Category Archives: geology

Spring is here; but are the four seasons evil?

Creation, writes Paul, has been subjected to futility (Romans 8.20). Don’t we know it: the tree reaches its full fruitfulness and then becomes bleak and bare. Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten. Human lives, full of promise and beauty, laughter and love, are cut short by illness and death. Creation as we know it bears witness to God’s power and glory (Romans 1:19-20) but also to the present state of futility to which it has been enslaved.

Read that quotation slowly and carefully and consider what it actually says. but first the Four Seasons by camera and not Vivaldi. I am puzzled by how the fact that “Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten.” show creation has been subjected to futility. Thus the four seasons are a result of creation being subject to futility. Until I read this the thought hadn’t crossed my mind and ten years on I am still baffled how anyone could write it. I thoroughly enjoy the changing seasons and never thought them futile.

But before considering the reasoning and theology behind it, I will take you through the fours seasons remaining 30 miles from our home in lancashire. (I have a small waterproof camera, which I always take when out on my bike or walking.) I will show that the seasons are not futility but utterly glorious and reflect the wonder of God the Creator.

SPRING

On the 23rd March we are now officially in spring and everything is coming to life. I am waiting to see my first primrose, cowslip, bluebell and frogspawn.  just today, despite battling a headwind, all the hawthorn hedges were developing an emerald sheen.

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A favorite spot for bluebells is up by Abbeystead, but I will have to wait a few weeks. Bluebells are one of the finest British flowers. I love that steep lane, either to whizz down or struggle up.

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Here are a clump of daffs by the River Wyre and then a swan on her nest on the canal two miles from home as seen from a bridge over the canal.

Summer

Soon, almost too soon, spring turns to summer and trees are in full leaf.

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This is by Sykes in the Forest of Bowland (my car is just visible). I often park here for a long walk or cycle past six times a year or so on a hilly bike ride. It is in full summer (July) glory here but I love it in all seasons and once cycled it in snow. I’ve walked the ridge in the distance many times and have a variety of routes depending on mood. Purple Loosestrife is my favourite summer flower which loves the wet, has square stems and has sex in three different ways which enthralled Darwin.

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I tend to go high on the fells. Here is a peat bog with cotton grass and sphagnum in the pool and next is one of the little falls found all over the Bowland fells. I had my lunch listening to the music of the water.

Autumn

And so to autumn as the colours turn and nights are nippy.

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Back to Bowland; here is a remote valley hemmed in by ancient landslips and the heather in full bloom. The path IS marked on the map. On a bike ride I always stop at the same place and look up Langdon Brook. This is september with the bracken turning colour.

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There is something glorious about this tired old oak and the leaves turning in Nicky Nook.

Winter

And so the leaves have gone and everything is “bleak and bare”. No, it is not, it has a unique beauty of its own.

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Here is Ingleborough, my favourite mountain in the Yorkshire Dales. I first climbed it in 2001 and climb it several times a year. It is gorgeous under snow, but last month I nearly turn back because of ice! Next is a frozen pool on the Howgill Fells.

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One of my favourite views is Fairsnape Fell, whether in summer or winter. Shortly before taking that shot I was in a total white-out. Great fun! In January we get the portent of spring – snowdrops. These are on the banks of the River Wyre. Who would have thought that a month before the river flooded and deposited four inches of sand over the snowdrops. And so back to spring and soon that bank will be covered with ramsons reeking of garlic.

This is a snapshot of Lancashire in four seasons. It is glorious rather than subject to futility, and I think it is a perverse perspective on the natural world to say that the seasons show that creation has been subject to futility

Many think that only Young Earth Creationists have this idea of creation not being now as god intended, but some others agree!! YECs often argue that creation was perfect with a perfect climate with no frosts or hail or storms. To some this carried on until the flood when the Water Vapour canopy collapsed and we started to have our terrible weathers and seasons which mark god’s displeasure.

The ideas come out in John Milton’s  Paradise Lost of the 1650s where he weaved a fantastic poetic drama of creation, fall and flood. Or was it fantabulisation?

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

Here is Milton on how the flood caused  (or was it the Devil and his minions?) shifted the axis of the Poles when Adam took a bite out the apple  (or unzipped a banana).

Paradise Lost book x; 668-79

Some say, he bid his Angels turn ascanse
The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more,
From the sun’s axle; they with labour pushed
Oblique the centrick globe:  Some say, the sun
Was bid turn reins from the equinoctial road
Like distant breadth to Taurus with the seven
Atlantick Sisters, and the Spartan Twins,
Up to the Tropick Crab: thence down amain
By Leo, and the Virgin, and the Scales,
As deep as Capricorn; to bring in change
Of seasons to each clime; else had the spring
Perpetual smiled on earth with vernant flowers,
Equal in days and nights, except to those
Beyond the polar circles; to them day
Had unbenighted shone, while the low sun,
To recompense his distance, in their sight
Had rounded still the horizon, and not known
Or east or west; which had forbid the snow
From cold Estotiland, and south as far
Beneath Magellan.  At that tasted fruit
The sun, as from Thyestean banquet, turned
His course intended; else, how had the world
Inhabited, though sinless, more than now,
Avoided pinching cold and scorching heat?
These changes in the Heavens, though slow, produced
Like change on sea and land; sideral blast,
Vapour, and mist, and exhalation hot,
Corrupt and pestilent:  Now from the north
Of Norumbega, and the Samoed shore,
Bursting their brazen dungeon, armed with ice,
And snow, and hail, and stormy gust and flaw,
Boreas, and Caecias, and Argestes loud,
And Thrascias, rend the woods, and seas upturn;
With adverse blast upturns them from the south
Notus, and Afer black with thunderous clouds
From Serraliona; thwart of these, as fierce,
Forth rush the Levant and the Ponent winds,
Eurus and Zephyr, with their lateral noise,
Sirocco and Libecchio.  Thus began
Outrage from lifeless things; but Discord first,
Daughter of Sin, among the irrational
Death introduced, through fierce antipathy:
Beast now with beast ‘gan war, and fowl with fowl,
And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,
Devoured each other; nor stood much in awe
Of Man, but fled him; or, with countenance grim,
Glared on him passing.  These were from without
The growing miseries, which Adam saw
Already in part, though hid in gloomiest shade,
To sorrow abandoned, but worse felt within;
And, in a troubled sea of passion tost,
Thus to disburden sought with sad complaint.

So we have the 20 degree tilt on the axis Thus causing seasons hence futility and then predation began “Beast now with beast ‘gan war, and fowl with fowl,”

Now one would expect Answers in Genesis and other Young Earthers to follow Milton, but these comments from a leading theologian are not from that stable. They are not from John Piper or Albert Mohler or those of a similar ilk.

While I leave you to guess his identity I will give another quote

The height of satan’s aim , in other words, is death; the death of humans and the death of creation itself

And I suppose the seasons reflect just that.

Lastly, another quote which gives some interesting insights into induced earthquakes, but leaves me somewhat overwhelmed by a theological tsunami

What then about the tsunami? There is of course no straightforward answer. But there are small clues.

We are not to suppose that the world as it currently is, is the way God intends it to be at the last. Some serious thinkers, including some contemporary physicists, would actually link the convulsions which still happen in the world to evil perpetrated by humans; and it is indeed fair enough to probe for deeper connections than modernist science has imagined between human behavior and the total environment of our world, including tectonic plates. But I find it somewhat easier to suppose that the project of creation, the good world which God made at the beginning, was supposed to go forward under the wise stewardship of the human race, God’s vice-gerents, God’s image-bearers; and that, when the human race turned to worship creation instead of God, the project could not proceed in the intended manner, but instead bore thorns and thistles, volcanoes and tsunamis, the terrifying wrath of the creation which we humans had treated as if it were divine.

Fracking quakes in Pennsylvania

An interesting article of quakes in the USA. Pinched from  https://energyindepth.org/marcellus/what-you-need-to-know-about-fracking-earthquakes-pennsylvania/#comment-112304 

It fits in with the Lancashire experience

What You Need to Know About Fracking and Seismicity in Pennsylvania

Earthquakes are not something typically discussed in Pennsylvania, as there have only been a handful of felt events in the history of the state. That’s not to say earthquakes don’t occur — just that most are centered in two regions of the state and very few are felt at the surface. So it isn’t surprising there was considerable media coverage of this week’s release of a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) study that concluded that microseismic events in Lawrence County had a temporal and spatial relationship with a hydraulic fracturing operation that took place nearby.

Fortunately, DEP held a webinar on Friday that should have alleviated most of the fears and corrected the misinformation surrounding this finding, in large part because this is the only instance of seismic activity being correlated to oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania’s history.

Let’s take a look at what DEP’s study did — and did not — find on earthquakes and fracking in Pennsylvania.

Background

On April 25, 2016, the Pennsylvania State Seismic Network (PASeis), the Ohio Seismic Network (OhioSeis) and the Lamont-Doherty Cooperative Seismic Network (LCSN) recorded microseismic events (five total) ranging from 1.8 to 2.3 on the Richter Scale in Mahoning, North Beaver and Union Townships just west of New Castle in Lawrence County. These were not felt earthquakes, meaning they not only caused no structural damage, but people would not have even been able to feel when they happened.

DEP notified Hilcorp, a company that had been conducting hydraulic fracturing operations roughly five miles from the epicenters, of the events that day. The company immediatelyvolunteered to stop all operations and begin demobilization of the site, and later informed DEP that they had voluntarily stopped all fracking and stimulation on the well pad indefinitely.

Upon further investigation DEP concluded,

Although there is no definitive geologic association of events at this time, there is a marked temporal/spatial relationship between fracking/stimulation activities at the North Beaver NC Development well site and the seismic events on April 25, 2016.”

FACT: This is the only time in Pennsylvania’s history that oil and gas operations have been correlated with seismic activity.

This finding is the exception, not the norm by any stretch of the imagination. As expert after expert —including officials from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Research Council — have said, it is only under certain unique and limited geological conditions that completion activities are capable of inducing seismic events that can be felt at the surface.

The USGS has been monitoring seismic activity in Pennsylvania since around 1970, and since that time have identified two more seismically active parts of the state. One is the Triassic Rift basin in the Southeastern part of the state, while the other is located in the northwestern part of the state that includes Lawrence County and is part of a glacial retreat from Lake Erie. Yet not one of the seismic events mapped below has had any link with the hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells in the state, which date back to the 1800s.

Here’s just how significant that is. From January 2004 to April 2016 there were 9,710 unconventional oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania, including 71 drilled in Lawrence County. If we include conventional wells, there were actually 38,976 total wells drilled during that time period, including 75 in Lawrence County. FracFocus.org has records for 6,254 wells — including 61 in Lawrence County — that were hydraulically fractured during that same time period. And in that roughly 11-year period, only two wells have ever even been considered possible contributors to induced seismic activity.

That means that 99.98 percent of all unconventional wells drilled and 99.97 percent of all the wells hydraulically fractured during that time period never had a link to induced seismic activity — and no other wells have since.

Even in Lawrence County, where there have been far fewer wells drilled, 97.19 percent of those drilled and 96.72 percent of those fracked never had any links to induced any seismic activity.

A Penn State study analyzing seismic activity in Pennsylvania in 2013-2014 also found that “there is little evidence, if any, in the PASeis catalog for fracking-related seismicity. If the catalog does contain such events, then they are no larger than the mining-related events occurring on a regular basis throughout the Commonwealth.”

FACT: These events were microseismic, meaning they were below a level that would be felt by humans and caused no damage.

The earthquakes in Lawrence County ranged from 1.9 to 2.3 on the Richter Scale, which the following DEP graphic illustrates are “microseismic” events that are well below the level that can be felt by humans, much less cause damage.

 

Stanford geophysicist Mark Zoback has previously given some perspective to the term “microseismic”:

 “It is important to note that extremely small microseismic events occur during hydraulic fracturing operations. These microseismic events affect a very small volume of rock and release, on average, about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”

Here’s another way to think of it. If you’ve attended a Pittsburgh Steelers or Penn State game, you know that the enthusiasm displayed by fans can be quite astounding, and when all of those people start stomping and cheering at the same time, a phenomenon scientists are calling a “fan quake” occurs. These “fan quakes” are being measured by how they would compare to an earthquake on the Richter Scale. Microseismic events don’t even come close to what fans are capable of producing.

FACT: DEP has made very specific recommendations for future risk mitigation that apply to a select area of the state, only involving the Utica Shale.

One of the major questions that came up during DEP’s webinar was how this will impact operations in other parts of the state, other operators, or even areas in Lawrence County outside of the three townships where the epicenters were located. The short answer is it won’t.

As a result of these events DEP has made very specific recommendations for future development, and those will only apply in “areas of alternative methods.” This is because seismic activity is so unlikely to occur in other parts of the state—and even more so unlikely in Marcellus Shale development. In fact, DEP specifically noted these areas of alternative methods would only apply to the Utica Shale formation because there are places, such as Lawrence County, where the Utica is notably closer to the basement rock formation. That’s not the case with the Marcellus.

Now, does that mean that any operations in that zone would be likely to induce seismic activity? No—but it does mean that DEP now has recommendations that will be written into future permits, and possibly turned into new regulations for those specific areas that will outline exactly what a company and the regulatory agency must do in the event of highly unlikely future seismic activity. While these are specifically outlined for Hilcorp, they will be applied to future operators as necessary as well. Some of these recommendations include:

DEP has enough confidence that these were isolated events to have already accepted Hilcorp’s seismic monitoring program, which includes DEP’s recommendations. The agency has also issued a new permit for operations with a condition including the recommendations.

A geologist looks at Creationism

 

Many things don’t change much. Creationism changes a few details but is still the same old twaddle from years ago. So though is dates back to 2002 most is still valid

Answers magazine, Oct-Dec 2014 issue

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. This controversy was triggered off by the visit of the creationist Ken Ham to a conference held by the college. Ignoring the details and the rights and wrongs of the teaching of some creationism in state schools, this incident emphasised that Creationism is a live force in Britain today.

In the last four decades Creationism has caused controversy in American churches, schools and colleges and has hit the headlines when education boards question the teaching of evolution as happened in Ohio in 2002 (website; Ohio citizens for science), and in the last three decades in almost every state in the Union.  When I taught geology at Wheaton College in America last summer half of my ten geology students were sure the earth was created in 6 days – at least at the beginning of the course.  Finding dinosaur bones disturbed the faith of at least one student.  Creationism has grown slowly in Britain.  Recent surveys show that it is held by 10% of the Church of England clergy, whereas in the 70s there were only a handful.  (When I started training for the Anglican ministry in the 1970s I knew of no clergy who were creationist.)  However to criticise Creationism effectively one must understand it and its extraordinary appeal.  Aggressive condemnation, especially when coupled with atheism, will not get rid of it. It will make it thrive. Dawkins may actually encourage Christians to become Creationists!

Many have correctly identified this with Creationism which began in the USA, but are wrong to think this is a reversion to pre–Darwinian days.  Creationism came to the fore after the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961, which has roots in Seventh Day Adventism and not the Scriptural Geologists nor opponents of evolution in the 19th Century as Ron Numbers made so clear in The Creationists (Numbers, 1991)

 

What is Creationism?

The word itself is most unhelpful, as a believer in God must by definition believe in creation and thus be a creationist. However since the advent of biblical literalism impinging on science in the last few decades Creationism has acquired a far narrower meaning.  This popular meaning is a belief that Genesis must be interpreted literally and that creation took place in six 24–hour days some six to ten thousand years ago, there was no death or suffering before the Fall of Adam (Genesis 3) and that most strata were deposited in the year of Noah’s Flood.  Added to that is the insistence that ‘true’ science supports both the young age of the earth and ‘flood geology’ and as a corollary all ‘orthodox’ science is wrong when it talks about great age and evolution.  Emanating from the USA this is often known as Young Earth Creationism or YEC for short.

Before 1961 most evangelicals/fundamentalists in the USA and some in the UK accepted geology but rejected evolution.  Though many evangelicals still hold such a position today, they are regarded as apostate by hard line YECs such as Ken Ham or Henry Morris, and doctrinally wobbly by many evangelicals.  These are often known as Old Earth Creationists (OEC) to contrast them to both YEC and ‘theistic evolutionists’.  Until about 1980 most British evangelicals accepted some kind of evolution, but that is changing.

To go back to the 19th Century most before 1859 adopted some kind of OEC position, e.g. Sumner, Newman, Adam Sedgwick, William Buckland etc, and those who took a YEC position were very much in the minority (Roberts, 1998). However even before 1850 as Mortenson agrees most educated Christians were non–literalists and that included the majority of Evangelicals.  The latter assertion often comes as a surprise both to scientists and theologians who assume without any historical evidence that before Darwin all Christians were literalists. It must always be remembered that it was the evangelicals Thomas Chalmers and John Bird Sumner who in about 1810 popularised the Gap Theory – an almost literalist interpretation of Genesis One which allowed for vast geological ages. This Gap Theory was the dominant view of evangelicals on Genesis and geology until about 1980.  Today a far higher proportion of evangelicals are concerned about the influence of geology and the vast age of the earth than in the early 19th century.

Within the churches most non–evangelicals and Roman Catholics regard the question of evolution as a non-issue and are bemused by it.  It is only an important issue among evangelicals, who form a good quarter of the mainstream denominations (Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian) and, obviously, all the Independent Evangelical Churches.  Attitudes to Creationism vary.  Most independent evangelicals are very sympathetic to YEC, as are about 10% of Anglican clergy rising to 25% among Anglican evangelicals.  In the USA, where churchgoing is about 50%, evangelicals number about half the churchgoing population, Creationists are well–funded and at times have considerable political clout with the replacement of the Religious Right.  An increasing number of evangelical churches and groups on both sides of the Atlantic are insisting on YEC as a basis of faith.  The diversity among American Evangelicals is great but it seems that YEC is calling the shots, causing much concern among moderate evangelicals. The same is happening in Britain

 

Creationist Literature.

To get a taster of Creationist writing go into any local evangelical bookstore and in the section on science most books will be Creationist.  There are simply an immense number of creationist books, which sell well.  Until five years ago or so most were American imports, but now many are homegrown.  The books are usually well–written and produced.  A cursory look will show that the arguments are appealing to a Christian who has little scientific knowledge, or one whose science is limited to physics and chemistry.  Essentially they are based on two arguments; first a “proper evangelical” view of scripture will result in taking Genesis literally (overlooking the fact that most Evangelicals both past and present did not do so) and secondly much of geological and evolutionary science is fatally flawed.  Most books are variations on the same theme and the same arguments crop up each time.  There are many well-produced children’s books and short tracts of varying quality.  The most popular is Big Daddy, which has had an immense distribution and influence (http://www.chick.com/ look for bigdaddy).

 

The Historical Roots of Creationism

Popular secular, and even religious,  writers often portray Creationism as a throw–back to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Archbishop Ussher, when it is alleged that all Christians were literalists and opposed every scientific step taken.  This misunderstands the historical situation and stems from the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion so inaccurately set forth by Andrew Dickson White in The Warfare of Science with Theology in 1896, and perpetuated today by both atheistic naturalists and creationists. The Conflict Thesis has been shown to be false by historians of science, but it retains its vitality.

Present day creationism began in earnest with the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961.  It was written by an Old Testament scholar J.C.Whitcomb and a hydraulic engineer, Henry Morris.  Morris must be considered the father of Creationism who later went on to found the Institute of Creation Research.  All present–day Creationism goes back to that one book and its ideas are generally accepted today.  Morris developed the ideas of George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist and ‘self–taught’ scientist, who wrote prolifically in the first half of last century arguing that most strata were laid down in the Flood.  These ideas, in turn, stemmed form the writings of Mary Ellen White, the prophetess of the Seventh Day Adventists, who insisted on a literal Genesis in the late 19th Century.

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Creationism DOES NOT have significant historical roots in the 19th century church, as the vast majority of educated Christians did not insist on a literal Genesis. (see Roberts 1998)  Up to mid–century a small minority were literalists and gave Christian geologists like Sedgwick and Buckland a hard time, but after mid–century there were only a handful of literalists.  It is not possible to trace any kind of “intellectual descent” from these literalists to the Creationists of today. Partly because of the success of the conflict thesis of science and religion, which is part of our scientific and religious psyche, most assume that Victorian Christians were dominantly literalist. You will find that it most pop science writings and many works of history including Schama. That is simply not the case, despite the dominance of evangelicalism in the 19th century.

 

Creationism in Britain.

We may date the rise of Creationism in Britain with the publication of The Genesis Flood here in 1968.  Before that very, very few evangelicals were Young Earthers.  I simply cannot name one.  Many adopted the Gap Theory of Thomas Chalmers on Genesis and allowed for geology but were ambivalent about evolution.  Anglican Evangelicals tended to accept evolution.  TGF changed all that.  YEC was soon adopted by independent Evangelicals (those who had opted out of mainstream denominations).  University Christian Unions became very sympathetic to Creationism after the 70s.  In the 70s very few Anglicans had become YEC, but there has been a steady growth since, with YEC theology lecturers at several Anglican theological colleges.  A survey of Anglican vicars in January 2002 indicated that 10% were YEC and about 23% rejected evolution. To demonstrate the change over recent years, in the course of my historical research I pay particular attention what Anglican and other clergy wrote about science from 1500 to the present day.  I have looked at some 150 clergy from 1800 to 1855 and about 15% were literalists.  Part of this was based on a detailed survey of the Christian Observer, the Anglican evangelical magazine, most of whose contributors and editor were consistently pro–geology. The successors of that journal are Anvil and The Churchman, with the latter owned by the Church Society. An indication of the change may be seen in the fact that the Church Society sponsored a fringe meeting at General Synod in June 2002 with Edgar Andrews, a Creationist, as a guest speaker. I must have considered hundreds of clergy from 1855 to 1970 and not one was a literalist, though some were pretty close.  This is most dramatic when we compare 1859 with 2002 – 10% literalists today and none yet identified in 1859,except for Gosse and B.W.Newton.  In fact from all denominations on both sides of the Atlantic I can name less than 10 literalists in the 1860s – and that was with help from an American scholar.

 

Who’s who and What’s What in Creationism?

The two main Creationist organisations in the USA are the Institute of Creation Research founded by Henry Morris and based in San Diego and Answers in Genesis led by Ken Ham, an Australian.  It is a total misconception to think that YEC is a phenomenon of the Southern States as it is widespread throughout the country.  Answers in Genesis has a British base and A.J.  Monty White is their chief publicist.  Monty White has a Ph.D. in chemistry and claims to have studied geology up to pass degree level.  Also in Britain are the Creation Science Movement and the Biblical Creation Movement.  The membership lists of both of these groups boasts many scientists, some with Ph.D.s and some in University teaching.  To my knowledge no British creationist can be considered a practising geologist, though many dabble in it.  A few Americans have Ph.D.s in geology, including Kurt Wise, a former research student of Stephen Gould, and Steve Austin a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University, and teach in Creationist/Fundamentalist colleges.  They often specialise on Creationist interpretations on Mt St Helens and the Grand Canyon.

 

Geology teaching in the USA

In 2001 I taught basic geology for non–scientists for Wheaton College, a leading evangelical liberal arts college in the USA, at their science station in the Black Hills.  The college has a very high academic standard with a very competent science staff.  I was given a class of ten students for a four week (every day, five days a week) geology course.  They were sharp students but half were YEC.  They were mostly the products of home–schooling and creationist preaching in their churches.  This made life interesting! On two occasions I spoke to all students on site – about 70 – on the relationship of science and Christianity.  Because of their upbringing this was causing problems for many of them and I got a variety of responses.  Some students actually complained of being brain–washed by their ministers, others took me to task in a most friendly manner and the next day were enjoying a massive thunderstorm with me in the Badlands, when our tent was blown down.  I have to admit that I did not convince all my students on the age of the earth but they produced good work.  It was odd, to say the least, reading essays on the geological history of the Black Hills referring to geological ages and radiometric age–dating by students convinced that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

The science staff from both colleges, which used this science station, voiced their worries to me.  Part was distinctly American in that the colleges drew their students from the evangelical community, so that almost every student was an evangelical.  That means that if the college were perceived to be “liberal” by the evangelical community, parents would send the offspring elsewhere to a college like Bob Jones University, which is proud to teach Creation Science.  A common complaint from faculty from another evangelical university was that staff in other faculties were often strongly YEC and made life difficult.  At times parents of prospective students would grill science faculty demanding whether or not they taught “Creation”.  I know of several science faculties in other colleges, which have gone through hell because of Creationist attacks.  Creationist students often challenge Science staff in secular universities.  In a State University in one state parents of prospective electrical engineering students make sure that their offspring will study no biology! (I could provide names and colleges, but prefer not to divulge private conversations.) When one multiplies this for all America there is a large problem, whether in high school, college or State University. On the other side in the USA, there is considerable antagonism shown to Christians by atheistic scientists, much is vitriolic and mis–informed.

 

Monkey Laws.

During the last twenty years Creationist lobbies have put forward anti–evolution bills in state after state.  Two of the most famous are Arkansas in 1981 (when a liberal Governor called Clinton had been temporarily ousted by a fundamentalist) and Kansas in 1999 along with Ohio in 2002 and Oklahoma in 2003.  Those who put forward such bills are not hill–billies who practise the old time religion as portrayed in the woefully inaccurate film Inherit the Wind.  They are very astute, and have immense funds behind them, as well as persistence.  (It is reckoned that the Institute of Creation Research and Answers in Genesis each have war–chests of $5 million or more – and very influential backers.) They are also excellent politicians and know how to drum up support.

Popular journalism, whether in dailies or in science magazines, does not help as frequently the only thing reported is that a state is trying to ban evolution in schools.  That has never happened.  At Arkansas they were trying to obtain equal time for “evolution” and “creation” – a Two Model approach.  At Kansas the age of the earth and cosmology were simply excluded from the syllabus and now in Ohio they were trying to get Intelligent Design taught alongside “evolution”.  A complication at Ohio was that any kind of historical science was being presented as less scientific and more subjective than empirical science.  By doing this creationists can claim that ‘Evolution’ and ‘Creation’ are equally valid faith positions – a view echoed by the former Bishop of Durham on the situation in Gateshead. For myself, my belief in creation ex nihilo is a faith position, but all my views on geology and evolution are potentially falsifiable if contrary evidence came along. Now, if you can find a primate fossil in the Cambrian………

 

Principles of Geology

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After 30 years of studying Creationism (my interest in the history of geology resulted from a fracas with Creationists in 1971) I know there is no quick put–down as Creationist arguments are presented with considerable skill and rhetoric.  A particular ploy is to challenge the possibility of doing historical science like geology claiming that interpretations whether young or old earth are a matter of faith.  Consider this submission to the Ohio Board of Education in 2002 from Science Excellence for All Ohioans (SEAO), the group trying to introduce Intelligent Design into school science in that state;

‘Most sciences, including chemistry and physics, are empirical (or experimental) in nature; theories can be tested by experiments in the laboratory and/or by observations of the world.  Some disciplines, like origins science, are historical in nature; that is, they attempt to explain events and processes that have already taken place in the distant past.  Theories in historical sciences cannot be verified experimentally, so the explanations are always tentative.  Biological evolution (like creation and design) cannot be proven to be either true or false.’

This is a wonderful mixture of truth and error.  What it does do is to unsettle Joe Public and make him think that all geology is uncertain and based on tentative arguments.  In fact, theories in geology can be tested and disproved, though not normally by experiment. Most serious is that a new unaccepted concept of origins science is slipped inThis is a term, originated up by creationists in the USA to isolate historical science from empirical science.  It is based on the presumption that empirical science is somehow ‘true’ science as it relies on experiment and direct observation whereas ‘origins science’, that is what would normally be called geology, palaeontology and cosmology, deals with past events.  These are not open to experiment or observation and therefore cannot be truly science in their method of definition.  This is a clever but flawed rhetorical ploy to cast doubt on universally accepted conclusions of all scientists working in these fields.  I can hear most geologists screaming as they read this, but this argument is seen as the ultimate put–down on all historical sciences.

This is a new form of an old Creationist position, which regards experimental science as proper science and historical sciences like geology as far more subjective and unreliable.  Further they often argue that conclusions from “origins science” are more a matter of faith than science.

 

Details of Geology

 

With a few exceptions Creationists make a wholesale attack on all of what they call “evolutionary science”, which includes geology, the evolutionary interpretation of biology, cosmology, palaeoanthropology.  If they are right, it is almost incredible that scientists, including such 19th century bible–believing evangelicals such as Adam Sedgwick, Hugh Miller, and J. W. Dawson to name three, could have got it so wrong for the last few hundred years!  The temptation is simply to laugh it off and meet creationists with scorn and ridicule. To do that is to underestimate the political and religious force of Creationism and its appeal to the considerable number of Evangelicals in Britain, as well as the USA.  This understandable reaction is actually doomed to failure.

10389436_10203030956276827_2185931412440811414_n
A flippant send-up of creationist geology

Consequentially it is essential to have a broad grasp of their arguments and critiques of them. I deal with a few and further details can be found on the Talk Origins website or books by Van Till and others.  The Creationist attack on geology is both on general principles and on detail.  I have simply ignored other sciences for reasons of space and also that I am a geologist.

  • Geology is considered to be based on the unfounded assumption of Uniformitarianism, but what is presented is a crude and exaggerated form of what Hutton and Lyell (often spelt Lyle!) put forward from 1790 to 1840.  Uniformitarianism is seen to be part and parcel of Evolution, despite the fact that Lyell opposed evolution until 1864.  Often it is argued that geologists insist on a very slow and steady rate of deposition and do not allow for the slightest bit of “catastrophic” deposition.  It is often reckoned that the views of Ager or Gould, which allow a minimal catastrophism, totally undermine classic geology.  Not many realise how even Lyell allowed catastrophic events, which he discusses in his Principles of Geology (1830–6). Lyell and Gould are not so different on Uniformitarianism. Further it is impossible to work out any geological events in the past without postulating some similarity of geological processes from the past and the present. Many of the early geologists, including those who set up the geological Column, were catastrophists. Among these were Sedgwick (an evangelical), Conybeare, Murchison, both Phillips and de la Beche. If anything it would be truer to speak of the Catastrophic Anti–evolutionary Geological Column.
  • Circular Argument. In TGF Morris claims that the Geological Column is based on a circular argument from evolution citing R.H.Rastall’s statement in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Thus Creationists often refer to the Uniformitarian Evolutionary Geological Column. The Geological Column is the sequence of strata; Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Tertiary and Quaternary. Geologists worked this out from about 1810 to 1850, when all geologists were anti–evolutionary and even anti–uniformitarian. Many geologists fall for this one because today they take for granted the use of fossils in stratigraphy and overlook the fact that geological columns are constructed for the Precambrian and also newer strata without fossils largely on the principle of superposition. In the 1830s Adam Sedgwick (an evangelical Anglican cleric) worked out the order of what is now the Cambrian and much of the Ordovician by superposition as there were very few fossils. His conclusions then still stand the test of time.  Over the past few years I have visited many of the places he went to in North Wales and compared the geology with his geological notes. He scarcely ever recorded a fossil and when he did they were no use for dating. I walked many of his routes over the mountains. My longest walk was when I retraced his route over the Carneddau of 26 August 1831, when I covered 18 miles and climbed 6,500ft. I took over 10 hours without stopping to geologise.  I do think many geologists have not fully considered the philosophy and methodology of stratigraphy and do not see that the use of fossils to give relative dates is derivative from the Principle of Superposition, which in turn is derivative from gravity.  There is both a spatial element and a time element involved.  (I am very glad to have worked in Precambrian sediments in South Africa where I had to produce my own Precambrian column as I was only the third geologist to work in that area.) Creationists can cite the loose and sloppy statements of geologists to substantiate their charge of a circular argument, but it does not take into account how geologists actually worked out the Column.  (see Dott and Rudwick. The latter on the problems of the Devonian is excellent on dealing with fossil, time and space in relation to stratigraphy. It also shows that geological methods are complex and not amenable to simplistic critiques by armchair experts.)
  • Radiometric Age–Dating. If Creationists are to be believed radiometric age dating is shot through with error and false assumptions, and thus must be rejected out of hand.  It is claimed that many radiometric dates are inaccurate and in 1978 Woodmarappe (a pseudonym) gave a list of about 700 such faulty dates.  To satisfy myself I checked about 100.  Without exception every one of these were misunderstandings of the original writer.  Elsewhere Brent Dalrymple, the leading American geochronologist, has pointed out the same thing.  The discussion with Woodmarappe on Talk Origins is an eye–opener.  One example which is quoted frequently both in books and tracts are determinations on lava from an eruption in 1802 on Hualalai in Hawaii which gave ages from 160 my to 3 by.  They overlook that these were on ultra–mafic inclusions in the lava, i.e. mantle rock, so of course do not give the date of eruption.  Creationists also cite high ages (hundreds of millions) of recent lavas from all over the world. They have either lifted these from geological articles or sent samples of to labs to have the K/Ar ratios determined and then work out the “age”. These are then published as evidence that radiometric age dating does not work. But it is an emotive argument and catches out most non–geologists, especially if they do not follow up the references. What creationists do not say is that this has been known since the 60s and that the problem is excess Argon in the outer crust of lavas.
  • Polystrate Fossils. This is the term coined by Creationists to describe fossils like trees, which cut through several feet of strata as are found in the Coal Measures, and in Yellowstone National Park.  As “Uniformitarian Geologists” argue for a very slow deposition they must have remained in place for millions of years while sediments were deposited around them.  Obviously the tree would have rotted away. Few geologists will buy the argument, but it is plausible to those who are assured that geologists insist on a slow uniform rate of deposition.  These “polystrate” fossils are only found in certain sandstones, which are often deposited very quickly. An American creationist, Paul Ackerman (Ackerman, 1986, 85) includes a diagram of a tree–trunk passing through a hundred million years of strata from the Cretaceous through the Tertiary and Quaternary to today. I find this diagram very disturbing as it gives a totally false impression of what “polystrate” fossils are. I do hope Ackermann removes this misleading diagram in future editions.
  • Polystrate tree fossil. Note the base of the stump is rooted in a more organic-rich deposit, while the top of the tree is truncated sharply. Photo from Wikipedia commons.poly
  • Grand Canyon. Now the Grand Canyon is a post–Flood feature (that means that the strata were deposited during the year of Noah’s Flood at a rate of about one foot per hour) and took about a century to be gouged out! Also near the bottom it is sometimes alleged that there are fossil conifer forests in either the Cambrian or below.  This is based on Clifford Burdick’s claims to find pollen of recent conifers in the Precambrian.  By 1972 the Creationist geologist Art Chadwick showed that this was due to the contamination of Burdick’s samples by recent pollen.  However thirty years on it is still being cited but now the pollen has grown into fossil conifer forests according to some Creationists (K. Logan, Responding to the Challenge of Evolution, Kingsway, 2002). When I went down the Grand Canyon in 2001 I did not see any fossil forests, though I was looking hard at the geology! Much is also made of the “missing strata” as for example the Ordovician and Silurian are almost totally absent (as they are in much of the Western U.S.A., including the Black Hills.)  Wherever you read this, much of the Geological Column below you will be missing, as either it was never deposited or else it has been eroded away. Below where I sit there is a hundred feet or so of Quaternary glacial till and below that Triassic Red Sandstone, indicating a good 200 million years of missing rock. If you go to a place like Scourie in N.W. Scotland, 2.5 b.y. Lewisian Gneiss is exposed meaning that 2.5 b.y. of strata are missing! Where is it? Davis Young, a geologist and historian of geology and son of the Old Testament scholar E.J.Young, has written a superb exposé of creationist muddle on the Grand Canyon (Van Till et al, 1988, p93–124).
  • 570486
  • Guadeloupe Man. In about 1810 a skeleton was found in limestone at Guadeloupe in what was later to be considered Miocene.  Soon after writers in The Evangelical Magazine of 1816 argued that this showed that the geologists were wrong on the age and the argument has been recently resurrected by Creationists.  This skeleton is in secondary recent limestone rather than Miocene.
  • Mt St Helens. The eruption of Mt St.Helens was a godsend to creationists as it demonstrates catastrophe with a vengeance.  It shows catastrophic erosion as a gorge 140 feet deep was carved out by a mudflow – in unconsolidated sediments. (To consider the difference between consolidated and unconsolidated sediments go into your garden and aim your hose at some bare soil. It will erode. Then aim it at the walls and, unless there is something wrong with the brickwork, it will not erode.) I had half a pint of water availabe and spray it on the sediments, they eroded rapidly !!!! This shows, by arguing in a “uniformitarian” manner that the Grand Canyon could have been carved out in a century.  There is also catastrophic deposition after the eruption as well.  Steve Austin has published extensively on this and uses his results to argue for catastrophic deposition of most strata in a similarly short time.

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  • The list goes on, consult http://www.talkorigins.org for more creationist geology and its flaws. This site is good and many of the contributions are by Christians. One could also consult the website of the Association of Christian Geologists, which is largely made up of Evangelicals.

ararat_or_bust

Intelligent Design

Since 1990 several conservative Christians have argued for Intelligent Design.  The main proponents have been Philip Johnson, Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) and Bill Dembski.  Their thesis is that the natural world shows evidence of design and thus of an Intelligent Designer behind it, whom they refrain from calling God.  Gone are the continual references to Genesis and dinosaurs in the ark.  Several of their chief thinkers sport two Ph. Ds and hold down respectable academic positions.  Their argument is that many natural systems exhibit irreducible complexity, which cannot be explained naturalistically and thus must be the result of Design.  It is difficult not to see this as a God–of–the–gaps argument.  Even so, a good number see ID as a refreshing alternative to “evolution” and Creationism.  Behe in fact accepts common descent and Dembski the geological timescale.  However, most concerning to a geologist is the near absence of reference to geological time in studies on Intelligent Design.  It is as if the origin of species, whether by direct intervention or by evolution, can be discussed without reference to Deep Time, or to the succession of life.  As Nancy Pearcey wrote, ‘For too long, opponents of naturalistic evolution have let themselves be divided and conquered over subsidiary issues like the age of the earth’ (Pearcey, 1999, p26). This hides a serious problem as Pearcey, along with others like Paul Nelson is YEC.  ID is a “big tent” and includes anti–evolutionists of all shades from YEC to virtual evolutionist.  They have a peculiar symbiotic relationship with Creationists alternately distancing themselves and diving into bed with them!  However Intelligent Designers have worked in harmony with Creationists in the preparation of alternative science policies in Kansas and Ohio.  I tend to see Intelligent Design as a Trojan Horse for YEC, and despite their claims they have produced nothing worthwhile in scientific fields.  This is a careful statement as I have looked very carefully at their arguments and know and like several of the main players.

 

Strategy

There is no simple answer on how to deal with Creationism.  Frequently it has been ignored and ridiculed yet it keeps on growing and multiplying.  Refutation at the intellectual level is fairly straightforward, but often Creationist views are tenaciously held for faith reasons.  Thus Creationists need to be dealt with showing considerable empathy seeking to understand why they hold such views.  Think of me teaching geology to bright young creationists in the Black Hills!

It is extremely easy to get bogged down in details e.g. whether or not Archaeopteryx has clear dinosaur ancestors or the validity of aspects of Radiometric Age–dating.  Those types of discussions go on and on, though at times they give opportunity for debate and refutation.  However as soon as you have sorted out one red herring, another is produced citing references you have never heard of.

A major problem is that the term “Evolution” is used so loosely, so loosely that even the anti–evolutionist Adam Sedgwick, who opposed Darwin in 1860, would be regarded as evolutionary.  Further by focusing on “evolution” Creationists are being allowed to set the agenda, as they are adept at focussing on minor aspects.  I am convinced that the main approach should be on the age of the earth (and the universe), especially as neither of these have anything to do with evolution. Yes, I know it is often claimed that geology is dependent on evolution but it is not. Creationist arguments on the age of the earth are dependent on a misunderstanding of the principles of geology, particularly how the age of the earth and geology developed in the past.  Frequently they talk of the “evolutionary” or “uniformitarian” Geological Column, thus indicating that they do not understand how the Geological Column was worked out.  All the arguments for a young earth are worth considering, as they all contain serious faults, though they may require a little homework.

My primary aim is to demonstrate the age of the earth, or rather the vast age of rocks.  This is very much a personal view and not all will agree with me.  For example Dr Eugenie Scott of the National Council for Science Education in San Diego strongly disagrees me when I told her that the primary aim must be to convince people of the age of the earth and then let evolution sort itself out.  Eugenie reckons I undersell evolution, which is a major scientific concept and needs to be taught.  In a sense I totally agree, but I am thinking strategically rather than scientifically.  Once someone has accepted a vast age of the earth they have moved from Ussher to William Smith(who produced the first geological map in 1815), for the simple reason that if the earth is more than 50,000 years old Biblical literalism is untenable.  Further many of the Creationists I have dealt with are not dogmatic Creationists but have adopted Creationism because that fits into their evangelical perspective and have yet to hear contrary arguments. Further the atheistic arguments of Dawkins and others, and the concessions made to science by more liberal Christians (who often deny any possibility of miracles and reject Biblical authority) make Creationism seem an attractive proposition. I totally understand why.

It is far too much to expect someone to jump from Ussher to Darwin in one go.  If I can persuade someone that the earth is at least a million years old I consider the war to be won.  The rest is mopping up!  To give an example, I have a tract entitled Dinosaurs and the Bible, which is rightly appreciative and complimentary of the geology teaching of Wheaton College and is emphatic that the earth is billions of years old.  However some of the science and theology is a bit wayward!  The author is a radio–preacher and graduate of Bob Jones University – a bastion of Creation Science, so his views are heard by millions.  I happily gave it to my Creationist students, and the author later made me a beautiful wooden walking stick, which I took onto the plane as hand luggage in July 2001!

One strategy designed to fail is to tell the creationist that Genesis is a myth written in Babylon in the 6th century.  (This is not the place to discuss Genesis, but I am not happy with considering the Bible as myth.) If one does so then all evangelical hackles will rise and the argument will be lost.  Far better is to remain with conservative views of the Bible, which reject myth and reckon Genesis was either written by Moses or by an editor in about 1000 BC (my view).  This was held in the 19th century by such Christian geologists as Sedgwick, Conybeare, Miller and Dawson.  Recent examples of conservative theologians on Genesis are G Wenham, E Lucas and Blocher.  Lucas is the most useful as he is a highly respected evangelical theologian with a research background in chemistry and a good grasp of geology and evolution.  He is no Creationist and empathetically understands the Creationist position.

From this we see that there is a double problem in Creationism, part theological and part scientific.  For myself I have two axes to grind! From the US experience it will not quickly go away but will rumble on for several decades.  Many Creationists are slick operators and know how to catch out even the most competent.  The next time I meet a Creationist he will probably mention an argument I have never heard of. However within 24 hours I will find out why it is wrong, either by consulting the Talkorigins websites, or asking a member of the Association of Christian Geologists. A good number of evangelical Christians hold toCreationism because it is preached from the pulpit and it fits into their evangelical worldview.  At times they believe it because that is what they have heard, rather than through burning conviction. Thus an attack on creationism will be perceived as an attack on the Christian Faith.  Finally Creationism has a very strong religious appeal in that it repudiates reductionism, upholds biblical truth and the message of the Christian Faith.  Any argument, which can be perceived as being anti–religious, is doomed to fail with the majority of Creationists.

Even so, Creationists are quick to accuse such as myself as being apostate and in the US have forced lecturers out of colleges and pastors out of churches. Consider this statement by Mortenson, ‘Even Davis Young, the professing evangelical old-Earth geologist at Calvin College who has influenced so many other evangelical scholars in the last few decades, has misled his readers on this subject.’ That statement is offensive and unworthy of Christ.

However, one of the most important questions to ask is whether or not any position of the age of the earth or evolution is true. I accept the vast age of the earth not because it is convenient but because I see it to be true. I cannot say the same for Creationist arguments. It is a matter of truth.

 

Conclusion

If anyone had said in the Swinging Sixties that there would be serious attempts to introduce teaching biblical literalism as science in the 21st century, the response would have been mirth and incredulity.  I simply collapsed laughing when I read about TGF in 1969. When I read it two years later at L’Abri it took me two days to identify the flaws in its argument. But Creationism is here to stay.  Despite the fact that the whole population daily depends on the work of geologists for petroleum and other minerals they use up so avidly, a significant minority claim that the whole of geological science is fundamentally false and are persuading others.  The substance of Creationist claims are plain wrong, but neither the scientific nor ecclesiastical establishments have any means of dealing with it.  Or, at least, they don’t seem to.

If the American and Australian experience is anything to go by then the problem will get worse.  There is no panacea but the starting point has to be both a clear understanding of the tenets of Creationism, scientific and religious, and why they are so tenaciously held.

 

Acknowledgements.  It is impossible to acknowledge those who have helped me in the last thirty years.  I have had help from both sides of the pond, including from Creationists.

 

Essential reading; Ken Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, Harper/Collins £8, pbk

and

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References

ACKERMAN, P. D. 1986. It’s a Young World after all. Baker, Michigan.

DOTT , R. H. 1981. Journal of SedimentaryPetrology. 51, 701-704 OR 1982, Journal of Paleontology. 56,(no.1) p.?

LUCAS, E.  2001 Can we believe Genesis today? Intervarsity Press Leicester.

NUMBERS, R. L. 1992 The Creationists. A. A. Knopf, New York

PEARCY, N. 1999.  Design and the Discriminating Public, Touchstone, July/Aug 1999.

PENNOCK, R. T. 1999. The Tower of Babel. MITPress, Mass. (Pennock discusses Creationists with the delicacy of a brain surgeon using a hatchet)

ROBERTS, M. B. 1998. Geology and Genesis Unearthed. The Churchman 112, 225–55. also on http://scibel.gospelcom.net/

ROBERTS, 2002, Critique of Mortenson’s paper given to the evangelical Theoloigical Society in Autumn 2001, (http://www.glenn.morton.btinternet.co.uk/mortensonresp2.htm)

RUDWICK, M. J. S. 1985. The Great Devonian Controversy. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

WHITCOMB, J.C.  & MORRIS, H.  M.  1961, The Genesis Flood. Presbyterian and Reformed, New Jersey.

VAN TILL, YOUNG, D, & MENNINGA, 1988. Science held hostage. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

VAN TILL, SNOW, R., STEK, J., YOUNG, D. 1990. Portraits of Creation. Eerdmans, Michigan.

YOUNG, D. 1995. The Biblical Flood. Eerdmans, Michigan.

 

 

Websites;

http://scibel.gospelcom.net/

www.cis.org.uk Christians in Science

http://www.talkorigins.org A useful technical anti–creationist site.  Comprehensive.

www.asa3.org Site of an American evangelical science and religion site, varying in perspective from evolutionary to creationist.  Very useful, much good stuff, some dross.  Some good links.

http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~kbmill/ Website of Dr Keith Miller of Kansas, geology prof and opponent of 1999 Kansas proposals.  Some good links both on geology and creationism.
http://www.ncseweb.org/ National Council for Science Education, San Diego. Very useful.
http://www.glenn.morton.btinternet.co.uk/mortensonresp2.htm This site is by Glenn Morton, a Texan geophysicist, who was an active Creationist until the mid–80s when wormholes in the Carboniferous converted him. He was Josh MacDowell’s “scientific” adviser and is often cruelly accused of being an apostate. Interesting and disturbing.
www.reason–science–and–faith.com is excellent on history etc

 

Creationist Websites

www.answersingenesis.org Answers in Genesis – sometimes critical of an Anglican vicar.  You can even send a Creationist greetings card to a friend!

www.icr.org Institute of Creationist Research

www.pages.org/bcs/ Biblical Creation society (UK)

 

Michael Roberts

 

God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad

A useful summary of alternatives on evolution for evangelicals by an evangelical oil geologist from New Mexico.

he does so without making much comment  or judging each position for their strength or flaws, So I will restrain myself

 

 

In the creation-evolution debate what is God’s role? Did God make the world fast as in creationism? Or gradual as in evolution? Just how long did it take?

Source: God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad

Young Earth Creationists arguing in circles

This incredibly duplicitous meme appeared on my twitter feed today. Fri 13th Jan 2017icrevolution

Evolution is wrong as it is a circular argument from the age of fossils worked out from evolution

Yes, it is the old chestnut of Young Earthers that the age of rocks is based on a circular argument from evolution. It took me back to 1971 when I made the felicitous mistake of going to L’Abri to sit at the feet of the evangelical guru Francis Schaeffer. I arrived ther all bright-eyed and bushy tailed thinking of all the wondrous things I would learn in the next four weeks. I learnt much but not what I had expected.

On my first morning i was sent to Shaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middlemann to discuss what I would study. I explained that I was going into the Anglican ministry and had just returned from 3 years working as an exploration and mining geologist in Uganda and South Africa. He then told me what I needed to read; -Morris and Whitcomb The Genesis Flood and a host of other YEC books. I remember blurting out that they were nonsense but he insisted.

My next few hours were most unpleasant as I read The Genesis Flood  and felt they might be onto something. With all the references and apparently academic substance the book was intimidating. But then two things changed that . Second was the misrepresentation over radiometric age dating (My university – Oxford – was quite good on that) and first and foremost the section (p135ff) claiming that the relative age dating of strata leading to the formulation of the Geological Column was false as it was based on a circular argument, which is what his grandson argues in the meme from ICR.

The_Genesis_Flood

By now I was spitting feathers and realised that the whole argument of Morris, father, son and grandson, was simply dishonest. My reason was very simple. I had just returned from 30 months of field geology in Uganda and south Africa where I had mapped a couple of thousand square miles of Precambrian strata. Most were a series of sediments; conglomerate, sandstones, odd lava , limestones and tillites. I found just one fossil – a stromatolite  – and possibly walked over some ediacara-style rocks. I worked out the order of deposition and produced my own local geological column and with the aid of a handful radiometric dates put numerical dates to the rocks. In 1971 nothing had been published except my own company report, but since then geologists have produced the same geological column in essentials. I was a twit not to publish.

600my Limestones

Numees Tillites

Stinkfontein sandstones, with some lavas

900my              Basal Conglomerate

********unconformity ***************

2400my         Kheis gneiss basement

 

So how did I do it as the Morris’s say I can’t without fossils?

It was following the Principle of Super-position and I slowly worked it out and traced beds across faults etc. After I worked in a very small area by an ancient copper mine, which proved to be too small to be viable, and got the idea of the regional geology, I spent months traversing and area of some 40×30 miles slowing elucidating the strata. Apart from being totally confused by what I now know to be a large area of slumped tillites(Glacial deposits) I made a coherent map, and then God got other ideas for me. That is why I went to L’Abri before going to theological college, but that may be God’s sense of humour.

I started to explain to those at L’Abri where Morris was wrong and wondered if I would go the way of Servetus. I gave one of their Farel lectures which were kept in their library. As a family we went to L’Abri in 1998 but my lecture was missing, but no others seemed to be missing.

Thus was my introduction to YEC.

If the Morris’s are right with is meme then no order of strata or the Geological Column could have been worked out before Darwin came along in 1859.That is not quite the case.

I find the best way of considering the age of rocks, both in relative order and in absolute age is to see how geology has developed in the last 350 years.

We start in the 1660s with Nils Steno, a Dane who became the Catholic Titular Bishop of Titopolis. From Denmark he went to Italy and looked at strata and worked out his Principle of Super-position i.e. where there are a pile of strata the oldest will be at the bottom. This is obvious but he was the first to see the significance. This works well in working out the order and history of strata – unless they have been turned upside down or slid over other rocks as with the Moine Thrust. Steno laid the foundation and then “poped” and others slowly carried on.

Geology started to take off in about 1780 all over Europe, and if you want to know more read Rudwick’s books! For my purpose in 1788 Prof Michell of Cambridge had worked our a geological successsion from the Chalk down to the Coal strata in what was to be the Namurian in the Carboniferous.

To remain with my Brexit history of geology and overlook geologists across the Channel the next key person is William Smith, who while he was still a Young earther in the 1790s, started to use fossils as stratigraphic markers helping to give the order of strata. By 1802, thanks to local vicars Townsend and Richardson, Smith moved to an old earth but rejected evolution, or rather knew nothing about it. In 1815 he produced his wonderful map of England and Wales, which is remarkably accurate. I find it incredible that he got the geology of the Fylde essentially correct as there is only one rock exposure (of triassic) in 200 square miles.

William Smith's Geological Map of England

Here is Smith after time inside a debtors jail and when he finally got recognition for his work

200px-william_smith_geologist

At the same time as Smith, Brogniart and Cuvier were doing similar work around Paris on Mesozoic strata and were using similar methods and like Smith were unaware of or ignored evolution. For more details read Rudwick’s books.

By 1820 the principles of geology elucidating the strata in an ancient earth were well founded. However, though the historical order of strata was known it was not possible to give actual years. At that time the geological order was known down to the Carboniferous. Below that, what we now know as the Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian, everything was mystery and muddle and on Smith’s map summed up as Killas.

 

 

In 1822 Rev John Henslow of Cambridge went to Anglesey and produced a fine mapand memoir which is the first study of the Precambrian. The map is below. Even today 200 years on, his work is still remarkably good. I found it fascinating going round Anglesey using his and more modern geological maps and was amazed at his skill.

henslow

about the same time Rev William Conybeare dealt with Carboniferous and so by 1830 it was only the older rocks to be sorted. That started when Murchison and Rev Adam Sedgwick went to Wales in 1831. Murchison went to Mid Wales and was lucky to meet up with Rev Thomas Lewis, a pupil of Sedgwick, who took him to the outcrops, which are now seen as Devonian lying conformably on”Silurian” Murchison had cracked it, but never properly credited Lewis.

Meanwhile Sedgwick started in Shrewsbury staying with the Darwins. He went a little way up Long Mountainand only found old strata (now Silurian). Had he and Darwin gone to the top they would have found Devonian sitting on Silurian. He missed it and went round north Wales where there was no Devonian or Old Red Sandstone so never found a downwardly conformably sequence. So after three weeks, and after Darwin left to go shooting but went to the Galapagos instead, Sedgwick began work near Llanberis below Snowdon in what is now Lower Cambrian.

Jim Secord describes their work and the falling out of Sedgwick and Murchison but the upshot was to delineate the Cambrian (Ordovician) and Silurian.

 

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

BRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1

19th century geological map with Darwin’s 1831 route on it. this was the area Sedgwick worked on from 1831 to 1845

In the early 1840s attention turned to Devon and the Devonian was elucidated.

I cannot leave this without popping over the Channel where similar work was done. There the French geologist D’Orbigny worked out the concept of stages, mostly in Normandy. (There is a noticeboard about his work at Arromanches.) D’Orbigny was a Protestant and evolution-denier! In part of the Jurassic he worked out nearly 20 stages and reckoned that at intervals God wiped out one set of fauna and then replaced them with a slightly different group. Evolution a la Darwin is so much simply and doesn’t have God popping back to meddle every few million years.

 

So by 1859 geologists from all over Europe had worked out the order of strata and that the age of the earth was vast but immeasurable. Many made estimates and here are two from the 1860s; Thomas Huxley reckoned the age of the earth to be about 100 million years and Rev Samuel Haughton, Prof of Geology at Dublin and perhaps influenced by Ussher’s dating recroned the base of the Cambrian to be 1800 million years. Haughton wrote strongly against Darwin!

To show the picture of the the “anti-evolutionary” geological column and implications for vast time here is a diagram from the palaeontologist Richard Owen

Image result for richard owen geological column

And so we come to Darwin and The Origin of Species  in 1859. As befits a good geologist Darwin simply used all geological findings including vast ages and in his book developed his theory of evolution from all available biological and geological evidence. If anything, we have to say that evolution is dependent on geolgy and vast ages and not vice versa as the Morris’s falsely claim

Charles Darwin

For the next fifty years many tried to work out the age of the earth with Lord Kelvin firstly putting the limits at 100 million and later to 24 million. Some geologists were not happy! With the discovery of radioactivity things changed as this was used to “date” rocks starting with Boltwood in 1907. Soon it was clear that the age of the earth was billions and not even millions.

From 1913 Arthur Holmes dated the age of the earth at 1.8 billion and slowly refined and increased the age. (His department were not to keen on his dating Dorothy Raynor) Using model lead ages from 1946 Holmes and Claire Patterson (well-known for pointing out the dangers of lead in petrol) concluded that the earth is 4.6 billion and that has not chnaged for 70 years. Since 1946 radiometric dating has developed form simply using 3 dates as Holmes did in the 1930s to using millions!! Again radiometric age dating has nothing to do with evolution as it is based entirely on the non-evolution science of radioactive decay and physics.

In this brief blog I have discussed  – and shown – that geological arguments for Deep Time  are totally independent of evolution. This is both for relative time which was worked out in detail before Darwin and absolute time which come form radiometric age dating which has been used for over a century.

Morris’ argument goes back to Henry Morris in 1961, but he swiped it from McCready Price who put it forward 50 years before.

It is simply a lie to say what the Morris’s say.

For further reading; Martin Rudwicks’s books Worlds before Adam. Bursting the Limits of Time , Earth’s deep History  are excellent.

I deal with more evangelical aspects in Evangelicals and Science (2008) and shorter writngs

This deals with geology and Genesis from 1600 to 1850

sp273-39

Friends of the Earth f**ck it up.

Some of us received this leaflet in periodicals we subscribed to in October 2015.

foeadvert

A delicious irony of this leaflet is that trying to frack at Grasmere would fail as the rocks are almost entirely Borrowdale volcanics! But there is the emotive appeal of showing William Wordsworth’s home village.

Due to its many errors we  (MBR and KW) decided to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. Our complaints focussed on these claims

fracking-foe-leaflet1

If these were true fracking would be a non-starter and should be opposed. It took 15 long months with KW writing backwards and forwards to the ASA as FoE tried to wriggle out of our complaints. Finally after well over a year FoE agreed not to use the arguments again.

The response from Friends of the Earth is a bit odd to say the least

Donna Hume, senior campaigner, Friends of the Earth, said:

“Cuadrilla’s complaint isn’t surprising from a profit-driven fracking company, after all, they have shareholders to keep happy.

They started this process to distract from the real issues about fracking, and how burning fossil fuels is dangerous for climate change. This is a pro-fracking company doing all they can to shut down opposition to fracking. It hasn’t worked though. What’s happened instead is that the ASA has dropped the case without ruling.

“We continue to campaign against fracking, alongside local people, because the process of exploring for and extracting shale gas is inherently risky for the environment, this is why fracking is banned or put on hold in so many countries.”

What follows is first our press release and secondly an account of Friends of the Earth’s activities in Lancashire during the last five years

Press Release 3rd January 2017

Friends of the Earth caught Misleading the Public (Embargo till 4th January)

Two pensioners expose false claims from a respected ‘charity’

For the past couple of years, Ken Wilkinson and Michael Roberts have been questioning the supposed science behind many claims made by anti frack groups and made complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). In all cases, these groups have failed to justify their claims, and have withdrawn their adverts, on the condition that they do not present them again. This is the usual practice of the ASA. A ‘mea culpa’ admission of error is made and this is published on the ASA website. This avoids the embarrassment of the complaint details becoming public.  

The adverts complained about are

  • Frack Free Somerset (2014)

  • Frack Free Alliance. (2015)

  • Resident Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF 2015)

  • Frack Free Ryedale,  and finally, the big one,

  • A leaflet from Friends of the Earth (FoE) (2015)

[I deal with these here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/an-incomplete-history-of-complaints-about-anti-fracking-groups-to-the-advertising-standards-authority/ ]

FoE have fought tooth and nail for over a year to stop the publication of this information which is highly damaging to their anti fracking campaign. It covers the key points used to scare the public.

   The ASA, for more than a year, consulted with experts and corresponded with FoE…. and still the ASA concluded that FoE were misleading the public on all counts.

FoE appeared desperate to protect their claims after the draft report was  leaked and reported on the front page of The Times by asking for several time extensions.

However FoE knew they could not substantiate their misleading claims and have agreed with the ASA that future ads will not include claims that imply:

  1. the fluid used in fracking contains chemicals dangerous to human health, and that the fluid would, as a natural consequence of the act of fracking, contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities because it remained underground;

  2. the US fracking site referred to was responsible for the increase in asthma rates, and that the public would be at risk of equivalent increases in asthma rates by living or working near a fracking site in the UK;

  3. that there is an established risk of the chemicals concerned causing cancer and other conditions among the local population, when used in fracking in the UK;

  4. that fracking will cause plummeting house prices.

They have had to promise not to repeat these claims, as they have been unable to provide evidence to support them. This means that the whole rationale of their campaign against shale gas is based on pseudoscience.

It is also a matter of serious concern that a supposed charity uses false information to raise money, using the cover of a limited company, to avoid reputational damage(see page 4). After an article from The Times, it is also unclear whether people are donating to a limited company or a charity.

We will be contacting FoE to see if they will give an assurance that they will comply with the promises they have made to the ASA not to repeat their false claims. We understand the ASA have stated

‘FoE also explained that they would be willing not to repeat the claims, or claims which have the same meaning, in future, and we have therefore agreed to close the case informally.

The ASA only cover paid for advertising, but an untruth is an untruth, wherever it appears.

Perhaps the press could contact FoE to see what they plan to do?

  • Will FoE continue to go around to local areas spreading false information?

  • Will the Charity Commission accept deliberate misinformation from an NGO?

  • Will they remove the false claims from their website?

  • Will they advise protest groups that they have been caught misleading the public?

  • Will they modify their support material to remove misleading and false information?

  • What will the Fund Raising Standards Board have to say? (We have also complained to them)

Please feel free to contact to discuss further. The ASA will simply record that an advert has been withdrawn and that FoE have promised not to repeat their claims. Due to be published 4th Jan 2017

Please respect the 4th January embargo

https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications.aspx

Contact details.

removed

Please be aware that we are both totally independent of the industry. We feel that it is immoral for anti frack campaigners to spread fear, (and hence opposition) based on incorrect science, fabrication of evidence, and deliberate scaremongering. Risks need to be properly evaluated, by engineers and scientists. The Royal Academy of Engineering looked at this in 2012 and found it to be ‘low risk’ (ie. safe) and that has been reflected in many other expert technical reports. We are NOT ‘pro fracking’ as such, we are anti BS, such as that put about by FoE.      KW+MBR

 

Account of FoE in Lancashire 2011 -2017

Greenpeace.
Shortly after Cuadrilla put in thei r applications for fracking in february 2014. Not for shale signs appeared all round the area creating angst among residents
DSCF2859

Friends of the Earth

FoE needs little introduction as one of the leading Green NGOs. Their involvement in Lancashire goes back five years and here is a brief account of their activities

http://linkis.com/www.foe.co.uk/sites/iKtsJ

In about 2011 FoE adopted an anti-fracking position nationally and members became involved in the Fylde. Andy Atkins CEO of FoE visited the Fylde 12/1011 and encouraged local groups

https://www.foe.co.uk/news/andy_meets_protesters_32904

Speaking at a Ribble Estuary Against Fracking (REAF) event in Hesketh Bank, Andy Atkins said

we should focus on renewables – not dirty energy and unproven practices.

Local residents formed REAF after energy company Cuadrilla Resources announced plans to extract gas by fracking across Lancashire.

The controversial technique involves fracturing the rock and then using water, sand and chemicals to release the gas.

 

There are credible health and environmental concerns over fracking.

Only this year Cuadrilla stopped drilling after a second earthquake in 2 monthshit the Blackpool area. Investigations into a possible link are on-going.

And to avoid dangerous climate change we need to invest in green power and cut energy waste. The carbon footprint of gas is much bigger than that of renewable energy.

Shale gas is neither clean nor proven to be safe. Drilling it will cause climate-changing emissions and could pollute water supplies.

Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth

Andy Atkins reassured Lancastrians that the UK’s huge green energy potential could:

  • Stabilise energy bills long term
  • Create thousands of skilled jobs in Lancashire and throughout the UK

Friends of the Earth is pushing for a moratorium on fracking – like those already in place in France and some US states.

https://www.foe.co.uk/news/andy_fracking_visit_32907

Atkins 13/10/11 on fracking

On 17/4/12 Atkins wrote to Lancashire Evening Post

“We don’t want tremor causing fracking”

 

Andy Atkins, the charity’s executive director, said:

“We don’t need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs – we need a seismic shift in energy policy. “Earth tremors aren’t the only risks associated with fracking, it’s also been linked to air and water pollution and produces gas that causes climate change. A short consultation on one of the problems is inadequate.”

[note that the agreement with ASA means Atkins was wrong]

Read more at: http://www.lep.co.uk/news/fracking-given-the-green-light-1-4453322

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/media/press-releases/put-brakes-fracking-influential-ngos-issue-joint-call-20130818

21/7/13 Atkins gave a green award to RAFF http://www.frackingdigest.co.uk/210713.htm

“Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland has awarded ‘Campaign of the Year’ to RAFF – Residents Action on Fylde Fracking.

RAFF said –

“The REAL prize comes WHEN we stop shale gas and other unconventional energy extraction here in the UK and beyond… but for now, this award presents a great opportunity to access the resources and support of Friends of the Earth who have groups throughout the UK and the world.”

Accepting the award, Julie Daniels of RAFF mentioned all the founding members and said that

“the award was for ALL the anti-fracking groups who have worked tirelessly to confront this threat to our communities. Praise, thanks and inclusion in the acceptance of the award went to Ribble Estuary Against Fracking, Frack Free Fylde, Refracktion, Defend Lytham. BIFF ! (Britain & Ireland Frack Free), Frack OFF and others. “

 

Presenting the award, Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth said:

“We’re delighted to recognise Residents Against Fylde Fracking for their outstanding campaigning against dirty shale gas. They have inspired communities across the UK with their creativity and commitment, and show what can be achieved when a group of ordinary people come together to protect their community. They deserve to win not just this award but the bigger battle against fracking.”

2014 local worker H Rimmer at was at RAFF meetings in support. At one meeting were given the brochure Shale Gas:the Facts, which was the subject our our first complaint to the ASA on groups in Lancashire

2015 FOE organised training days for local groups in Lancashire assisting them with presentations at the hearings at County Hall Preston in June 2015.  (I heard most of the presentations, which were mostly inaccurate.)

The LCC’s planning officer’s Development Control Committee report for the Preston New Road planning application (P471/472 was thorough and detailed

http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/documents/g4919/Public%20reports%20pack%2023rd-Jun-2015%2010.00%20Development%20Control%20Committee.pdf?T=10 ):

In it he said;

“Up to the end of May 2015 a total of 13448 representations objecting to the proposal had been received. 5 were received as duplicate letters from the same individuals. 1797 of the objections were from within Fylde and this is 2.9% of the adult population (2.37% of total population of Fylde Borough) and 116 were from within a 2km radius of the site. 6329 of the representations were from received from outside Lancashire. Of the total number of objections 1251 are individual letters and 13433 template letters many of which were submitted by Friends of the Earth and Frack Free Lancashire.”

As the hearings had almost finished in June 2015 the FoE barrister gave opinion contrary to LCC barrister to cllrs. This appears to have swung the final decision.

The fact that LCC permitted unsolicited legal opinion, procured by Friends of the Earth, to be put before the development control committee in June last year but refused to let councillors see legal opinion obtained by UKOOG just shows how “local democracy” has been usurped by fracking opponents.

In October 2015 the leaflet Don’t let fracking destroy all of this was paid for to be included in  The Sunday Times, Private Eye and Simple Things. From here we put in our complaint to the ASA, which resulted in much correspondence between us, the ASA and FoE.

In 2016 Jan The Times ran an article on the concern over the leaflet

In 2016 Feb/Mar there was an  Foe barrister at Blackpool hearings on the appeal by Cuadrilla

It is difficult not to conclude that  FoE influenced locals and whipped up opposition. So that groups became  echo-chambers for FoE and anti views

Leaflet omits main reason for opposition is Climate change

https://www.foe.co.uk/page/no-fracking-lancashire

Humboldt, the father of environmentalism. Interview with his biographer

The best book I received last Christmas was Andrea Wulf’s biography The Invention of Nature giving the account of the man who inspired Charles Darwin , John Muir and many others.

Having been Green almost as long I can remember but have now been cast into outer darkness by Green fanatics and become an Ecomodernist, who would say I am no longer Green  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/why-i-am-no-longer-a-green/ this look back into the past is worth reading.

The problem today for many Greens is to lose the big picture and see everything in terms of Climate Change (worst case, of course) Divestment, demonising fossil fuels, GMOs etc.

I recommend this blog and also Wulf’s book. Also we need a love of the natural world for its own sake rather than breast-beating about the sins of humans

The 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt popularized the concept that the natural world is interconnected. In a Yale e360 interview, biographer Andrea Wulf explains how Humboldt’s vision helped create modern environmentalism.

Source: The Legacy of the Man Who Changed Our View of Nature by Diane Toomey: Yale Environment 360

The Legacy of the Man Who
Changed Our View of Nature

The 19th-century German scientist Alexander von Humboldt popularized the concept that the natural world is interconnected. In a Yale e360 interview, biographer Andrea Wulf explains how Humboldt’s vision helped create modern environmentalism.

by diane toomey

He was a fearless world traveler, a polymath whose expertise included botany, geography, geology, and more. He viewed nature as a web of life, and, in a conclusion stunning in its prescience, he named deforestation and “the great masses of steam and gas produced by industry” as the causes of climate change.

The name of the 19th-century Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt has remained largely unknown in the English-speaking world in the modern era.

Antonina Gern
Andrea Wulf

But historian Andrea Wulf, in her best-selling book The Invention of Nature, aims to return Humboldt to his rightful place as, in her words, “the father of environmentalism.”

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Wulf explains what enabled Humboldt to arrive at conclusions that were astonishing for his time. “Most scientists who looked at climate then, looked at weather… But Humboldt very much sees climate as an interconnection of landmass, of altitude, of weather, of oceans. He puts all of this together.” Humboldt, she says, originated an entirely new genre of writing that made science accessible to the masses, combining empirical observations with soaring language. “He is completely unafraid of saying, ‘We have to use our imagination and our feelings to understand nature.’ No other scientist was doing that at that time.”

Today’s environmentalists, Wulf says, can find inspiration in Humboldt’s work. “When I look at today’s environmental debate in the political arena, I’m really missing this sense of awe for nature, this recognition that we are only going to protect what we love.”

_____

Yale Environment 360: We learn in your book that Humboldt’s purpose in his epic journey to Latin America was to discover how, in his words, “All forces of nature are interlaced and interwoven.” How radical was that way of thinking, in 1799?

Andrea Wulf: Very radical. Basically, Humboldt comes up with this idea that nature is a web of life, that it’s almost like a tapestry. He describes Earth as a living organism, and that’s something completely new, in the sense that, until then, nature was really much more seen as a more mechanical system.

At that time, scientists were looking into the difference between organic and inorganic matter, but he’s really the one who is talking different disciplines, and he puts them together and creates this new concept or vision of nature that is very different. You do have scientists in Europe then thinking about the vital force in organisms. But Humboldt is taking this concept and he is applying it to the whole of nature, and that was really what was so new, because he sees global connections. For example, he is the first to define global vegetation and climate zones.

e360: He also perceives the effect of deforestation on climate. He would eventually point to other causes of environmental degradation, including monoculture, and in his words, “the great masses of steam and gas produced by industry.”

Oil painting by Eduard Ender, 1856
Alexander von Humboldt and French botanist Aimé Bonpland in the Amazon rainforest.

He writes, “Everything is interaction and reciprocal.” Was it the fact that he was a polymath that allowed for these stunning insights?

Wulf: I think there are several things. Because he is a polymath and he does not stick to one discipline, he can look across these boundaries. For example, most scientists who looked at climate then looked at weather. You have, for example, Thomas Jefferson, who was obsessed with it, who measured the temperature every day, and the wind, and the humidity. But Humboldt very much sees climate as an interconnection of landmass, of altitude, of weather, of oceans. He puts all of this together. And he can do that because he is interested in the weather, but he is also interested in plants and in soil. He brings all of these disciplines together.

Quite a lot of his contemporaries remarked upon his incredible memory. He could remember the shape of a leaf 40 years later. He could remember exact layers, rocks strata decades later. When he was standing, for example, in the Altai Mountains in Russia, his mind would race back to what he had seen in the Andes. Or when he was standing in the Andes, his mind would race back to what he had seen in the Alps. So he can make these connections. And then I think there’s one thing we tend to forget: At that time, not a lot of scientists actually saw as much of the world as Humboldt did. They were basically stuck to the place where they were brought up, and maybe they moved around a little bit, but there were very few trained scientists who were traveling the world.

e360: Humboldt’s book, Views of Nature, was a roaring bestseller. It combined science and beautiful prose. You call it a blueprint for nature writing today. Why was it so revolutionary?

Wulf: He is completely unafraid of lyricism. He is completely unafraid of saying, “We have to use our imagination and our feelings to understand nature.” No other scientist was doing that at that time. Scientists were writing these very specialized books for their colleagues basically. But Humboldt, because he believed that knowledge should be accessible for everybody, he was democratizing knowledge. That is one of his greatest achievements. He writes these books for a general audience, not for specialists.

Views of Nature is a beautiful example of that. In each chapter, he describes nature in very poetic ways. He is talking about “leaves that unfurl and greet the morning sun.” That’s not how a scientist would have written about nature. But then, at the same time, at the end of each chapter, he has these very long endnotes, which include the latest scientific results and discoveries. So if you were a layperson you could just skip over those. But if you were a scientist and you are really interested in the detail, you would also read them.

A botantical drawing by Humboldt of a plant in Cuba.

e360: You talk about his democratization of science. He also went on lecture tours and spoke to packed crowds that included women.

Wulf: Humboldt basically took his audiences on these incredible journeys from Earth to outer space, from the tiniest insect to the tallest trees. He talks about human migration, he talks about the Northern Lights. He never read from his notes — he just kind of talked, so he was very, very lively. And he did not charge anything for these lectures, and that was something no one else was really doing. The audience consisted of students, and artists, and carpenters, but also servants and kings. And many of them were women, so he made the knowledge available to everybody.

He uses uncomplicated language, and he uses these kind of poetic, evocative landscape descriptions. He wanted to make people excited about science and nature, and he had this sense of wonder for nature. I think that’s why I say it’s a blueprint for nature writing today. John Muir, for example, was very much doing the same thing as Humboldt in the sense that he would take readers from the East Coast and literally grab and take them into Yosemite with his descriptions. And nature writers today do that – having scientific observations in there, but also the sheer joy of, say, walking through nature.

e360: You mention John Muir, and you go into some detail regarding this American environmental lineage that originates with Humboldt. Speak a bit about that.

Wulf: I think that was for me one of the greatest surprises when I was doing this book, because when I got interested in Humboldt and I was talking to people about it, the most common reaction I got, “Who is this?” Then I started the research, and I realized just how unbelievably famous he was or used to be in America and the huge impact he had on people like John Muir. Muir, for example, as a young man said, “How intensely I want to be a Humboldt.” He read Humboldt’s books with pencil in hand, and amazingly these books still exist at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, so we can look at Muir’s library, at his copies of Humboldt’s books.

It’s very often through examples, through being in nature, that we realize the threat to nature.’

They are heavily underlined. It’s almost like listening to Muir having a conversation with Humboldt. And we can see through this how much he was influenced by Humboldt in his ecological thinking. For example, he underlines basically everything that Humboldt says about deforestation and the destructive effect of agriculture, but also this idea of nature as a web of life. There is this very famous Muir quote, which is basically, “If you pull at something in the universe, you’ll find it hitched to everything else.” That’s … pure Humboldt. This idea that everything is connected, and only if you understand that everything is connected can you really understand how we are threatening nature. That’s the bit that Muir takes from Humboldt. And the other thing that he takes from Humboldt is this sheer joy of nature.

e360: You write that the connection between knowledge, art, and poetry, between science and emotions – Humboldt called it “the deeply-seated bond” – is more important than ever. How so?

Wulf: When I wrote this book, at first what was most important for me, was to say he is the forgotten father of environmentalism, and I still think that is incredibly important. But the more I researched him, the more I thought the most important thing is that he does not draw a sharp distinction between the arts and the sciences. I think that’s something that we are really lacking at, and it’s a quite new, sharp line we are drawing. It starts really in the mid-19th century with the specializations of the sciences, but think that when I look at today’s environmental debate in the political arena, I’m really missing this sense of awe for nature, this recognition that we are only going to protect what we love.

I think Humboldt is so amazing in that he is so utterly unafraid of embracing that [sense of wonder], while at the same time he is utterly obsessed with scientific measurement. He schlepped 42 scientific instruments across Latin America, so he was not a misty-eyed romantic. He believed, on the one hand, in the hard facts of science. But he also believed in wonder.

I think that is something I feel in the whole climate change debate that’s really missing. Because we can throw numbers forever at people, you know, this is what’s going to happen if the temperatures rise 2 degrees. But it’s very often through examples, through being in nature, that we realize the threat to nature. I think we can’t just leave climate change to scientists alone; I think it’s something that has to work on many levels, not just on the scientific level, if we want to do something about our planet.

e360: You anticipated my next question. I was going to ask you about the 800 or so scientists who recently signed an open letter to President-elect Trump, calling on him to take the threat of climate change seriously.

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I was wondering if Humboldt were around today, as those scientists continue to press the Trump administration, what would Humboldt’s words of wisdom be to them?

Wulf: I try to avoid to put words or thoughts into Humboldt’s head, because I really don’t know. I think he definitely would have been one of those scientists signing that letter, but I don’t know. I’m as flabbergasted about the Trump election as everybody else, I think. I’m terrified to have a climate change denier as the next president of the United States, if I’m honest.

e360: You’ve said that if you could invite someone from history to a dinner party, it would be Humboldt. I’m wondering what would be one of your questions for him?

Wulf: My question would absolutely be, “What are we going to do about climate change?” That’d be my question, and I’d be desperately hoping that he had a very smart and brilliant answer. The one thing I think Humboldt would say is he would be pretty shocked at what stage we are at now. Consider the fact that he warned us more than 200 years ago about harmful, human-induced climate change.