m proud to have that German blood, there’s no question about it. Great stuff.
(We can’t pretend we weren’t told what he is and what he thinks about race. He told us)
Source: Yes I watched him say all this. Video at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-eugenics_us_57ec4cc2e4b024a52d2cc7f9
Letter in Dundee Courier; Watching out for religious hatred
Atheists see some merit in Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Bill, as it will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred.
It is utterly unacceptable that in progressive, social democratic Scotland that squalid, Bronze Age village disputes, as described in the Holy Books, about control of women, goats or water should give Scotland’s “Holy Willies” authority to spout out vitriol against atheists, agnostics, apostates, sceptics, non-believers, women, trans people and homosexuals.
We fully intend to monitor all Holy Books, sermons in places of worship and the social media accounts of the various religions and report any hatred to Police Scotland for criminal investigation.
Ian Stewart, Convener, Atheist Scotland, Park Avenue, Dundee.
Christian News takes Mr Stewart very seriously:
If passed, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill would criminalise words deemed “likely” to “stir up hatred” against particular groups. It would not require any proof of intent.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, warned against “the dangerous new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences”, saying that “they will give politically-motivated complainants like Mr Stewart a powerful weapon against their ideological opponents.”
He commented: “The threshold of the proposed offences is so low that Mr Stewart might well be able to persuade a police officer that certain unfashionable Bible verses or sermons are ‘hate crimes’. Does the Scottish Government really want to expose church ministers to the risk of prosecution at the instigation of anti-religious zealots?
Mr Calvert also pointed out that “Thankfully, Mr Stewart does not represent all atheists.”
The organisation “Atheist Scotland” does not seem to exist. But “Ian Stewart” sounds like someone I would like to get to know. The pending Hate Crime bill would certainly give him plenty of scope to carry out his threat, since it creates an offence of abusive speech likely to stir up hatred, whether there is any intent to stir up hatred and whether any hatred is stirred up or not, against members of various groups. Using the definitions in the Bill, these groups would include believers in different religions from the speaker, believers in no religion, homosexuals, transsexuals, and cross-dressers, all of whom you will find vilified in the Bible, while the Westminster Confession of Faith condemns all non-Christians to eternal conscious torment and serve them right.
The reality of course is that all the UK’s major secularists and humanist organisations, as well as a coalition ranging from the Free Church of Scotland to the Roman Catholics, have called (see e.g. Free to Disagree) for this bill in anything like its present form to be scrapped. There is no precedent for such diversity of opinion uniting around a cause, and for this, if nothing else, the Justice Minister is to be congratulated.