Category Archives: Accommodationism

Intelligent Design is not Design!

A lengthy scholarly discussion by my friend Michael Roberts of the concept of design, from Paley to the present day, making important distinctions between different concepts of design, and placing the Intelligent Design (ID) movement in context. The author, a geologist and historian (and CofE priest), argues that Paley’s concept of the individual design of organisms was obsolete long before Darwin, given the discoveries of deep time and the rich sequential fossil record. Present-day ID is a curious hybrid, and its evolution is discussed in some detail. However, neither the refutation of Paley nor the demolition of ID affect broader design arguments, such as that from fine-tuning or the glory of the natural world. (Disclosure: as my friends will know, I do not find these latter arguments convincing, but I do consider them worthy of respect, and have criticised attempts to use them as justification for evolution-denying creationism, which is not.)

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

Old Scratch



The first thing I should do is to define what Design is. That would be no easy task as the word is used in so many different ways to mean so many different things. I hope some of the variety of meanings comes clear in this paper. Part of the confusion is that Design can be synonymous with the teleological argument for the existence of God, but often it is more restricted to biological structures. Hence Design means different things to different people. Distinguishing between these meanings is important as confusion reigns when one switches from one to another. To give a rough typology there are four types of design;

1 Design of the universe; – front-loading or teleological (fine tuning)

2. Guidance of natural processes through history; Asa Gray

3. Ahistorical recognition of biological structures as designed; Hooke, Paley,


View original post 8,589 more words

In defense of accommodationism

Respectfully reblogged from Pigliucci’s Plato’s Footnote. Historically, an accommodationist was a believer who, like William Buckland (Dean of Westminster), or the Free Church of Scotland theologian Henry Drummond, sought to accommodate their interpretation of their faith to scientific discoveries. More recently, the term has been used to refer to those who neglect to sufficiently disparage religion while expounding science, a neglect that some consider sinful.

Footnotes to Plato

science and religionA recent essay I wrote for The Philosophers’ Magazine online has, predictably perhaps, generated a minor storm (well, more likely a tempest in a teacup, but still). The piece is what I thought amounted to a mild, substantive criticism of a well reasoned piece by independent philosopher Russell Blackford, entitled Against accommodationism: How science undermines religion. Russell, in turn, was reviewing (very, very positively) the latest book by biologist and New Atheist Jerry Coyne, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. I am a known critic of New Atheism (though myself an atheist) so I figured I’d add my two cents once again.

View original post 1,358 more words

Casey Luskin leaves Discovery Institute; I will miss him

Center_for_Science_and_Culture_(logo)Casey Luskin has just announced his departure from the Discovery Institute, in order to further his studies. We will miss the enlightenment that he brings. For example, in his farewell piece, he tells us that

Evolutionary biologists are now admitting we need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion.

Casey is right; we really do need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion. Things like Mendelian inheritance, mutation, population genetics, and, in this context, palaeogeochemistry, which is why evolutionary biologists have been decidedly post-Darwinian since around 1905.

Casey does not tell us what he is going to study, but I rather hope that it will be chemistry. Then, in due course, he will be fully equipped to explain to us that Dalton couldn’t even get the structure of water right, that Faraday’s electrical theory of bonding needs to be revised in the light of quantum mechanics, that many of the postulated intermediates in chemical reactions have never even been observed, that (as predicted by Intelligent Alchemy) many of Lavoisier’s elements turn out not to be elements at all, and that our schools should allow students to evaluate for themselves the unwarranted metaphysical assumptions of chemical materialism, and the merits of the phlogiston theory.

Disclosure: unlike many far better people, I have been insulted by Casey only once, when he accused me and the British Centre for Science Education of concealing our atheism for tactical reasons. Guilty as charged; we conceal it so well that one of BCSE’s most prominent members at the time, now its official spokesman, is an Anglican priest. Devious, these evolutionists. You need to watch them.

Casey, you will be sadly missed.

Update; more here: The word is that he will be replaced by Ann Gauger, who knows more biochemistry and therefore has, and uses, a  much greater capacity for misunderstanding.

Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates

This article explains exactly what endogenous retroviruses are, the many distinctive features that leave no doubt as to their identity, and how they provide crushingly strong evidence for common ancestry. The argument from endogenous retroviruses to evolution in general, and to specific family trees, is to my mind one of the most immediately convincing (compare, 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, Sec. 4.5).

As the article points out, the odds against any ERV occurring in the same place in humans and chimps is about 1 in 10^4; humans and chimps share 100,000 ERVs in the same locations, and the odds against this would then be 1 in 10^400,000. By my arithmetic, allowing for the 0.1% where there is no match changes this to 1 in 10^399,800, still a ridiculously vast number.

I would also have welcomed numbers showing where gorillas, for instance, fit into the picture, and numbers of ERVs specific to each species.

The final section of this post is addressed to those who, like the author, regard the Bible as divinely inspired but not as literally true. The argument goes back to Maimonides, if not Augustine, and here forms part of the ongoing civil war within the Abrahamic religions between Fundamentalists and Modernists. Not my battle.

Letters to Creationists

Introduction to Endogenous Retroviruses

Advances in biochemical technology since 2000 have allowed us to determine the full DNA sequences for humans and other animals. This new information has illuminated our evolutionary history. A number of patterns in our DNA are consistent with a common ancestry of humans and other primates.

One such genetic feature is the distribution of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) in our genomes. As most readers know, viruses work by introducing their RNA or DNA into a host cell, and hijacking the host cell’s genetic machinery to start making more copies of the virus. Some viruses, called “retroviruses”, do this by having their RNA transcribed into DNA, which then gets inserted into the cell’s DNA genome. (This is considered “retro”, because normally in a cell DNA is transcribed into RNA, not the other way around). The HIV virus that causes AIDS is an example of a retrovirus. Once the…

View original post 4,851 more words

The Scopes “Monkey trial”, Part 2: Evidence, Confrontation, Resolution, Consequences

Darrow: Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?

Bryan: No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.

Both sides, I will argue, were long-term loses in this exchange. But why were such matters being discussed in Tennessee court of law in the first place?

Part 1: the story so far: An extraordinary case indeed, where a school teacher, with the encouragement of his own superintendent, volunteers to go on trial in the State court for the crime of teaching from the State’s approved textbook, and where that same superintendent will be the first witness called against him. And where a mere misdemeanour case, with a maximum penalty of $500, could attract the participation of William Jennings Bryan, former US Secretary of State, and Clarence Darrow, America’s most famous trial lawyer and an agnostic.


Billy Sunday preaching

In the run-up to the case, we even have the involvement of Billy Sunday, possibly the greatest of all pre-television evangelists, whose 18 day crusade in Memphis, Tennessee, was attended by some 200,000 people. Billy Sunday told his audiences that Darwin was an infidel: “To hell with the Modernists. Education today is chained to the devil’s throne. Teach evolution? Teaching about pre-historic man? No such thing as prehistoric man.” (Billy Sunday appealed to a broad public. He hosted a “Negro Night”, which 15,000 attended. There was also a Klan Night.)


John Scopes in 1925

The facts were not in dispute. Scopes had of course taught evolution, although the law said he shouldn’t. So it was really the law itself that was on trial. The ACLU was hoping to prove it unconstitutional because unreasonable, ambiguous, and an affront to freedom of conscience. Unreasonable because it opposed established science. Ambiguous because the Bible, to which it referred, was itself open to numerous interpretations. And an affront to freedom of conscience, because it imposed a preference for one religion (Christianity), and indeed one school of thought (the Fundamentalist) within that religion. These arguments were, according to the defence, fatal flaws in the prosecution indictment, which should therefore be quashed. The judge, however, was determined not to issue a ruling of that nature, and ordered the case to proceed. Now read on.

The defence case built on the above arguments. According to their interpretation of the statute, in order to be guilty Scopes would have had to do two separate things; (a) teach that humans were descended from lower animals, and (b) by that teaching, contradict the Bible. But the exact text of the Bible, how it should be understood, and even which books should be included in it were matters of controversy. The Bible was not a science textbook, and

[T]here is no more justification for impos­ing the conflicting views of the Bible on courses of biology than there would be for imposing the views of biologists on courses of com­parative religion. We maintain that science and religion embrace two separate and distinct fields of thought and learning.

Accepting the Bible need not (and for the many Christians who accepted evolution did not) imply accepting the literal truth of the Genesis account. Bryan himself had praised Jefferson’s doctrine that governments had no business regulating religion, but that was exactly what the Tennessee Legislature had done by passing this law. In addition, since Scopes was accused of teaching evolution, it was necessary to establish what evolution science consisted of. The prosecution, more than once, had said that according to evolution man [1] was descended from monkeys. Not so; man and monkey shared a common ancestor, some time in the distant past. The human embryo, at various stages, had gill slits, then a tail, then hair. Evolution played a central role, not only in pure science, but in the applied sciences of medicine and agriculture. All this, and much more, the defence hoped to establish by calling expert witnesses.

None of this was to the liking of the prosecution, who attempted to interrupt even this bare outline, but the judge ruled that he needed to hear what the defence case would be, before deciding whether or not to exclude it. His eventual decision was that while the expert evidence was in his own view inadmissible, and should not be presented to the jury, it should nonetheless be entered into the trial record, for the benefit of the superior courts.

It did not take long for the prosecution to establish its facts. Scopes had reviewed Hunter’s Civic Biology, and in the course of doing so had taught the offending doctrine.

Most (not all) of the defence evidence was submitted in writing, since the judge allowed only part of it to be read out in court, and even that in the absence of the jury. However, I will not differentiate here between spoken and written evidence, and can only give a few samples of the extensive material. Distinguished churchmen testified that one could be flexible in one’s view of the Bible, to the point of accepting evolution, and still be a good Christian. A scholarly Rabbi testified that the King James translation of Genesis was incorrect. In order to counteract rumours to the contrary, former President Woodrow Wilson wrote that

Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.

William Bateson, the evolutionary biologist who coined the term “genetics”, had said at a Toronto conference that

I have put before you very frank­ly the considerations which have made us agnostic as to the actual mode and processes of evolution. When such confessions  are made the enemies of science see their chance. If we cannot declare here and now how species arose, they will oblig­ingly offer us the solutions with which obscurantism is satisfied.

As had indeed happened (see Bryan’s planned closing speech, below), prompting Bateson to submit a letter stating that

We do know that the plants and animals, in­cluding most certainly man, have been evolved from other and very different forms of life. As to the nature of this process of evolution, we have many conjectures, but little positive knowledge. The campaign against the teach­ing of evolution is a terrible example of the way in which truth can be perverted by the ignorant.

One other submission, by Professor Horatio Hackett Newman of Chicago, is noteworthy as a summary of the evidence for evolution that can still serve as a model today. As Prof Newman said, we can observe evolution in the present, which entitles us to invoke it as explanation, over much longer periods of time, in the past. The principle of evolution is “the one great law of life”, and stands in the first rank among natural laws because of the range of observational tests it has undergone, in every conceivable way, for more than half a century (remember that these words were written in 1925; we would now say more than a century and a half). As Newman put it,

The evidences of evolution that we shall investigate are contained with­in the following fields of biology:

First – Comparative anatomy or morphology, the science of structure. Second – Taxonomy, the science of classification. Third – Serology the science of blood tests. Fourth – Embryology the science of development. Fifth – Paleontology, the science of extinct life. Sixth – Geographic distribution, the study of the horizontal distribution of closely similar species upon the earth’s surface.  Seventh – Genetics, the analytlc and experimental study of evolutionary processes going on today.

The only alteration a present-day exponent of evolution would make, is to replace serology (a crude estimate of degree of tissue similarity based on immune responses) with the enormously more refined methods of protein and DNA sequencing. The coming together of this new knowledge, undreamt of at the time of the trial, with the other lines of evidence listed, is as breathtaking as the coming together of lines of masonry in the ceiling of a Gothic cathedral.


Tetrapod forelimbs display homology. Related parts coloured for clarity. Note the arm-like structure, in particular, of the whale’s flipper

The anatomical evidence included the homologous structures of the human arm, the whale’s flipper, the wing of a bird and, less obviously until detailed examination is undertaken, the front leg of a horse. Special creation, on the other hand, “implies a slavish adherence to a preconceived ideal plan together with capricious departures from the plan in various instances.”

Comparative anatomy clearly enables us to distinguish between homologies related to common descent, and the merely analogous independent evolution of similar but unrelated organs. Further anatomical evidence comes from vestigial organs, including transient vestigial organs such as the hind limb buds in a whale embryo. Taxonomy gives us nested classifications; dogs as varieties of the wolf species within the canid genus within the order of Carnivora within mammals within vertebrates within chordates within the Animal kingdom. Taxonomy also places man among the primates, another order within the class of mammals. Man is a species with at least four subspecies (present-day science would blur the boundaries, but that does not affect the argument), evidence of a long evolutionary history incompatible with biblical chronology.

Serology in Newman’s time depended on inducing an immune response in rabbits to one particular species, which would then show a similar immune response to a second, related species, and the greater the biochemical similarity between the species, the stronger that response would be. Remarkably, Newman correctly used this evidence to place whales as most closely related to hoofed animals, and specifically to swine, a conclusion that was not generally accepted until the 1990s.


Human embryo at 6 weeks. Note umbilical cord, yolk sac (a vestigial organ), gill arches, and tail

Embryology recapitulates common ancestry (for an outstanding discussion of this, see Alice Roberts’ prize-winning The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being). Thus the human embryo at an early stage has a two-chamber heart, like a fish, and gill slits, and diverges from the anthropoid apes only in the final stages of development. Palaeontology is closely related to geology, with “a general progression toward more highly specialized forms as one proceeds from lower to higher strata.” The fossil record is patchy (I do not think one would say this now; see for example Prothero’s What the Fossils Say and why it Matters). While reasonably complete for the horse it is [was] patchy for humans, but progress is being made. (Newman, interestingly, explicitly reserves judgement on Piltdown Man. Progress was indeed being made, but the Taung Child, mentioned in Part 1, and referred to in other written evidence, seems to have come just too late for Newman’s deposition.)

Newman’s argument from geographical distribution comes straight out of Darwin, but rings as true today as when it was first minted.[2] Continental islands such as the Galapagos are inhabited by species generally similar to those of the adjacent mainland, whereas those of oceanic islands, such as Hawaii, had until human intervention very different flora and fauna, related to such species as might, from time to time, survive a long ocean journey.

Genetics, in brief, shows evolution in action in the present day. And all these signs of evidence come together in supporting the great evolutionary explanation of resemblance as the result of relationship.

For balance, I should at this point summarise the arguments in the speech that Bryan had planned to make at the end of the trial (see below for how this plan was frustrated), and no doubt formed the basis of the speeches that he did give in the days immediately following. It will not improve our opinion of Bryan’s logic, but will help explain his motivation. And if we are not interested in this, we will not be able to reach out to those we most need to persuade.

The law was not a restriction on Scopes’s freedom as an individual, but merely on his actions as a state employee. Christianity welcomes science, but nothing can be scientific unless it is true, and whatever is true must agree with the Bible. Evolution was a mere hypothesis (here he misquoted Bateson, as Bateson had foreseen; see above). No one had demonstrated the transformation of one species into another, and despite the circumstantial evidence in favour of evolution, this was a fatal flaw. Bryan then brought five specific indictments against evolution. First, it disputes the truth of the Bible. Secondly, it leads, as the horrible example of Charles Darwin himself shows, by way of non-literal reading of the Bible towards agnosticism if not atheism, and the denial of revelation and of eternal life. Half of all academic scientists are atheists, and many students lose their faith while at university. Thirdly, evolution diverts attention from pressing problems of great importance to trivial speculation, and deadens the spiritual life of its students:

Christians desire that their children shall be taught all the sciences, but they do not want them to lose sight of the Rock of Ages while they study the age of rocks; neither do they desire them to become so absorbed in meas­uring the distance between the stars that they will forget Him who holds the stars in His Hand.

Fourthly, evolution deadens the urge for reform, and denies the possibility of individual redemption. “Evolution makes a mockery of the Lord’s Prayer!” Bryan’s fifth indictment is that evolution is based on the survival of the fittest, militates against compassion, and justifies eugenics and the politics of force. It devalues human life, as had been so apparent in the Great War, and is even associated (Bryan never explained the association) with sexual permissiveness. Science had made war more terrible than ever, so that our need for the moral guidance that Christianity offers was greater than ever. But evolution degrades the Saviour’s name,

For, carried to its logical conclusion, it robs Christ of the story of a virgin birth, of the majesty of His deity and mission and of the triumph of His resurrection. It also disputes the doctrine of the atonement.… The case has assumed the proportions of a battle-royal between unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science and the defenders of the Christian faith, speaking through the legislators of Tennessee. It is again a choice between God and Baal.

Bryan is not attacking a straw man. In his speech he quotes from The New Decalogue of Science, by Alfred Wiggam, typical of the highly influential eugenicist literature of the time, which warns that compassionate social policies would lead to a weakening of the race, and states eugenics as the highest duty of government (for samples of his text see here and here). Wiggam himself was actively campaigning into the 1940s. More than 30 US States passed compulsory sterilisation laws.  Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race, which mingles evolution, racism, and eugenics, was influential in the passage of the 1924 US Immigration Act, just one year before Bryan drafted this speech. This book described the Nordic race as the most advanced, and helped justify a policy that excluded Jews and other Eastern European immigrants.

Bryan is also appealing to religion as the basis for morality. As I have argued elsewhere, the fact that such reasoning is logically unsound does not reduce its psychological appeal, and as Kenan Malik argues in his The Quest for a Moral Compass, we have been struggling with this tension, with doubtful success, for over 2000 years. Finally, Bryan is searching for the comfort of certainty in an uncertain world, and like other creationists he points to the uncertain and provisional nature of scientific knowledge, as if that were a crucial weakness rather than, paradoxically, its greatest strength.

Many of the detailed points raised by Bryan are still being raised today. The claim that evolution is only a theory, that it speculates when jumping over missing links, that plant breeders had only produced varieties within species (“microevolution”), that unnamed great scientists are divided about evolution, that scientific disputes about mechanisms imply doubt about the basic fact of evolution, that if you teach children they are animals they will behave like animals, that evolutionists are intolerant when they demand that their views should be the only one taught, and that schools should teach according to the wishes of the taxpayers who fund them.

Clarence Darrow, a famous Chicago lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan, defender of Fundamentalism, have a friendly chat in a courtroom during the Scopes evolution trial. Darrow defended John T. Scopes, a biology teacher, who decided to test the new Tenessee law banning the teaching of evolution. Bryan took the stand for the prosecution as a bible expert. The trial in 1925 ended in conviction of Scopes. ca. 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, USA

Darrow and William Jennings Bryan having a friendly chat in a courtroom during the trial

The enduring interest in the Scopes trial comes mainly from the final afternoon of evidence, when Darrow called Bryan to the witness stand (actually, by this stage, a wooden chair on the courthouse lawn) to testify regarding the contents of the Bible. This testimony also would be  entered into the trial record, but heard in the absence of the jury, who missed one of the most dramatic episodes in legal history. One hardly knows where to begin when discussing this manoeuvre. The strangest thing of all is that Bryan rose to the bait. Judge Raulston made it very clear that he was under no obligation to testify. The cross-examination had nothing directly to do with the point at issue; no possible relevance to what Scopes may or may not have taught in the classroom, and Darrow’s questioning made no reference to the subject under discussion, namely human evolution. Bryan was placing himself at Darrow’s mercy, where Darrow, as one of the world’s best cross-examining lawyers, had total control over what questions would be raised. Indeed, Bryan had on an earlier occasion refused such an asymmetric contest, saying that he would answer Darrow’s questions only if Darrow would agree, turn by turn, to answer his. Bryan did ask whether he would be allowed to call Darrow to the witness stand, but any such idea must have been forgotten long before the afternoon was over.

After some preliminary generalities, Darrow asked whether Bryan believed that Jonah had been swallowed by a whale. A big fish, rather than a whale, otherwise yes. Then a revealing statement of Bryan’s attitude to miracles:

Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another. When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.

Darrow moved on to some deeply searching questions about the biblical passage that describes how Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still, until the Israelite victory was complete. How could this be, when we know that it is not the Sun but the Earth that moves? With great reluctance, Bryan admitted that it must have been the Earth that stood still, and that the Bible was “using language at that time that the people understood.” Yet Bryan denied that this was his interpretation of the passage; to admit that the Bible could be open to different interpretations would undermine the entire Fundamentalist case.

He conceded slowly, under questioning, that actually it must have been the Earth that stood still. At this point, Attorney-General Stewart, the lead prosecutor, interrupted to object that this cross-examination had nothing to do with the trial. Bryan, however, insisted on ploughing on, and did not seem to have even anticipated Darrow’s rather obvious follow-up question:

Q– Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?
Q–You have not?
A– No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.
Q– I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
A– No.
Q–Don’t you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?

A–I would want to hear expert testimony on that.
Q–You have never investigated that subject?
A–I don’t think I have ever had the question asked.
Q–Or ever thought of it?
A–I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that.

For what it’s worth, Darrow was mistaken here. The kinetic energy of the Earth’s rotation would be enough to heat it up somewhere between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius, not to melt it. However, the inertia of the oceans would have generated continent-size tsunamis, and making the Earth stand still would have required a temporary suspension of the most basic laws of physics. This is not a problem for Bryan, who thinks that God’s capacity for miracles is boundless.

It gets worse. When asked whether he accepts the date for the Flood [sic] of 4004 BC, Bryan waffles and does not seem to know what that date was based on, although all that is involved is simple arithmetic based on the biblical genealogies. Regarding the age of the Earth, he initially refuses to say whether he accepts Bishop Ussher’s date or not, although he was in fact perfectly ready (as becomes clear later in the cross questioning) to treat each biblical “day” as an age. Here Bryan is fighting on two fronts. He did not want to admit that it is legitimate to impose an interpretation of the Bible, because that would concede too much to the Modernists. On the other hand, he needed to play down the deep division between his own Old Earth creationism, and that of extreme Adventist literalism. He claimed widespread scientific support for his views, but when pressed could only name one; George McCready Price, whom he described as a Professor of Geology at Lodi College near Lincoln, Nebraska. In fact, Price had left Lodi (which was just a boarding school in California) in 1915, was at the time teaching at a Seventh Day Adventist College in England. and had almost no formal training in geology. Pricewas a fierce Young earth creationist, who argued that fossils could not be dated, and that all the sedimentary rocks were deposited during Noah’s Flood.

While Bryan was stumbling over the day-age issue, the judge himself intervened, questioning the relevance of the testimony, but Bryan insisted on continuing, not, as he said, for the benefit of the appellate court, but to show his willingness to defend the Bible against detractors.

Bryan had already affirmed his belief in a literal tower of Babel, at which peoples had first been divided by language, and his lack of interest in the evidence that distinct civilisations with different languages had existed before the time specified in Genesis for this division. When questioned, he also affirmed his belief in a literal Adam and Eve, and in Eve having been made out of Adam’s rib. When asked if he knew where Cain got his wife, he replied “No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.” Somewhat belatedly, he defended on purely textual grounds his day-age interpretation of Genesis 1, admitted to believing in a literal serpent that crawls upon its belly as punishment for its role in the Fall, and interrupted shrewd questioning about the origin of the rainbow to say that Darrow was trying to use the court to slur the Bible. With the words “I am exempting you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on Earth believes”, Darrow concluded his cross questioning, and the court adjourned.

I am amazed by how poorly both sides conducted themselves here. Bryan comes over as ill-prepared for questions that any defender of the biblical text should have been well aware of, while Darrow has scored a pyrrhic victory, by ridiculing his opponent and all his supporters. There is nothing unbiblical or subversive in interpreting the story of Jonah as a parable. One can imagine atmospheric lensing that would make the observed Sun, as source of light, stay in place in the heavens (incredible perhaps, but less incredible than Bryan’s alternatives). And had he really not thought about where Cain’s wife came from? (We are told that Adam and Eve had other children, and there was as yet no law against incest.) Bryan would also have done well to explain at the first opportunity, rather than having it wormed out of him, the day-age interpretation of Genesis. He made a few wisecracks that went down well with his own supporters in the crowd but, surprisingly for an experienced politician, he seems to have been quite oblivious of how his performance would appear to the 200 newsmen present at the trial, and refused repeatedly opportunities to bring his ordeal to an end, something that only happened when, eventually, even Darrow had had enough.

Darrow, a highly experienced trial lawyer, I find even more puzzling. Ridicule is a powerful weapon, but not if one wants to win over those who will identify with its victim. Repeatedly, Darrow insults the crowd; “bleachers”, “down here in the hills”, “your fool religion”, “where have you lived all your life? [Answer: Not near you] Nor near anybody of learning?” The only excuse I can offer is that he may have been so afraid of the spread of Fundamentalism that he was willing to play on northern prejudice in order to quarantine it in the deep South.

Bryan still had one powerful shot in his locker; his closing speech on behalf of the prosecution. But he would not be allowed to deliver it. When the court convened the next day, Darrow suggested, and it was agreed, that the judge instruct the jury to find Scopes guilty on the basis of the evidence offered, and then summed up for the defence by saying that he could offer them no reason to do otherwise. This, of course, made any further proceedings unnecessary. Scopes was duly found guilty, and Judge Raulston, after discussion with the jury, imposed a $100 fine, the minimum the law allowed.

The appeal was an anticlimax. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that, since the fine had been imposed by the judge, when by law the amount should have been decided by the jury, the penalty should be quashed, and, on the grounds that Scopes had by then left the employ of the State, directed that the case be allowed to lapse.

Bryan, an overweight diabetic, travelled hundreds of miles in the blistering summer heat, and made two major speeches, in the days following the trial. Then, on the following Sunday, he died in his sleep during an afternoon nap. Scopes, who took no pleasure in his brief celebrity status, won a scholarship to the University of Chicago and became a professional geologist. Darrow retired from full time practice shortly after the Scopes Trial, but appeared in a few further high profile cases, and died in 1938.

A whole series of cases (Epperson v Arkansas   McLean v Arkansas, Edwards v Aguillard, Kitzmiller v Dover) have by now established that under the First Amendment separation between Church and State, evolution should not be suppressed, and creationism (including such variants as Creation Science and Intelligent Design) should not be taught, in US publicly funded schools. In addition, new national standards in the US and in England (but not yet in Scotland) require the teaching of evolution to all schoolchildren. Yet increasingly US school boards and States are finding their way round this, by giving parents vouchers that can be used to pay the fees for nominally independent creationist schools.

Deplorable that they do this; even more deplorable, perhaps, that they even want to. The key here lies in the 2011Science article, “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, but not in the Classroom“, which found that only 28% of high school teachers gave lessons on evolution, while 13% refrained because they were themselves creationists. As for the remaining 60%, they wanted to avoid controversy with parents or with children who had been taught creationist arguments, were themselves often unsure about how to handle questions on the subject, and simply avoided teaching it.

Within creationism, Intelligent Design supplies intellectual topdressing, but is increasingly blatant in its tactical alliance with biblical creationism, and within biblical creationism, on the principle that the most uncompromising claim is the most authentic, the dominant school is now Young Earth creationism, reinforced by the Flood Geology of Whitcomb and Morris. This is itself a retreading of the Adventist views of George McCready Price, whom we have already met (see Part 1), and who seems to have been the real long-term beneficiary of the trial.

Price, a Seventh day Adventist, regarded Darwin as having been inspired by Satan. While this post was being revised, his view was echoed by fellow-Adventist Ben Carson, currently running for the Republican nomination for the 2016 US Presidential election. Carson is neither stupid nor ignorant; on the contrary, he is a distinguished neurosurgeon, former Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and led the first team of surgeons to separate twins born joined at the skull. My friend Michael Roberts’ post, which I reblogged yesterday, explores the historical origins of this Adventist creationism. I can only wonder at the power of such a faith.

1] I have not attempted to use gender-free language. Such language would not be appropriate for the time and place of this trial, where all the active participants, including attorneys, witnesses, and jury, were male.

2] Wallace, of course, made major contributions here, and the line separating Asiatic from Australasian fauna is still known as the Wallace Line.

Sources as in Part 1. Billy Sunday portrait by George Bellows, Metropolitan Magazine 1915, via Wikipedia. Scopes photo from Smithsonian (public domain). Darrow and Bryan chatting, author unknown, via Wikipedia. Forelimb homology image from Monroe W. Strickberger, Evolution, Third Edition. Human foetus from babycenter photo gallery. An earlier version of this piece appeared in 3 Quarks Daily.

The Scopes “Monkey trial”, Part 1: Issues, Fact, and Fiction

What is the purpose of this examination?

We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States, and that is all.


Dayton Courthouse today

Inherit the Wind, the prism through which the public sees the Scopes Trial, is a travesty. William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted Scopes, was neither a buffoon nor a biblical literalist but moved by deep concerns that continue to merit attention. He did not protest at the leniency of Scopes’s punishment, but offered to pay the fine out of his own pocket. Nor did he collapse in defeat at the end of the trial, but drove hundreds of miles, and delivered two major speeches, before dying in his sleep a week later. Scopes, on trial for the crime of teaching evolution in Tennessee state school, was never at risk of prison. He was no martyr, but a willing participant in a test case, actively sought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and his subsequent career was as geologist, not school teacher. He was found guilty, quite understandably given the wording of the law. On appeal, his conviction was quashed on a technicality, bypassing the need to rule on the deeper issues, much to the dismay of his supporters. Worse; on what we would now regard as the crucial issue, whether the law against teaching evolution in State schools violated the constitutional separation of Church and State, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that

We are not able to see how the prohibition of teaching the theory that man has descended from a lower order of animals gives preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship.

The law prohibiting the teaching of evolution affected textbooks for a while, but its impact was fading within a decade. However, it was not repealed until 1967, when Soviet accomplishments in space were forcing Americans to examine the state of US science education. A similar law, passed in Arkansas through citizens’ initiative, survived until 1968, when in Epperson v Arkansas,  the US Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition on teaching evolution was based on religion and therefore unconstitutional. As for the doctrine that creationism itself is religion, not science, and therefore should not be taught in public schools, that was not established in the US courts until McLean v Arkansas,1982 and at Supreme Court level Edwards v Aguillard, 1987, Justice Scalia dissenting.

The play does not even claim historical accuracy. It was written in 1951, and the preface (free download from here, p.11) states

Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during a scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely of its own.

Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial.

…The collision of Brian and Darrow at Dayton was dramatic, but it was not a drama. Moreover, the issues of their conflict have acquired new dimension and meaning in the 30 years since they clashed at the Rhea County Courthouse. So Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as “Not long ago.” It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.

“Could be tomorrow”, in 1951, when there had been no monkey trials since 1925? Clearly, the play is not about those events in Dayton, but a comment on the anti-intellectual mob rule of the McCarthy era. Despite this, the play, and the various film versions from 1960 onwards, have shaped public attitudes to the trial and, to my mind, lamentably coarsened debate.

And yet the exchanges between the Scopes trial prosecutors, and Clarence Darrow speaking for the defence, remain as topical as ever.

Clarence_S_Darrow (1)Darrow, the best remembered of the defence team, was not the ACLU’s choice, but they could not but follow Scopes in accepting his services, on this, the only occasion on which he offered them without a fee. He was an outspoken and abrasive agnostic, of whom the humanist Edwin Mims, Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and theological Modernist, commented, “When Clarence Darrow is put forth as the champion of the forces of enlightenment to fight the battle for scientific knowledge, one feels almost persuaded to become a Fundamentalist.” In his famous cross-examination of Bryan, Darrow comes over as a condescending bully. And yet any sympathy one might feel for Bryan quickly evaporates on reading the speech he had prepared for the court, but was prevented by defence manoeuvres from delivering. Bryan’s position presented defenders of science with a dilemma, to which I would dearly love to find a good resolution: one does not win over opponents by ridiculing their position and humiliating their champion, and yet what else is one to do when faced with ridiculous beliefs presented by a crowd-pleasing and truth-distorting blowhard?

This summer sees the 90th anniversary of the trial, widely regarded as an example of reason defeating obscurantism. My friend the historian geologist Michael Roberts argues, and I agree, that this popular view is damaging, as well as mistaken, and that the only long-term beneficiaries of the affair were the Flood Geology pseudoscientists, at the time of the trial itself no more than a fringe group within Young Earth creationism. What follows draws on Michael’s work, and on the trial transcript, the Pulitzer Prize winning account Summer for the Gods by the lawyer and historian Edward J. Larson, and other sources.[1]

In the early 1920s, America’s churches were deeply divided between Modernists and Fundamentalists. Bryan, his once-promising political career now over, placed himself at the head of the Fundamentalist faction and its campaign to ban the teaching of evolution. The Governor of Tennessee was in favour of such a ban, but wisely recommended that the law should not specify a penalty. Even without one, it would make the State’s position sufficiently clear to its teachers, whereas if it could result in criminal prosecution, it would invite the controversy of a test case. That of course is exactly what happened.

As one might expect, some universities were highly critical of the law. The University of Tennessee itself hesitated to take a position, dependent as it was on state funding for its planned expansion, but Vanderbilt University, a private institution in Nashville, Tennessee, took a clear stand in favour of evolution. There was even a proposal to bar graduates of Tennessee State schools from Columbia University, leading school Superintendent White to suggest that Dayton found its own university, named after Bryan. This happened. The Bryan College Statement of Belief maintains “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis”, and since 2014 the teaching Faculty have been required to believe in the special creation of a literal historical Adam and Eve.


Taung Child, face view

By 1925, when the Tennessee law was passed, the evidence for evolution was reasonably conclusive, but not yet as overwhelming as it is today. Molecular phylogeny, which places common ancestry beyond all reasonable doubt, was still decades in the future. Genetics was in its infancy, but Thomas Hunt Morgan was already working out how Mendelian inheritance, combined with mutation, could drive evolution, and these developments were referred to in Hunter’s Civic Biology, the standard text from which Scopes had taught. The fossil record was meagre by today’s standards, giving some appearance of substance to the creationist claim that Darwinism was based on extrapolation and conjecture, rather than observation. The record of human evolution was particularly scant, depending largely on Neanderthals, Heidelberg Man, and the now discredited Piltdown Man. All of these had cranial capacities not too different from modern humans, so it was still possible to argue that there was a “missing link” between us and what we choose to call lower animals, and the fact that the crude Piltdown forgery was able to survive in the scientific literature for several decades, albeit with heavy question marks, shows how underdeveloped physical anthropology was at that time. If we had to choose a date for when the “missing link” argument lost credibility, I would suggest February 1925, just a few months before the Scopes trial, when the first Australopithecine, the “Taung Child“, was described in the journal Nature. This find attracted major publicity, and the defence planned to use it in evidence.

Evolution was not the only topic that divided (and divides) the American churches. Of comparable significance was the challenge presented by the Higher Criticism, which argues that Genesis did not have a single author, but was the result of joining together two or more disparate and at times mutually contradictory texts. This view leaves room for regarding the Bible as inspired, but not for the traditional doctrine of word-for-word perfection and infallibility. Modernisers within the churches were willing to accept both evolution and textual criticism, and Fundamentalism, historically speaking, can be seen as a reaction to this Modernism.

Some legal features must be noticed, if we are to understand the trial in the context of its time. The statute specified what might or might not be taught in State universities; this would nowadays be regarded as violation of academic freedom. The constitutionality of the statute was at that time largely a matter of State, rather than Federal, law; it is now accepted that the State constitutions are fully subordinate to the freedoms guaranteed by the Federal constitution. And under the 1971 Lemon Test, a statute must not advance or inhibit religious practice (i.e. religious practice in general), and must serve a secular purpose. The Tennessee Supreme Court, in its judgement cited above, was using a much more restrictive test than this. We should also remember that Darrow and Bryan were personal friends, and had campaigned as allies on behalf of unionised labour.

Finally, and of the most enduring interest and importance, we have a conflict between two different concepts of democracy. The prosecution appealed repeatedly to the right of the majority, as the teachers’ paymasters, to specify the content of their teaching. Contrast this with what I might call the principle of liberal democracy, which guarantees freedom of expression, and when it comes to the content of education requires the public to defer to expert opinion.

The facts of the case were not in dispute. Scopes had taught from Hunter’s Civic Biology (the State’s own prescribed textbook!), and in so doing had taught about human evolution, and broken the law. So the case was not really about this, but about the status of the law itself. The defence case would be that Scopes should not be found guilty because what he did should not be called a crime.

Nor was the outcome difficult to predict. Judge Raulston was a devout Christian. Educated at a Methodist University, he was probably not himself a Fundamentalist, but was an elected official within a Fundamentalist-leaning state. In any case, he may very reasonably have thought that the broader issues should be decided by the higher courts, rather than at district level. So he could be expected to use all his ingenuity to block the defence’s claims.

The Tennessee statute, passed into law just one month after the Nature paper appeared, stated

That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals. [Emphasis added]

Hence one prong of the defence strategy, as spelt out by defence attorney Malone:

The narrow purpose of the defense is to establish the innocence of the defendant Scopes. The broad purpose of the defense will be to prove that the Bible is a work of religious aspiration and rules of conduct which must be kept in the field of theology. [Emphasis added]

Malone is, in my view, one of the few protagonists whose reputation is enhanced by the trial. A Catholic but a divorce lawyer, himself remarried after divorce, he was a Modernist at a time when his Church was still undecided about evolution. His subsequent career involved serving as legal adviser to 20th Century Fox, and occasionally appearing in their films.

The other prong of the defence case would be to establish that the law was unconstitutional because unreasonable, since it flew in the face of the established scientific fact. So the trial involved both the main issues separating the theological Modernists from the Fundamentalists: evolution, and the proper use, by believers, of Scripture. Regarding the latter, the defence adopted the position later associated with the name of Stephen J Gould and his doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria“. To interpret the Bible literally was to fail to understand it. Science and religion could not possibly be in conflict, because they were talking about different kinds of thing. Thus the defence hoped to call as witnesses both scientific experts, and leading Modernist theologians. Also, during jury selection, Darrow took care to ask each potential juryman what he thought about evolution. Clearly, many knew nothing about the subject, strengthening the case that they should hear evidence explaining it.

For the prosecution, Bryan tried to summon opposing scientific opinion, but could not find anyone of stature willing to testify against evolution. The prosecution therefore changed its tactics, aiming instead to restrict the trial to the simple fact of Scopes’s breach of the law. However, Bryan’s intended closing speech, which defence tactics (see below) prevented him from delivering, was to be a broadside against evolution using all the creationist devices of quote mining, misrepresentation of fact, and claims that evolution was unbiblical, atheistic, and morally corrosive.

The defence, as we have seen, was based entirely on discrediting the law, and indeed that was the reason why the ACLU had helped arrange for the case be brought in the first place. As a result, almost all the trial, spread over eight working days, was devoted to matters of law, not fact. Was the statute constitutional? Would it be deemed unconstitutional if it violated freedom of conscience, placed restrictions on how the Bible should be interpreted, or was contrary to established science, and what kinds of evidence could be introduced to decide these questions? Since the law was a matter for the judge alone, almost all the case was heard in the absence of the jury. In addition, numerous briefs supporting the defence were never heard at all, but simply placed on record for the benefit of the appeals courts.

At the outset, the defence argued that the indictment should be quashed because the law and the indictment based on it were defective, for a mixture of reasons. The State had a constitutional duty to cherish science, and science could not be taught without including evolution. The law was contrary to the State’s own establishment clause, by favouring a particular religion, and thereby violating freedom of conscience. In addition, it was so vague as to be meaningless, since it referred to what was thought in the Bible, but the Bible was open to numerous different interpretations.

Such arguments might seem strange to a reader from the United Kingdom, where Parliament is sovereign. But they are familiar in the United States, where both State and Federal Governments derive their legitimacy from written constitutions.

Hays for the defence argued that the law was intrinsically unreasonable, and therefore exceeded the policing rights of the state, as would a law against teaching that the Earth went round the Sun. “Evolution is as much a scientific fact as the Copernican theory.” The State could determine what subjects should be taught but could not reasonably demand that they be taught falsely.

Attorney General Stewart for the prosecution countered that the statute was about the proper use of state funds, and therefore within the State’s proper jurisdiction. The citizenry paid for their schools and therefore had a right to decide what those schools should teach. There was no violation of conscience, since Scopes was free to hold and advocate whatever opinion he chose, but that did not entitle him to propound evolution in opposition to state policy in the State’s own classrooms.

The defence had, as we shall see, decided on a strategy that would prevent lengthy closing statements, usually the highpoint of a criminal trial. And so Darrow presented his strongest arguments at this point. His speech, which took two hours to deliver, was considered the finest of his career. It was witnessed by over 200 newspaperman, as well as the judge and courtroom spectators. So millions of people knew what Darrow said, but not, ironically, the trial jury.

The speech was reprinted in full in the New York Times. Space, obviously, will not allow me to do the same, so I must make do with a bald summary, and a few quotations that may convey the flavour.[2]

The Tennessee State constitution protected religious freedom, and therefore stated that “no preference shall be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” The law violated this principle, and was a law inhibiting learning. It established a specific religious standard because it gave specific status to the Bible, rather than any other sacred text. Evolution had been taught in Tennessee for years. Bryan “is responsible for this foolish, mischievous and wicked act… Nothing was heard of all that until the fundamentalists got into Tennessee.” As for the Bible, it contained different accounts of creation, making the law unworkable in its vagueness. It was a book of morals, not science. The law was unconstitutional because it violated the great Jeffersonian principle of freedom of conscience, vital to a civil society.

Here, we find today as brazen and as bold an attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the middle ages. That is what was foisted on the people of this state, that it should be a crime in the state of Tennessee to teach any theory of the origin of man, except that contained in the divine account as recorded In the Bible. But the state of Tennessee under an honest and fair interpretation of the constitution has no more right to teach the Bible as the divine book than that the Koran is one, or the book of Mormons, or the book of Confucius, or the Budda, or the Essays of Emerson, or any one of the 10,000 books to which human souls have gone for consolation and aid in their troubles.

The Bible is a book primarily of religion and morals. It is not a book of science. Never was and was never meant to be. They thought the earth was created 4,004 years before the Christian Era. We know better. I doubt if there is a person in Tennessee who does not know better. They told it the best they knew. And while science may change all you may learn of chemistry, geometry and mathematics, there are no doubt certain primitive, elemental instincts in the organs of man that remain the same, he finds out what he can and yearns to know more and supplements his knowledge with hope and faith. That is the province of religion and I haven’t the slightest fault to find with it.

My friend the attorney-general [prosecuting] says that John Scopes knows what he is here for. Yes I know what he is here for, because the fundamentalists are after everyone that thinks. I know why he is here. I know he is here because ignorance and bigotry are rampant and it is a mighty strong combination, your honour.

The state by constitution is committed to the doctrine of education, committed to schools. It is committed to teaching and I assume when it is committed to teaching it is committed to teaching the truth.

Can [the legislature] say to the astronomer, you cannot turn your telescope upon the infinite planets and suns and stars that fill space, lest you find that the earth is not the center of the universe. Can it? It could – except for the work of Thomas Jefferson, which has been woven into every state constitution of the Union, and has stayed there like the flaming sword to protect the rights of man against ignorance and bigotry, and when it is permitted to overwhelm them, then we are taken in a sea of blood and ruin that all the miseries and tortures and carion of the middle ages would be as nothing.

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightment and culture to the human mind.

The judge was having none of it. In a ruling slightly longer than Darrow’s speech, he gave his opinion that the law was perfectly clear, and legitimate in its scope. The offence consisted in teaching that man was descended from a lower order of animals, and the references to evolution and the Bible merely provided additional context. Later on in the trial, he was to rule on more or less the same grounds that evidence concerning evolution, and about different ways in which the Bible could be interpreted, were beside the point.

The judge no doubt intended his point by point rebuttal of the motion to quash to be dramatic. Unfortunately, before he delivered his ruling, it had already been published in the newspapers. He was furious and ordered the assembled pressmen to trace the source of the leak. They had little difficulty. The source was Judge Raulston himself. One reporter had asked him, with affected casualness, whether the case would be resuming directly after he delivered his opinion, and he had said that it would. But if he had accepted the motion to quash, there would have been no case left to resume.

The defence next quoted the Governor himself as having said that the law was consistent with the existing States textbooks, would not put Tennessee’s teachers in any jeopardy, and would probably never be applied. In response, the judge quite correctly pointed out that under the American doctrine of separation of powers, the Governor as head of the executive branch had no right to impose his own interpretation on the law, this being the role of the judiciary. He also ruled that expert evidence concerning evolution, and about different ways in which the Bible could be interpreted, were irrelevant and inadmissible, but allowed the defence to place such evidence in the trial record for the benefit of the appeals courts.

In my next post, I will describe this inadmissible evidence, Darrow’s famous dialogue with Bryan, Bryan’s intended closing speech and why it was not delivered at the trial (although Bryan did deliver two very similar speeches in the days immediately following), how the case was settled, and subsequent legal battles. I will also give my own view on who won, who lost, the extraordinary errors of judgement displayed by both the main protagonists, and the implications for us today.

1] The trial transcript and related documents are freely available as PDF photocopy (readable but not suitable for cut-and-paste, although PDF readers such as Nuance can convert much of it to edit-ready MSWord). In addition to these, and Michael’s account, I have used that given by the constitutional lawyer Douglas Linder (Professor at University of Missouri Kansas City Law School) here. The fullest account, however, is by the lawyer and historian Edward J. Larson, whose Summer for the Gods earned a Pulitzer Prize. I have also used other sources, such as Ronald Numbers’ authoritative study, The Creationists; Numbers has also posted much of his research on line here, as part of the Counterbalance science in context project. I acknowledge special help from Alastair Arthur, of Glasgow University Library Services.

2] Full text at p. 74 on. Here, I have for ease of reading omitted ellipses, and added some half dozen words for continuity.

Dayton courthouse courtesy Michael Roberts. Darrow by Mobius, public domain. Taung Child image by Didier Descouens via Wikipedia. This piece appeared earlier in 3 Quarks Daily.

Meeting creationists on their own terms: understanding the Genesis flood

Maimonides said it best, over 800 years ago. The Divine Teaching is, of necessity, expressed in human language. We don’t believe that God has fingers and hands (Exodus, Isaiah, Psalms, Luke) or goes for walks in gardens (Genesis). I would add that no one takes the commandments in the Bible literally, and when Daesh comes close to following the rules of law laid down in Deuteronomy, we are quite properly appalled. All of this is familiar, but this piece combats biblical literalism on its own terms, shows how it is inseparable from interpretation, and thereby undermines its strongest attraction – the illusion of certainty.

The Logic of Science

In this post, I am going to do something highly atypical for a science blog: I am going to talk about theology. I want to be very clear about why I am doing this and why you should pay attention (regardless of your personal religious beliefs or lack thereof). I have spent a great deal of time talking to creationists, and what I have found is that most of them are concerned primarily with what the Bible says, and they only accept science when it happens to line up with their religious views. In other words, it’s not that the creationists are unintelligent, it’s simply that they have different priorities. As a result, if you initiate a conversation with creationists by talking about the science of evolution, you won’t get anywhere because they think that the science conflicts with their religion, but if you start by explaining why the science

View original post 1,803 more words

100 Reasons the Earth is Old (reblogged from Age Of Rocks)

I am posting this page from Jonathan Baker’s Age of Rocks here for several reasons. It is an extremely useful resource, well researched and well-written; the author addresses creationists with humanity and respect, even as he demolishes their position; and the author himself is a committed Christian (why that should matter to me, a free-thinking atheist, is something I explain below).

Edinburgh to Siccar Point June-Jly 2012 048

Siccar Point. Horizontal Devonian sandstone over uptilted Silurian greywacke. Click and re-click to enlarge

The evidence presented ranges from tree rings to topography to sedimentology to physical geography to archaeology and anthropology to geochemistry to the fossil record to radiometric dating to astrophysics. Many of these are topics I have touched on, for example in my discussions of the unconformity at Siccar Point, and the slowly cooled multiple lava flows and palaeosols of the Giants’ Causeway.

In each case, the reasoning is briefly described, with links to more detailed discussions, many framed specifically to refute creationist claims. By relegating those claims to second place, the author avoids the common mistake of teaching the very error that he is warning against. At the same time, he pays a respectful attention to his opponents, for reasons that he explains elsewhere in his blog, even as he dismantles their arguments.

Like the authors of EvoAnth  and Leaving Fundamentalism, the author is at present a graduate student; welcome examples of how the web is democratising discourse, and how young scientists and educators are using the opportunity.

I commend this piece to all those who have to deal with creationism in schools and elsewhere, alongside such classics as 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution and Index to Creationist Claims, and hope that the author will continue to update and add to it as his own career progresses.


Giants’ Causeway: interbasaltic laterite palaeosol between lava flows at The Chimneys. Click and reclick to enlarge

Like Dennis Venema at Biologos and Robert Wiens at Radiometric Dating – A Christian Perspective, the author is a committed Christian, thus helping to give the lie to the claim that Christian belief requires biblical literalism and the rejection of established science. This matters, since as I have argued before inviting creationists to abandon their deepest convictions is not likely to be the best way to change their minds. Research at Glasgow  agrees with me on this. Life science entry classes there contain a sprinkling of creationists, most of whom abandon their creationism during the course, but without necessarily renouncing their religion. I should for completeness state my own view on religion, which is that believers face major problems in accepting reality. But they are their problems, not mine, and it is not my place to tell them how to deal with them.

I have one small technical quibble. Paragraphs 73 and 74 seem, for reasons of brevity, to run together separate things under the heading “argon-argon dating”. These are: Ar-36/Ar-40 comparisons, used to subtract out the contribution of any argon initially present; Ar-39/Ar-40 that uses Ar-39, produced from K-39 by irradiating the sample, as a proxy for K-39 and hence for K-40 (this is what is usually meant by “argon-argon dating”); and finally, Ar-39/Ar-40 combined with controlled heating to distinguish endogenous Ar-40 (which will be released at the same temperature as the Ar-39) from so-called “parentless” Ar-40 that has diffused in from other rocks, which will be released more readily.

But I digress, and it is time to let Jon speak for himself:

100 Reasons the Earth is Old

How do we know the Earth is older than literalistic readings of the Bible seem to imply?

Nicolas Steno, pioneer in sedimentology and stratigraphy

Nicolas Steno (1638–1686), the Catholic bishop who formulated foundational principles in stratigraphy, paleontology, and even crystallography.

Geologists have been wrestling with this question for centuries, especially those pioneers in the Earth sciences (e.g. Nicolas Steno, William Buckland, Hugh Miller, Thomas Chalmers, and even Charles Darwin) who were also devout clergymen or at least trained in natural theology. The 19th century in particular may be characterized by the massive, interdisciplinary effort that sought to answer the question scientifically: how old is the Earth? But it was not until the mid 20th century that all efforts began to converge on the value we accept today: 4.56 billion years.

Today, a resurgence of young-Earth creationism has many persuaded that science, when applied faithfully, still supports a much smaller age—close to only 6,000 years. While the arguments behind this movement are not convincing to professional geologists, as I’ve sought to elucidate on this blog, their popularity highlights the need to summarize coherently the positive evidences in favor of ‘deep time’. Below, I have compiled what I deem the 100 most convincing reasons—in no particular order—that the Earth is not less than 10,000 years old.

Those readers from a young-Earth background might be quick to point out that many of the evidences listed below have been refuted by creation ministries in their article databases. But that’s no coincidence. Those article databases are primarily built to rationalize to what are indeed strong evidences against the young-Earth position. So please note, I am keenly aware of those counter-arguments, and therefore I encourage you either to follow the links to in-depth discussions of each evidence or to contact me directly about why I find such counter-arguments unsatisfactory.

How do we know from geology that the Earth is greater than 10,000 years old?

  1. Tree-ring “long counts” from California, Central Europe, New Zealand, and Scandinavia extend up to ~13,000 years. These chronologies are constructed from hundreds of individual trees that overlap, so that even if a tree did produce multiple rings during a growth season, the ‘extra years’ would disappear in the correlation process. Even John Woodmorappe has written that these tree-ring chronologies cannot be explained by multiple rings being produced in a single year or the mismatch of individual tree records.
  2. treering

    Annual bands in the cross section of a temperate tree (original image here).

    The oldest individual bristlecone pine trees date to ~5,000 years old by dendrochronology (ring counting), which is older than the traditional date for Noah’s flood. Since we have no reason to suspect that these trees could have formed multiple rings in any given year, these trees provide two constraints: 1) the flood, if it were global, occurred more than 5,064 years ago, and 2) the Earth’s surface, where the trees were growing, has been identical to modern day over the last 5,000 years. The latter point is important, because flood geologists must assume that catastrophic geological processes continued for centuries after the flood to explain Quaternary deposits and erosional features like Grand Canyon or the Channeled Scablands.

  3. Long-term records of glacial ice can be dated by counting annual layers beyond 10,000 years. These annual layers can be recognized not only by appearance, but variations in chemistry, which removes any assumptions about growth rate during these intervals and precludes the possibility that multiple rings formed each year.
  4. Varved sediments with more than 10,000 layers, such as Lake Sugietsu, Lake Van, and the Cariaco Basin, to name a few. Geologists don’t just assume that these layers are annual, but must demonstrate rigorously that each layer exhibits some kind of seasonal signal (characteristic isotopes, organic matter, or mineral content).
  5. From Figure 4 in Reimer et al. (2013): example of radiocarbon calibration, plotting the radiocarbon age of samples against their known age (between 34–45 ka).

    From Figure 4 in Reimer et al. (2013): example of radiocarbon calibration, plotting the radiocarbon age of samples against their known age (between 34–45 ka).

    Radiocarbon calibration curves confirm that annual layers in trees and varved sediments are indeed annual. The radiocarbon age of annual layers within these deposits are always within ~10% of the age predicted by layer counting, back to nearly 50,000 years. If these layers accumulated catastrophically, or if the radiocarbon method were fundamentally flawed, we should not expect such a match. Additionally, since YEC’s suppose that radiocarbon ages are only apparently old (due to low 14C concentrations during and after the Flood), every marine, tree-ring, and varved lake chronology must be compressed down to ~4,000 years. In other words, the YEC paradigm would predict that trees, glaciers, corals, and seasonally active lakes regularly form 4-10 ‘annual’ bands every year. But they don’t.

  6. There is no radiocarbon in old samples, despite claims to the contrary. Geologically old samples of coal, diamonds, and graphite, for example, yield finite radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the expected level of contamination invariably introduced during sample collection and preparation.
  7. Continuous coral chronologies from modern communities (i.e. not buried in sediments) extend throughout the Holocene. Corals contain annual bands and may be combined like tree rings to construct long-term chronologies, or dated by the radiocarbon and/or U-Th method. Applying these tools, geologists use corals to reconstruct sea level over the last few tens of thousands of years (or more!).
  8. stalagmiteTauriusCave

    Cross section of a stalagmite prepared for stable-isotope analysis. Drill pits are from powders collected for U-Th dating. Image from UT-Austin media release.

    Secondary cave formations, such as stalagmites, can form relatively quickly (1–2 mm/yr) in tropical climates or where summer monsoons bring large volumes of precipitation to the cave system. For caves found in temperate or arid climates, however, the growth rate of stalagmites can be incredibly slow (<0.1 mm/yr). Advanced techniques in U-Th disequilibrium dating confirm what geologists long suspected: these iconic formations took tens of thousands of years to reach heights of half a meter or more.

  9. Large subterranean caverns do not form overnight, especially outside of tropical climates. The dissolution of caves is a rather slow process, due to the limited solubility of calcite in very slightly acidic rainwater. Although the process can be accelerated in the presence of active soils or even hydrogen sulfide (a microbial byproduct of petroleum degradation), the sheer size of natural monuments like Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns cannot be explained in a young-Earth timeline, especially given that these caves are lavishly decorated by secondary formations, which themselves take thousands of years to form.
  10. Large terrestrial lakes and inland seas have accumulated more than 10,000 years worth of deposition. Examples include the Black Sea, Dead Sea, Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Great Salt Lake, Lake Van, Lake Ammersee, Lake Sugietsu, and Lake El’gygytgyn, to name a few. These lakes are dated by combinations of radiocarbon, annual band counts, and isotopic records that correspond to climatic trends from ice cores. Some contain evaporite layers, indicating that the lakes dried up in the past. In the cases of Dead Sea and Great Salt Lake, this happened many times in the past on glacial-interglacial scales.
  11. Lake Baikal in Siberia has collected sediments that are inconsistent with any catastrophic inflow from the surrounding region. The sediments at the lake bottom are rather fine-grained, free of terrestrial plant debris (aside from microscopic pollen near the shoreline), and contain abundant diatoms. These diatoms flourish in the summer months but settle very slowly to the lake bottom, so their presence throughout the sediment column confirms that sediments accumulated under normal conditions, similar to today. Therefore, we can confidently say that the lake basin is potentially millions of years old, given the sheer thickness of lake-bottom sediments.
  12. Well developed river flood plains span large areas of temperate and tropical regions of Earth. These flood plains develop over long intervals of time as periodic flooding and migration of the river channel slowly erode the bedrock down to a flat surface. Attempts to describe vast planation surfaces by the retreat of flood waters do not work, because during floods, erosion is localized in channels that form along ‘weak points’ in the underlying rock and sediment. If this erosion took place soon after the Flood, the sediment would still be soft, exacerbating the localization of erosion in deep channels.
  13. Slithering stone in Death Valley. Photo by Momatiuk - Eastcott/Corbis photography.

    Slithering stone in Death Valley. Photo by Momatiuk – Eastcott/Corbis photography.

    Painfully slow erosional processes in modern deserts, involving wind, ground tremors, or even ice, are the best explanation for some rather bizarre boulders scattered across the dunes. Slow tumbling boulders in South American deserts, for example, had to be weathered slowly by wind in the arid highlands, and cosmogenic dating confirms their old age. Slithering stones of Death Valley, on the other hand, were proven to move only by seasonal ice. These findings imply that the modern landscape has changed little in thousands of years (if not millions!).

  14. Evidence for numerous glacial cycles during the Quaternary (i.e. the past 2.6 million years) is particularly abundant in the northern hemispheric continents of North America and Eurasia. These evidences include glacial tills and terminal moraines, which are buried within layers of Quaternary aged sediments. Between these glacially derived layers, relatively warm-weather plants populate the sediments of old river valleys, indicating that climate rebounded after each ice age to one similar to what we find today.
  15. Quaternary deposits and landscapes are far too complicated to have accumulated in the ~4,500 years following the Flood. Everywhere we look on Earth, we truly find evidence for ~2 million years worth of processes, whether at high latitudes (where we find evidence for repeated glaciations and deglaciations, separated by warm intervals) or in the tropics (where we find thick desert dune sequences alternating with humid intervals) or in the oceans (where 2 million+ years of Milankovitch cycles are recorded in only a few meters of silt and clay) or in the high mountains (where alpine valleys have been carved out by rivers or glaciers, then infilled by coarse sediment, then eroded again, etc.). Flood geologists unanimously assert that the Quaternary period represents the ‘post-Flood’ era, but there is good reason that conventional geologists ascribe a much longer age: 2.6 million years.
  16. Glacial tills from ancient glaciations, such as the ‘Snowball Earth’ episodes in the Late Proterozoic
    Dropstones in a glacial diamictite from Death Valley, California.

    Dropstones in a glacial diamictite from Death Valley, California. Image credit.

    and cold intervals beginning the Late Ordovician and Late Pennsylvanian periods, are found within the geological record and so must be reinterpreted by Flood geologists as submarine deposits of boulders and mud during Noah’s flood. Though ancient tills do occasionally resemble submarine flows, ancient glaciations are not inferred by these sedimentary deposits alone. Instead, a suite of geological data, from fossils to paleoceanographic data to rock chemistry, all support the idea that the whole Earth was much cooler when these tills were deposited.

  17. Continental ice sheets do not form in a matter of centuries, especially those that were more than a mile thick and extended in some cases to southern Siberia and the central Great Plains, USA. Flood geologists must maintain, however, that massive ice sheets nearly half the size of Russia not only grew, but melted entirely, then regrew, melted entirely, and regrew more than a dozen times in less than 200-700 years (the timeline depends on which YEC you ask!).
  18. Human occupations of nearly every continent can be demonstrated beyond 10,000 years, e.g. in South Africa, ruling out the possibility that humans repopulated the Earth after being obliterated only ~4,500 years ago.
  19. Ötzi the Iceman has frequently made headlines in creationist writings, because they accurately perceive this unique find as a challenge to the young-Earth timeline. The remains of this murdered Alpine farmer date to ~5,300 years old, which YEC’s arbitrarily dismiss as “inflated”. Regardless, they do admit that he lived sometime in the beginnings of human civilization (i.e. very soon after the Flood), and so they attempt to turn the argument on ‘evolutionists’ by emphasizing the level of technology (tools, agriculture) carried by Ötzi and his village—”How can this ‘primitive’ man be so advanced?” This response is a non sequitur, because the artifacts found with Ötzi are entirely compatible with reconstructed histories of European peoples. What YEC’s overlook is the geological context of the body: it was preserved in undisturbed ice near the top of a mountain range. This tells us that the morphology of the Alps has changed very littlesinceÖtzi was alive. So when did theAlpshave a chance to shed the kilometers of sediment that once covered their peaks? ThemountainsinwhichÖtzi wasfoundare indeed very ancient, far older than the body of this 5,300-year-old village outcast.

    Ötzi the Iceman, trapped in ice ~5,300 years before present and nearly perfectly preserved (stomach contents and all!).

  20. Human settlements that are now submerged due to sea-level rise have been documented beneath the English Channel, North and Baltic seas, off the coast of Israel, Florida, and beneath the Black Sea, to name a few. For much of human history, global sea level was up to ~130 meters lower than today, exposing far more of the continental shelves and pushing ancient coastlines far away from their modern locations. This allowed for human settlements to develop in sites that are now completely submerged. Following the ice age, however, sea level rose sharply and reached near modern levels at ~8,000 years ago. Whatever the absolute timeline, the young-Earth view allows too little time for human populations to develop, migrate across the globe, and construct large settlements prior to the sea-level rise following the ice age (which they assert happened only a few centuries after Noah’s flood).
  21. Fossils record long histories of migration of animals from Eurasia to the “New World”, which cannot be accounted for in the young-Earth timeline. Large mammals such as mammoth, mastodon, and giant sloth reproduce far too slowly to account for the population sizes indicated by fossil graveyards between Siberia and the Americas.
  22. There is no record of migration from Central Asia to Australia for many species unique to the land down under. Their ancestors, however, are found in the fossil record and imply that modern populations derived from species that arrived to the island well in the distant past, not after the Flood only ~4,000 years ago.
  23. Modern oceans are too salty to have been formed only ~6,000 years ago. We know this salt was delivered slowly to the oceans mainly via rivers (i.e. as opposed to being created in situ), because the relative abundance of salts in the ocean is related to their relative solubilities and abundance in the Earth’s surface.
  24. Cenozoic aged marine sediments in the Gulf of Mexico or along the west African and east South American coastlines, for example, are far too thick to be explained by ‘post-Flood’ processes. This fact has caused some YEC’s, such as Michael Oard, to push the ‘post-Flood’ boundary later and later into the Cenozoic and consider these marine sediments as Flood deposits. However, the structure of marine sediments in the Gulf of Mexico and the equatorial Atlantic is clearly related to the modern topography, where large rivers like the Mississippi, Amazon, Congo, and Cross have dumped tons of sediment into the seas, causing massive deltas to form over long periods of time. Due to the economic reward for exploring these sites (which contain abundant oil), geologists have thoroughly mapped out the evolution of ancient deltas through miles of sediment. Their result ubiquitously inform us that the modern landscape is very old and rather stable, and that these late Cenozoic marine sediments were not deposited through catastrophic processes, but by everyday rivers at rates observed today.
  25. Deep ocean sediments take far too long to settle to have accumulated in less than 5,000 years. Today, the entire seafloor is covered with microscopic species of plankton, diatoms, radiolaria, etc., in addition to tiny bits of clay and calcite. These particles are so small, that they would remain in suspension under flowing water, so their presence on the seafloor must be explained by a long-time in which they could settle through miles of seawater. The history of seafloor sediments is further amplified by the fact that marine tephra (volcanic ash layers) occur throughout marine cores around the world, but volcanic ash also needs time and calm water to settle out.
  26. santorinideposit

    A 3,500-year-old volcanic ash deposit from Santorini volcano, in three stages: an air fall pumice (bottom), followed by laminated ash that formed underwater (middle tan layer), covered by a pyroclastic flow (top white layer). Photo by Lee Siebert found here with full description.

    Volcanic ash beds (sedimentary tuff), frequently used to date sedimentary rock layers, were mainly deposited in dry conditions. Geologists can distinguish between ash layers that settled in ocean basins (marine tephra) and those that fell over dry land (air fall deposits). When volcanic ash is deposited in flowing water, it produces yet different features identifiable in outcrops, such as grain sorting and lamination. Therefore, not a few volcanic ashes in sedimentary strata contradict the Flood geology scenario, especially because these ash falls take time to accumulate from the air and harden to the point that water-lain sediments can be deposited on top without compromising the structure of the soft ash.

  27. The geologic column is no remnant of an ancient flood deposit, global or not. Fine details, in the form of thin layers of alternating clay and limestone, or irregular sand deposits that resemble modern river channels, defy catastrophic explanation, which explains why catastrophism has long been abandoned by research geologists.
  28. There are simply too many sediments buried in the crust to be explained in a young Earth. Contrary to the claims of Andrew Snelling, the ocean floor contains about as much sediment as we might expect after ~160 million years. In addition to ocean sediments still underwater, however, YEC’s must also explain the origin of the trillions of trillions of tons of limestone, sandstone, and mudstone now buried on the continents. These sediments, comprised of broken down minerals, must have originally weathered from igneous or metamorphic material, after which it was sorted by size through surface processes (like rivers, winds, and gravity). But this is not a rapid process, inviting the question: even if a global flood could have buried this much sediment (it can’t), what is the origin of the sediment in the first place?
  29. The distribution of sedimentary rocks is weighted too heavily over the continents, which is the opposite of what we’d expect in a global flood. Floods move sediments from high elevation to low elevation, depositing them in sedimentary basins. During the Flood, the oceans would have constituted the largest and deepest basins, but most sediments remainedonelevated continents. How did this happen? Did the laws of physics stop working?


    The “Great Unconformity” in Grand Canyon. Photo by Marli Miller.

  30. Angular unconformities became one of the principal evidences against catastrophism in the 19th century, and for good reason. For an angular unconformity to develop, a sequence of sedimentary layers must be deposited horizontally, then tilted or folded above horizontal, then eroded along a flat (or nearly flat) surface, after which new layers are deposited horizontally on top of the erosional surface. We can explain all these steps through modern geological processes. Flood geologists, on the other hand, must explain 1) how these horizontal strata became angled amid the flood, 2) had time to erode to relatively flat surfaces, and 3) why we do not find deep canyons associated with unconformity surfaces, since deep, rapid flowing water would tend to carve into the unconsolidated sediment.
  31. This buried landscape, for which little explanation is needed, absolutely defies Flood geology. It is rather a testament to deep time, in which an ancient river valley cut its way though thick sequences of sedimentary rock, only to be buried suddenly and preserved in subtle disconformities between the overlying layers. But these disconformities make for excellent acoustic reflectors, and so the ancient landscape is visible through seismic imaging—a way of treating the Earth to a million-dollar ultrasound.buriedlandscape
  32. Sedimentary features in limestone are similar to those forming today in shallow marine environments. Everything from ooids (tiny spheres that build up like snowballs under wave action) to cross bedding to mudcracks to karst dissolution in ancient limestones falsifies the young-Earth timeline, because these limestone formations were deposited in calm, shallow seas—not a deep, worldwide flood.
  33. Exposure surfaces in limestone are recognizable through features like mudcracks, hardgrounds, and karst dissolution. Karst erosion takes place when relatively acidic waters (like fresh rainfall) dissolve cavities in exposed layers of hardened lime mud. Since karstic surfaces are found throughout the geologic column (including in the Redwall Limestone of Grand Canyon), we can rule out the possibility that limestone layers accumulated under a global flood.
  34. Carbonate rocks (limestone and dolostone) comprise more than 20% of all sedimentary rocks, but Flood geologists cannot explain extensive formations of dolostone—(Mg,Ca)CO3—which forms only under unique conditions not seen today in the oceans. To avoid the problem, they speculate that enhanced delivery of magnesium to the ocean (via deep-ocean vents, or the “fountains of the deep”) would havedriventhe formationofdolostone during the Flood. But in fact, dolomite does not form under these conditions, and so the Flood geology model predicts rather that mostcarbonatesshouldbecomprised of aragonite, the high-magnesium variant of calcite. Every piece of dolomite in the geologic record is firm evidence against the Flood model.

    Areal extent of some major evaporite deposits. Image from Paleobabbler.

  35. Flood geology cannot explain the size and presence of massive evaporite deposits in basins like the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediterranean Sea (a small sampling of the world’s sedimentary salt). Halite (NaCl; same as the salt on your food) is extremely soluble in water, especially at higher temperatures. Therefore, Flood waters would have had to evaporate within individual basins until <10% of the original water mass remained (meaning millions of cubic kilometers were evaporated!). Again, this would imply that the ground was exposed at numerous points during the Flood (contrary to scripture). But it also requires that extreme evaporation could persist over significant intervals of the Flood (during which no water flooded the basins?), which is not physically possible. Evaporation stops when relative humidity in the atmosphere reaches ~100%, but the more water is evaporated, the greater the relative humidity becomes. At 100%, the humidity returns to the ocean as rain. Thus the hydrological cycle would have prevented any large basin from evaporating enough water to deposit halite over its base.
  36. The size and thickness of chalk deposits has frequently been cited as solid evidence against the flood. Young-Earth geologists (esp. Andrew Snelling) have responded by offering pseudo-scientific calculations that supposedly account for the global mass of chalk. These calculations are scientifically meaningless, however, because 1) they assume that coccolithophores (which form chalk in the surface ocean) sustained unreasonably high productivity rates over a significant portion of years leading up to the Flood, 2) that the “fountains of the deep” provided nutrients to the surface ocean (instead of poisoning them, as discussed above), and 3) that all chalk produced prior to and during the Flood could have settled in a coherent deposit at the bottom of the sea (rather than remaining in suspension and mixing with other particles in the surface ocean—a more likely scenario if the Flood was accompanied by strong currents).
  37. Syntectonic deposits are abundant throughout the sedimentary record. As the name implies, syntectonic deposits form simultaneously with tectonic deformation of the local geology. If you’ve ever seen an alluvial fan collecting sediments from the side of a mountain, especially near a large fault, then you can visualize the painfully slow process in action. As the mountainside is exposed little by little, due to adjacent valley dropping in elevation every time an earthquake hits, pebbles and boulders are episodically washed into the valley. Because syntectonic deposits contain eroded pebbles and boulders of underlying sedimentary rocks, their presence in the geologic column makes no sense within a ‘Flood geology’ interpretation. Those underlying sediments must have been solid before they could be broken off and polished into smooth boulders found inmostsyntectonic layers.

    Syntectonic deposits in Echo Canyon Utah. Original photo by Matt Kuchta.

  38. Large extensional basins, such as Death Valley and the Great Basin in the US, contain thousands of meters of coarse sediments that were eroded from the adjacent ranges. These basins only deepen when infrequent, large earthquakes cause the valley to drop 1–2 meters at a time. Even if we allow that earthquakes were more frequent in the past, there is a limit to how fast semi-arid valleys can collect millions of tons of boulders in their center, because major flooding events are required to move these sediments several miles over a shallow slope.
  39. The total offset in large transform faults, such as the San Andreas fault, points to a very long history of slow deformation. Since its inception, the San Andreas fault has separated sedimentary deposits that appear on both sides by 150 miles, but the average slip rate today is only ~5 cm/yr. One could argue that the rate was higher in the past, but there is no direct evidence for this, and large episodic earthquakes can shift the fault blocks locally by only a few meters. On the other hand, there is evidence from the offset of modern gullies and streams that movement has been just as slow in the past.

    Offset of a small creek along the San Andreas fault. Image from Zielke et al. (2012).

    Offset of a small creek along the San Andreas fault. Image from Zielke et al. (2012).

  40. Radiometric dating confirms that modern slip rates of tectonic plates, as estimated by GPS data, remained relatively constant over millions of years. The ability to predict radiometric dates by uniformitarian ‘assumptions’ strongly corroborates plate tectonic theory and removes the assumption of uniformity of process.
  41. The abundance of oil in sedimentary rocks completely contradicts the young-Earth timeline, because oil cannot form within ~5,000 years at temperatures less than ~300°C—far greater than is found in every oil and gas field today. At best, the young-Earth scenario might predict sparse fields of natural gas, being produced by decaying organic matter, but instead we find hundreds of reservoirs containing billions of barrels of oil.
  42. There is too much organic matter in Earth’s crust to have been buried in a single flood event. Flood geologists must contend that most (if not all) of this organic matter—called the biomass—was alive or only recently deadjustprior to the flood. Coal and oil reserves are the most obvious examples of ancient biomass, but nearly every sedimentaryrockcontains a little (up to 1%) by weight. When allsourcesare taken into account, we find that the biomass buried in Earth’s crust is 3,000 times larger than what is found today—far more than could have been present on Earth at any given time.

    Early Cretaceous plant fossil in coal. Photo from Wikipedia commons.

    Early Cretaceous plant fossil in coal. Photo from Wikipedia commons.

  43. Coal beds defy rapid deposition, because the high concentration of organic matter begins with the slow accumulation of plant material in oxygen-poor swamps (and not by rapid burial of floating forests). The occasional preservation of leaves and woody material in coal seams would not be possible if all the buried plant material were fresh to begin with (as with rapid burial of existing forests), but requires that organic remains be at varying stages of decomposition.
  44. Coalification (turning plant matter into high-grade coal) is a slow process, which cannot be compressed to the young-Earth timeline. Experimental attempts to make artificial coal (cited by Snelling here) have only produced very low-grade lignite and coalified wood. Furthermore, these experimental setups (which do require high pressure/temperature and up to several months) rarely reflect natural settings and have yet to produce coal that closely resembles natural samples.
  45. If the majority of the Earth’s sedimentary rocks were deposited within a single flood, then those sediments should all be at approximately the same temperature today, and that temperature should be similar to the average water temperature during the Flood. It would take millions of years for a smooth temperature gradient to form (cool at the surface, hotter nearer the mantle), which is what we find today in deep wells.
  46. Remnants of soft tissue are extreme rarities in sediments older than Quaternary, possibly preserved in a handful of samples around the globe. Paleontologists continue to debate, for example, whether soft tissue in dinosaur bones derived from actual dinosaurs or microbial biofilms. But whatever the answer, we can all be confident that soft tissues are not regularly recoverable from Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils. If these organisms were buried less than 5,000 years ago, however, soft tissues should be the rule, not the exception. According to the YEC timeline, mammoths and other megafauna died only years to centuries after the dinosaurs, yet we find hair, collagen, and even DNA in these animals all the time. So why not in dinosaurs and trilobites?
  47. Contrary to what we might expect from a Flood geology scenario, deep reservoirs of groundwater are not remnants of ancient oceans, but were accumulated by infiltrating rain and snow. Whenever oil companies drill deep into sediments, they always encounter very salty water (called connate water), whichhasto be pumped before oil is accessible. It was originally thoughtthatthe salinity of these waters derived from the oceans in which thesedimentswere deposited, but their chemical and stable-isotope signatures contradicted this hypothesis. Flood geology has no room in its
    Polystrate tree fossil. Note the base of the stump is rooted in a more organic-rich deposit, while the top of the tree is truncated sharply. Photo from Wikipedia commons.

    Polystrate tree fossil. Note the base of the stump is rooted in a more organic-rich deposit, while the top of the tree is truncated sharply. Photo from Wikipedia commons.

    timeline for sedimentary rocks to have been ‘flushed out’ by infiltrating precipitation, because deposition would have to occur too rapidly. If the geologic column were deposited in a global flood, therefore, we should expect the groundwater trapped in deep sedimentary layers to be the very ocean water that once covered the Earth.

  48. Contrary to YEC claims, polystrate fossils are better interpreted by conventional geology and contradict the Flood geology paradigm. Most polystrate trees are rooted in organic-rich layers such as coal seams or paleosol beds. In other words, the trees were growing in place when covered abruptly by rising floodwaters, and were not uprooted and transported long distances. This means that after the formation of the coal/paleosol, there had to be time for a forest of trees to grow several meters, after which a large flood (not global, just the kind that would engage our National Guard today) buried whole stumps up to a couple meters with sand and mud. In all occurrences of polystrate trees, the tops of the trees are missing (truncated), having rotted off after they were exposed above the sediments for a long time.
  49. Fossilized burrows and marine trackways reflect everyday conditions in ancient ecosystems, where worms, trilobites, or molluscs dug calmly through soft mud on the seafloor in search of food. The claim that paleontologists have unanimously mistaken these trackways for escape efforts during a catastrophic flood is not only presumptuous, but it ignores the bulk evidence.

    Trilobite trackway in Cambrian sandstone. Image from PaleoSearch.

  50. Mudcracks are common features in layers of sand, silt, and clay that are interpreted to have formed in floodplains or shallow lakes and tidal flats. Despite decades of being aware of the problem, Flood geologists have not satisfactorily been able to explain why mudcracks cover thousands of individual layers throughout the rock record. These features do not form under water, but require an exposed, drying surface of semi-cohesive sediment.
  51. Ripples readily form in sandstone under flowing water, but not at speeds required by the Flood. Therefore, the common preservation of small ripples cannot be reconciled with the Flood model, but rather tells us that the sand must have been buried in calm seas with gentle waves.
  52. Raindrops on the surface of sedimentary layers—these are relatively self-explanatory. If we take Genesis as our guide, sedimentary layers could not be exposed during the course of the Flood, and so we should never expect to find raindrops imprinting their surface. Even if we do allow forthisunbiblical possibility, however, raindrops imprints cannot be preserved if they are swiftly covered by a new layer of sediment. For raindrops to become ‘fossilized’, theimprintmust be made in a semi-cohesive layer (i.e. one that is not saturated with water, but not completely hard), which needs time to
    A 15-million-year old piece of poop, called a coprolite. Image credit.

    A 15-million-year old piece of poop, called a coprolite. Image credit.

    harden slightly in the absence of flowing water before another layer is deposited on top. Raindrops in sediments contradict flood geology outright.

  53. Fossilized poop, called coprolite, is found throughout the fossil record alongside the animals that produced them. These paleontological oddities are indicative of normal ecological conditions and contradict any scenario in which the ‘poopers’ were catastrophically buried.
  54. The nature of the fossil record contradicts the expectation of ‘rapid burial’ for most land-dwelling organisms. By and large, terrestrial fossils are the weathered remains of animals, which were long exposed to the elements before disarticulating and washing into a river channel, lake, or floodplain. Vertebrate skeletons are almost never found intact, and more weather-resistant pieces (like tooth enamel) are preferentially preserved, suggesting that rapid (live) burial was an extreme rarity in geologic history.
  55. Fine sorting of marine microfossils is inconsistent with the Flood scenario, because specimens of foraminifera, radiolarians, and coccolithophores are approximately the same size. Therefore, these tiny shells should be scattered stochastically throughout the sedimentary record, if they were subject to the same hydrodynamic forces of a single global flood. Instead, individual species are commonly confined to narrow zones in the fossil record and used as index fossils for dating layers of marine sediments.
  56. Cast replica of footprints made by a mammal-like reptile in the Coconino Sandstone near Ash Fork, Arizona. Photo credit: PaleoScene.

    Fossilized tracks in eolian (desert dune) deposits, such as the Coconino and Navajo sandstones, are inconsistent with the young-Earth proposition that these sediments accumulated under water. Extremely high sustained flow rates (>2 m/s) of very deep waters (up to 100 m or more) are required to form dunes of comparable size to those in the Coconino and Navajo sandstones. At these flow rates, it would be impossible for any submerged animals (especially small reptiles) even to make contact with the sediment surface, let alone for any prints to be preserved.

  57. The occurrence of widespread, eolian sandstone formations negates any model that cites a worldwide flood to explain their deposition. Of course, Flood geologists attempt to argue that eolian sandstones must have been laid down by water (more than 100 meters deep, flowing more than 2 m/s), but ignore the preponderance of evidence, which is more consistent with dry dune deposition.
  58. Paleosols are sedimentary layers that show evidence of soil formation by plants and microorganisms. Typically they can be recognized by distinct mineral compositions or chemical signatures, but direct reworking of sediment through biological agents may also be observed (for example, in situ roots and carbonate nodules). Not all paleosols show the same degree of soil development, but all are indicative of a long-lasting stable surface. YEC’s are forced to reinterpret paleosols as artifacts of chemical modification after rapid burial during the Flood, but geologists have become acutely aware of how to distinguish between these processes and true soil horizons.
  59. Animal tracks in general are evidence of an exposed surface, on which sediments were somewhat coherent (i.e. not too soft, not too hard; imagine trying to preserve your own handprint in cement). Nonetheless, YEC’s have deemed trackways consistent with their paradigm, because they insist that the floodwaters receded and covered the land numerous times. Besides the fact that Genesis 8 tells us the surface was not exposed until very late in the flood (and so their model contradicts scripture), it is very unlikely that any tracks could be preserved in those conditions. Once the floodwaters returned, they would tend toward erosional processes (removal of the entire surface layer, tracks included). The Flood model firmly predicts the absence of trackways in the sedimentary record, but in fact they are abundant.
  60. Fossilized nests, e.g. from dinosaurs, are indicative of stable, everyday ecosystems, and not catastrophic flooding of the continents. Both nests and eggs are fragile, which explains their rarity in the rock record. But abrupt burial in a high-energy flood cannot possibly explain their occasional preservation.
  61. The Grand Canyon was eroded and widened slowly by annual precipitation, as evidenced by the fact that the North Rim lies further from the main course of the Colorado River. A very gentle slope causes more runoff to enter the canyon from the north side, which, as Wayne Ranney (2012) explains, allows “for more erosion in the side streams on the north side of the river. For this reason, the North Rim is eroded away from the river about twice as far as the South Rim.”
  62. The Grand Canyon itself is only deepened episodically during extremely high floods, which do not regularly occur in the modern climate of northern Arizona. Therefore, it must have taken numerous glacial cycles, during which the jet streams migrate southward and bring more rain/snow to the American southwest, to account for the great depth of the canyon today.
  63. The walls of the Grand Canyon contain numerous caves with speleothems, implying that the water table once stood high above its present position for extended periods of time. Catastrophic carving of the Grand Canyon cannot possibly explain these features, because it allows no time for caves to form and no mechanism by which they could be decorated with stalagmites and stalactites.
  64. Figure 1 from Noffke and Awramik (2013). Modern and ancient examples of stromatolites and microbially laminated structures.

    Figure 1 from Noffke and Awramik (2013). Modern and ancient examples of stromatolites and microbially laminated structures.

    Stromatolites and thrombolites are fine-laminated mounds built by algae and other microorganisms. These features not only take long periods of time to form, but their occurrence in repeated sedimentary layers argues strongly against catastrophic burial. They do not appear randomly in the geologic column, but are always positioned upright (in situ growth position) over wide areas within single layers of limestone—precisely what we’d expect if they grew in ancient oceans that slowly amassed limestone mud. Finally, these laminated mounds are frequently surrounded by fragmented shells of shallow-marine organisms typical of the same environment.

  65. Consistent patterns in magnetic reversals recorded on the seafloor strongly support the conventional model of plate tectonics, in which slowly forming oceanic basalts record the dominant magnetic signature at the time they were formed. YEC’s contend that these magnetic reversals occurred rapidly during the flood, but this proposal is easily falsified. If the entire Atlantic and Pacific basins formed during and/or shortly after the Flood, then Earth’s polarity would have reversed multiple times before oceanic basalts even had a chance to cool and preserve the signature! Flood geology thus predicts that either a single polarity signature should persist across ocean basins or the signature should be stochastic, with no striped pattern.
  66. Magnetic reversals recorded on the seafloor correlate to magnetic patterns in land sediments (e.g. Heller and Tung-Sheng, 1982; Cunningham et al., 1994; Ding et al., 1999), vastly improving the dating of continental deposits that lack datable layers of volcanic ash. Where ash layers do exist, they allow for independent dating of magnetic reversals on land by the Ar-Ar method. This independent corroboration of dates improves the strength of magnetic ‘stripes’ on the ocean floor as evidence for an ancient Earth.
  67. Earth’s magnetic field is not decaying exponentially, but has varied much less over the past 7–9,000 years (e.g. Korte et al., 2011; Nilsson et al., 2014). Magnetic field strength was weaker, not exponentially stronger, for much of this interval. Attempts to suggest that the Earth cannot be older than 10,000 years due to an exponential decay of Earth’s magneticfieldare based on a blind extrapolation of historical measurements (which span no more than 150 years) into the past. This approachignoresthe abundance of paleomagnetic data from human artifacts, sediments, and recent lava flows.


    Figure 6c-d from Nilsson et al., 2014. Modeled history of the dipole moment of Earth’s magnetic field over the past 9,000 years, based on magnetic field intensities recorded by archaeological and geological samples.

  68. The entire field of chemostratigraphy makes no sense within Flood geology. First, the stratigraphic shifts in chemistry—meaning, as we analyze rock chemistry from the bottom of the geologic column to the top—are too large to have occurred during a single year. This is true particularly of isotopes of carbon, sulfur, and strontium, because the amount of these elements dissolved in the ocean is too large to be greatly affected within a short period of time. It would be like trying to change the water color of a swimming pool by dumping in a few cups of coffee!
  69. Event stratigraphy, which utilizes abrupt shifts in rock chemistry as time markers, helps geologists to correlate sedimentary rocks from very different parts of the world. When we examine sequences of sedimentary rocks that are rich in fossils, the order and timing of chemical events just happens to correspond to the order and timing of fossil events (e.g. the disappearance or first appearance of certain fossil species). This correspondence is not possible in the flood geology model, however, since the ordering of fossils in various parts of the world could not have been a matter of timing (i.e. it couldn’t depend on which day of the Flood they were buried).
  70. The mere existence of isotopes is not predicted by the young-Earth paradigm, but makes sense only in conventional astrophysics. Nearly all elements of the periodic table exist in various isotopes, due to their being formed in the process of stellar evolution. As stars grow larger, heavier elements are produced through nuclear synthesis. Outside of this mechanism, we should not expect isotopes to be a common feature in basic chemistry.
  71. Short-lived isotopes are detectable only from distant supernovas. These are unstable elements that decay relatively rapidly after formation and so should be absent in a 4.5-billion-year Earth. This discrepancy provides unambiguous support for the conventional age of our solar system and models of stellar evolution.
  72. Radiometric dating of chondritic meteorites is consistent between methods and yields ages of 4.56 billion years for our solar system. It is currently inconceivable how this date could be wrong by a factor of 1 million.
  73. Potassium-argon dating is well known for its potential problems, but still provides one of the best methods for dating ancient volcanic flows. Even when excess argon is originally present, as is evident in the dating of certain historical eruptions, the date is only apparently too old by a few million years at most. Therefore, K-Ar dates in excess of tens or hundreds of millions of years tell us clearly that the Earth is not young, because otherwise, we could not explain such high concentrations of argon in these volcanic rocks.
  74. The Argon-Argon technique removes most uncertainties about the original presence of excess argon in samples, confirming that K-Ar dates are both real and generally accurate. Corroboration of Ar-Ar dates by other methods—e.g. when applied to the Cardenas Basalts of the Grand Canyon—further improves our confidence in the respective techniques.
  75. Uranium-Lead dating techniques consider the decay of multiple isotopes (238U, 235U, and 232Th) into stable forms of lead. If the respective half-lives of these elements changed significantly in the past, then the technique simply wouldn’t work, because each half-life is vastly different. Accelerated nuclear decay, in other words, would result in massive discordance between age estimates from each decay chain. However, the U-Th-Pb method, especially when applied to pristine zircons, provides one of the most precise geochronometers for the bulk of Earth history.
  76. Flood geologists cannot account for the abundance of 230Th in secondary calcite deposits, such as speleothems, carbonate lake sediments, and corals. Since thorium is not soluble in oxidized water, these formations originally contained none. Therefore, present concentrations can only be accounted for by radioactive decay of 234U into 230Th, which has a half-life of 245,000 years. If modern corals, lakes, and cave deposits formed only after a global flood, some 5,000 years ago, then none should yield dates older than this.
  77. Cosmogenic dating utilizes short-lived isotopes that are created in situ by incoming solar radiation or high-energy particles from space. When rocks are exposed to the atmosphere, such as large boulders on the side of a mountain, they accumulate short-lived isotopes. When rocks and minerals are hidden, through burial under sediments or ice, short-lived isotopes decay at a known rate. Through a variety of methods, geologists have used cosmogenic dating methods to constrain the buildup and retreat of large ice sheets, development of alluvial fans, river plains, deserts, and other surface features across Earth. Of course, these dates invariably suggest that the most recent deposits on Earth are not less than 10,000 years.
  78. There is too much helium in zircons, contrary to what Russell Humphreys has conjectured in his unscientific analysis. Geologists regularly use the amount of helium in certain minerals to constrain rates of tectonic uplift, because it accumulates at a known rate (dependingonthe concentration of Uranium/Thorium), so long as the mineral stays below a threshold temperature. This method (U-Th-Hethermochronology) regularly yields ages of tens of millions of years, which is to say that many millions ofyearswere required to account for modern concentrations of helium.


    Cartoon illustration to explain formation of a particular type of ophilolite. From Rolland et al. (2010).

  79. Ophiolites are remnants of ancient oceanic crust, which have been thrust onto the continent. Geologists were originally confused by the large bodies of ultramafic (super rich in Fe and Mg) rocks on land. But by studying the chemistry and mineral composition of ophiolites, geologists recognized their oceanic origin and could identify the processes responsible for their formation. As it turns out, most ophiolites were formed near subduction zones (e.g. like we find around the Phillipines), and not in mid-ocean ridges. We know this because subduction of ocean sediments and crust influences the chemistry of newly formed lavas in a very specific way. And so, ophiolites tell a much longer story than the YEC could allow, in which 1) ancient (pre-Flood?) oceanic crust began to buckle until one plate subducted beneath another, 2) forming an island chain like Japan, which 3) began to stretch away from the continent, 4) allowing new oceanic crust to form, until 5) the entire suite was crumpled up as the island chain collided with the main continent, 6) ultimately preserving portions of the ocean crust and overlying sediments on land. Each of these steps requires more than a few thousand years.
  80. Cosmogenic beryllium (10Be) is present in volcanic emissions above young subduction zones, but absent in older ocean sediments. This radioactive isotope is formed continuously in the atmosphere, much like radiocarbon, but has a much longer half life. It is useful in dating certain marine cores, since the concentration of 10Be decreases with depth—as expected if the ocean sediments accumulated over millions of years. The fact that 10Be is present in younger subduction zones, such as the Lesser Antilles, indicates that ocean sediments were subducted and then recycled back into recent volcanic flows within a few million years. Since 10Be is absent, however, from the majority of volcanic emissions and from ocean sediments that are older than Pliocene in age, we can be confident in their conventional ages (>5 million years).
  81. Large igneous bodies take time to cool, such as those that comprise the core of the Sierra Nevadas, Andes, Rocky Mountains, and other large mountain belts around the world. Even in the presence of circulating waters, the sheer amount of heat originally present in magmatic intrusions requires hundreds of thousands to millions of years to dissipate, before the magma may crystallize completely into solid rock. This process is slowed significantly by overlying sediments, which act as insulators.
  82. Coarse-grained granite from the Town Mountain Granite.

    Coarse-grained granite from the Town Mountain Granite.

    Coarse grains in igneous intrusions confirm that they indeed cooled very slowly, and not by rapid dissipation of heat via water or any other process. Only slow cooling allows for large, distinct minerals to form (called phaneritic texture), as is common in granite and diorite. Whenever you find a rock that resembles the image to the right, you have met a witness against the young-Earth paradigm.

  83. The intrusive igneous rocks exposed today were formed at great depths, indicating that miles of solid rock had to be weathered and eroded in the past. Even under catastrophic conditions, this process alone could take tens of millions of years. Today, granite exposures such as in the iconic Yosemite Valley continue to uplift in response to the removal of the overlying rock.
  84. Volcanic sills, which are intruded between sedimentary strata, require that the layers be hardened first. Otherwise, these lava injections have no physical guide that would confine their shape to lateral sheets of basalt. It is the brittle break between solid sedimentary rocks that causes volcanic sills to parallel the direction of bedding. Where is there time in Flood geology for sediments to harden completely, then to fracture and allow injection to form a sill, and finally time for cooling of the lava itself into solid rock? Volcanic dykes similarly require brittle fractures in the rock layers to explain their shape.
  85. Volcanic island chains, such as Hawaii, elucidate the multimillion-year effects of plate tectonic theory. Migrating lithospheric plates (and/or ‘hot spots’) cause the center of volcanic activity to migrate in a roughly linear pattern, resulting in a long chain of individual islands (which themselves are large volcanoes). Radiometric dating of volcanoes, from recently active to long extinct, confirms the predicted rate of plate motion based on modern observed values.
  86. Even if one rejects these dates, we must still account for the sheer size of the subaqueous mountain belts, which form gradually by periodic eruptions. It takes time for one deposit to cool and solidify, before another can be laid on top. Otherwise, a 33,500-foot shield volcano could not form, but only a relatively flat plateau of flood basalts on the seafloor.
  87. Extent of the Siberian Traps. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

    Extent of the Siberian Traps (blue line). Documented lava deposits shown in red; tuff in purple. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

    Volcanoes would have destroyed all life on Earth, assuming that volcanic deposits now preserved in the geologic column had to have formed during a single year. Massive eruptions have been well preserved, for example, in the Deccan traps (Siberia) or in flood basalts of the Snake River basin (northwestern U.S.). Geologists have modeled the impact of these individual lava flows on terrestrial and ocean life, and consistently conclude that each could have contributed to dramatic climate change and major extinction events. But these models assume that lava of the Deccan traps, for example, erupted over hundreds of thousands of years. Cumulatively—and if we require that all eruptions took place during the Flood year—these volcanic flows would have poisoned the oceans with heavy metals and saturated the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and sulfur gases. The sheer amount of carbon dioxide would have driven the oceans toward acidic conditions too vile for any surface life.

  88. Carbon dioxide emissions from volcanic events would have driven atmospheric concentrations to ~50,000 ppm or more. That’s more than 1,000 times what we find today! There is no evidence, however, for the extreme heating of Earth’s surface that inevitably would have ensued (on the contrary, YEC’s believe an ice age followed the Flood). Additionally, not enough time has passed since the Flood for such high levels to have equilibrated to those observed prior to the modern industrial age. The mass of volcanic deposits within the geologic column precludes the Flood geology model entirely.
  89. Large metamorphic bodies do not form rapidly, but require hundreds of thousands to millions of years worth of circulating waters under intense heat and pressure. The notion that catastrophic plate tectonics can explain the metamorphism of extensive mountain belts has no basis in physical science.
  90. Large sphalerite (zinc sulfide) crystals forming in ore body. Image from MGG&MS.

    Large sphalerite (zinc sulfide) crystals forming in ore body. Image from MGG&MS.

    Gemstones and other rare minerals form by slow accumulation of rare elements in magma or in water circulating through rocks. The greater the size, purity, and quality of gemstones, the longer it would have taken to form them. Gemstones are thus a testament to the antiquity of the Earth.

  91. Radiogenic isotopes in rocks from the crust to the deep mantle indicate a long history of chemical evolution deep within the Earth. As large igneous bodies cooled at the surface to create continental and oceanic crusts, some elements preferentially were incorporated into solid minerals, while others remained preferentially in the liquid mass in the mantle. This chemical differentiation explains very well the difference in isotope ratios between the crust and deep mantle rocks, assuming that it occurred over several billion years. Young-Earth geologists, on the other hand, cannot explain the most basic geochemical features of the Earth’s crust and mantle.
  92. Catastrophic plate tectonics is the only way to explain the bulk evidence for plate tectonic theory in a young-Earth timeline. But two major problems arise: excess heat and lack of a viable mechanism. Though YEC’s feel they have been able to model rapid subduction of the Earth’s crust (accounting for the mechanism), they certainly cannot explain how this process did not destroy the Earth’s surface in a giant heat death. Excess heat must have transferred to the oceans and the crust, which would destroyed all life on Earth.
  93. There is no evidence of excess heating from catastrophic plate tectonics. According to John Baumgardner, the excess heat diffused by evaporating a ~1.5-km-thick column of water over the oceans. He claims this is a answer to the ‘heat problem’ above, which he believes is physically “comprehensible”. But the geologic record shows no evidence of large scale heating of the oceans, such as might be expected in stable-isotope proxies that work as paleothermometers (such as δ18O and Mg/Ca in carbonates or δD in clay minerals).
  94. Cross section of oceanic crust at a mid-ocean ridge. Image from a lecture slide here.

    Cross section of oceanic crust at a mid-ocean ridge. Image from a lecture slide found here.

    Catastrophic plate tectonics cannot explain detailed formation of new oceanic crust, as is observed today at mid-ocean ridges. Oceanic crust is not a homogenous mass of basalt, but develops distinct textures from top to bottom, due to different cooling rates and chemical composition. If the ocean floor had to form rapidly (in a matter of years), we should not find these textures in older sections of oceanic crust, far away from modern spreading ridges.

  95. Seafloor basalt is modified geochemically by hydrothermal vents that form in fissures near mid-ocean ridges. These vents are powered by hot, upwelling seawater that originally infiltrated far away from the ridge, where temperatures are much cooler. However, the catastrophic plate tectonic model allows no time for this process and would have created a seafloor that was entirely too hot for effective hydrothermal circulation. Therefore, the catastrophic model is falsified by the thousands of studies of the ocean floor, which find evidence of alteration of seafloor basalts in very old parts of the crust (such as the western Pacific).
  96. Radiometric dating of seafloor basalt has produced a famously coherent pattern of increasing age away from mid-ocean ridges. The mapbelowis constructed by compiling thousands of analyses from dozensofindividual studies across the globe. Though young-Earth geologists will argueagainstthe validity of absolute ages, they still must explain the overall pattern, which makes no sense intheirparadigm (even invoking accelerated nuclear decay).

    Age distribution of the ocean floor; image and data compilation from NOAA.

    Age distribution of the ocean floor; image and data compilation from NOAA.

  97. The relative abundance of elements in the cosmos shows distinct patterns that make little sense in the young-Earth paradigm. For example, hydrogen and helium are super abundant compared to lithium, beryllium, and boron. Furthermore, elements of even atomic number are ~10 times more abundant than elements of odd atomic number. These relationships make sense in conventional astrophysics, because elements are produced over millions of years in dense stars through a process called nuclear synthesis. But YEC’s must explain them ad hoc:God simply created them like this.

    Relative abundance (on a logarithmic scale) of elements in our universe.

    Relative abundance (on a logarithmic scale) of elements in our universe.

  98. Components of our solar system, including the sun, meteorites, and planets, have approximately the same chemical composition (if volatile elements are excluded). This coincidence is shocking, unless we allow that each was drawn from a primordial mass, as described by the nebular hypothesis.
  99. Even the RATE team, a YEC think-tank seeking to undermine geochronology, has found no meaningful objection to the validity of radiometric dating techniques. Their proposal that radioactive decay rates increased by as much as a million times in the recent past is essentially a concession that geochronology works (they just refuse to accept the results), because…
  100. Accelerated nuclear decay is science fiction. Neither the physics nor the math produces a result in which radiometric dates yield consistently large ages for rocks and minerals in our solar system. One cannot tweak the physical properties of atoms, so as to increase the rate of radioactive decay, without all hell breaking loose—literally. Rates of decay depend on the stability of individual atoms, so if unstable atoms became more unstable, we’d expect stable atoms also to become very unstable, which would be the undoing of the physical universe as we know it. These are not conditions through which an Ark of humans and animals ever could have survived.

Biblical literalism as blasphemy

“[T]he book of nature, which we have to read, is written by the finger of God.” (Michael Faraday, On Mental Education)

If the biblical account of creation is literally true, then the creator is maliciously lying in the great book of nature, which plainly says otherwise. If it is not literally true, then literalists are in error in their hermeneutics. So literalists have a choice; admit their hermeneutics are mistaken, or call God a malicious liar.

I approach this entire area with diffidence. I was at one time a believer, but always regarded literalism as bone-headed on internal evidence (Maimonides, of course, had made the same point nearly 900 years ago). I am prompted to post this comment because believers whom I respect have found it helpful, and because I regard all those committed to accepting the evidence of things seen as natural allies, however much we may differ on things unseen. I therefore wish to distance myself from those, at both ends of the spectrum, who regard the most bone-headed versions of the Abrahamic religions as for that very reason the most authentic.

Both Faraday and Maxwell are invoked as believers in intelligent design by advocates of the degenerate doctrine that now goes by that name, but it is difficult to imagine a more profound misunderstanding. For more on Faraday’s views on natural law as God’s handiwork, and the distinct but overlapping views of James Clerk Maxwell, see here. From Maxwell, let me quote just this:

The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.

Or even, as in the case of the creationist’s “types”, lead to a hypothesis being resurrected in total defiance of the evidence.

The battle for evolution in Scottish schools

Excellent article by my friend Jonny Scaramanga.

And rather disturbing that so much press coverage repeats one person’s description of the petition as atheist, when that person has been told often enough that our organisation is faith-neutral and, in its membership, faith-diverse., and all that the petition seeks is

official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

And that the person spreading this damaging misinformation about us is the Moderator-Elect of the free Church of Scotland, heir to the great Henry Drummond , who a century ago embraced evolution as evidence of God’s creativity, and warned against the God of the Gaps on whom today’s anti-evolutionists so heavily rely.

Leaving Fundamentalism

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee will be hearing from members of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) and Scottish Secular Society (SSS). Earlier this year, the SSS started a petition urging the Scottish government issue guidance on the teaching of creationism in schools. In England and Wales, there is clear guidance that creationism and Intelligent Design are not valid scientific alternatives to the theory of evolution, and should not be taught as such. In Scotland, there is no equivalent document.

This is a problem, because as we’ve previously seen, there have been significant inroads by creationists in some Scottish schools. Fortunately in that case, there was a decisive win for science. But what that case showed was that creationism genuinely is an issue in Scotland, and it will continue to be so without clear guidance. So you might think that the SSS petition, backed by three…

View original post 1,339 more words

%d bloggers like this: