Post featured in this Sunday’s Herald, here
If you thought (like the books handed out to the children in Kirktonholme Primary) that dinosaurs were almost wiped out in the Flood and then used as beasts of burden until finished off by Nimrod the Mighty Hunter, I have news for you. We have a real live dinosaur sitting in the Scottish Parliament.
John Mason, MSP for Shettleston and a member of the governing Scottish National Party, has just tabled Motion S4M-12149, asking the Scottish Parliament to resolve that
… some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it; considers that none of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold, and further considers that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.
John Mason’s challenge to me and pretty well every other scientist on the planet: prove the world was not created in six days. Now here’s my challenge to Mr Mason: prove you are not a dinosaur.
What is the evidence that you are not a dinosaur? Why is it not a valid belief for people to hold that you really are a dinosaur? How does the evidence compare with the evidence against a 6-day creation from geology, physics, astronomy and cosmology, geography, and I haven’t even started on the fossil record or molecular biology. I have decided that I believe, as a matter of faith, that you really are a dinosaur, and I maintain that this is a valid belief for people to hold, and further consider that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of this different belief system.
Off the top of my head, the evidence from geology presented by the geologist (later Bishop) Nicholas Steno in 1669, who established the science of stratigraphy. The evidence of Siccar Point, one of the most famous locations in Scotland, where rocks have been laid down, tilted, eroded, and covered by more rocks, as described over 200 years ago by the geologist (and theist) James Hutton. The evidence of the geological column, established during the 19th century by clergyman-geologists like William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick. Other evidence for lengthy processes between geological events, like the weathering at the Giants’ Causeway.
Physics: radiometric dating, first used by Rutherford and colleagues over 100 years ago, and checked and cross-checked many thousands of times since, using different isotope pairs. (And how do we know the clock runs true? Because, since the work of George Gamow in 1928, we have known that decay rates depend on fundamental physical constants, and if they had been different, so would the laws of physics and chemistry and we wouldn’t have the rocks anyway.)
Astronomy and cosmology: around 1920, the Jesuit priest Georges Lemaitre had worked out (although Edwin Hubble gets most of the public credit) that the further away galaxies are from us, the faster they are receding. So running the film backwards, we infer an initial Big Bang (or, as Lemaitre called it, “Primal atom”) where all the matter in our Universe was aggregated at a single point. And according to the best curreent estimate, that took place 13.8 billion years ago, with a further 9 billion years needed to get from there to the processes forming our own Solar System. Making 6 days wrong by a factor of around half a trillion.
How about helioseismology? We can observe vibrations spreading throughout the Sun, use the data to infer how much of the Sun’s original hydrogen has been converted to helium, and calculate how long this would have taken. The answer comes out at 4.5 billion years, which is also the age of the Solar System as inferred from radiometric dating.
As to how far we know the galaxies to be, we can work that out by looking for supernova explosions. Simplifying slightly [I have to say that, because if they find any detail out of place the Creationist shout “Gotcha!”] all supernova explosions of a certain type release the same amount of energy. And apparent energy depends on distance. And we know that the speed of light hasn’t changed, because we can make sense of the patterns of light emitted by the most distant stars, so the laws of physics that dictate the speed of light haven’t changed since the light left these galaxies.
So we know that we have seen galaxies 12 billion light-years away. Which means that they’ve been receding from us for 12 billion years. Not 6 days.
Geography: we have the facts of plate tectonics, as shown by the movement of continents (which we can now follow directly by satellite), and confirmed by palaeomagnetism, showing how the earth’s plates have moved relative to its magnetic field. The reasoning is so simple that a child can follow it, and in fact I’ve reviewed a children’s book that explains it.
And remember, we haven’t even started on the fossil record, or the life sciences.
Now the evidence that John Mason is not a dinosaur. Pretty thin by comparison. Comparative anatomy? If you accept that, you will also have to accept that comparative anatomy shows we’re chimps, with some twenty or so known extinct species more or less intermediate between us and our last common ancestor with the other two surviving chimp species. Physiology and molecular biology? Tush! Go with that, the same kind of evidence as we use in our law courts to establish family relationships, and you end up second cousin to a monkey and fourth cousin to a mushroom. Not what you have in mind.
Intelligent behaviour? On present showing, pit you against a velociraptor and my money’s on the ‘raptor, every time.
And so I think all Scottish schoolchildren, or at a very minimum all schoolchildren in Mr Mason’s constituency, be made aware of the theory that Mr Mason is an Intelligently Designed dinosaur. Otherwise we risk bringing them up with closed minds; minds closed against what we know from overwhelming evidence to be utter absurdities. And that would never do.