The Howgill Fells, Vikings, Sheep and geomorphology

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Last year I was asked to review  An Excursion Guide to the Geomorphology of the Howgill Fells Paperback  by Adrian Harvey for the Yorkshire Geological Society. The Howgills are more or less in Yorkshire but this was more geomorphology than geology.   

22 Jun. 2017, Adrian Harvey, Paperback: 128 pages. £14.99

Publisher: Dunedin Academic Press; Illustrated edition (22 Jun. 2017)

Language: English ISBN-10: 1780460708 ISBN-13: 978-1780460703

Apart from Ordovician in the Rawthey Valley and the Dent Fault, the Howgill Fells are not a magnet for geology fieldtrips. There are even some Ordovician glacial sediments. They could be described as a series of parallel whalebacks of Silurian slate with few outcrops and draped with post-glacial soliflucted sludge which occasionally overlies glacial till! Rock exposures are rare. This guidebook to the recent geomorphology by Andrew Harvey, emeritus professor of geomorphology at Liverpool, could make you change your mind.

The focus of this excursion guide is on the Postglacial geomorphology of the Howgills, as before that a static ice sheet could not do much geomorphology! They have neither the more dramatic geomorphology of the Lakes or the Dales, but geomorphology they have, and Harvey brings it to life. The book is in two parts. Part one deals with the general geomorphology and part two on the excursions.

The introduction is a general overview with a brief summary of the geology, and a mention of glaciation which is limited to the cwm above Cautley Spout and probable cwms west of the M6 south of Tebay. That much will be familiar to most geologists. The next two chapters are on what has happened and is happening since the glaciers retreated. When I say “what is happening” I mean that as Harvey has been visiting the Howgills for half a century, we are introduced to changes he observed. I found this fascinating and enlightening.

Chap 2, Holocene Landform Evolution deals with the sequence of events during the last 10,000 years. This began with the thawing of permafrost which resulted slope instability and the solifluction of reworked glacial till or head, which resulted in the fells being draped with reworked till. Much later were waves of hillslope gullying, which give the Howgills their characteristic aspect today. There was a major wave in the 10th century when Norsemen were rearing sheep. This slowed a century later due to William’s Harrying of the North, with a resurgence then a respite during the Black Death. This was a fascinating tying in of geomorphology to human history. Reflecting on this in the field should lead to good questions on the effect of us humans on the environment. Less historically, but more geomorphologically, he deals with gully structures and alluvial fans. A section on vegetation describes how, from pollen data, the fells were wooded or partially wooded before the Roman invasion.  Gully formation was favoured by extreme wet conditions and human activity, especially sheep rearing. In the last few years Belted Galloway cattle have been introduced on the northern hills to remedy the damage done by sheep .

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Chap 3 The modern Geomorphic System deals with the more recent erosional activities. Here Harvey uses his nearly half a century of field work in the Howgills to great effect. All the active gullys are identified and some given special attention, often giving a sequence of events, with photos, of the last 50 years. Carlingill and Grains Gill’s Gullys get pride of place. As well as that he describes the extreme events of July 1982 and December 2015, Both events reactivated gully erosion, affected the rivers and changed gully to channel coupling effects. The maps and photos make the events very clear.

Part Two is on the field sites. First is a reconnaissance road trip round the Howgills to bring out the salient features. It is the only trip which can be carried out by car, preferably by bike. The route of some 40 to 50 miles gives a fine overview and locates the stopping places.

Secondly, the main part are lengthy trips into the heart of the Howgills along various valleys. To the west are Grain’s Gill and Carlingill. To the north are Langdale, Bowderdale and Weasdale and to the south Cautley, the Gills above Sedbergh and Chapel Beck. I followed the routes on Carlingill, Bowderdale and Cautley. Harvey’s routes are detailed and easy to follow, but involve crossing rivers without bridges and the top of Carlingill by the Spout is serious. They are not for the faint-hearted but are magnificent routes in remote areas.

Carlingill

Carlingill is the highlight of all the excursions and is on tough terrain. I confess I went right up to the spout in Carlingill and had a challenge getting out of it!

P1040131Grain’s Gills Gullys from the fan near the confluence with Carlingill

There is a little parking by Carlingill Bridge, where can find the track. On either side are the lovely bog plants Butterwort, bog asphodel (flowering in July) and Sundew. The track on the left side going up Carlingill is never very visible but the lower parts are fairly easy but may require crossing the gill which could be full. The complexities of erosion of  Grains Gill is fascinating and some will divert for a close look. After that the gill rises slowly  with various gullies and erosion of different ages on either side.

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Once you go past Green Knott Gill the path either gets better or worse, depending who you are! The gill narrows and the path becomes more indistinct.  There is also a steep drop in to the gill for the unwary.

At the confluence with Little Uigill Beck the gill narrows and neither alternative is easy. 

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Continuing up Carlingill becomes more and more challenging and the spout is a dead end unless you are partial to hairy scrambling. I happen to be past it. the spout is dramatic, but was spoilt by some alternative religionist tying bits of plastic onto a tree.  I presume they thought it very green to leave such rubbish, which no better than balloons which descend on the fells. I am sure some will say I’m religiously intolerant. Maybe, but I don’t like litter of any form.

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Reaching the point below the “prayer” tree I was faced with a trilemma. The safest and most boring route was to retrace my steps. Or I could scramble up the side of the waterfall, which I would have done thirty years ago. Anyway I had lunch and then climbed up the very steep grass sloe to the right of the stream as you can see in the next photo. I am not sure of the wisdom of going up steep grass on all fours!! 

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Carlingill Spout and alluvial fan at Blakethwaite from Knowles. The gorge below the spout is difficult to escape from by climbing with a choice of rock or very steep grass!!

Once I got to the stop of the steep slope I gave a sigh of relief and then went more gently upwards (to the right in the photo) up Uigill Rigg to the top of Breaks Head 628m and then followed the track to the northwest along the ridge, looking down on Carlingill. It was an excellent walk full of geomorphological interest. It is not for the fainthearted.

Harvey’s description of the gullys, alluvial fans etc in each of these is very clear and informative.

Bowderdale

The route up Bowderdale is easier – if you can keep your feet dry – but the various gullys and fans are expounded in clarity and detail. I parked the car by Potts near Scar Sikes and followed the track over to Bowderdale. As i dropped down to Bowderdale the track got soggy and I was treated to sundew. I pointed them out to some walkers, who had never seen them before. 

Going up the Dale was fairly easy and Harvey’s guide pointed out many features, including the floods of 1982, where he had the advantage of seeing the area before and after the flood. His comments brought much of the scenery alive to me in a way I’d missed so often in the past.

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Greencomb Gully and the fan from the 1982 flood

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Hazel Gill with the more vegetated fan for the 1982 flood.

When i reached Hazel Gill I’d intended to go up randygill Top but felt lazy and walked back down the valley fording the river, which was very low, and then back to the car.

Cautley Spout

The route to Cautley Spout and beyond is one of my favourite hil lwalks, where I once saw a Brocken spectre.

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Harvey gives safety warnings!! I suppose these are necessary from the number ill-equipped walkers on the hills. the walk from the Temperance Inn  past the Spout and then one of the several routes to The Calf  676m or 2217ft is not the most difficult but can be fun for navigation in mist! The river capture at the col to Bowderdale is explained. It is an open question whether the cirque at Cautley Crags is due to the Loch Lomond advance or is earlier. Whether or not you stop at the foot of the Spout, you are treated to a range of geomorphology from glacial cirques to later solifluction.  This is a gem of a place which can be tailored to the group’s ability and agility. By stopping near the foot of the Spout enables one to see most of the salient features of Howgill’s geomorphology in one visit. Much more can be seen if one continues to the top of Cautley Crags. I love the path which is steep and airy in places. 

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If geomorphology is your only interest there is no need to go further but walking on the edge of Cautley Crags to Great Dummacks is delightful, unless there is a strong wind.

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Or take the more direct route up the Gill becks to the Calf, passing old sheepfolds and “houses” en route. 

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View from the bridge of the Rawthey of the Cautley glacial cwm, Cautley spout is to the right.

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View from top of Cautley Crags looking down Bowderdale. The steep line of trees shows the route of the Cautley

You can return from the Calf following a good path to Bowderdale and then cutting off on a diminutive tack to Bowderdale Head. A steep descent and then meandering through glacial deposits leads you back to the Inn, where you can buy some well-deserved orange squash. shortly before the footbridge you should finds some Butterwort and Sundew by going off the path.

The best two excursions are to Carlingmill and Cautley, and Harvey succeeds in making the geomorphology come alive.

This excursion guide has distilled half a century of field work in the Howgills and has made it accessible for those, like me, with an indifferent grasp of Holocene geomorphology. The maps, photos and descriptions are very clear and make you ask with Thomas Huxley, “why didn’t I think of that?” This guide is a model of what a geo-excursion guide ought to be.

Often the Howgill fells are seen as dreary and can be likened to half a dozen dead whales lying side by side, with one having its mouth open at Cautley Spout. Above are three routes I did which are variations on Harvey’s detailed routes.

As well as expounding the geomorphology of today Harvey also considered what it was in the past. It  was so different then and going back 1500 years or more it was far more wooded than it is now. trees have been in decline here for 2000 years, as in the Lakes and Dales and are due to two mammals. These are sheep and humans.

The serious deforestation began with the Vikings, who, when they were not pillaging, were tending sheep on the fells. By nibbling every green shoot down to ground, the sheep prevented the regrowth of any tree or shrub and got rid of most flowers. It’s same story in the Dales . Lakes and Wales, but fortunately Belties, or Belted Galloways, are replacing the sheep and doing excellent conservation work. It is not often you can eat conservation workers. And so until 1066  deforestation and erosion were going hand in hand, or rather, mouth by mouth.

One of the good things William the Conqueror did was to slow this process down for a while by sending his henchmen to the desolate north to harrow it – known as the “Harrowing of the North”.

 But when the harrowing stopped shepherding resumed and so did the erosion until the bacterium yersinia pestis arrived and caused the Black Death, thus stooping the raising of sheep again. Soon things recovered and the sheep continued their destructive geomorphological work up to the present day.

The Howgills are not the best place for wildlife and flowers are not numerous, but are there if you know where to look.

More recently, as with the rest of the high ground in northern England restoration has begun and we shall, hopefully, see more trees and their attendant wildlife.

 Meanwhile the Howgills are fantastic place to explore and relatively few people visit. If you go I hope essay and Harvey’s book bring it to life for you. If you want more then use the OS 1:25,000 OL19 and from that you’ll get a gist of my routes!

this is an expansion of a review I did for the Yorkshire Geological Society

Precautionaria: An Affluent Disease Spread by Fear and Ignorance

An amusing but apt diatribe against a risk-averse society.

Dealing with the Precautionary Principle gone mad

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To reject his arguments I’d have to give up cycling!!

The Risk-Monger

Europe has been suffering from a disease outbreak that is debilitating its population, leading to economic malaise and destroying its innovative culture and entrepreneurial mindset. It’s called “precautionaria” and while often poorly diagnosed, it has been the source of a wide range of self-inflicted harm, irrational decisions and unnecessary anxiety. Also referred to as risk aversion, those afflicted with precautionaria leave themselves open to exploitation by unscrupulous actors and fear-mongers.

Sufferers of precautionaria often perceive the world through paranoid apocalyptic scenarios, express largely fear-driven reactions to irrational uncertainties and hold that the best corrective measures (to deliver a safe, secure situation) is to stop all related actions (regardless of the consequences). They express a pathological distrust of humanity, technology and innovative solutions. These sufferers often long for some idealised simpler times in the past which, when combined with an incapacity to properly perceive reality, leads to the voluntary…

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Growing Rowan Trees for Planet and People

Many years ago I spent much time rock-climbing in Snowdonia, especially around Ogwen. It was vital to find good belays and on numerous occasions I used a rowan tree. I wonder whether they would have held me if I fell. Since then the rowan, or mountain ash, has been my favourite tree. here’s one on Arenig Fawr.

There are fairly common in the uplands of England and Wales and some are struggling in a hostile place. In the autumn they are known for their scarlet berries which are devoured by birds. here is a fine example;

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You can find rowans almost anywhere, as in this remote valley in the Forest of Bowland

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They are hardy trees and here is my favourite, also in the Forest of Bowland, of a tree possibly struck by lightning still valiantly braving the elements. Note the lovely creamy-white blossom.

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Hardy though they are, they struggle to survive on higher ground as do these planted rowans on Wild Boar Fell. They grow very little each year.

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Rowans are relatively small trees and usually grow to 25 or 30 feet making them ideal for smaller gardens and amenity areas, which cannot take a mighty oak. Over the last 40 years I have planted them in various gardens and they are now a good size. Those I planted in 2001 are now about 20 ft and covered with blossom then berries.

Here is one in my present garden.

Rowans are beautiful trees but what are their virtues?

Their beauty enhances wherever they grow , in the wild, in a garden or in public spaces. Too many of our towns and estates are being denuded of trees and here is a smallish one which is suitable in most gardens. Not so long ago most estates would have front gardens with shrubs and small trees, but the craze for plastic grass, gravel and hard surfaces has often destroyed that. I wonder how much wildlife is lost through that.

As well as that, they attract insects to their blossom and birds to eat the berries, and probably other insects eating leaves or making their home on a branch. Being native they attract other creatures as well.

At a time when there is so much encouragement to grow trees, rowans are ideal and will absorb a little carbon but not as much as an oak. Not every garden or open space is suitable for an oak! most can take a rowan (or a malus or cherry.)

I started doing this in the Autumn of 2017 and during 2021 I gave away a dozen of so and now some are in my street and others as far away as Cambridge and Shrewsbury.

I don’t claim to be a wonderful gardener but this is what I did.

I began in Year 1 – autumn 2017 and collected berries

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which I planted in a Seed tray with compost ( no peat) about few centimetres apart. They were left outside for the winter and I kept them neither too dry or too wet

Year 2 (2018)

By May most had germinated and so I pricked them out and put them into little pots

and up again if need me

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Year 3 (2019)

The next year i had to keep potting up as needs be and some were growing faster than others. (At times this was due to my negligence.)

Year4 2020

By now some had got to over two feet but with lockdown I simply grew them one and trying to avoid the dangers of too wet and too dry.

Year 5 2021

By now after three and a half years the larger ones ready. Note the variation in size. This photo excludes the larger ones which i’d given away.

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and I gave a dozen to various people.

Here’s one a few doors down from me. Since planting in May it has grown well over a foot in height and is thriving. I doubt that it will have flowers for two more years. It is as big a tree you may dare to plant there. It is great to be able to watch one of my trees grow.

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I hope people will try this and I seuggest reading up about growing trees form seed as I am no expert. The main problem I have had has been losing plants through neglect , wither letting them get too wet or bone dry.

Some may ask “What’s the point? Why not just buy saplings?” If you want immediate results then that is the best course.

Growing from seed is very satisfying as you then totally own the trees. It is fun to do, apart from some disappointments. You are also taking part in actual growing rather than funding it. You learn a lot.

In a small way you are contributing to biodiversity and increasing the number of trees.

There is nothing like seeing a tree you have grown from seed.

One can do this with other plants as I am with Purple Loosestrife. I will have to find forever homes for them next spring.

And finally, some groups want volunteers to nurture plants thus for example “growers” are needed for Silverdale AONB in Lancashire.

If you have enjoyed reading this, why not try it? It is fairly simple provided you can think three years hence!

Is “Is Genesis History?” History? The Hutton-Lyell Myth

“Is Genesis History” is a relatively new Creationist project attempting to give solid reasons for believing that Creation took place 6 to 10,000 years ago and not the billions years of science. They have recruited leading “creation” experts and scientists to give substance to the material.

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The videos and blogs are well-produced  and seemingly coherent and reliable. One key aspect is to claim that until about 1800 all Christians believed in a young earth. At first sight that seems very plausible as geology is usually reckoned to have started with Hutton in about 1790.

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Just consider this video by Prof Ian Stewart.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wkc23

or better

https://youtu.be/FYfuI2uZLmg

However Stewart’s claims about the bible are more assertion than based on evidence. Further Hutton was by no means the founder of geology as that started a century earleir.  This chimes in with the popular view that all were happy with a young earth until the geologists came along. This comes out in popular treatments of science, and even by competent scientists.

This video comes out with same story https://learninglink.oup.com/access/content/prothero-earth1e-student-resources/prothero-earth1e-see-for-yourself-james-hutton?previousFilter=tag_chapter-01

Both “Is Genesis History?” and popular views of science regurgitate forms of the now  debunked Conflict Thesis of science and religion. Many scholars have been debunking it for over half a century and thus there is no excuse to regurgitate it. The blog cashes in on old popular views of conflict and comes out with what may be termed the Hutton-Lyell myth, whereby they are presented as the first and leading voices for a vast age of the earth and sought to deliberately undermine Genesis. That simply ain’t true.

By doing this they ignore

  1. earth history only began to be understood in 17th century
  2. By 1700 many “geological” savants realised earth was older than what Ussher proposed
  3. Before 1650 it was reasonable to assume young earth as it was also reasonable to accept geocentrism – and not to know about the circulation of the blood or the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies!
  4. Biblical interpretations were more fluid in the 1800 years before Hutton than some claim!
  5. From 1600 there were essentially 3 main interpretations namely  – a 6/24 hour creation, gap theory  (or rather chaos restitution) , and day-age.  All were rather vague on the time involved. But then the geologists were vague on time too!

This is the second of five posts dealing with the question of ‘The Age of the Earth and the Bible.’ It is taken from the Is Genesis History? Bible Study available in our store. Read the first post here.

Learn More About the Is Genesis History? Bible Study Set

https://isgenesishistory.com/does-the-bible-speak-to-the-age-of-the-earth/

Adding up the Genealogies

Starting in the first century A.D. and continuing to the present, most interpreters examined the genealogies in the Bible and said they can be used to calculate the age of the earth.

There is some truth to this but it is very sweeping. You could also say that until well into the 17th century biblical interpreters also held the sun to go round the sun and thus the trials of Galileo and all that. As there was no hard evidence that the earth was ancient until about 1700 (yes, 1700 not 1800) it’s not surprising that theologians didn’t think the earth was ancient before then. More on this as we go along.

The first genealogy used this way is in Genesis 5. It reports the age of Adam when he fathered his son Seth, then the age of Seth when he fathered his son Enosh, and so on down to Noah who is said to have been 600 at the start of the Flood. If one sees Genesis 1 as a record of six normal days, and the genealogies as relationships without gaps, then it appears one can calculate the time from Creation to the Flood.

The next genealogy using the same pattern is in Genesis 11. Noah’s son Shem is said to have fathered Arpachshad two years after the Flood. The names and ages continue through Terah, the father of Abram, thereby providing a way to calculate the time between the Flood and Abraham’s birth.

There is no consideration on what the genealogies are and whether they are even complete. B B Warfield’s classic 1911 paper is worth a read https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Antiquity_and_the_Unity_of_the_Human_Race

From Abraham forward, it is not as simple a process. There are no longer linear genealogies like the ones in Genesis 5 and 11 listing the father’s age at his son’s birth, so one must track down references to ages at significant events, cross-compare, then calculate together. This process takes one from Abraham to David; from David through the kings of Judah to the Exile; and from the Exile to Jesus’ day.

Once this Biblical timeline is established, specific people and events are seen to intersect with other calendars in the ancient world. These can then be matched to an ‘absolute’ astronomical calendar to determine an approximate age for the earth. For instance, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 94 A.D., used this process to calculate the age of the earth as approximately 5500 years from the date of his writing in the first century A.D.

Other men in the early church calculated similar ranges, with estimates provided by Cyprian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexander, Julius Africanus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. All of them put the creation of the world as less than 6000 years old from the date of their writing (with many approximating it at 5500 BC).

Prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.

This is very sweeping and ignores the changes in interpretation after 1600 and more so after 1660, when Steno began his geological work. There was further extra-biblical evidence whether on geology, geography i.e. existence of Americas and Australasia only came in for Old World scholars  after 1492 with the age of exploration, along with new understandings of astronomy – and every aspect of science.

I have dealt with this in a book chapter, though it deserves a book in itself; Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825) Read it here sp273-39

To summarise most commentators in the 16th century, both Roman and Protestant, took Genesis very literally, tending to a 6/24 day scenario. This was due to the influence of the Reformations on all churches almost making them take the bible more literally and avoid any allegorical meanings. Some theologians, RC and Protestant, adopted a chaos-restitution interpretation (a more erudite form of the later gap theory). In the early 17th century this is found in the massive commentary on genesis by the mathematician- priest Mersenne. It is the biggest book I have ever handled!! These writers argued that god first created chaos and after a period of time reordered it in 6 days. This linked in with Greek and Latin writers like Hesiod. The period of chaos could either be long or short and for Ussher it was only half a day!

My chapter shows how writers, Roman or protestant, held these views, chaos-restitution,  a day age or a 6/24 creation week, with a reticent on the age of the earth. Few of those who held the third argued against those who did not.

If I had to give numbers, I would suggest that most accepted chaos-restitution and thus extended Ussher’s timetable. This continued through Bishop Patrick and the Theeories of the Earth of the late 17 th century and into the 18th, before the hammers proved an ancient earth.

By 1770 many theologians were convinced that the earth was old, due to findings og geological savants since Steno. I come to Hutton later!

The period 1600-1800 marked a change in understanding the history of the earth as slowly evidence came in demonstrating an ancient earth. Many biblical commentators and theologians discussed these, though some did not. As evidence poured in for the vast age of the earth, many theologians took that into account .

These systems of dating continued through the medieval church and persisted up to the 17th century with the well-known calculation of Archbishop Ussher in England. Like other Protestants, Ussher used the Hebrew ‘Masoretic text’ used by Jewish scribes, a text somewhat different than the older Greek ‘Septuagint’ used in the churches of the first century. This choice resulted in him shrinking the timeline of the world by 1500 years and placing the date of creation at 4004 BC.

Ussher did not make great use of genealogies and his date of 4004 Bc for creation was not based on them.

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He, like others at that time, thought the earth would exist for 6 days of 1000 years; 4 before Jesus and 2 afterwards, making creation at 4000BC and the consummation in  2000AD. However from extra-biblical materials he realised Jesus was born in about 4 BC thus Creation was in 4000 + 4 = 4004BC. He deffo got the date of the consummation wrong at that should have happened in 1996! 1996 undermines Ussher as nothing else does!! Against that Ussher was a very fine scholar who only had the material available in 1656. Judged by 1656 his scholarship was immense and Rudwick argues that he gave us a sense of history AND geological history, thus beginning a revolution in history.

Why the difference in age? The Hebrew text of Genesis 5 and 11 often lists younger ages for fathers at their sons’ births in comparison to the Greek text. For instance, in the Greek Septuagint Adam is 230 years old when he has Seth. In the later Hebrew Masoretic text, however, he is 130 years old. The difference in ages adds up to a variation of approximately 1500 years. But where did this difference come from?

Although a complex and controversial topic, it is thought by some that a group of Jews living during the second century AD in Palestine intentionally adjusted some of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 in order to keep early Christians from using the age of the earth to calculate Jesus’ arrival as the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy. By subtracting approximately 1500 years from the history of the earth, Jesus would have been born too early to fit into the messianic window.[1]

Today, modern creation scientists and scholars are divided as to whether to accept the longer ages in the older Greek text or the shorter ages in the more recent Hebrew text. The former group places the age of the earth at 7500 years old; the latter at 6000 years old, often still relying on the work of Archbishop Ussher.

All other Christians do not use the genealogies in anyway to calculate the age of the earth

Ussher, of course, was just one of many scholars living during his day who, although disagreeing on specifics, ultimately agreed that the age of the earth was less than 10,000 years old. The point is that prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.[2]

Not so as argued earlier. It would be fair to say that before 1660 (Steno) most held to a young earth, but undogmatically, but by 1800 the vast majority accepted an ancient earth, and this was for Evangelicals and Roman catholics too.

The Opinions of the New Geologists

In the early 19th century, however, the new sciences of geology and paleontology began to exert an influence on interpretations of Genesis.[3]James Hutton, George Cuvier, Charles Lyell, and others argued that the history of the earth was much older than 10,000 years; they based this view on their new interpretations of the rock layers and the fossils within them.[4]

It became obvious that the traditional view and the new view could not both be accurate since they provided two competing histories of the earth.

The major flaw is that the writer considers the “New Geologists” to have started with Hutton in about 1770, whereas geology had a long history going  back to 1660, and was already influential by 1700. Hutton, Cuvier and Lyell were not the only “New Geologists” but three of a large number from all over Europe who researched from 1770. To find out more read the mammoth tomes of Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time  and Worlds before Adam. Some were Christian like J. A.  de Luc, Townsend, Soulavie, and the Anglican clergy like Buckland, the Conybeares and Sedgwick from 1810.

In the 1780s when Hutton was preparing his Theory of the Earth he wrote a preface in July 1785 arguing that his views were consistent with Christian revelation. He also argued that each Day of Genesis was of indefinite length

Hutton theory

Hutton sent the draft to the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Church of Sctoland and Principal of Edinburgh University. Note that Robert Darwin, father of Charles went to Edinburgh in 1783. Robertson de-drafted Hutton’s preface and here is part of it.

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Thus, we see that, by 1785 church leaders were accepting of a long geological time scale, and right at the heart of the so-called conflict. Robertson was not changing his views to placate Hutton’s geology, but re-iterating old understandings going back a century of more.

There are many more examples both in Scotland and England. In 1802 Thomas Chalmers furthered this with his exposition of a “Gap Theory”. He had been a student at Edinburgh in the 1790s .

It was similar in England with the Evangelical vicar of Pewsey, Joseph Townsend, one of William Smith’s advisors,

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arguing in a similar vein in his 1813 The Character of Moses established for veracity as a Historian. Despite its title this work was a good summary of recent geology AND demonstrated its conformity with the Gospel.

By 1800 the evidence of these so-called “New Geologists” was over-whelming  and only a few rear-guard scholars opposed it. However several theologians like Thomas Scott simply ignored geological findings.

As a typical Englishman I shall leapfrog over Cuvier as I prefer rosbif and go to Lyell – who was a scot thus a haggis-eater rather than liking roast beef! At Oxford Lyell

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studied geology under Rev William Buckland

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and probably imbibed his views of an ancient earth from him and other geologists, many of whom were clergy. Significant as Lyell became as a geologist after 1830, he had no effect on encourage people to accept an ancient earth. Those who say he did either suffer from a conscious or unconscious bias or are lying.

I hope that with a few well-aimed guided missiles I’ve demolished this re-iteration of the Hutton-Lyell myth which is totally false and has no historical substance to it.Yet it is repeated time and time again by Creationists and the semi-heducated.

Many more as any historical account of geology would show eg Rudwick

This is an important observation: it was not simply a matter of differences in timescale, but of differences in events happening during those timescales. Everyone understood the implications of the profound change in age. In the new view of geology, the earth had a “deep history” with a series of events occurring in it that were radically different than the events recorded in special revelation.

As I demonstrated earlier this New view of Geology  goes back to 1660s with Steno and then others in Britain. It was not NEW.

Although non-Christians had already assigned Genesis to the realm of myth, these differences created a major issue for Christians: how did the history in Genesis fit with the new history of the earth? And what did it mean for the doctrines of revelation and creation?

One answer was to question the geological findings themselves. This was done by a series of “scriptural geologists” with limited success, a history that Terry Mortenson documents in his book The Great Turning Point.

The so-called Scriptural Geologists had virtually no grasp of geology and risible even by the standards of the 1830s. Here is my summary of them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/06/creationists-in-the-19th-century/

The other answer was to change one’s interpretation of Genesis.

New Ways to Interpret an Old Text

As a result, the 19th century saw the introduction of a number of new interpretationsthat attempted to synthesize Genesis 1 with a much longer period of time.[5] One was the ‘gap’ view which argued there was an indefinitely long period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.

They should be less partisan and more accurate here and actually note that the so-called new interpretations of Genesis in the early 19th century were minor modifications of older ones. This I argued earlier.

Another idea was the ‘day-age’ view which said each ‘day’ in Genesis 1 was actually a long period of time. There was much discussion as to just how long a period of time, as well as which events each ‘day’ symbolized, but, in the end, this view provided a symbolic or allegorical function that could be shifted as needed to match changing scientific views.

The result of these interpretations was that, for those who held them, it no longer became possible to determine the age of the earth from the Bible. Instead, it was the role of geologists to determine the age of the earth. This meant that geologists became the new historians of the earth, removing from the Bible the ultimate authority concerning the actual history of creation.

Oh for some accuracy here!! Most had not determined the age of the earth from the bible at least from 1700 as geological evidence came to light.

Some commentators and pastors argued this was an incorrect way of interpreting Genesis 1; they said these views were neither in the history of interpretation nor in the text itself.

They should have said who so that their case would have some substance.

n spite of this, it became more and more popular to interpret Genesis in light of the seemingly indisputable claims of many geologists that the earth was far older than 10,000 years. For some, it was an easy concession because it seemed to maintain the historical integrity of Adam and Eve as well as the rest of the Biblical text.

Due to their many historical howlers their case can be dismissed

The one nagging problem was the fossil record.

Yes it was a nagging problem for young earthers but no one else. This final comment is a vacuous rhetorical flourish evading the falsity of their arguments.

Perhaps their grasp of the science of geology and evolution is better than their history of science.

[1] For more details, see Henry B. Smith, Jr. “MT, SP, or LXX: Deciphering a Chronological and Textual Conundrum in Genesis 5,” Bible and Spade 31.1 (2018), 18-27.

[2] Terry Morteson, The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2012) 44-45.

[3] Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (The Paternoster Press, 1983) 72.

[4] Martin Rudwick, Earth’s Deep History (The University of Chicago, 2014) 99,110.

[5] Mortenson, 33,35.

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

To read; M Rudwick as in their references
D Young and Stearley. The Bible, rocks and Time
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Michael Roberts Evangelicals and Science (chapters available on my blog ; here is chap3 in biblical interpretation https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/a-history-of-evangelicals-and-science-part-3-of-12/

Why we should all be using printed Bibles | Psephizo

The bible has changed over the years. First it was on scrolls of papyrus or parchment, then codices and after Gutenberg in printed books. To begin with a printed Bible cost as much as a house but the price soon dropped.

Recently Bibles are available as electronic text and many have them downloaded onto their computers or phones. Some almost only read them on the phone.

That is all very useful but here Ian Paul makes the case that you read the Bible better in a hard copy than electronically.

I agree as I find reading electronically makes me skim rather than read, marm and inwardly digest

Source: Why we should all be using printed Bibles | Psephizo

Bishop Spong meets Charles Darwin

On 12th September the controversial Bishop Spong died at the age of 89. I’d known of him for decades and in the 80s he helped at a wedding at a Welsh church where the vicar was a very conservative evangelical, which gave us a smile.

As someone who is fairly conservative and orthodox I have never been partial to Spong with his extreme liberal views almost throwing out every item of the Christian faith for a progressive faith. He is a person whom people either loved or loathed. Spong raises many issues and especially the absurdities of extreme fundamentalism, but throws the baby out with the bathwater. I will not give a general assessment of him but focus on one issue.

Bishop John Shelby Spong in an undated photo. He used a combination of celebrity and tireless writing and speaking to open up the Episcopal Church.

That issue is his understanding of Charles Darwin and the effect of his science on the Christian faith. Way back in the 1990s he explained some of the reasons why he rejected “orthodoxy” and much hinged on Darwin. He claimed that until 1859 all Christians believed in a literal Genesis and then with The Origin of Species Darwin torpedoed that making it totally untenable.

Probably most people would agree with Spong on that and it has been the received view among most who consider themselves educated. In his book and TV series of the 1980s The Sea of Faith Don Cupitt came out with same arguments. Many thought it wonderful, but his history had a bit to be desired! A similar view comes out in older church histories and among writers of popular science, including Richard Dawkins.

I never kept the article where I read Spong’s views on Darwin but at some lectures in 2018 he repeated the same line. These were lectures he gave at the Chautauqua Institution and reported in The Chautauquan Daily – their official newspaper.

“On Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong explained how Darwinian and Christian values came to divide the Christian faith in his lecture titled, “The Assault of Charles Darwin and Why the Christian Church Retreated before Darwin.” Spong continued Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”

Here is what the report said of his lecture, when he dealt with Darwin. It all sounds so familiar

http://chqdaily.com/2018/06/spong-dialogue-between-darwinism-christianity-critical/

One of the scientists who pushed the status quo was Charles Darwin, who Spong called the second “obsession of the church.”

Darwin began his work in 1831 when he got a job as a naturalist on a five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. It took him 25 years after the trip, but Darwin claimed his place in history when he released the Origin of Species.

The book sold out immediately and raised questions that had previously been debated, but were never analyzed from a perspective like Darwin’s. Christians did not welcome these findings with open arms, Spong said.

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

In an attempt to set the record straight, a debate took place in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s, and Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford and an advocate of biblical literalism. Wilberforce resorted to ridicule and at one point asked Huxley which side of his family was descended from apes. Wilberforce won the debate, but Spong said it was not enough to earn him a lasting legacy.

“Sam Wilberforce was hailed as a hero, but what’s interesting is that heroes don’t last forever,” he said. “He was very popular in his lifetime, but his reputation has faded.”

After the debate, Darwin’s theories made their way into the bloodstream of western civilization. At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on.

A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Once the project received funding, more than 500,000 were sent out each week. As time went on, the pamphlets became more popular, and by the 1920s, every church in the world was divided over being classified as fundamental or modernist.

“You can’t force truth into popularity,” Spong said. “Darwin seemed to have the truth, and after a while, these fundamentals of the Christian faith did not seem fundamentalistic after all.”

The Presbyterian leaders published five fundamentals all Christians were required to believe in order to identify as Christian. Among them were the ideas that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God and human beings are created perfect but fell into sin. Spong said those fundamentals were too similar to the myths of the religion to survive.

“They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” he said.

The problem facing modernists, on the other hand, was that they knew too much to be fundamentalists, but did not know how to be Christian, Spong said.

“That is reflected in the world today,” he said. “The major mainline Christian churches are all in a frantic of political decline. The fundamentalistic churches are strong, but they are also declining. The world is catching up, and fundamentalism is not a viable option any longer.”

The fall of these ideals caused a rise in Darwin’s ideals. At that time in history, there was no longer a medical school in the western world without a foundation built upon Darwinian principles, and hardly a science department in the United States that was not embracing evolution. That was until the public school system implemented “creation science,” Spong said, designed to be a fair alternative to Darwinism. Although creation science is not taught in public schools anymore, Spong reminded the audience it was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush endorsed it.

“Bush wanted people to be fair, to have a chance to voice an opinion,” Spong said. “He thought you could decide by majority vote what truth is. It doesn’t work that way.”

After Bush’s endorsement, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creation science unconstitutional.

“By virtue of its own strength and integrity, Darwin became stronger and stronger,” Spong said. “There is hardly an educated person in the western world who does not accept Darwin’s point of view as truth.”

Spong asked why Christians fought so hard when they knew they were wrong. The answer, once again, was Darwin.

“There was something about Darwin that challenged not just the Christian story, but the way in which we told that story,” he said. “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.’ You can’t fall into sin if you are not perfect to start with.”

Spong acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept the similarities humans have with the apes, but in a time where millennials check “none” for their chosen denomination more than the rest of the other options combined, he believes the dialogue has to continue between Darwinism and Christianity in order for the faith to survive.

“I think we have a wonderful faith,” he said. “Not the only faith, but a wonderful faith. And we have to work hard to make it live in our generation, and I think we can.”

[Clearly this is an account of what Spong said and not his actual words. However from what I’d previously read what Spong himself wrote on Darwin, it seems to be an accurate and trustworthy account. Thus as I have no reason to doubt its authenticity I shall treat as Spong’s views of 2018, which are similar to those he held two decades earlier.]

On the surface this seems reasonable and historically accurate both with regards to Darwin’s life and work and the effect on the Christian church.

But it is not!

As he started in 1831 he could have mentioned that Darwin receieved the letter inviting him to join the Beagle after a few weeks geologising in Wales with the Reverend Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge. BRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1

Darwin’s Welsh visit of 1831 More here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/just-before-the-beagle-darwin-in-wales-1831/  

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

Rev Adam Sedgwick, father of the Cambrian system. Susan Darwin had a crush on him.

Sedgwick was one of the great Anglican clergy-geologists. He was one of the most significant geologists to elucidate the Lower Palaeozoic and Devonian from 1831-1845. But, horror of horrors, he was also an evangelical. Now what was an evangelical doing as a professor of geology and doing fundamental work. Like most evangelicals of his day i.e. before 1859, he had no problems with geological time and did not see it as destroying his faith. He was very scathing about those who rejected geology and tried to insist on a literal Genesis. Here deal with some of his spats, which are quite funny too.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

It’s a pity Spong did not know about Sedgwick and his many Christian geologists! And so he dug a bigger hole;

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

My question to Spong is simple. Who in the churches interpreted the Bible literally? For 40 years I have tried to find some examples and beyond slave-holders in the Southern States and other nuts, I am still wandering around in the wilderness looking for one.

Quite simply, virtually no Christians with a modicum of education in the 1860s took Genesis 1 literally and denied geological time. I think that is slam dunk against Spong. I’ll now go slam dunker and gently point out that Samuel Wilberforce was not a biblical literalist.

1869_Wilberforce_A504_001

Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce

He was a competent amateur scientist and while at Oriel College , Oxford in the 1820s he went to William Buckland’s geology lectures for three years running. (The attendance records are in the Oxford museum. From my brief study of it, he was the only one who went every year.)

anning

Buckland checking out glacial Striae at Rhyd Ddu in Snowdonia 1842. Buckland introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain

230px-Cyclomedusa_cropped

Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford

His review of the Origin in the Quarterly Review is competent scientifically and is similar to what most scientists would have written in 1860. Wilberforce was no literalist and no fool, but was a rather soapy bishop! Spong could have mentioned Christians who accepted Darwin from 1859 including the evangelical Rev H B Tristram, Charles Kinsgley and others. Read this for the British scene from 1859

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/

Spong next dealt with The Fundamentals of 1910 “At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on. A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Really! Head on? Many may know the series of brown paperback booklets called The Fundamentals. So much for taking Darwin/Evolution head on. One or two articles did, but most which dealt with Darwin or Genesis at least accepted geological time and in the case of James Orr, evolution as well. Spong simply had not doen his homework and was woefully inaccurate. So much for saying, “They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” In fact many had academic credibility from competent conservative scholars, but some were not. Spong cannot have studied the background or content of these leaflets. If anyone was absurd it was Spong!

He continued “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.” When did the church say that? Some fundamentalists did, and still do, say that but they are not the church but just a small part!

He ought to have known that humans ARE apes, and thus have similarities with all the other apes. A lack of biological knowledge here.

So what should we say about Spong’s encounter with Darwin?

Most obvious is that he has adopted a popular and extreme form of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and out- whites White. To claim that the church was literalist in 1859 is simply completely and utterly false. Just to take the Anglican church, the vast majority of clergy had accepted geological time, and thus a non-literal Genesis way before 1859. In fact a higher proportion of Church of England clergy in 2021 are literalist than in 1860.

The best that can be said is that his confirmation bias to buttress his understanding of Christianity is to assume what he claims. This is simply not scholarly and is a very shoddy way of presenting an argument. Sadly others like Don Cupitt have done the same but he did (mis)quite contemporary authors! I agree with Spong on how awful Young Earth Creationism is in every way, but we need to ensure that what he say about others is accurate. He does not.

In 1998 Spong nailed his 12 Theses to the internet and Rowan Williams dismembered the lot with simplicity and clarity.

https://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/bishop-spong-and-archbishop-williamss-response/

Williams exposes the shoddiness and wrongness of all his arguments both theological and ethical. I don’t need to repeat Rowan’s arguments.

On the positive side Spong is good at raising questions and especially those which come as a result of being swept up in fundamentalism. But he is not so good at understanding and tilts at the non-existent strawmen of ultra-fundamentalism and includes all the mainline orthodox in his tilting. His dealings with Darwin are just that. His ideas may resonate with those escaping from fundamentalism, but for the rest of us (who often have serious questions about our faith) he provides nothing of merit and an easy target for a hatchet job.

What Bishop Spong gives is not a new and progressive Christianity for a the 21st Century but an incoherent and muddled rejection of the faith. Sadly some would disagree with me and Rowan Williams!!

Is Rebugging the Planet possible? by Vicki Hird

The decline of insects should be a concern to everyone, whether bees or earwigs or anything else.

So often people hate them irrationally and buy “pesticides” to get rid of them. As most – almost all – are not pests these concoctions should not be called pesticides but something else.

It could be a council of despair but everyone can do their bit to help “bugs” – growing carefully chosen plants in one’s outside space, whether few square feet or several acres, limiting use of “pesticides” to actual pests, and then sparingly, and having a bit of a scruffy garden.

Read mark learn all this as a spider eats its prey

P1010935

a new nature blog

A guest blog today from Vicki Hird, whose new book Rebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More has just been published.

My new book, Rebugging the Planet presents a proposition that we need to, and can, reverse the declines in invertebrates because they matter in so many critical ways.By ‘Rebugging’ I mean understanding and accepting and enhancing the role that bugs play. And it is not only about insects (or the true bugs – entomologists be kind) but the rest of the critical populations of worms, zooplankton, snails, rotifers, spiders and so on that make our planet liveable in. The book explores what they do for us, what we can learn from them and from rebugging and why we need to. The huge threats they face from pollution, climate change, habitat loss and new threats of…

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Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory

A fine article by Paul Braterman on Creationism as a conspiracy theory.

My only caveat is that I don’t consider Creationism to stem from biblical infallibility or inerrancy

Otherwise great and reasoned rather than polemical

Primate's Progress

A friend asked me why I bother about creationism. This article spells out my reasons. It has had some 150,000 reads since first published in The Conversation in February, and has been featured in Snopes and Yahoo! News, and attacked by Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis, Jake Hebert Ph.D [sic] at the Institute for Creation Research, and others.

https://images.theconversation.com/files/381349/original/file-20210129-21-zsa3bk.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&rect=0%2C374%2C4031%2C2015&q=45&auto=format&w=1356&h=668&fit=crop
A replica of Noah’s Ark from the biblical tale at the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky.Lindasj22/Shutterstock

Many people around the world looked on aghast as they witnessed the harm done by conspiracy theories such as QAnon and the myth of the stolen US election that led to the attack on the US Capitol Building on January 6. Yet while these ideas will no doubt fade in time, there is arguably a much more enduring conspiracy theory that also pervades America in the form…

View original post 1,062 more words

Was Jesus a racist? Some say “Yes”.

Did the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 teach Jesus not to be racist? | Psephizo

This story in Mark’s gospel is one of the oddest in the Gospels. On a plain, literal reading Jesus comes over as a racist and some progressive types  (maybe re- not pro-) reckon the lady taught Jesus a lesson on racism and CRT. Mary should have done that!!

Here Ian Paul discusses it at length and points out the shortcomings of a progressive reading. Similar and equally fallacious accusations are made about Jesus knocking the Jews in John’s gospel. Jesus was a Jew  (unless you are a Nazi) and he was criticising Jewish authorities not Jews.

The passage from Mark 7 is a tricky one and Jesus appears downright rude and discriminatory.

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 
25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 
26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 
27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 
28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 
29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 
30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Feeding food to dogs is essentially feeding Gentiles. Now was Jesus racist against Gentiles like most Jews, or what was he doing? Ian Paul discusses this well.

an insight from my daughter is that Jesus held up a mirror to society and reflected Jewish beliefs, hence his sharp comments. There is irony here, but a mirror hen would be polished copper or silver and not iron 🙂

I can imagine his hearers were confused and had questions, especially after hearing the girl was cured.

Recently the black Conservative commentator and Anglican ordinand, was called a house negro but a POC. Not very nice. And so I rephrase Mark 7 to a plantation!

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of South Carolina. He entered a large house on a plantation and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman (one of the plantation housekeepers, a house negro) whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a housekeeper. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and give it to house negroes.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the house negros eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Forget what I wrote and read what Ian wrote

Source: Did the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 teach Jesus not to be racist? | Psephizo