October 2007

What Would I Have to Give Up to Believe in a 6000-year-old Earth?

It was indeed a pleasure to be the speaker at our September general meeting. The night was, for me, a sort of show and tell night as I brought along a few handouts, some maps, and a series of slides, which were all intended to show some factual evidence of an old earth.

In the last few years I have become increasingly concerned with the growing popularity of the pseudoscience known as “Creation Science.” This concern is why I decided to give a presentation about the age of the earth and why I named it “What Would I Have To Give Up To Believe In A 6000 Year Old Earth?”

It may have appeared at times that I was attacking religion, (and to some extent I was) but my intent is not to change people’s beliefs about whether there is a god. Anyone having deeply held beliefs about the existence of those gods is certainly free to do so. That is, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other peoples’ lives. But I will not back away from criticizing religion when creationist beliefs spill over into and attempt to discredit what is well known about the reality of the physical and historical nature of this planet in this solar system in this galaxy in this universe.

Well, for me, creationist assertions interfere with my life, they insult my intelligence when they attempt to discredit and degrade the things I have learned through study and observation. It offends me when they imply that belief in an ancient earth is not only incorrect, but is evil and will lead to other sins and end in our destruction. This nasty attitude is now startlingly on display at the recently opened Creation Museum. Along with displays showing humans and dinosaurs living happily along side each other, there is one depiction that disgusts and offends me. It depicts a wrecking ball with a label, “Millions of Years.” This wrecking ball is shown smashing the ground around the foundation of a church, causing cracks to reach from the church to a home where a teenager is sitting at a computer and, we are told, looking at pornography.

There is a deep division between those who believe in a 6000-year old earth and those who believe that the earth is indeed ancient in terms of billions of years. I am on the side of the argument that believes that the universe is probably in the realm of 14 billion years old and that the earth has been around for the last 4.5 billion years. So much of the information that is available about earth history is firmly on the side of antiquity.

So, what would I have to give up to believe in a young earth? To start with, much of physics, deep space astronomy, any astronomy, planetary sciences, geophysics, plate tectonics, physical geology, historical geology, anthropology, paleontology, archeology, geomorphology, biology and genetics, and several other disciplines and sub-disciplines. The point is that to go with a young earth, you would have to believe that the vast amounts of evidence for an old earth are incorrect. I refuse to do that.

I have an understanding of the earth that is informed by a degree in physical geography, namely geomorphology. It is also informed by a lifetime of observing the real world as it is laid out and apparent to us. Geomorphology gives us a way to do a considerable amount of classroom study, lab studies, and field studies. It is also very enjoyable, in that field trips or studies often mean going out to some beautiful and interesting places. That is truly a bonus.

For me, as a geographer, the landscape is a large part of the evidence for an old earth, and it tells its own story of age and all the changes that take place when there is lots and lots of time for the story to be told. The story needs some interpreting but the story is there and very interesting. We use a number of tools to gain an understanding of how landforms came into existence, and none of them supports the idea of a 6000-year-old earth.

In my presentation I used a series of slides to show some of the landforms while talking about how they arose. Obviously we can’t do that here, but we can mention a few areas that I touched on.

We looked at the Uintah Mountains and talked about their glaciations in the past, and looked at some of the remnants left by the glaciers’ retreats such as large boulders called erratics, and the rocky terrain called glacial till. I also talked about Lake Bonneville and we looked at slides of sedimentary layers that have distinctive features in the layers that show a long history and variety of climates in the past. We looked at slides of Pavant Butte near Fillmore, Utah, which erupted in Lake Bonneville and shows a distinctive shoreline. I talked a little about a real flood when Lake Bonneville overflowed near Downey, Idaho, and eroded quickly into an enormous flood. These are just a few of the many pieces of evidence that combined give us a good understanding of the history of earth.

While looking at the slide of lake sediments I posed the question to the creationists: How did the flood do this? How did one single flood lay down all these diverse layers that are indicative of lake bottoms, salt flats, river sediments, soils, and how did it include a few ash layers from volcanoes? My answer to the question is that the biblical flood could not and did not create any of the diverse features of the landscape.

The earth is wonderfully and intriguingly old; it displays its age grandly with mountains and arches, and thousands of other features. It displays its age in the fossil record with huge dinosaurs and fossils of microscopic size. It shows its age in a multiplicity of ways that are all around us and apparent to anyone who is willing to take a look around.

–Robert Lane
President, HoU

I Cry For the World

I cry for the children too weak to cry
With bloated bellies just waiting to die

I cry for the innocents on a distant shore
Who bury their loved ones as a result of war

I cry for the poor of any race
While the rich get richer and spit in their face

I cry for the soldiers who gave their lives
For reasons I sometimes fail to recognize

I cry for the black homeless waiting still
While whites build mansions on top of the hill

I cry for the billions who pray in vain
Who seem only to suffer more pain

I cry for the poor sick who suffer
And have to choose between drugs or supper

I cry for the elderly confined to a home
Who wonder why so many leave them alone

I cry for the legless kids in Afghanistan
And wonder why Bush never signed the land mine ban

I cry for America which once was great
But is now the object of worldly hate

I hate the bastards who start a war
While most of us don’t know what the hell for

I admire the people who with all their might
Work to end all wars and make things right

–Rolf Kay

Wanda Young

1934 ~ 2007

In Memoriam

Our beloved wife, mother, sister, grandmother, and aunt, passed away September 24, 2007, of complications following surgery. She was born December 7, 1934, in Holdenville, Oklahoma, to Jesse C. and Carrie Gentry Pike. She married John A. Young on October 16, 1954, in Elko, Nevada. Although disabled early in married life, she overcame many hardships. She continued to raise her two children, Cindy and Jeff.

Wanda Young

A long time chapter member of Humanists of Utah, she became involved in many community activities and women’s organizations. She was past State President of the Utah Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW (Post 4355), member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary (Post 112), an active member of the Democratic Party, and an election judge. She has been a member of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City since 1954.

She is survived by her husband, John, daughter, Cindy King (HoU Board member), son Jeff Young and his wife Stacy; brother Al Pike, and Joyce Pike, sisters Lois Lawrence, and Leta Sutton, grandchildren Chelsea, Jason, and Christopher, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Humanists of Utah wishes to express our deepest sympathy to John and Cindy as well as the rest of the family. Wanda will truly be missed.

The Assault on Reason

~Book Review~

The Assault on Reason by Al Gore is a strong defense of reason, although not in the context of reason vs. religious faith. Gore has religious faith; his concern is that we are becoming less and less a “well-informed citizenry,” which has profound implications for the survival of our democracy. Our Founding Fathers relied on an engaged public that freely debated the issues, but several things have happened to undercut this ideal. Radio and later television, which are one-way media with large barriers to entry, have largely displaced print, which encourages two-way discourse and which, as Gore writes, “begat the Age of Reason which begat the age of democracy.” Also, for example, political professionals have honed their messages to short-circuit reason by appealing to emotion.

Gore especially excoriates the Bush administration because of its assault on reason by its excessive secrecy, its lack of openness, its politics of fear, and its disregard of science. He gives many examples on which he bases his accusations, but one stands out in my mind that shows Bush’s “lack of curiosity about any new information that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that he is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.” Gore describes the warning signals that the FBI and the CIA were picking up in the summer of 2001 and notes that the only ones he recalls as vice-president that remotely resembled those that Bush was receiving were the Y2K threats and the less specific warnings regarding the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In each case, “these warnings in the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) were followed immediately, on the same day, by the beginning of urgent daily meetings in the White House” with appropriate people to prevent the attack. “By contrast,” he writes, when Bush “received this fateful and historic PDB [‘Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.’],” he did not convene the NSC, bring together the FBI and CIA, or ask follow-up questions, but he did dismiss his CIA briefer with the comment, “All right. You’ve covered your ass now.”

This is a hard-hitting book that conservatives will likely dismiss as a hysterical screed by the loser in 2000. Maybe Gore would have liked the book to prompt a draft for another run. In any case, for anyone concerned about the health of our democracy, there is too much here to dismiss so easily.

–Earl Wunderli

The Ancestors Tale

~Book Review~

The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins is an amazing reverse chronicle of the history of human kind. The model is to use both fossil and genetic records to move backwards in time to then next “consestor,” where consestor is defined as common ancestor.

The book is human-centric, that is it uses humans as the starting point and goes back in time adding species as they converge to common consestors. If Dawkins had begun at the beginning of life, humans may have played a much smaller role as the tree of life has many branches of which only a few are our consestors.

The first hundred pages are concerned with genus Homo, that is humans and our immediate predecessors. The first “rendezvous” with a consestor is the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. It occurred approximately six mya (million years ago.) Gorillas joined about seven mya, Orangutans about 14 mya, and so on.

The book contains many interesting and informative points that explain how conclusions are achieved and which points are more thoroughly understood and which branches are still open for discussion.

Several times Dawkins warns creationist apologists not to use this item or that statement as evidence that scientists are at odds with each other.

Several interesting anomalies are discussed. One example is the axolotl, a member of the salamander family that is unique in that it never actually reaches the “adult” phase that most amphibians achieve. That is, they are hatched in the water, have a tadpole phase, develop sex organs and move out of the water, become salamanders and mate. Axolotls are an exception; the tadpoles develop sex organs and mate. They never leave the water. However, if the tadpoles are administered a specific hormone, the adult salamander phase develops. This anomaly, known as neoteny, has been put forth by some biologists to explain the bipedal nature of humans. Perhaps we never fully reach our adult stage and if we did we would revert to walking on all four limbs.

Ancestor’s Tale had many insights and updates for me since I haven’t studied evolutionary biology for many years. The field of Molecular Biology has added a great deal of knowledge and the ability to accurately date changes to genetic materials. One example of an update for me is that I was taught that our most primitive ancestor was probably an amoeba. Actually, these creatures have much more ancient consestors common to both them and us: the bacteria. Actually, all of our cells contain separate bacteria-like structures that live in a symbiotic relationship with their (our) host cells. They are known as mitochondria, the power plants that provide the necessary resources for our cells to do their business.

The book is long and not a quick read. However, it is decidedly not a dry text book. Dawkins’ style and wit come through over and over again. It is written to an educated audience, but not necessarily only to biologists. I recommend it.

–Wayne Wilson

Atlas of Creation

~Book Review~

Atlas of Creation, written by Adnan Oktar of Turkey under the name Harun Yahya, is turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of congress and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minnesota.

At 11X17 inches and 12 pounds, with a bright red cover and almost 800 glossy pages, most of them lavishly illustrated, Atlas of Creation is probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran. The principal argument of Atlas of Creation is that creatures living today are just like creatures that lived in the fossil past. Ergo, evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception, or a “theory in crisis.”

Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, who found a copy in his mailbox, said people who had receive copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.”

While unimpressed with the book’s content, recipients marveled at its apparent cost–millions of dollars. Who finances these efforts is a big question that no one knows the answer to.

Support for creationism is also widespread among Muslims, said Dr. Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University, whose book An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam,was published by Prometheus Books this past Spring. “Taken at face value, the Koran is a creationist text,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to find a scholar of Islam “who is going to be gung-ho about Darwin.” That’s troubling because Mr. Yahya’s ideas cast evolution as part of the corrupting influence of the West on Islamic culture, and that promotes a profound anti-science attitude that is certainly not going to help the Islamic world catch up to the West.

–From The Capital District Humanist Society publication The Humanist Monthly