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This week, Northern Ireland’s First Minister is Young Earth Creationist

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Northern Ireland is home to the Giant’s Causeway, one of the world’s most spectacular geological phenomena. This is part of an enormous lava field that was first produced when the modern North Atlantic began to open, and is still growing at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and, most spectacularly, in Iceland. Fragments of the initial outpouring were separated from each other as the Eurasian and North American plates moved apart to form the Atlantic Ocean, and now can be found in locations from Greenland and Denmark. The Causeway itself consists of the basalt formed by the solidification of massive successive outpourings of lava. The slow cooling of this rock forced it contract, fracturing as it did so into hexagonal columns up to 10 m high. Tens of thousands of years must have passed between successive outpourings, because we can see, in between the basalt layers, the baked remains of soil formed by weathering of the lower one.

The Antrim Lava field shown within the British Tertiary Volcanic Province, itself part of the North Atlantic Lava Field. By Hazel Muzzy (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
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“The Chimneys,” columnar structures on skyline. Note additional columnar sructures to right and beneath. Click to enlarge

Careful examination shows a complex succession of processes:

  • The formation of the lowest basalts in 11 separate episodes
  • A pause of at least 100,000 years, during which the first interbasaltic soil layer was formed by weathering. This weathering was accompanied by the erosion of stream valleys,
  • Changes in chemical composition beneath the crust in the lavas feeding the eruptions
  • The formation of the middle basalts, slightly different in chemical composition from the lowest
  • Their slow cooling to give more than 40,000 regular columns
  • More weathering, to give the second interbasaltic layer
  • Formation of the upper basalts, which ever since have been more slowly modified by weathering and erosion.
  • As shown by radiometric dating, all this happened between 50 and 60 million years ago.
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Interbasaltic layer beneath The Chimneys. Click and click again to magnify: note uneven upper contact surface between weathered layer and basalt, due to erosion of palaeosol, and holes (“giants’ eyes”) in the layer where incompletely weathered basalt chunks have been dislodged.

Or was it more like 4,369 years ago? That is the view held by Answers in Genesis, the world’s leading creationist organisation, which assigns the opening of the Atlantic Ocean to the convulsions formed, around that date, by Noah’s Flood. The date itself is arrived at by adding up the time intervals listed in the biblical book of Genesis. There is, of course, nothing in the biblical flood account that even hints at such convulsions. We can trace the idea to the Seventh-day Adventists prophetess Ellen B. White, whose views indirectly influenced the 1961 book, The Genesis Flood, foundational text for the 20th-century revival of Young Earth creationism. “Creation science” has since been further modified to take account of plate tectonics. The trouble, of course, is that the entire geological record must, according to Young Earth dogma, be shoehorned into a 6000 year interval. This leads to numerous absurdities, such as continents moving as fast as rowing boats, and an ice age that reached its peak during the lifetimes of Abraham and Isaac, but none of this seems to bother Young Earth creationism’s true believers.

Readers may be surprised to learn that these true believers include among them some of Northern Ireland’s most influential politicians.

Mervyn Storey, MLA  (Member of the [ Northern Ireland]  Legislative Assembly), who from 2008 until 2014 was Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee, is a former vice-chairman of the Caleb Foundation. This body rejects the whole of modern geology as well as evolutionary biology, and claimed credit (if that is the correct word) for temporarily persuading the National Trust visitor centre at the Causeway to give Young Earth creationism parity of treatment with scientific geology. The resulting outrage led to a letter writing campaign with its own Facebook page (which survives as a discussion forum), and eventual removal of the offending language. Amongother prominent MLAs, Edwin Poots and Paul Givan are also closely associated with Caleb. Poots was briefly (from 28 May this year until 22 June) leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, and in that capacity nominated Givan to be Northern Ireland’s First Minister.

Paul Givan MLA.jpg

Givan was first mentioned in this blog almost exactly 4 years ago, .in connection with his work, along with Poots, in persuading Lisburn City Council to advocate the teaching of creationism. I am happy to say that the schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic, wrote back to point out that Lisburn City Council had no authority over school curricula, that these curricula were generated in consultation with the Northern Ireland Department  of Education, and that the schools themselves had highly professional trained staff, who would not take kindly to this suggestion.

Givan assumed office on 14 June. Within days it became clear that his position was untenable, and at the time of writing we expect to see Donaldson announce his successor very shortly. I have criticized Donaldson before for many reasons (see here), but at least advocacy of creationism is not among them.

Site photographs by the author. Givan image, official photograph (2016)

NCSE letter

This is the letter referred to in the post “TH Huxley’s legacy, a campus building renaming controversy, and appeal for signatures”

Legacy Review Task Force 
Western Washington University 

Dear members of the Legacy Review Task Force, 

May 20, 2021 

I write on behalf of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization affiliated with  the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers 
Association that works to promote and defend the integrity of science education.  

NCSE applauds Western Washington University’s thoughtful and considered approach to studying the  question of the naming of its Huxley College and appreciates the invitation to the public to offer input.  

On the basis of its extensive experience and expertise with organizing opposition to pseudoscientific  attacks on science education, particularly evolution and climate change, NCSE wishes to emphasize  the importance of attending only to reliable and objective scholarship in considering Thomas Henry  Huxley’s significance.   

Because Huxley was so important in the history of science, his beliefs and actions have often been 
misrepresented, taken out of context, or exaggerated by ideologues with axes to grind. Unfortunately,  especially in the era of the Internet, it is easy for well-intentioned but ill-informed readers to be misled  by the writings of such ideologues. 

In particular, Laura Wagner’s “Why is TH Huxley Problematic?” (to be found on the Research and 
Resources section of the Legacy Review Task Force material) cites the following problematic 
resources: 

· “Richard Owen and Charles Darwin on Race: A study in contrast,” a blog post that appeared on 
a website styling itself Evolution News & Science Today. That website is operated by the 
Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the de facto institutional home of 
“intelligent design,” the latest incarnation of creationism. 

· “T. H. Huxley’s Hideous Revolution in Science,” an essay that appeared in Executive Intelligence 
Review, a newsletter published by the political movement founded by Lyndon LaRouche, 
infamous for, among other things, denying the harmful effects on the environment of DDT, 
chlorofluorocarbons, and greenhouse gases. 

· The Darwin Effect, a book published by a creationist publisher and written by a young-earth 
creationist who himself, in 1985, complained that he was the victim of reverse discrimination in 

a letter to the newsletter of David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White 
People (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/bergman-and-racism.html). 

To be sure, the fact that the authors of these problematic resources have scientifically indefensible  views and a record of promoting them through assassinating the characters of their opponents 
does not, of itself, show that their specific claims about Huxley are mistaken. But it strongly 
suggests that they are not worth taking seriously. 

Instead, what ought to be taken seriously are the views of qualified scholars, and it is laudable that  the Legacy Review Task Force solicited observations about Huxley’s significance from such 

scholars as White, Lyons, Reidy, and Rupke. These observations do not of themselves settle the 
question of the naming of Huxley College, but they, and similarly reliable and objective scholarship,  rather than ideologically motivated attacks on Huxley, should be at the basis of any decision. 

NCSE would be happy to discuss the provenance of the problematic resources with you further if 
needed. In any case, we hope that the Legacy Review Task Force arrives at a satisfactory resolution  to the question it faces. 

Sincerely,  

Glenn Branch 

Deputy Director, NCSE  branch@ncse.ngo 

My Passover message

Chewing gum and the genetics of an ancient human

I was particularly interested in this, further confirmation that Europeans until recently were dark-skinned, and in the suggested link between fair skin and diet, as well as weak sunlight

Earth-logs

The sequencing of DNA has advanced to such a degree of precision and accuracy that minute traces of tissue, hair, saliva, sweat, semen and other bodily solids and fluids found at crime scenes are able to point to whomever was present. That is, provided that those persons’ DNA is known either from samples taken from suspects or resides in police records. In the case of individuals unknown to the authorities, archived DNA sequences from members of almost all ethnic groups can be used to ‘profile’ those present at a crime. Likely skin and hair pigmentation, and even eye colour, emerge from segments that contain the genes responsible.

One of the oddest demonstrations of the efficacy of DNA sequencing from minute samples used a wad of chewed birch resin. Such gums are still chewed widely for a number of reasons: to stave off thirst or hunger; to benefit from antiseptic compounds…

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Tactical voting; how, and why

https://dontsplittheremainvote.com

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote This most dispiriting of elections is also among the most important of my lifetime, and its consequences will be felt long after the principal actors are mercifully forgotten.

Boris Johnson in August 2019For me, the overriding issue is clear. We are heading for a situation where the Johnson-ERG axis that has taken over the Conservative Party will be returned with a minority of votes, but a majority of seats in Parliament. This will give us at best Johnson’s extremely damaging Brexit deal, but more probably, with detailed negotiations foredoomed by the Nigel Farage (45718080574) (cropped).jpgrigid timetable, no deal at all. Here, for once, Farage is telling the truth.

The only way to stop this is by tactical voting. With grotesque tribalism, Labour, Lib Dem, and in some constituencies even the Greens are standing against each other in seats that will as a direct result fall to the Conservatives. The only way to stop this is for voters to show the statesmanship that is so sadly lacking in the Party leaders, and vote tactically. Read the rest of this entry

One riotous Oxford booze-up; two future UK Prime Ministers

Why does such a tiny, tight-knit, arrogant elite hold so much power?

https://paulbraterman.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/bullingdon.jpg

Yes, as I wrote in 2015, that’s Dave, “Boris” (Alexander Boris dePfeffel), and the rest of their Old Etonian pals, in purpose-tailored [1] getups, before the notorious Bullingdon Club dinner, which year after year ended in drunken rioting, invading and smashing up the rooms of ordinary students (who were referred to as “trogs” i.e. troglodytes), the occasional debagging (an old tradition; see Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall), and then moving on to more serious stuff like smashing up restaurants.

“Boris” you will have noticed, was already showing his talent for occupying centre-stage, and by all accounts was already exhibiting his incendiary sense of humour.

If you’ve forgotten about Dave (David William Donald Cameron, PM 11 May 2010 to 13 July 2016), his autobiographical For the Record is due for release in September, and he is said to have obtained an £800,000 advance on this from HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, which also owns Dow Jones (as in Dow Jones Index). Perhaps we should feel sorry for him; Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is said to earn that much every year.

1] According to Wikipedia, the price of this gear in 2007 was £3,500. Equal to some 600 hours work at minimum wage, or 49 weeks living allowance on benefits in Glasgow. But remember, that does include the special biscuit-coloured waistcoat. And you do get two more chances to wear it, if you make it into the Club in your first year.

Does Education Make you Stupider? Pt. 2

The Grumpy Geophysicist

Well, the first post didn’t quite have that name but that was kind of the message.  In a nutshell, that post discussed research showing that a better basic understanding of science made for more intense partisanship. Now a short article in The Atlantic describes a somewhat similar exercise generated by More in Common, but this time directly addressing partisanship itself. Basically, this summarizes a study asking people questions about the beliefs of their political opposites.  And once again, more education seems to make people misjudge reality.

Honestly, this is discouraging. But wait–it gets more bizarre.

Basically Democrats lacking a high school education had a pretty firm fix on the opinions of members of the Republican party, correctly estimating what fraction of Republicans agreed or disagreed with certain policy statements. But as you go up the education ladder, Democrats get worse and worse.  Republicans, on the other hand, are pretty…

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Tanis Site: The Day the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Hit

More marvelous discoveries about the tsunami that marked the impact that finished off the dinosaurs

https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/tanis-site-the-day-the-dinosaur-killing-asteroid-hit/

An outstanding account by Scott Buchanan, based on https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2019/03/27/1817407116.full.pdf and other sources, complementing my own earlier https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/how-to-kill-the-dinosaurs-in-ten-minutes/ regarding the impact site.

Scott also includes much general background, and detailed discussion of what makes this site special, and why this, like so much else, is incompatible with Young Earth and other creationist thinking.

Letters to Creationists

CONTENTS

Sequences of Fossils in Sedimentary Rock Layers

K-Pg Asteroid Strike

The Tanis K-Pg Event Site

More Findings from the Tanis Site

Other Dinosaur Finds: Tracks, Eggs and Feces

Location of Dinosaur Fossils in the Rock Layers: Is a Recent Global Flood Credible?

More on Paleosols and Vertebrate Burrows

Closing Thoughts on Significance of the Tanis Site

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Sequences of Fossil in Sedimentary Rock Layers

When canal builders surveyed the rocks of Britain in the early 1800s, they noticed that certain fossils only appeared in certain layers, and that the order of these fossils from layer to layer was typically the same all over the country. The same tendency of a well-defined sequential order in fossilized species has been found to hold all over the world. For instance, rock layers containing trilobites are found below, never above, layers containing modern clam species. Rocks with horse fossils are found above, never…

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Abortion: There is No Ethical Dilemma

Carl Sagan said this decades ago. I think my friend John Zande actually says it better. If the end of brain activity is the end of an individual’s life, then before there is coherent brain activity, individual life has not yet begun.

How can you “kill” something that cannot “die”?

This is arguably the most significant question in any discussion concerning the legality of abortion, and because facts matter, the following seventeen words are critical in understanding that before gestational week 25, although more accurately week 28, there is no ethical dilemma in terminating a pregnancy because nothing is being killed—or worse, to use the careless language of some, murdered.

At no stage does life magically appear in a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, or a foetus.

Life began on earth 3.8 billion years ago and has not been interrupted since. There is no ‘divine spark,’ no ensorcelled moment when the inanimate abruptly transforms into the animate. A foetus was never inorganic and suddenly becomes organic. The egg and the sperm are already parts of the living system—a 3.8 billion years old system driven by chemiosmosis, where the rechargeable…

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Why historical science is the best kind of science

This is for a planned wide-audience writing project on evolution, in which I pre-empt (rather than respond to) creationists’ counter-arguments, such as their downplaying of historical science. I would greatly value comments on this approach.

There are sciences, such as physics and chemistry, where we can perform experiments. There are other sciences, such as the science of planetary motion (and astronomy in general) where we cannot do this, but we can still carry out repeated observations in well-controlled circumstances, and devise theories with whose help we can make definite predictions. All of these are what I will call rule-seeking sciences. At the other extreme, we have sciences such as palaeontology and much of geology, which one might call historical sciences.1 With these, the aim is not so much to establish general rules, as to unravel and explain the specifics of what happened in the past. It is usual to regard the rule-seeking sciences as the most rigorous, to which the others should defer. This shows a deep misunderstanding of how science works, and, time and time again, when historical and rule-seeking sciences have come into conflict, it is historical science that has triumphed.

Rocks exposed at Grand Canyon, from Proterozoic to Permian. Click to enlarge

A few examples. The rocks clearly show (for detailed arguments, see e.g. here) that the Earth, and by implication the Sun, Read the rest of this entry

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