No one, so far as I know, has any religious objection to the Periodic Table and the unifying concepts of chemistry. But some people do have religious objections to the geological record, and to the unifying concepts of geology, because these don’t agree with what the most learned men of their time and place wrote down some two and a half thousand years ago.1 And as I argued in my last post, such people will seize on real or imagined anomalies as evidence that the entire intellectual structure is unsound. By contrast, the scientist’s response to such anomalies is to regard them as a potential source of new knowledge, far more likely to extend the framework in a mature discipline than to destroy it.
Example 1: Superposition and overthrusts
It is more than 350 years since Steno (who eventually became a bishop) proposed that strata consisted of layers of rock laid down one on top of another, newest on top. We have known for over two hundred years that both the London and Paris basins are filled with relatively recent sediment, on top of marine deposits (chalk or limestone) that emerge in hills to the North and South, that these in turn rest on an older basement, and that the more recent sediments were laid down in layers. The familiar geological sequence, Precambrian upwards (click to enlarge), was established in something like its present form before 1860, by merging the overlapping but incomplete local rock columns, although it was not until the 20th Century that it was recognised that the Precambrian occupied far more of the Earth’s history than everything since that time.
One major disruption of the usual order occurs in the northwest of Scotland, where older rocks lie above younger along a 200 km front. The resulting confusion (the “Highlands Controversy“, fuller account here) was not resolved until the 1880s, with the recognition of what is now known as the Moine Thrust. Read the rest of this entry
Did Satan make Darwin do it? Why does Ben Carson think so? The deep roots of Flood Geology creationism
There is an apostolic succession from the Millerites to Ellen White and the Adventists to George McCready Price (who plays a role in tomorrow’s blog post) to his Genesis Flood plagiarisers, Whitcomb and Morris, to Ham and Baumgartner and Carson. But Glasgow has the best statues:
For my friends outside the US: Ben Carson is a real live rebublican contender for the 2016 Presidential nomination. Like almost all his competitors, he does not believe in evolution. But what makes him special is his deep insight into where the science of evolution science really comes from. Now read on.
Much has been made of Ben Carson’s comment that Satan guided Charles Darwin to accept evolution. This comes from a lecture for the Seventh Day Adventists in 2011 which you will find embedded in this article.http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danthropology/2015/09/ben-carson-says-charles-darwin-created-the-theory-of-evolution-under-the-influence-of-satan/
To claim that Satan led dear Darwin astray is pretty face-palming for a potential President of
our former colonies the United States. However other candidates hold similar views including Mike Huckabee, a southern Baptist minister.
Carson is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church which is one of the many millennial groups which came into being in the 19th century. Most of their beliefs are typical of conservative evangelicals /fundamentalists but they are several additions, which are not optional bolt-on extras.
These are that one must believe in a 6-day creation of the earth some 6000 years ago as this is the direct conclusion of believing the Fourth Commandments means that you must…
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Even William Jennings Bryan, at the 1925 Scopes Trial (of which more later), prosecuting under the law he had helped form that made teaching evolution illegal, admitted the probability of an ancient Earth. Now, infiltrating CofE and Church of Scotland, and overwhelming Baptist and Evangelical churches on both sides of the Atlantic, the absurdities of such Old Earth creationism have been replaced by a Young Earth “flood geology” creationism that is beyond absurd.
I have been asked about creationist infiltration into the Church of England, which has only come about in the last forty years. By Creationism I means those who reckon the earth to be only thousands of years old and that evolution has not happened. I will not discuss Creationism as such, except to say it is scientifically worthless and wrong as well as being bad theology.
Well here goes.
First consider the make-up and history of the Church of England. Right from the beginning, i.e 1540s, it was not completely Protestant, and has been called a bone half-set. Elizabeth wished to retain both ultra-protestants and semi-papists, resulting in tensions for over a century culminating with the execution of William Laud and the Civil war. After the Restoration in 1662 the Latitudinarians (fore-runners of liberals) gained the influence but from the 1730s Evangelicals began their long reign. Until about 1790 they…
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An earlier post here described Siccar Point, where an 80,000,000 year time gap is present between near-vertical tilted strata, and their roughly horizontal overlay. This gap corresponds to the formation and subsequent erosion of fold mountains thrown up when Iapetus, precursor to the modern North Atlantic, closed. Today’s post is (mainly) about the Giants’ Causeway, part of the enormous lava field first produced when the modern North Atlantic began to open, and still growing at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and, most spectacularly, in Iceland. Fragments of the initial outpouring were separated as the Eurasian and North American plates moved away from each other, and now can be found as far apart as Greenland and Denmark.
The Antrim Lava Field, of which the Causeway is part, was formed in three separate phases each consisting of many individual episodes. The most spectacular feature of the Causeway is provided by the second of these. Here, the lava cooled slowly, to generate a solid layer which stressed as it cooled, finally fracturing to give a complex array of columns, up to 10 metres high, and showing in places an almost regular hexagonal pattern. The lava of this second phase shows subtle chemical differences from the first, evidence of changes in the hot lava plume feeding the outflow. But what most excited me at the site was the existence of a band around 5 metres thick, between these columns and the lava beneath them. This layer is not a sediment, but a palaeosol, an ancient soil formed by in situ weathering of the top of the lavas deposited in the first phase. Its nature is confirmed by the presence of occasional unweathered lumps, and there are occasional round scars (“Giants’ eyes”) in the exposed surface where these lumps have come away. Humid conditions are confirmed by the presence of valleys carved by streams, and filled in by the later lava flows. The chemical composition is like that of tropical soils, which have undergone extensive prolonged leeching under warm and wet conditions, with the most insoluble materials, iron and aluminium oxides, predominating towards the top, and there are traces of charred plant roots in the topmost layer. So here we have direct evidence of an extended interval, variously estimated at between 100,000 years and 3 million years, between the first and second phase of eruptions. After my visit, I discovered that this interbasaltic layer is found across the whole area of the Antrim Lava Field, and that there is another such layer between the middle and upper lavas. There are also extensive dikes, penetrating all the lower levels, caused by the eruption of the lava layers above. The entire coastline has been extensively reshaped and eroded over the intervening millions of years, and most dramatically during the Ice Ages, and subsequent exposure to the storms of the Atlantic. For more extensive descriptions, see here, p. 30, or here, and references therein.
Right: “The Chimneys,” columnar structures on skyline. Note additional columnar sructures to right and beneath.
Below: 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.
To summarise the sequence of events, we have
- The formation of the lower basalts in 11 separate episodes
- A pause of at least 100,000 years, during which the first interbasaltic layer formed by weathering, this weathering was accompanied by the erosion of stream valleys, and there were changes in chemical composition beneath the crust in the lavas feeding the eruptions
- The formation of the middle basalts
- Their slow cooling to give regular columns
- More weathering, to give the second interbasaltic layer
- Formation of the upper basalts, and finally
- Further gradual processes of weathering, erosion, and exposure.
One would expect any politician to be proud to have within his constituency so dramatic a statement of the Earth’s history. Not so. Northern Ireland Assembly member Mervyn Storey, who is currently Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee, is 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 exhibit on the formation of 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.
I was amazed when I learnt what Storey considered to be the real cause of the Causeway; Noah’s Flood. Surely, I thought, even he would be aware that basalts had an igneous rather than an aqueous origin. It was only later that I learnt of the Flood Geology version of creationism. According to this, the year of Noah’s Flood was accompanied by a catastrophic remoulding of the entire planet, including dizzying motions of the continents, and massive outpourings of lava. (No matter that there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to suggest anything of the kind.) This is why the creationist literature is full of attempts to revive the long-dead conflict between catastrophism and uniformitarianism. As I mentioned in my last post, T. H. Huxley had pronounced the obituary on this conflict in 1869, but I do not think that people like Melvyn Storey pay much attention to Huxley.
Storey also managed to grab a few headlines in 2009, the year of the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and of the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. The Ulster Museum mounted a special exhibition celebrating this, and Storey publicly threatened the Museum with litigation, for violating equality laws. As he put it in an interview with the Guardian,
In the past, when I have written to the museum about necessity to show the public an alternative to Darwin’s theory (and let’s stress it is still only a theory), they have been quite dismissive.
They could be subject to a legal challenge under equality legislation within Northern Ireland if they chose to ignore alternative views that many people here in the Province believe in.
This takes us to the heart of the matter. Equality legislation is about how people are treated as a result of group membership, rather than as individuals. Denial such as Storey’s is based not on reason or religion, but on his own group loyalty. Northern Ireland, notoriously, is inhabited by two rival tribes. One tribe is overwhelmingly Catholic, accepts the facts of evolution and an ancient Earth, and has traditionally sought to be ruled from Dublin. The other, to which Storey belongs, is biblical infallibilist Presbyterian, believes that the world must have been made in six days some 6000 years ago because God said so, and is fiercely insistent on being ruled from Westminster. If Storey were to accept the scientific evidence, that would mean letting the requirements of truth override the requirements of tribe, which is unacceptable.
And finally, time as sequence of events. I show here a photograph of a pebble, collected on the beach at Benalmadena, in southern Spain. This is a geologically interesting area because that is where the African plate moving northwards presses against the Eurasian plate. Around the rim of the pebble, especially at 2 o’clock and 6 o’clock, you can see a hint of separate layers. These are not strata, but caused by the lining up of tiny crystals in the rock under pressure. The pebble is crisscrossed with white lines (quartz, carried there in superheated water) and pinkish lines (the same, but contaminated with iron) in various directions. The thickest of these pinkish lines runs more or less from top to bottom of the image, and it is easy to see that this line defines a fault, with the rock material having yielded and been pushed upwards on the left-hand side. Thinking about how the lines cross each other, it is clear that the pebble has undergone at least two separate episodes of intrusion by white quartz, and two by pink quartz, the more recent of these corresponding to the fault formation. That’s four separate events, involving at least two separate sources of quartz-bearing fluid, after the rock had already formed and then been subjected to enormous tectonic pressure, but before this particular piece was detached, to be worn down in the water and eventually deposited on the beach.
As Yogi Berra said, you can see a lot just by looking. And one thing you can see, if you are prepared to look, is that it takes millions of years to make a pebble.
A historical, scientific and doctrinal skewering. Over a decade old but still, alas, as topical as the day it was written. The epidemiology and manifestations of that 20th century plague, mendacious pseudoscientific creationism, Young Earthism, and evolution denial.
I make no apology for this being over a decade old as it was written in response to the problems at Emmanuel College Gateshead in 2002. Most of the issues remain with the same perpetrators.
CREATIONISM ON THE ROCKS
A GEOLOGICAL LOOK AT CREATIONISM
Monkey Business at A State School
Early in March 2002 the story broke that Emmanuel College, a state–funded Christian City Technical College in Gateshead, Newcastle on Tyne was teaching secondary school children that the earth is only 10,000 years old. Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones, were quick to condemn the school and some in the Church of England have joined in.
The school has had glowing OFSTED reports and excellent GSCE examination results and is partly funded by the millionaire car–dealer Reg Vardy. It has high standards of discipline, a strong Christian ethos and seems to be everything parents want from a school However their teaching…
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