It’s fairly common to be out travelling to realise you have gone in a complete circle and ended up where you started. Here are two examples of mine. One evening in the Namib desert I needed to get to the main coast road, which lay due west, as quickly as possible. So I left the road and followed tracks. I used the evening star Jupiter to guide me. However I ended up looping the loop, but finally got to the mainroad – in pitch dark of course. Another was hill-walking in the Great Welsh Desert near Rhayader. There the hills go up to 2000ft and are flatish moorland. Up I went and got into thick mist. I was too lazy or daft to use my compass and suddenly realised I’d looped the loop. Out came the compass and soon I was at the summit of Gorllyn, which few ever climb.
It is a favourite argument of creationists that geologists are going round in circles on their principles of dating
That would mean all the stuff about Cambrian or Eocene and all those telephone number ages are utterly, utterly wrong!
If this be true, then Darwin needs the hat in this photo
I came across this claim of the geological circular argument when I went to L’Abri. Francis Schaeffer’s son-in-law told me as I was a geologist I should read creationist books starting with The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris. As I had heard of it , I said it was nonsense which did not go down well!! Well, I read and lots of others and have an excellent library of creationist books.
Reluctantly, as I was stuck high on a Swiss Alp, I sat down and read The Genesis Flood. It was a hard and frustrating read and at first I found it difficult to contradict. I was angry, as if it were true , then all my geological education and work in the field was based on falsehood.
I wasn’t happy with his discussion on uniformitarianism and catastrophism, but my history of geology was almost non-existent then. I ground my way through the book and getting crosser and crosser. Then I got to the bottom of p134, where he argued that relative geological age dating was a circular argument assuming the truth of evolution.
He cited a long gone geologist R H Rastall
I thought , What the…? as I knew neither Morris’ or Rastall’s claims were true.
My reason for that, was that I had worked in a large area of Pre-cambrian sediments in the Richtersveld of South Africa. It was unknown territory as the only previous geologists were Rodgers who went there on a horse in about 1914 and De Villiers and Sohnge who spent several seasons there in the 40s. (Sohnge was lucky not to meet his end in 1970 when he was a passenger in my LandRover. I was pointing out some geology and drove off the road and down a bank!!)
The Richtersveld was a fantastic remote mountainous desert and hardly anyone lived there. I was out in this every day looking at rocks with temperatures up to 100. The cacti were incredible and snakes were common.
To over -simplify the geology of the Richersveld was thus;
The oldest rocks, the Kheis, were ancient metamorphic rocks, gneiss etc
Above them the Stinkfontein, a succession of conglomerates and sandstone, with a few lava bands
and at the top was the Numees Tillite, which was a bit below the Nama and other strata which were known to be Cambrian.
Last of all were some plutons, which cut the older rocks and if memory serves me right were dated at about 470-500 my.
Apart from one stromatolite I found there were absolutely no fossils. Since then I found out that a sequence of Ediacara suite of fossils were discovered close by. I often wonder if I walked over them as that would have been life-changing – finding the first Precambrian fossils in Africa!
I ended up mapping about 1,000 sq mls at 1 in to 1 mile scale and superficially looked at an area three times that size. With some other geologists we popped over north of the Orange River into the Sperrgebiet, which was verboten and carried a heavy fine if caught!
Back to the geology. I had to work out the order of deposition i.e. construct my own geological column of the area. De Villiers and Sohnge reckoned the Stinkfontein were equivalent to quartzitic rocks in the Witwatersrand and thus 2 to 2 1/2 billion years old. I promptly rejected that and reckoned the Stinkfontein were much younger and akin in age to the Torridonian sandstone of the Northern Highlands , thus reducing their age by a mere 1,500,000,000 years. Over a year or so I worked out this Pre-cambrian geological column from the basal conglomerate of the Stinkfontein up to the glacial Numees Tillite
and loads of stuff in between. I worked out most of the order but had many gaps. I was pleased that a young German geologist, Kroner, who came to the area at the same time, came to the same conclusion after his geological blitzkreig, as opposed to my Tommy-like slow infantry slog!! Essentially my column is roughly what is the accepted one for the Richtersveld today, but foolishly I never wrote it up for publication.
Most days I went up one valley and over the top and returned down another valley. Often there was the same succession in both valleys. I slowly pieced the geology together. By the end of the day I’d usually run out of water and got thirsty. Often I saw a bright green patch in the dry valley. I knew it was water, but half the time it was brackish! When I got back I drank a glass of water supersaturated in salt!
In all I was there a bit over a year.
Here is a recent column from 2011, some 40 years later. Like me, they had no fossils to help them but they never went round in a circle.In fact it shows that both Kroner and I got some things wrong – and Kroner and I disagreed in 1970! I’ve only just found this and it was fascinating to see what I got right and what I didn’t.
As I looked at some of the recent papers I could see how the whole understanding of the geology and especially the historical order of strata i.e. a Geological Column of the Richtersveld had been developed in the last 100 years.
I wonder how many Creationists can explain that diagram. It obviously needs to be read with whole chapter!
The developing story is rather like the working out of the Welsh Cambrian Ordovician and Silurian and the Devonian of Devon and Cornwall from 1831 to 1850.
So with my Richtersveld experience in mind I knew Morris was utterly wrong.
I had devised a Geological Column of a vast thickness of strata covering a few thousand square miles and two billion years.
So without a fossil, how did I do it.
It was essentially the Principle of superposition , where in a heap the stuff at the bottom got there first i.e. the oldest, and the stuff on top the last, i.e the newest. This principle was put forward by Steno (later a Bishop) in the 1660s and is as obvious (from gravity) as it is essential in geology. Bricklayers don’t start with bricks at roof level but at the bottom! You are right to say they start at the bottom , unless there clues they did not.
To understand how it worked out, take this Cross-section and put the numbered rocks (either strata or igneous 2,3) in order of emplacement
Now do it if all were laid down in the Flood.
There was a lot of geological work all over Europe in the 18th century with glimmerings of putting strata in historical order and we got the terms of Primary (oldest) Secondary and Tertiary. They also realised that the earth was ancient – whether they were Christian, desit or indifferent.
In about 1780 Rev Prof John Michell* of Cambridge, who did pioneering work on earthquakes wrote a friend, but did not publish, an order of strata. Here it is with modern names on the RHS ;
Sand of Bedfordshire
Northampton and Portland Lime Jurassic
Sand Newark Triassic
Red Clay of Tuxford
Sherwood forest pebbles and Gravel Permian
Roche Abbey and Brotherton limes
Coal strata of Yorks Carboniferous
Michell had got it essentially right. It was based on a coach trip from Cambridge to Yorkshire. You could probably retrace his route today within a mile or two.
Then in the 1790s William Smith around Bath and Cuvier around Paris did careful work and often used fossils as markers as some fossils are only found in certain strata. Cuvier was a superb anatomist so had a great understanding of what creature the fossil was from. Smith was a canal engineer and no anatomist and identified fossils from memory rather than anatomy.
This shows how index fossil are used. The trilobite in A is good as it is not found elsewhere, so if strata have that trilobite , you know its age. The spiral shell – turritella – is less useful as it’s found all over the place. Using fossils like this was and is empirical and not from “theory” as you need to know what layers a fossil is found in so you can use it.
In the 1790s as he began his work Smith thought the earth was 6000 years old, but his mentors – local vicars Richardson* and Townsend *- persuaded him the earth was ancient!! However questions of the age did not affect Smith’s order of strata which he worked out as he travelled England and Wales. He seems to have used a mixture of Steno’s superposition and index fossils .
However evolution was anathema to both Cuvier and Smith.
and so Smith worked out the order of English strata, which si essentially the same as today’s understanding
Smith drew a cross section from Snowdon in Wales right across to London, with the oldest on the left (He called what is now Cambrian and Ordovician Killas). Anyone familiar with British geology will identify the various coloured “bands” and give them a modern name. BTW in 1963 after climbing Snowdon I cycled home to just south of London and followed almost the route of the cross-section. It took about 5 days and was 300 miles but I climbed Cadair Idris en route. In the middle is a hill by Cheltenham (yellow – Jurassic), which is Birdlip Hill and very steep!!
And so in 1815 Smith produced his maps and knew nothing about evolution. I have a copy of it – but a reprint. Its accuracy amazes me.
Sadly publishing the map bankrupt poor Smith and he ended up in a debtor’s jail.
Here is a more recent one from the British Geological Survey.
There was much to do after Smith’s map! Briefly; from 1831 Sedgwick* and Murchison (who pinched Tom Lewis*’s ideas) sorted out the killas i.e. the Cambrian to Silurian, first in Wales and later further north. Sedgwick and Murchison fell out big way! Sedgwick was the good guy!
In the early 1840s several geologists sorted out the complex Devonian in Devon and Cornwall.
From 1830 Lyell worked out the Tertiary strata which he called Eocene, Miocene and Pliocene at the suggestion of Whewell*.
Mortenson and AIG allege that Deep Time is atheistic. In the paragraphs above all Anglican Clergy are marked with * – several were Evangelical. So much for there atheism.
Thus well before Darwin published The Origin of species in 1859 the Geological Column was elucidated without even a whiff of EVOLUTION. Creationists often call it the Evolutionary Uniformitarian Column, but as Sedgwick et all were old earth creationists and catastrophists it should be called the Catastrophic , Creationist Column!
In 1860 Richard Owen, who opposed Darwin included this geological column in a book. All done with no evolution and this no circular argument.
This shows how geological dating was worked out without evolution.
Here’s a modern column with humour.
(Michell’s column went from 66my to 323my.)
Henry Morris was just plain wrong.
His weakness was a very poor grasp of both the history of geology and geological methods. Sadly some practising geologists, like Rastall, were also confused! Many scientists are good at their science but not at explaining their methods.
Perhaps I didn’t fall for Morris’s inexactitudes as I had worked in the Precambrian, dating rocks without any fossils. I never liked fossils at university so that is why I chose mining rather than oil!
Henry Morris’s misrepresentation has been refuted many times but is usually ignored
Here is one by Prof Van der Fliert in 1969
And it’s still put about as by his son John, who has a Ph.D. in engineering geology
The son won’t correct it
Lesser creationists like Kent Hovind spits it out in his lecture and then his acolytes think it’s true.
This comes from one of his standard lectures
Even today people fall for and use the meme incessantly on social media.
One would have thought that after 60 years of being corrected this whopper would be dropped , but it is still going strong
I am often told I should believe Exodus 20 vs11, but my response is that Creationists should obey Exod 20 vs 16.
Below are some photos of Carboniferous Bowland Shales
Two superb unconformities, one in the Black Hills and the other unknown!
Darwin’s geology; An Ordovician syncline in wales
Dipping Silurian shales/slates with an arkosic band
I really enjoyed this history Mike, including your personal contributions to the science. Also love the way you personally integrate your science with your faith.