Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XVII: Wherein Mountains are Laid Low by Ignorance

I hope you’re prepared for mountains of bullshit, my darlings. This week, our Christianist textbook Science of the Physical Creation is delivering enough to fertilize the entire Willamette Valley.

Right off, as we get into SPC’s explanation of mountains and volcanoes and earthquakes oh my, we see we’re in for a whole lotta Godtalk. They don’t start off talking about what mountains actually are, as you would expect one would in an earth science textbook. Instead, they wank on for a very long paragraph about how mountains existed before the Flood because Genesis 7:19-20 sez so, but maybe they weren’t all that “tall, steep, and rugged.” They say “the Bible seems to indicate” God remodeled during the Flood, and that is why we have deep ocean basins and really massive mountains.


Image shows an orange and cream doggie lying on a couch with a very dignified yet skeptical expression. Phrases in various colors surround it: So science, Very Peer-review, Much research, Wow.

Then, finally, they start talking about types of mountains.They can’t talk about how mountains form, but how they “appear” to form, because they way mountains actually form is in direct contradiction to the Bible – most mountains take much longer than creationists believe the world has existed. But what fascinates me are the basic facts they fuck up. They lop 1000 feet off of Mauna Kea. They gave some of those feet to Paricutín, jacking it up by over 300 feet. “Most volcanic mountains,” according to them, “were probably formed during or shortly after the Flood.” No millionth birthday party for you, Mauna Kea!

They then go on to tell us that domed mountains “result from volcanic activity,” thus wiping other types of domed mountains out of existence. Buh-bye, famous salt domes like Avery Island! The creationists aren’t aware that you exist.

The Grand Tetons, young and tectonically-active fault block mountains, and the lovely, rapidly rising Himalayas, will be shocked to learn they aren’t actually growing:

Unlike volcanic and domed mountains, folded and fault block mountains are not observed to be forming anywhere in the world today. Because the rock masses involved are so huge, the forces which produce these types of mountains would have to be much stronger than the forces we see operating around us. Therefore, it is quite possible that most folded and fault-block mountains were formed during the worldwide Flood.

These creationists are basically people standing next to one of those car crusher dealios at a junkyard, sagely expounding on the fact that the collisional forces that cause cars to crumple are not in effect today at this junkyard, but probably were back when these cars crashed. Only they’re having to shout over the noise of the machine that’s currently compressing one of the junkyard cars into a little cube.

You know how they keep bleating about how we all have the same facts, it’s just that “evolutionists” and creationists interpret them differently? Yeah, well, we don’t actually have the same facts, either. You will not find the shit they shovel at students in this sidebar in any secular science lab:

Think: If the earth is less than 10,000 years old, as a straightforward reading of the Bible indicates, why must the continents have moved much faster in the past if they were ever together?

There’s some pretty poor thinking involved right there.

Now we’re on to earthquakes. They give us averages: I don’t know where they got them from, but more up-to-date numbers show that a lot more earthquakes happen than they think. Their definition of an earthquake sounds like they were just guessing from the components of the compound word: “An earthquake is any trembling or shaking (vibration) of the earth’s crust: weak earthquakes are commonly called tremors.” That’s some pretty weak tea right there. Let’s have the USGS version:

Earthquake is a term used to describe both sudden slip on a fault, and the resulting ground shaking and radiated seismic energy caused by the slip, or by volcanic or magmatic activity, or other sudden stress changes in the earth.

That’s a bit more comprehensive, innit?

They do an okay job explaining that earthquakes can be caused by various things, without mentioning God or sin as one of them. I think this is a bit precious, coming from Young Earth Creationists:

Although earthquakes were once regarded with superstition, the science of seismology (the study of earthquakes) has shown that earthquakes are bound by the same scientific laws as are other natural phenomena.

Awww, lookit them, they are superstitious! (Keep this “fact” in mind, as it will soon come become relevant.)

Another thing that’s precious is how they talk about “huge forces” and “great strain” building up when rocks along a fault get stuck, without ever acknowledging what’s causing all that strain to begin with. In creationist world, stuff just happens. You can’t explain that!

Image is a Bill O'Reilly meme with Bill looking at the viewer from a blue and red background. Caption says, "Big forces, great strain build up. You can't explain that!"

The next bits are m-kay: they don’t have much trouble explaining things like epicenter and focus, or depth of focus, or seismic waves – although the word “seismic” is apparently too hard for 8th graders, so they call ’em “earthquake waves.” They give us a handy chart of wave velocities, which would be great if the velocity didn’t depend on the properties of the materials they’re traveling through.

One gets the sense throughout this section that earthquakes leave the authors of SPC with a deep, existential dread. You see, the theory of plate tectonics is really given a boost by the fact that the majority of earthquakes happen along plate boundaries: all the authors can do is note that “many geologists feel” this fact “is strong evidence for the theory.” They have no retort. They have no alternative. They don’t even try to offer one. They move quickly on to earthquake scales, where they seem to feel safer. Alas, not safe enough to talk about the Moment Magnitude scale, even though that was developed and in use long before SPC’s first edition of this wretched book was unleashed upon unsuspecting students. Gee, I dunno why I’m getting the feeling their store of knowledge hasn’t been significantly updated since the 1960s…

They have a touching faith in seismologists, saying they “can estimate the likelihood that a major earthquake will occur at a certain location within the next few years.” They either have an idiosyncratic definition of “few years,” or they’ve got creationist seismologists getting whispers from God, or they’ve severely misunderstood the assessment of seismic hazards. We can’t predict where earthquakes will strike within a few years. Like our own Chris Rowan says, “all a seismologist can justifiably say is that if you hang around for the next 50 years, you’ll definitely feel something. Probably.” Believing otherwise causes you to fall behind on your earthquake prep, then blame scientists for not doing the impossible when people die.

I’m afraid you should not take your earthquake safety tips from SPC. They think mobile homes and two-story wood-frame homes are generally safe from collapse (nope), they never consider securing buildings to their foundations – which is like Rule #1 for minimizing earthquake damage – and while they’re happy to mention that most deaths are caused by building collapse, they fail to mention all the other lovely ways earthquakes can kill, from flying/falling objects, to landslides, fires, and tsunamis. I really don’t want Christianists in charge of public safety, m’kay?

And while we’re at it, we should really do something about laws that allow them to shovel this bullshite into kids’ heads.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XVII: Wherein Mountains are Laid Low by Ignorance

4 thoughts on “Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XVII: Wherein Mountains are Laid Low by Ignorance

  1. 1

    Considering the fact that my area has had about 5 (small) earthquakes in the last week, you’re timing on the post is wonderful.
    Once again, Dana, thanks for putting yourself thru the pain of reading this tripe so that the rest of us don’t actually have to; since some of us just don’t have the stomach for it.

  2. 2

    They give us a handy chart of wave velocities, which would be great if the velocity didn’t depend on the properties of the materials they’re traveling through.

    Those are just the reference maximum velocities of earthquake waves in vacuo.

  3. 4

    Earthquakes don’t exist. There’s no such thing. I live in a region which never experiences earthquakes, so obviously they can’t exist. OK, so a few people here every few years report that a few tiles slid off their roof, or maybe a chimney stack fell off, but they’re misinterpreting the reason. It was heavy traffic, and bad workmanship.

    Earthquakes. They’re just for deluded, superstitious people. I’ve got a book which proves it.

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