Roll over Nessie – dinosaur alive and well in Scottish Parliament

DinoMule

From Truth Be Told, text handed out in school assembly at Kirktonholme non-denominational Primary

 Post featured in this Sunday’s Herald, here

If you thought (like the books handed out to the children in Kirktonholme Primary) that dinosaurs were almost wiped out in the Flood and then used as beasts of burden until finished off by Nimrod the Mighty Hunter, I have news for you. We have a real live dinosaur sitting in the Scottish Parliament.

John Mason, MSP for Shettleston and a member of the governing Scottish National Party, has just tabled Motion S4M-12149, asking the Scottish Parliament to resolve that

… some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it; considers that none of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold, and further considers that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.

STV story here. Herald story here.

John Mason MSP

Source: Scottish Parliament website

John Mason’s challenge to me and pretty well every other scientist on the planet: prove the world was not created in six days. Now here’s my challenge to Mr Mason: prove you are not a dinosaur.

Via Amused Atheist

What is the evidence that you are not a dinosaur? Why is it not a valid belief for people to hold that you really are a dinosaur? How does the evidence compare with the evidence against a 6-day creation from geology, physics, astronomy and cosmology, geography, and I haven’t even started on the fossil record or molecular biology. I have decided that I believe, as a matter of faith, that you really are a dinosaur, and I maintain that this is a valid belief for people to hold, and further consider that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of this different belief system.

P1000073

Red soil layer produced by weathering between lava flows at the Giant’s Causeway. Click to enlarge. Photo by author

Off the top of my head, the evidence from geology presented by the geologist (later Bishop) Nicholas Steno in 1669, who established the science of stratigraphy. The evidence of Siccar Point, one of the most famous locations in Scotland, where rocks have been laid down, tilted, eroded, and covered by more rocks, as described over 200 years ago by the geologist (and theist) James Hutton. The evidence of the geological column, established during the 19th century by clergyman-geologists like William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick. Other evidence for lengthy processes between geological events, like the weathering at the Giants’ Causeway.

Physics: radiometric dating, first used by Rutherford and colleagues over 100 years ago, and checked and cross-checked many thousands of times since, using different isotope pairs. (And how do we know the clock runs true? Because, since the work of George Gamow in 1928, we have known that decay rates depend on fundamental physical constants, and if they had been different, so would the laws of physics and chemistry and we wouldn’t have the rocks anyway.)

Edinburgh to Siccar Point June-Jly 2012 051

Exposure immediately SE of Siccar Point, 80 minutes drive from Mr Mason’s constituency. Photo by author.

Astronomy and cosmology: around 1920, the Jesuit priest Georges Lemaitre had worked out (although Edwin Hubble gets most of the public credit) that the further away galaxies are from us, the faster they are receding. So running the film backwards, we infer an initial Big Bang (or, as Lemaitre called it, “Primal atom”) where all the matter in our Universe was aggregated at a single point. And according to the best curreent estimate, that took place 13.8 billion years ago, with a further 9 billion years needed to get from there to the processes forming our own Solar System. Making 6 days wrong by a factor of around half a trillion.

How the Sun vibrates. Observed power density plotted against frequency (milliHertz). This curve gives information about density and pressure within the Sun, and hence, when combined with long-established models of how stars work, its composition. Public domain via Wikipedia.

How about helioseismology? We can observe vibrations spreading throughout the Sun, use the data to infer how much of the Sun’s original hydrogen has been converted to helium, and calculate how long this would have taken. The answer comes out at 4.5 billion years, which is also the age of the Solar System as inferred from radiometric dating.

As to how far we know the galaxies to be, we can work that out by looking for supernova explosions. Simplifying slightly [I have to say that, because if they find any detail out of place the Creationist shout “Gotcha!”] all supernova explosions of a certain type release the same amount of energy. And apparent energy depends on distance. And we know that the speed of light hasn’t changed, because we can make sense of the patterns of light emitted by the most distant stars, so the laws of physics that dictate the speed of light haven’t changed since the light left these galaxies.

So we know that we have seen galaxies 12 billion light-years away. Which means that they’ve been receding from us for 12 billion years. Not 6 days.

Geography: we have the facts of plate tectonics, as shown by the movement of continents (which we can now follow directly by satellite), and confirmed by palaeomagnetism, showing how the earth’s plates have moved relative to its magnetic field. The reasoning is so simple that a child can follow it, and in fact I’ve reviewed a children’s book that explains it.

And remember, we haven’t even started on the fossil record, or the life sciences.

AliceRoberts

Prof Alice Roberts, palaeoanatomist, with skull of close relative of distant ancestor. From Prof Roberts website.

Now the evidence that John Mason is not a dinosaur. Pretty thin by comparison. Comparative anatomy? If you accept that, you will also have to accept that comparative anatomy shows we’re chimps, with some twenty or so known extinct species more or less intermediate between us and our last common ancestor with the other two surviving chimp species. Physiology and molecular biology? Tush! Go with that, the same kind of evidence as we use in our law courts to establish family relationships, and you end up second cousin to a monkey and fourth cousin to a mushroom. Not what you have in mind.

Intelligent behaviour? On present showing, pit you against a velociraptor and my money’s on the ‘raptor, every time.

And so I think all Scottish schoolchildren, or at a very minimum all schoolchildren in Mr Mason’s constituency, be made aware of the theory that Mr Mason is an Intelligently Designed dinosaur. Otherwise we risk bringing them up with closed minds; minds closed against what we know from overwhelming evidence to be utter absurdities. And that would never do.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on January 24, 2015, in Creationism, Education, Geology, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Wikipedia says Mason attends Easterhouse Baptist Church. Well, I never. He also has no background in science.

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  2. “around 1920, the Jesuit priest Georges LeMaitre had worked out (although Edwin Hubble gets most of the public credit)”
    Even less credit gets Alexander Friedmann, who did this three years before Lemaitre (M without capital – the man was from Belgium). That’s perhaps because he was an atheist commie. He was also a teacher of the same Gamow you mention, before the latter went to the USA. Hubble provided the empirical confirmation.
    This is just nitpicking though. Excellent piece.

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    • Thanks. Friedman? True, though AFAIK Friedmann’s work was purely theoretical, while LeMaitre and Hubble used Slipher’s observed galactic red shifts. And you are of course right about how to spell Lemaitre (don’t know how to circumflex with this keyboard); I just checked his 1927 Belgian paper. I’m editing accordingly

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  3. Fermi bubbles – streams of gas flowing from the centre of the galaxy away from the disc. We know the speed of the gas, we know the distance of the gas from where it emanates. The calculation is easy, the gas left its starting point over 2 Million years ago. Well, that wraps it up for a young universe cosmology then, doesn’t it ?

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  4. I think human being (especially scientists) should have a minimum of modesty. We always thought that 99% of our DNA was “junk” but now we know that it is not, or the central dogma (DNA-RNA-Protein) which is not as simple as it seemed, when DNA was discovered we thought that we had the code of life but epigenetics said no it is not just about A,T,G or C (just an example). The more I discover now things the more I belive that we (humans) are so ingorants relatively to the huge amount of information that we can’t get yet in all fields.

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  5. Hamish MacAllosaur

    Dear Sir
    I must take issue with this appalling suggestion that Scottish dinosaurs might have some genetic relationship to the MSP John Mason. We await your grovelling apology, or else. Grrr.

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  6. Dinosaurs were also not known for a high brain to body size ratio. Just saying…

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  7. Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin and commented:
    How silly can one get!!

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  8. Brilliant! — although I’m sure you’ll be getting letters from dinosaurs angered by the comparison.

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  1. Pingback: Wonderful Life · Young Earth Creationism can’t be disproved? Really?

  2. Pingback: Flaming Idiot in the Scottish Parliament | The Sensuous Curmudgeon

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