Deconstructing a Creationist on Siccar Point

Some time ago the Creationist “geologist”, Tas Walker, wrote an article on the unconformity at Siccar Point in Scotland.

https://creation.com/siccar-point-trail?fbclid=IwAR22CvA_lqxLbs1280OBkafhr9b2CmlOGxVBILHL_6h-LUPXdh3zlYUW8QY

One of the most famous of geological sites is the unconformity at Siccar Point in Scotland.  James Hutton went there in 1788 with his friend Rev John Playfair. Near the sea they found  an interesting feature. Some rocks dipping steeply were overlain by almost horizontal strata. Sir John Hall later made a sketch

Photo; Paul Braterman from his blog which gives a more geological description of Siccar Point – https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/time-turned-to-stone-part-1-time-as-interval/  I will deal more with historical aspects.

The rocks at 65 deg are Silurian  and the flatter ones are Devonian. It represents a gap of 60 million years or so. This is elementary geology to but Hutton was the first to realise the incredible time gap. Since then many more have been found all over the world.

A fine one is the Steamboat Unconformity in the Blackhills with a gap of a billion years between mid Precambrian and Cambrian.

The time gap varies in unconformities!

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/seeing-rocks-slant-unconformities-old-and-new/

Unconformities demonstrate a considerable lapse of time, something Young Earth Creationists do not like. Hence Siccar Point is a good target to eviscerate as “creationist geologist” like Tas Walker tries, flashing his doctorate from the Dunning-Kruger University, in this article.

“The heritage trail at Siccar Point, Scotland

Commemorating an idea that did not work”

Doesn’t it work? Let’s see!

Before going through his blog I’ll make some historical and geological comments about the background of Hutton at Siccar Point. This CMI blog seems to imply that Hutton pulled his ideas out of thin air when visiting, but a consideration of the previous 120 years of geologising all over Europe contradicts that.

What Tas does is to re-iterate the creationist version of the Hutton-Lyell myth. The creationist version is that Hutton and Lyell were the naughty boys who invented Uniformitarianism out of thin air to attack the bible. Unconformities were part of that attack along with Deep Time, which nobody had thought about before.

The myth has a secular form in an old-style bad history of science , which is hopelessly Brito-centric just focussing on two geologists as if they were the only ones. Creationists took this and gave it a demonic twist.

Thus we have two main issues – Deep Time and Uniformitarianism

Deep Time is simply vast geological time. In 1650 most educated and uneducated people in Europe thought the earth was about 6000 years old. There was no geological evidence to guide them, so that cannot be held against them. For the last 70 years geologists have argued that the earth is 4.56 billion years old. In the 1780s Hutton and others knew the earth was very old but not how old.

We usually think of Ussher’s date of 4004BC which is similar to John Lightfoot’s of 50 years less. Both wrote in the 1650s and were excellent scholars.

The journey began in the 1660s, when Nils Steno (later a Catholic bishop who got beatified) was studying fossils and strata in Italy and worked out the Principle of Superposition. He was rather undecided on the age of the strata. But he had made a vital breakthrough.

Twenty years later Edward Lhwyd and Rev John Ray spent much time botanising in Snowdonia. Lhwyd was struck by the number of boulders in Nant Peris. As only one had fallen in living memory, he tentatively concluded that the hundreds of boulders must have fallen at intervals of several decades, meaning that Ussher’s age of 4004BC needed to be revised upwards. After all 500×50 =25,000. A wee advance on Ussher! In fact, they were glacial erratics dumped almost together some 20,000 years ago, so Lhwyd was wrong! Even so, it was an interesting idea showing a questioning mind.

Others reckoned the earth must be older too as did Hooke and Hobbes (see my Genesis and Geological time p41)

Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850

Going into the 18th century more and more studied the rocks throughout Europe and almost all concluded that the earth was old. Less geological was Buffon who in his Epoques of 1778 argued from cooling globes the earth had to be at least 74,000 years old, but privately argued for millions. If you want more read Martin Rudwick’s Earth’s Deep History or Gabriel Gohau Les sciences de la terre aux XVII et XXVIII siecles.

Few continued with a young earth after Scheuzer, apart from the English Hutchinsonians, followers of John Hutchinson (1674-1737). One was Alexander Catcott whose Treatise of the Deluge (1768) is the oldest book I own. It’s a mix of biblical theology, speculations about the ark ( which included 2 camelopards and quoting Bishop Willkins “1825 sheep… for the rapacious beasts” ) and some good geomorphological observations.

 By the end of the 18th century few scientists/savants did not accept Deep Time and the Irishman Richard Kirwan was one of the handful who didn’t. Even J.A. de Luc, who is often presented as a young earther, believed in an ancient earth, but not as ancient as Hutton’s!

In the last decades of the 18th century Hutton just took the standard view of an ancient earth along with a galaxy of workers all round Europe –Rev J  Michell, Fr. Soulavie, de Saussure (of Mt Blanc fame), De Luc, Werner an others in almost every country, but an Anglocentric approach, which only considers Hutton and Lyell, misses that.

Hutton is NOT the father of Deep Time, but one of many very able scientists, who worked on deep time.

We also need to note that from 1660 Christians, especially clergy, were involved in the discovery of geological time. In 1785 the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Scottish Kirk, was totally supportive of Hutton and reckoned that nothing in Hutton’s  work was “in any respect repugnant to the Mosaic account of creation.” And for the last 135 years most Christian ministers, evangelical or not, have agreed with Robertson, from Billy Graham to John Stott, loads of Popes and Archbishops and those in local churches.

Uniformitarianism

This is used as a bogey term. In one sense Uniformitarianism in the sense of “the present is the key to the past” is both widely used and has to be used and basic to any historical study. In its minimal sense it means that the physical processes today occurred in the past – e.g. water flows downhill, and the physics and chemistry is the same. In the maximal sense it insists that rates of processes were identical in the past. At times both Hutton and Lyell tended toward that view, though Lyell in his Principles of Geology looked to more “catastrophic” processes to explain how erratics were moved from the central alps to the Jura Mountains, as in the case of the Pierre a bot – but that was before the concept of Ice Ages.

Continental geologists use the term “Actualism” to show how present geological processes relate to past geological time and events. It is a better term as the word itself allows more variation of “rate” as “uniformitarianism” as a word does.

After Lyell published in 1831 most British geologists ditched the older ideas of catastrophism and those who did not, like de la Beche and William Buckland, found themselves left behind both geologically and in time as they got older and younger geologists took their place. For 150 years a weakness in geology was that geologists tended to think all processes had always been slow and gradual, but that was slowly overturned in the 20th century as Ager made very clear, Ager may not have been a Uniformitarian but he was a strict Actualist.

Two examples;

Volcanic rocks. Travellers around Europe would see active volcanoes at Vesuvius and Etna. One who studied Vesuvius was Lord Hamilton, cuckolded by Lord Nelson. From Italy some found the hills in Auvergne looked like and had similar rocks to Italian volcanoes, pointing to them being volcanoes. Similar hard rocks were found in Britain and Hutton studied the Salisbury Crags. The similarities – the present is the key to the past – demonstrated these were volcanic. Repeat a thousand times!

Ripple marks. Those who play by rivers and the shore will find many ripple marks in places and often see them being formed by a river or the see. At times exposed rocks have marks which look identical and comparison – the present is the key to the past – points to them being laid down by water. When working in Precambrian strata in South Africa, I found that the Stinkfontein sandstones (900my)  often had ripple marks, which I duly measured and recorded, helping me work out the direction of the ancient rivers. One day it rained hard – a downpour in a desert – resulting in flash floods. These produced ripple marks in places so I measured and compared them.

These are two simple examples and there are many more. Needless to say, working it out in practice is often difficult

This is Uniformitarianism proper rather than an idea plucked out of thin air.

The worst example of mis-applying Uniformitarianism is the argument from the rapid formation of a gorge at Mt St. Helens to an alleged rapid formation of the Grand Canyon. Now that takes the biscuit!  The volcanic ash was deposited rapidly during the eruption and then eroded before they could consolidate. Even in 2009 I found that applying a small jet of water from a masculine source caused rapid erosion!

The Grand Canyon was cut into hardened sediments, from Precambrian to Mesozoic, exposing the unconformity between the Precambrian and Cambrian. On my ascent and descent I was unable to erode anything!!

******************************************

Now here is Tas Walker’s article

https://creation.com/siccar-point-trail?fbclid=IwAR22CvA_lqxLbs1280OBkafhr9b2CmlOGxVBILHL_6h-LUPXdh3zlYUW8QY

by Tas Walker

My comments are in italics

Siccar Point | CC BY-SA Dave Souza

High above the cliffs on the Scottish coast—60 km east of Edinburgh—is an interpretive billboard that overlooks a rocky point.1 It is part of a heritage trail opened in 2006, celebrating the life of James Hutton, a local farmer and physician

. This is a silly putdown as Hutton was these, but far more. He was part of the Scottish Enlightenment, which involved the Kirk, an a pioneer geologist.

 who became known as the ‘father of modern geology’.2

. He often shares this title with William Smith of England. I prefer to see him as one of many key figures from Steno in the 1660s onwards.

 He proposed the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism—that present geological processes are the key to understanding the rocks.

This is a cardboard cut-out history of geology. “the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism” sounds impressive but is nonsense. All geologists, then and now, sort of accept uniformitarianism, with the present as the key to the past, but Hutton almost over-played the rate of rock formation  and the sameness of processes. It was a difference of degree, not kind, to Catastrophists.

Hutton assumed Noah’s Flood never happened.

He avoided the question but was long convinced of the vast age of the earth as were the vast majority of geologists of his day. Hence he was always looking at rocks so much older than the flood.

 He did not appreciate the enormity of that global catastrophe, which involved faulting, folding, and immense deposition and erosion.

Hehe. Nor did any other geologist from the 18th century!!

The locals are keen to capitalize on Siccar Point, claiming it is the most important geological site in the world.2 

Not all would agree, but Siccar Point is very important – Vallorcine nr Chamonix, Old canals near Bath (Smith), Auvergne volcanoes, Jurassic Coast, Steno’s Tuscany come to mind.

The story goes that these rocks led Hutton to conclude the earth was not made in six days.

That is simply not so. He was already of that opinion as were the vast majority of geologists from 1700 whether Christian or not. It was the same in England and the European mainland

 Rather, faulting and folding were important processes in the evolution of the landscape.3 The sign at the site says the rocks proved geological time was virtually unlimited,

No, just very long as Hutton et al could not pin down a time except in words of de Saussure of Mt Blanc fame “tres vieux”.

contrary to the few thousand years, which most people believed at that time.1

That is very misleading. Most people at that time could not read and as all they heard came from simple preaching they probably thought the earth was young. As for those with education many agreed with Hutton, or rather the scientific savants throughout Europe, and by 1800 the vast majority of educated, Christian or not, accepted an ancient earth

But Hutton did not discover deep time, he assumed it.

Nonsense. Deep time was coming in from the time of Steno in Italy in the 1660s. Right from the 1660s there was an increasing awareness that the earth was more than a few thousand years old. Thus Lhwyd and John Ray tentatively argued for an older earth in the 1680s. Throughout the 18th century researchers found evidence that the age of the earth was immense but could not put a date on it. Hutton was one of those

 That was partly because Hutton’s knowledge of geology in the late 1700s was seriously limited.

Pathetic comment. Yes, Hutton’s knowledge of geology was limited compared to 1850,1900, 1950 or today, but he knew a lot.

 He did not know that the lower Silurian rocks were turbidite beds, deposited rapidly from underwater density currents that sped across the ocean floor as fast as 100 km (60 miles) per hour.4 Neither did he know the upper strata were of a terrestrial origin, deposited from a vast expanse of fast flowing water that covered a large part of the continent, depositing thick, cross-bedded strata.5,6

This comment is plain silly. Turbidites were discovered between 1925 and 1950. It is like criticising Isaac Newton for not knowing Relativity

But most significantly, Hutton assumed Noah’s Flood never happened.

 He did not appreciate the enormity of that global catastrophe, which involved faulting, folding, and immense deposition and erosion.

 During the Flood, the rocks at Siccar Point were eroded in days or weeks, not over millions of years.

Face palm

The notice board at Siccar Point, which needs a little improvement

As John McEnroe said on the tennis courts “Are you serious?” The “What really happened” is pure bunkum.

Hutton is hailed as a father of modern geology for his philosophy of uniformitarianism, but ironically geologists now acknowledge that uniformitarianism does not work.

A veritable half truth

 Toward the end of his career, Derek Ager, professor of geology at Swansea, Wales, said of uniformitarianism, “We have allowed ourselves to be brain-washed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed ‘catastrophic’ processes.”7

See above on Uniformitarianism. Ager wrote to me in a letter complaining how creationists twisted his work.

Hutton’s friend (and popularizer) John Playfair, who accompanied him by boat to Siccar Point in 1788, is famous for his impressions of that trip. He is quoted on the sign. “The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”

However, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, it is unfortunate that Playfair did not connect his Bible with the world around him

Thus in one sentence Tas walker condemns the vast majority of Christians to perdition

. A better response would have been, “The mind was sobered to look upon the enormity of God’s judgment at the time of Noah.”

Mine is to study Exodus 20 vs 16!!!

I cannot see how anyone can write such an article as it is so inaccurate. I am sure it is not pleasing to God. 

references and notes

  1. Interpretation board, Siccar Point; geograph.org.uk/photo/2143249. Return to text.
  2. International interest in new James Hutton trail, Berwickshire News, 21 June 2006; berwickshirenews.co.uk/news/local-headlines/international-interest-in-new-james-hutton-trail-1-237894. Return to text.
  3. Siccar Point, Gazetteer for Scotland, 2011; scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst5590.html. Return to text.
  4. Fine, I.V. et al., The Grand Banks landslide-generated tsunami of November 18, 1929: preliminary analysis and numerical modelling, Marine Geology 215:45–57, 2005. Return to text.
  5. Browne, M., et al., Stratigraphical Framework for the Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) Rocks of Scotland south of a line from Fort William to Aberdeen, British Geological Survey, Research Report RR 01 04, p. 50, 2002; nora.nerc.ac.uk/3231/1/Devonian[1].pdf. Return to text.
  6. For a detailed geological analysis of Siccar Point see: Walker, T., Unmasking a long-age iconCreation 27(1):50–55, 2004; creation.com/siccarpoint. Return to text.
  7. Ager, D., The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, Macmillan, London, p. 70, 1993. Return to text.
  8. After this the landscape was eroded by ice sheets in the post-Flood Ice Age. Return to text.

That begs a lot of questions as the Ice Ages began 2 million years ago. Which Ice Age does he mean? Was it the upper or Lower Dryas or an earlier one?

3 thoughts on “Deconstructing a Creationist on Siccar Point

  1. Paul Braterman

    It’s worth mentioning that TH Huxley pronounce the dispute between uniformitarianism and catastrophism as having been bypassed by further knowledge, in his address to the British Geological Society, in 1869! as so often, the creationists don’t seem to have paid any attention to anything that has happened in the past 150+ years

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