Summer 2003

Fossil Dating

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

Usually in the Discussion Group Report I synopsize and possibly critique the article that has been discussed in the meeting for the particular month, but this month I am rather quoting directly without modification the first part of an article by Michael Benton, Ph.D., printed by BioScience Productions, Inc. in 2000, which we read for our June meeting. I feel that, it makes a good, succinct summary of the evidence for the theory of evolution. It follows:

Our understanding of the shape and pattern of the history of life depends on the accuracy of fossils and dating methods. Some critics, particularly religious fundamentalists, argue that neither fossils nor dating can be trusted, and that their interpretations are better. Other critics, perhaps more familiar with the data , question certain aspects of the quality of the fossil record and of its dating . These skeptics do not provide scientific evidence for their views. Current understanding of the history of life is probably close to the truth because it is based on repeated and careful testing and consideration of the data.

The rejection of the validity of fossils and of dating by religious fundamentalists creates a problem for them:

They cannot deny that hundreds of millions of fossils reside in display cases and drawers around the world. Perhaps some would argue that these specimens–huge skeletons of dinosaurs, blocks from ancient shell beds containing hundreds of specimens, delicately preserved fern fronds–have been manufactured by scientists to confuse the public. This is clearly ludicrous.

Otherwise, religious fundamentalists are forced to claim that all the fossils are of the same age, somehow buried in the rocks by some extraordinary catastrophe, perhaps Noah’s flood. How exactly they believe that all the dinosaurs, mammoths, early humans, heavily armored fishes, trilobites, ammonites, and the rest could all live together has never been explained. Nor indeed why the marine creatures were somehow ‘drowned’ by the flood.

The rejection of dating by religious fundamentalists is easier for them to make, but harder for them to demonstrate. The fossils occur in regular sequences time after time; radioactive decay happens, and repeated cross testing of radiometric dates confirms their validity.

Fossils occur in sequences

Fossil sequences were recognized and established in their broad outlines long before Charles Darwin had even thought of evolution. Early geologists, in the 1700s and 1800s, noticed how fossils seemed to occur in sequences: certain assemblages of fossils were always found below other assemblages. The first work was done in England and France.

Around 1800, William Smith in England, who was a canal surveyor, noticed that he could map out great tracts of rocks on the basis of their contained fossils. The sequences he saw in one part of the country could be correlated (matched) precisely with the sequences in another. He, and others at the time, had discovered the first principles of stratigraphy–that older rocks lie below younger rocks and that fossils occur in a particular, predictable order.

Then, geologists began to build up the stratigraphic column, the familiar listing of divisions of geological time–Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and so on. Each time unit was characterized by particular fossils. The scheme worked all round the world, without fail.

From the 1830s onwards, geologists noted how fossils became more complex through time. The oldest rocks contained no fossils, then came simple sea creatures, then more complex ones like fishes, then came life on land, then reptiles, then mammals, and finally humans. Clearly there was some kind of ‘progress’ going on.

All became clear, of course, in 1859 when Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species. The “progress” shown by the fossils was a documentation of the grand pattern of evolution through long spans of time.

Promoting Science Education

From the National Center for Science Education

Education in general and Science education in particular are vital for our youth. What can we do to promote science education?

Donate books and videos about evolution to school and public libraries (NCSE can help you choose appropriate materials).

Encourage and support evolution education at museums, parks, and natural history centers (by positive remarks on comment forms, contributions to special exhibits, etc.).

Thank radio and television stations for including programming about evolution and other science topics.

Make sure friends, colleagues and neighbors know you support evolution education and can connect them with resources for promoting good science education.

Monitor local news media for news of anti-evolution efforts in your state or community, and inform NCSE — for example, by mailing newspaper clippings.

When there is controversy in your community, add your voice: Hold press conferences with colleagues, record public opinion announcements, and send letters or editorials supporting evolution education to local newspapers.

Ask organizations in your community to include questions about science education in questionnaires for school board candidates and other educational policy makers.

Share your views with school board members, legislators, text-book commissioners, and other educational policy makers.

Share NCSE publications with concerned citizens, educators, and colleagues.

Link your personal or organizational web-site to The National Center for Science Education

When you see a web site that would benefit by linking to NCSE (for example, a science education site), write to their webmaster suggesting the new link to NCSE.

Encourage professional and community organizations (like the PTA) to give public support to evolution education. Send copies of their public statements to NCSE.

Give gift subscriptions to Reports of NCSE to friends, colleagues, and libraries.

Take advantage of member benefits like discounts on book purchases and car rentals.

Donate to NCSE beyond your annual membership fee. (Contact NCSE about in-kind gifts and planned giving).

PARENTS: Make sure your child’s science teacher knows s/he has your support for teaching about evolution, the age of the earth, and related concepts.

PARENTS: Help your child’s teacher arrange field trips to natural history centers and museums with appropriate exhibits.

PARENTS: Discuss class activities and homework with your children — this is often the way communities learn that “creation science” is being taught; or, you may learn your child’s teacher is doing a commendable job of teaching evolution.

PROFESSIONALS: Inform your colleagues about the evolution/creation controversy and the need for their involvement: for example, by making presentations at professional society meetings, writing articles for organizational newsletters, making announcements on email listserves.

COLLEGE TEACHERS: Make sure that your institution has several courses that present evolution to both majors and non-majors.

COLLEGE TEACHERS: Create opportunities to learn about evolution outside the classroom: for example, public lectures, museum exhibits.

K-12 TEACHERS: Work with your colleagues to create a supportive atmosphere in your school and community.

K-12 TEACHERS: Work with colleagues to develop or publicize workshops and in-service units about evolution; take advantage of them yourself.

INFORMAL EDUCATORS: Include evolution in signage, interpretation of exhibits, docent education, and public presentations.

SCIENTISTS: Share your knowledge with K-12 teachers and students by visiting classrooms or speaking at teacher-information workshops (NCSE can provide tips).

Fundamentals of Extremism

There have been many wonderful histories and analyses of the Christian Right in America-works by Frederick Clarkson, William Martin, Sara Diamond. Unfortunately, these books came forth in the 1990’s, and, after the failed impeachment of Bill Clinton, many social commentators concluded that the religious right was a paper tiger, certain to collapse. After all, Ralph Reed left the Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer self-destructed as a presidential candidate, Robertson and Falwell embarrassed themselves blaming 9-11 on secular humanists. The militias have been quiet and the abortion clinics are still operating. So, all’s well, right?


With the assault on the World Trade Center and the ascension of George W. Bush, the Christian Right is stronger than ever. Kimberly Blaker, and such freethought activists as Edwin Kagin (of Camp Quest), Bobbie Kirkhart (of the Atheist Alliance, International), John Suarez (of Americans United for Separation of Church and State), Herb Silverman (of the Secular Coalition for America), and Ed Buckner (of the Council for Secular Humanism), have brought together a devastating series of essays on the gathering forces bent on imposing fundamentalist Christian theocracy on the United States.

The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America, Kimberly Blaker, editor, is published by New Boston Books, Inc.

–Richard Garrard

Selected Quotations

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

–Pat Robertson

Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience–what they see, hear, think and believe–will determine the future course of the nation.

–James Dobson

We are engaged in a social, political and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail.

Anything that has been commissioned by a homosexual has obviously been tainted in some way.

–Gary Bauer

The “wall of separation between church and state” is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor that has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.

–Justice William Rehnquist

Our goal is not to make the schools better…the goal is to hamper them, so they cannot grow…our goal as God-fearing, uncompromised…Christians is to shut down the public schools…step by step, school by school, district by district.

–Robert Thoburne

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith. We need believing people.

–Adolph Hitler

Attack on Utah Public Schools is Just Beginning

Utah ranks as one of the lowest states in the nation in terms of per pupil spending. Utah parents and voters have repeatedly polled as against various privatization schemes for public schooling, including bills for vouchers in the most recent session of the Utah legislature.

Yet, reactionary and fundamentalist forces continue to assail Utah schools and Utah teachers.

The Sutherland Institute, a “think tank” headquartered in Murray, Utah, recently promoted a document entitled, “Saving Education and Ourselves: the Moral Case for Self-Reliance in Education.” This report proposes that the existing public school system in Utah be dismantled in favor of “neighborhood” schools, with curricula and teacher qualifications set by the community. Throughout this document, the public school system is referred to as “coercive government education” and is repeatedly referred to as a “welfare” system.

Sutherland and its president, Paul Mero, might be easy to dismiss as far-right extremists except for their access to statewide media and politicians. Mero is a member of the Salt Lake Tribune’s Editorial Board Advisory Committee and is widely recognized for a role in legislation to prevent Utah public employees from voluntarily deducting from their paychecks a contribution to a political action fund.

Mero and his group have close ties to the anti-gay rights group the World Congress of Families, founded by religious right leader Paul Weyrich; they are also allies of the Utah Eagle Forum and the anti-environmental American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).

Utah education is a good value and a quality product. What Sutherland proposes is a giant step back to 19th century Utah. Sutherland advocates for Christian fundamentalism and irresponsible, corporate interests. And guess what their newest project is? A handbook for “model legislation for a variety of essential family issues.” Stay tuned.

–Richard Garrard

Humanists Appalled at Ashcroft’s Request for Police State Powers

Press Release from the AHA
~for immediate release~
(Washington D.C., June 5, 2003)

“Our Attorney General seems bent on turning our nation into a police state, where he holds the reins of power,” Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association, said in response to Ashcroft ‘s latest request on the Hill. “To broaden the prosecutorial authority from covering only those who actually commit acts of terrorism to those who may inadvertently or tangentially “support” them is a perilous extension of judicial power.”

Today before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Ashcroft asked legislators to expand the Patriot Act by extending jurisdiction of the death penalty and imprisonment sentences of suspected terrorists. Ashcroft’s desire is to allow government prosecutors to charge supporters and workers of suspected terrorist organizations with being “material supporters.”

The freedom that Ashcroft asked for would specifically allow prolonged pre-trial detainment of American citizens. Ashcroft also seeks the death penalty or life imprisonment for support of terrorist involvement so peripheral that it amounts to guilt by association.

AHA Executive director Tony Hileman responded, “The Patriot Act is already a dangerous assault on civil liberties. To increase the power of it could allow maximum penalties to be enforced with minimum criteria. It could also result in the extended incarceration of innocent people based solely on government suspicion, with the possible imposition of a death sentence.”

Ashcroft tried to alleviate the harshness of his request by saying, “God forbid, if we ever have to do this again we hope we can clear people more quickly.” He also added that the United States has “no interest whatsoever” in holding innocent people.

But, when Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California questioned Ashcroft on the now deported but previously detained individuals, Ashcroft responded that only three of the 505 individuals were determined to be linked in any way to terrorist groups. He claimed that the reason for the deportation of the others was their status as illegal immigrants. However, there was no reason given for their months of imprisonment.

“There is insufficient reason to extend a law that already assaults our civil liberties. To broaden the Patriot Act would be to further endanger our human rights,” concluded Hileman.

Humanism and Its Aspirations; I Feel Disappointed

Letter to the Editor

After reading Humanist Manifesto III, I must admit, I feel disappointed. In the perspective of HMI and II, and Paul Kurtz’s HM2000, the new Humanist Manifesto seems to have lost its distinctive vision. It seems, instead, a watered down, inclusive rationalism.

Though embodying a general perspective or summary of humanism, HMIII does not give new direction, does not provide insight into our follies, and does not use the powerful language of the others.

Unfortunately, I fear that it may fall dead by the wayside, and do nothing more than secure a signpost that states, “We were here.”

I expected more.

–D. E. Evans

Humanism and Its Aspirations; Congratulations to the AHA!

Letter to the Editor

I am personally very pleased with the final release of Humanism and Its Aspirations, also known as Humanist Manifesto III, recently published by the American Humanist Association. I have enjoyed reading and rereading Humanist Manifestos I & II over the years; they remain seminal documents that will always be the foundation of the humanist movement. However, their length and polemic nature, especially HM II, have, in my opinion, aggravated the notion that humanism is only for the intellectual elite.

Humanism and Its Aspirations succinctly, yet comprehensively delimits the humanist philosophy. I know that the project that bore these fruits has been in the making for several years. It was well worth the wait!

If you have not taken the opportunity to read this new Manifesto yet, there is a link to it on our website. The document offers three options, all worth considering: 1) reading the text, 2) electronically signing it as a show of your support, and 3) a printable document that is nicely formatted and suitable for framing. It was also printed in the May issue of The Utah Humanist.

–Wayne Wilson

Marion Craig

December 29, 1920 – February 13, 2003

In Memoriam

Marion Craig

Marion Craig, long time member of Humanists of Utah, recently died. Here is information from her obituary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on 2/16/03.

Marion Campbell Craig passed away February 13, 2003 at age 82. Born in Salt Lake City Dec 29, 1920 to Katherine and James Craig. Marion Worked for the U.S. Army during World War II; after the war she attended the University of Utah where she earned a Masters Degree. She enjoyed teaching and taught third grade up until the time she retired. Marion was an active member of the Unitarian Society and the National Organization of Women. She traveled extensively with her brother, Allen, to Europe and Scotland to research their family heritage. Marion is survived by cousin, Stuart Craig; and nephews, Jim, William Craig. She is preceded in death by parents, Katherine and James; brothers, Allen, Angus; and sister, Catherine.

Additionally Marion left significant sums of money to some of her favorite organizations including the University of Utah, The United Nations, The First Unitarian Church, and Humanists of Utah. The Board is planning on using funds Marion left us in a way that remembers and honors her for years to come.

Barbara Kleiner

October 28, 1925 – June 27, 2003

In Memoriam

Barbara Kleiner, long time member of Humanists of Utah, recently died. Here is information from her obituary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on 6/29/03.

Barbara Kleiner

Barbara died peacefully in her sleep Thursday, June 27, 2003. She is survived by her children, Rebecca Kleiner, Ed Kleiner, Jr., Eric Kleiner; and grandchildren, Evan, Eric Kleiner. Barbara’s love of books and education as a librarian and teacher influenced many young people in their career paths and personal lives. She was a very active member of the Unitarian church over her lifetime and had a strong commitment to principles of fairness and equality. Her frequent contributions to the editorial pages of the Tribune with regards to Utah politics and religion were enjoyed and appreciated by many for their honesty, forthrightness and humor. A personal service was held by her family. For those who care, donations should be made to the Unitarian church in her memory. Our family wishes to thank the staff at Garden Terrace and Silverado senior centers for their care and kindness to mom. Barbara’s wit, perception and humor will be greatly missed by her family, friends and acquaintances who were fortunate to cross her path.

We already miss her very much.