Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Dissertation Highlights and a link to Download it

My dissertation has finally been posted online for all the world to see. Click on the title below if you with to download it:

Applications of quantitative methods and chaos theory in ichnology for analysis of invertebrate behavior and evolution

Since it finally has been published I wanted to share some highlights of it.

Individual published chapters:

Chapter 2: Fractal analysis of graphoglyptid trace fossils

Chapter 3: Pitfalls, traps, and webs in ichnology: Traces and trace fossils of an understudied behavioral strategy

Chapter 4: Analytical tools for quantifying the morphology of invertebrate trace fossils

Dissertation Abstract
Trace fossils are the result of animal behaviors, such as burrowing and feeding, recorded in the rock record. Previous research has been mainly on the systematic description of trace fossils and their paleoenvironmental implications, not how animal behaviors have evolved. This study analyzes behavioral evolution using the quantification of a group of trace fossils, termed graphoglyptids. Graphoglyptids are deep marine trace fossils, typically found preserved as casts on the bottom of turbidite beds. The analytical techniques performed on the graphoglyptids include calculating fractal dimension, branching angles, and tortuosity, among other analyses, for each individual trace fossil and were performed on over 400 trace fossils, ranging from the Cambrian to the modern.

These techniques were used to determine various behavioral activities of the trace makers, including feeding and behavioral evolution. Graphoglyptids have been previously identified as representing mining, grazing, farming, and/or trapping. By comparing graphoglyptids to known mining burrows and grazing trails, using fractal analysis, it was possible to rule out mining and grazing behaviors for graphoglyptids. To determine between farming and trapping, a review of all known trapping burrows was required. The hypothesis that graphoglyptids were trappers was based entirely on the hypothesized feeding behaviors of the worm Paraonis. Close examination of Paraonis burrows indicated that the burrows are not traps. This means that, since Paraonis does not trap prey, graphoglyptids should not be considered traps either. Therefore, graphoglyptids likely represent farming behavior. This study also shows that previous interpretations of graphoglyptid behavioral evolution was far too simple. The results of the morphological analyses indicate that major changes to the behavioral evolution occurred during the Late Cretaceous and the Early Eocene. Previous hypotheses about Late Cretaceous evolutionary influences were validated. However there were additional influences like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum that were not overly emphasized before. Finally, of the many theories about the driving force of evolution, chaos theory has often been overlooked. Chaos theory is a powerful tool, such that, by knowing the similarities between chaos theory and evolutionary theory, it may be possible to map out how environmental changes could shift the evolution of a species.

Oldest Reference
I tried to see how old a reference I could get in there. 1844 was the best I could do. I have a friend who managed to cite the Bible. I'm a bit jealous.

Emmons, E. 1844. The Taconic System: Based on Observations in New-York, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode-Island. Carroll and Cook, Albany, NY.

Newest Reference
This entry was published about 2 weeks before my dissertation went final final. I was able to squeeze it in during formatting edits.

Ekdale, A. A., and J. M. de Gibert. 2014. Late Miocene deep-sea trace fossil associations in the Vera Basin, Almería, Southeastern Spain. Spanish Journal of Paleontology 29(1):95-104.

Call Outs
In addition to the references I also make mentions of:

Return of the Jedi
The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Mr. Potato Head

Stats and Numbers
There are 433 numbered pages with a total of 446 pages.
6 Primary chapters.
     - 3 currently published chapters.
     - 2 publishable chapters currently in review.
12 Appendices
107 Figures
13 Tables
291 References

My entire PhD took 1,806 days to complete

Right as I was starting to do my analyses, I had saved a backup of my data around once or twice a week. I figured I could actually track the size of my data as it was growing through the analyses. I used a lot of GIS files, and anyone who knows anything about GIS files knows that for every file you create, you are actually creating 7 or 8 files. So the number of files escalated really fast. A lot of the jumps in file size were actually due to me starting a new analysis. In the end, I ended up worth over 34,000 files and 35 GB of data.

Not sure how useful this is, but I found it interesting to watch it grow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Geology Through Literature - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

The next story up in the Geology Though Literature thread is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.

This story is essentially a time travel story so there are several aspects of "historical geology" in play for the book. The first part involves the occurrence of a solar eclipse.
"I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the 21st of June, A.D. 528, O.S., and began at 3 minutes after 12 noon. I also knew that no total eclipse of the sun was due in what me was the present year --i.e., 1879." Chapter 2
As the story progresses it turns out that the narrator had the incorrect day and actually the eclipse occurred on the 20th. However that small change of a day does not really effect our interpretation in a scientific aspect.

The benefit of determining when solar eclipses have happened in the past is that eclipses have a pattern to them. They occur in cycles due to the repetitive motions of the sun, moon, and Earth. And it is possible to calculate out when exactly eclipses have occurred or will likely to occur. Luckily NASA has already done this for us.  The link goes to a document which catalogs all of the eclipses that have occurred from 2000 BC estimated up through 3000 AD. Unfortunately, Twain did not have access to such a document, or even the knowledge of when eclipses occurred. Since there are no written records from the sixth century listing all of the solar eclipses we have to assume that what is in the list is mostly accurate. There is a possibility that the dates and the times may be off, but there is a strong certainty that they are not off by much. According to the list, there were 4 eclipses during the year 528 (Feb 6th, Mar 6th, Aug 1st, Aug 30th). And even then, only two of those were visible in the northern hemisphere (Feb 6th and Aug 30th). So even with problems linking up the calendars (prior to 1582 a different calendar was used, the Julian calendar), it is unlikely that there was any total eclipse during 528 AD and not even a partial one in May, June, or July (the months surrounding the incident in the book).

The narrator also mentions that there was a total eclipse in 1879. There were 2 eclipses in 1879 (Jan 22nd and Jul 19th). Both of these are listed as Annular Solar Eclipses, which means that the moon is too far from the Earth to completely cover the sun (as pictured above) and produces what is known as a "ring of fire". So, even though this is not a total solar eclipse, it is rather noticeable, and could be thought of in a similar sense since the moon is entirely in front of the sun. This essentially negates both of the assumptions in the book based on the eclipses. So based on this, I would not be using A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court for my eclipse estimations.

The second entry has to do with the formation of geology as a science in general.
 "He said the most of Sir Dinadan's jokes were rotten and the rest were petrified. I said "petrified" was good; as I believed, myself, that the only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet. He failed to catch on. However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet." Chapter 4
Geology in and of itself is an ancient study. It is known from the period of Aristotle, where he made comments on the geological rates of features. One of his pupils, Theophrastus, who was born in 371 BC also wrote up a book called On Stones where:
"...he goes on to classify them based on their reaction to heat, on their hardnesses, and on their power of attraction. He describes a great variety of stones according to their use and origins. He writes on coal and it's use as a source of heat by metal-workers, he writes on the minerals used on the fabrication of glass, of different pigments, of plaster. He traces the origins of pumice-stones to volcanos, of pearls to shell-fish, and speaks about fossilized remains of organic life. Theophrastus was also the first known person to have made reference to pyroelectricity, the capacity, by certain materials, to produce voltage when heated or cooled. From his text as well as from a later text by Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia from 77AD) the science of mineralogy emerged, arguably the founding science for geology."
Theophrastus could be considered as one of the founders of geology. However, modern geology does have a significantly different approach to it. The introduction of modern geology took a long road from these origins though. There are a couple of people who are credited with having founded modern geology. One of them being Nicholas Steno (1638-1686), who is credited with the main laws of stratigraphy: The law of superposition (the stuff on the bottom is older than the stuff on top), the principle of original horizontality (rocks are laid down horizontally), and principle of lateral continuity (rock units stretch over large areas of land). Later works by James Hutton (1726-1797) , such as his published ideas on uniformitarianism (everything happening now has happened in the past) are also credited with ushering us into the modern age of geological thought. Hutton is often considered to be the Father of Modern Geology although Steno surely also has a significant place at the top.

The narrator's comment also plays into the concept of the age of the Earth. The boy in the quote was not used to thinking of the Earth as an old place. To people before 1600, the bible was seen as a literal truth where everyone thought that the Earth was 6,000 years old. In the narrator's own time (1879 as mentioned before), Lord Kelvin had just estimated the Earth to be about 98 millions years old. Even though this is far younger than we now understand the Earth to be (4.55 billion years old), the narrator still understood his Earth to be much older than that of the boy in his presence. This lends weight to his "majestic ages" comment, where millions of years denotes the ages quite a bit better than thousands of years.

This paragraph involves two aspects of Historical Geology. The first part is that even though geological concepts were thought of prior to the "inventing of geology" in the 16 to 17 hundreds, it is possible to say that geology had not been "invented" yet. And it is without modern geology that the true age of the Earth was unknown with the only source for that information having been the Bible, which would have placed that age approximately 6,000 years before. The Earth being a very old place was the basis of the joke which the narrator tells to the boy, and without that long age, the joke would likely have fell on deaf ears.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Plate Tectonics Pioneer - Frank Bursley Taylor

To start off, I was going to say recently but it has apparently been almost a year now, but "recently" I came across this blog post by GSA entitled "On the Shoulders of Giants: A 125th Anniversary Retrospective" which talked about several of the older GSA members and geologists. There was one story which caught my attention:
 "In 1908, Taylor presented an oral paper at the GSA meeting wherein he proposed Continental Drift as a mechanism for the origin of mountain belts. His 1910 paper in the GSA Bulletin is spooky to read these days. He talked about the mid-Atlantic Ridge being a place where “plates” were moving apart. He talked about the Himalayas being the place where the Asian continent was being thrust out onto the Indian crust. He talked about the Aleutians being thrust out onto the Pacific Ocean floor. Taylor’s oral presentation was four years before Alfred Wegner’s oral presentation, and his publication was five years before Wegner’s. But, Taylor’s affliction was that he was publishing in an American scientific journal, and Wegner published in German.  Back then, if anything was important, it was published in German. So, most of the geological community is unaware of Taylor’s amazing analysis."
And it linked to a GSA Today article from July, 2005 which briefly mentioned the original Taylor paper. Well I wanted to go back and actually see what was stated in the paper 5 years before Wegner published his theories. Even though the paper is often painful to read, due to what we now know about plate tectonics, it is interesting in parts to see how much he got right. Here are some excerpts from the paper:

Taylor, F.B. 1910. Bearing of the Tertiary mountain belt on the origin of the Earth's plan. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America. v. 21. pp. 179-226

General crustal movement
"It is admitted by all that the mountains of the great Tertiary belt, like the older ranges of fold-mountains, were produced chiefly by compressive forces acting in a horizontal direction, and that the total amount of compression involved is equivalent to many miles of horizontal movement of the of the Earth's crust. What was the nature of those movements? In what direction did the crust move in producing the Tertiary mountains of Asia-from the ocean toward the land or from the land toward the ocean? This is a crucial point."
The Himalayas
" seems apparent that it was the obstructing action of the Indian peninsula which produced the great Himalaya re-entrant. It was the tremendous resistance offered by this fragment of the ancient Gondwana-land which held back the advancing folds to the line of the Himalaya. The effect seen in horizontal plan is as though India had held back an advancing curtain in a very pronounced way, as indeed it did, for the curtain was the crustal sheet of Asia."
He also refers to "moving crustal sheets" and "plates" are also brought up.
"It would be expected, for example, that the folds would be most closely pressed together at the most northerly point of the resisting obstacle, where the obstructing effect would be greatest, and that the folds would bend or lap around on either side of the obstructing mass so as to inclose it within a re-entrant angle of the general front. It would be expected also that the vertical component of movement expressed by positive elevation of mountain ranges and plateaus would be greatest against that same point."
Taylor seems to think that all movement was from the poles to the equator. This is what produced the bulging outward effect of the Earth at the equator.

Greenland Rift Zones
"Baffin Land, therefore, appears to have been pulled away from Greenland in the same direction as Grant Land, and, what is more significant, it appears to have moved the same distance."
"The relation of the coast of Labrador to the west coast of the south part of Greenland is truly remarkable"
"...although now 560 miles apart in the direction of the rift along the northwest side of Greenland, are almost exactly parallel and the geological age and structure of the rocks, so far as known, are the same."
"We seem to have here a great irregular rift line along which North America has been torn away from Greenland." 
Mid-Ocean Ridge
"It is apparently a sort of horst ridge-a residual ridge along a line of parting or rifting - the earth-crust having moved away from it on both sides."
 "The great westward bulge of Africa north of the equator appears to fit very closely into the westward bend of the mid-Atlantic ridge, suggesting that Africa has drifted eastward from that position."
"It is probably much nearer the truth to suppose that the mid-Atlantic ridge has remained unmoved, while the two continents on opposite sides of it have crept away in nearly parallel and opposite directions." 
African Weight Gain
"There appear to be conflicting evidences on this point, but the great rift valleys of the lake region in Africa suggest moderate uplift. These valleys are roughly meridional and suggest a slight girth-expansion of the Earth.

Not sure how the Earth gains girth... maybe too much Turkey. (ba dum dum :-D)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Failures in Science - Measuring the Earth Part 2

In response to my failure to measure the Earth before (See post here for background and details) I again attempted to measure the Earth using the length of the shadows during the the days before and after the summer solstice. To recap here is the background:

~2200 years ago, a man named Eratosthenes made a pretty good estimation of the size of the Earth using the length of shadows during the summer solstice at two different locations.

To repeat this experiment there are some requirements:

1. I needed a measuring stick that was perpendicular to a board to measure the length of the shadow.

2. I needed two locations north and south of each other that fell along the same longitude, so that I could calculate a direct polar circumference.

3. I needed to find out when "noon" was, since daylight noon (the highest point of the sun) is not the same time as clock noon.


1. To fix some of the problems that stemmed from the last experiment I created a larger and better measuring stick.

Here is my handy assistant making calculations and measurements.

I used comments on my previous post to improve on this on. I increased the size of the vertical stick, chose a metal rod since it was not warped and not likely to become warped without noticing, and on the bottom I placed screw feet so I could adjust the levelness of the board. 

High Noon time was set for 1:29 pm on both the day before and after the summer solstice. 

From the previous post I am going to take 2 readings from two locations that are approximately along the same line of longitude. (C and B on the diagram below). From these I will calculate the difference in the angle and therefore can calculate the size of the Earth.

This time I went for a bit further and ended up at a distance of 66,758.87 m apart from each measurement. I had hoped this would help with the accuracy of the results. 

I had double checked and my math previously was correct, where:

Circumference = Arc Length * Difference in the angles/360

For this experiment:
Arc length = 66,758.87 m
Difference in the angles = 1.4149 degress

  C = 66,758.87 * 1.4149/ 360
  C = 16,985.79 km

Still I am majorly off. Only by 57% this time. A 3% improvement. Good?


Next year I will perform the experiment again. This time with a larger measuring device and more distant measuring localities.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Geology In Pop Culture - License Plate Geology #1

I have been on the look out for geological based license plates recently and I captured this one the other day. A but blurry (from the phone) but you can still see that it says "Karste" quite clearly.

I am not sure the rules of posting the images of license plate but I don't think there is really anything wrong with it, especially since we see them on the road everyday. And I figured that if I don't post any of the other information of the car owner, make, model, etc. along with the license plate I should be all set. Well I cropped out the the rest of the car just to be safe.

noun, Geology.
1. an area of limestone terrane characterized by sinks, ravines, and underground streams. (

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Geological Pop-Cultural References

I came across this interesting article the other day: 

Pop Culture Mentions Of Global Warming Have Plummeted Since 2007

which leads people to a program where users are able to put in a set of words and see how many times they have been mentioned in movies (and in various other mediums) in the past 100 years (or so). This got me thinking about how references to geology and paleontology have varied through time. 

The following graphs are made with a 2 year rolling average of the points, that way the mentions didn't show up as individual points, and general trends could be easier to discern. They also show the percent of the words for each particular year since just producing straight number of words would show an increase just because more TV and movies are produced now than they used to be.

Here is a link to the Movies version: There are other links accessible from the website which can give you scientific article searches and the such. A future post will do these same searches in different mediums to compare the results. Unfortunately I can't seem to save the images any larger. If you do the search you are able to see the specific references in each year. Very fun game.

Dinosaurs and Fossils
 *date to be aware of: Jurassic Park came out in 1993.

Evolution and Creation
  *date to be aware of: Cosmos came out in 1980.

Paleontology and Paleontologist

Geology and Geologist

Plate Tectonics

Rock and Stone
 *Pretty sure this mostly refers to the "rock" in rock and roll and drug use under "stone", but interesting none the less. 

Volcano and Earthquake



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures - Dinosaur National Monument

My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is a fairly local park.

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website


Obligatory entrance sign.

"I hope that the Government for the benefit of science and the people, will uncover a large area, leave the bones and skeletons in relief and house them in. It would make one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable." - Earl Douglas, 1923

Earl Douglas discovered the quarry in 1909. 

And here is the main attraction. The fossil wall in panorama form. The Fossil Wall is part of the Carnegie Quarry that was the original quarry from which the park was built around.

The northern end of the fossil wall. The Fossil Wall is in the Morrison Formation, a rock unit that is the Late Jurassic in age, approximately - 155-148 million years old. The Morrison Formation represents a large variety of environments, with mostly terrestrial rivers and lakes containing the most fossils. It is thought by scientists that the dinosaurs of Dinosaur National Monument accumulated within a local river, where the animals went to get water, but a drought cause all the water to dry up and the animals died. This was then followed by a return of the water, burying the animals in sediment and preserving them for all time.

 And the southern end. Although dinosaur fossils are found in many different rock units, it is the Morrison Formation where most of the dinosaurs discovered in Dinosaur NM have been found.

View of the outside of the main exhibit building. The building is newly rebuilt (since the other one basically fell off the wall) and rests right on top of the fossil layer. The next picture is a shot in the opposite direction from the building.

Picture from the fossil wall in the northern direction (away from the building) where you can track the Morrison Formation fossil layer across the parking lot.

Closer up shot of the fossil layer from the previous picture. You can make out the Fossil Discovery Trail running along the base of the fossil layer towards the lower center of the picture (fossil layer is the dark layer just left of center).

View of the fossil layer looking back up at the building. Most of the best fossils were all up within the building but most people found it exciting to discover fossils "out in the wild". 

Departing dino shot. The Stegosaurus represented here is one of the many fossils that have been found within the park along with Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, and Allosaurus, among others. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Geology Through Literature - The Way of All Flesh

The next story up in the Geology Though Literature thread is The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler.

Not much in the way of geology in this book, however I did find a couple of passages interesting. The book mainly is about Christianity taking place in the 1800's and a couple of passages mention some recent works that were released:
"It must be remembered that the year 1858 was the last of a term during which the peace of the Church of England was singularly unbroken...I need hardly say that the calm was only on the surface. Older men, who knew more than undergraduates are likely to do, must have seen that the wave of skepticism which had already broken over Germany was setting towards our own shores (England) - nor was it long, indeed, before it reached them. Ernest had hardly been ordained before three works in quick succession arrested the attention even of those who paid least heed to theological controversy - I mean Essays and Reviews, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and Bishop Colenso's Criticisms on the Pentateuch." 
As a little bit of a background, On the Origin of Species was originally published November 24th, 1859, while events during the first paragraph take place during 1858. Even though The Way of All Flesh was published in 1903, Butler began working on it in 1873. This shows that, the upheaval due to the publishing of several works like On the Origin of Species still would have been fresh in his mind. Although, the ideas of evolution were slowly gaining hold, even before Darwin's publication, the Church of England firmly held the beliefs as posed in the Bible. Mainly, that species were created by their Creator and have remained unchanged since creation. Darwin's (among others) theories flew in the face of that, hence the paragraph describing the breakdown of the Church of England's hold. Very fitting for a book that seems to be very anti-established church.
"This was the course things have taken in the Church of England during the last fourty years. The set has been steadily in one direction. A few men who knew what they wanted made catspaw of the Christinas and the Charlottes, and the Christinas and the Charlottes made catspaws of the Mrs. Goodhews and the old  Miss Wrights, and the Mrs. Goodhews and old Miss Wrights told the Mr. Goodhews and the young Miss Wrights what they should do, and when the Mr. Goodhews and the young Miss Wrights did it the little Goodhews and the rest of the spiritual flock did as they did, and the Theobalds went for nothing; step by step, day by day, year by year, parish by parish, diocese by diocese, this was how it was done. And yet the Church of England looks with no friendly eyes upon the theory of evolution, or decent with modification."

I like this passage because it shows how "descent with modification" (i.e. evolution) works in the context of society. My personal point of view is that many people take the term "evolution" out of context, where it simply means "change over time". Also, Darwin never stated the term "evolution" within the Origin of Species. He just used "descent with modification", so I feel that the author's phrasing in the last sentence as a hat-tip to the original term.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dinos? in Pop Culture - SLCC 2014

Unlike last years Salt Lake Comic Con, there was not much in the way of dinosaurs (or geology really) that I could find. I did see one person dressed up as a female Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park but I never was able to get a picture of her. So, in lieu of that, we have Smaug from The Lord of The Rings. Dragons are based on dinosaurs, so essentially dragons are the descendants of dinosaurs, like birds. 

Therefore, dragons can be considered the cousins of birds. And in that case, here you have a dinosaur descendant. 

Side Note: I didn't realize this at first but one of the eyes opened and closed. You can see that through the 3 pictures below. Very nice!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dinos in Pop Culture - Salt Lake Comic Con

Here are some more dinosaurs in pop culture (I call this catching up on things):

During the previous Salt Lake Comic Con (September, 2013) there were these really cool dinosaur "costumes" roaming around the exhibit floor. Turns out they were for an exhibitor called "Dino Media" that had a website at However, that website appears to now be defunct and the Facebook page has not been updated in a while. Not sure if the company is defunct along with them. It is a shame because those are some really cool costumes. 

The dinosaurs are operated by a person inside (you can see his spandexed legs in the picture below alongside the dinosaur legs). But if you are not looking for it, these dinos are shockingly realistic. Perhaps they could use a bit of feathers though :-).

A couple of videos shot from SLCC that I found as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts on the Ham - Nye Creation Debate

This is going to be my first in a bunch of Creationist-Evolutionist topics that I have in mind. More to come in the future (at some point).

Back in February there was a much politicized debate between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis CEO). Previously I had not had the time to sit and watch the 2.5 hour debate but recently I had and I have marked down my comments below. Pretty much they follow the course of the "debate" but I have not marked out clearly for the most case where each comment is in reference to, but they should make sense while watching it.

  • Clearly, this debate already seems weighted in Ken Ham's favor being at the Creationist Museum, his home turf.
The first part is where the debaters were each given 2 blocks of talks involving a 5 minuted introduction and a 30 minute presentation.
  • Ken Ham - Makes some great points (i.e., it shouldn't be Creationists vs scientists but evolutionists vs Creationists; both evolutionists and Creationists have the same source data that they are trying to interpret) but then he wanders off of the science point when questions of why are brought up (because God deemed it so, "there is a book"). He makes many good points but also leaves out large chunks of available contradictory information in order to prove his points.
  • Ken Ham - also states that one does not NEED to be an evolutionist in order to contribute to the technological impact of society and there are no technological advances that required that particular discoverer to be an evolutionist. To this point I tentatively agree. You don't really need to believe in evolution to create an iPhone. However, a counter point to this is that many scientists, primarily geologists, use what is known about the age of the Earth and past processes to find oil and gas. To find this oil and gas they need to understand how plates move and the age of rocks in comparison to one another. Find me a "young Earther" who who can find oil based on their interpretations of the Earth.
  • Bill Nye - His initial statement/comments really seemed to come out of left field (I'm sitting here going "what the hell?") and I felt he didn't fit the tone of the "debate" (as defined by Ham's performance). I feel this may have set the audience up on the wrong foot. During much of his introduction he often tried to throw too much data at the audience, many times without an explanation. Within his 35 minutes, he tries to explain everything in science related to the age of the Earth, the Big Bang Theory, and evolution. In the process his point often just gets muddled.
The next section is a 5 minute rebuttal by each person, followed by a 5 minute re-rebuttal (?).
  • Ken Ham - One of the biggest problems I have with Creationist arguments is that they never seem to understand how radiocarbon dating works. He outright states they tried to date 45 million year old wood with radiocarbon dating. Any geologist who knows anything about carbon-14 will tell you the results will be crap.
  • Ken Ham - Oh wait, all animals were vegetarians before the flood???? Sharp teeth does not mean carnivore apparently. I would love to see a lion even try to eat plants with its teeth.
  • Ken Ham - Ham had posted several videos of Creationists, who were also scientists, stating there were no conflicting evidence that the Earth was not 6,000 years old based on the science. The problem I see is that he did not have any geologists or paleontologists on contributing to this (even though I am well aware that they do exist). 
  • Bill Nye - And to the previous point, Bill Nye himself is not a geologist or a paleontologist, or a biologist, getting up there and debating topics that are outside his realm of expertise. Not exactly the person I would want debating my side. You don't get an accountant to be your lawyer.
  • Bill Nye - I feel Bill Nye also harped on some non-essential problems. Does it really matter if Noah was able to build a boat of that size, which was able to to withstand ocean currents. Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn't. I think it is a moot point for this debate and one that did not need to even be discussed.
  • Overall - I noticed that many of their "rebuttals" were talks with prepared slides. It's not much of a debate rebuttal is you already have prepared what you are going to say beforehand. 
The last section is a Question and Answer part where questions were asked by the audience to either participant. The person receiving the question had 2 minutes to respond and the other person had a 1 minute rebuttal.
  • Ken Ham - Ham's God seems awful vain. "he created the universe in order to show us how powerful he is."
  • Bill Nye - Nye calls out Ham's reliance on the Bible as the final word. Doesn't leave much room for actual science if all your answers are just "the Bible said so".
  • Ken Ham - Ham makes another good point - just because the majority believes something doesn't make it true (something, I myself have stated in the past). 
  • Ken Ham - Ham is also harping on the fact that evolutionists cannot prove what we say about the rock record because no one was there to witness it, except (of course) in the case of Creationism where we have the one "being" who was there (God) writing down his own eye witness account. He disregards the fact that the Bible was not actually written by God but by people many years after the supposed Creation.
  • Bill Nye - Nye also states that any scientist who disagrees with the common thought in science is embraced. I would have to disagree with this as can be shown by the theory of plate tectonics, which was initially proposed back before 1910 and didn't gain ground until the 1960's and 70's.
  • Bill Nye - One of the key things about scientists (of which I wholeheartedly agree with) Nye states is the simple phrase "I don't know". 
    • We don't know everything and we (usually) aren't afraid to state when we don't know. That is what drives science, to know the unknown.
  • Ken Ham - Yes, there is a book with the answers. We get it Ham.
  • Ken Ham - Now, here is the big one. Question to Ken Ham - "What, if anything, would ever change your mind?" 
    • The response "the Bible is the word of one is ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true."
  • Ken Ham - Another true statement by Ham. He states that scientists did not date Earth rocks to get the 4.5 billion year old age of the Earth, which is 100% true, we dated meteorites as he states.
    • My questions is how does that change anything? Even in his Creationist view the Earth and the other planets/astronomical bodies should be the same age.
  • Ken Ham - Ham is very good at acknowledging much of the data that is describes current Earth conditions (i.e. the plates are moving, we can see this). However he then goes on to blame the flood for a catastrophic movement of the plates putting them in their position close to today.
    • His biggest point is that he dismisses the geological law of uniformitarianism (that things happening today happened in the past). He feels that things aren't constant and that rates of stuff can change astronomically (i.e. plate movement, bed depositional rates, etc.).
  • Bill Nye - Nye does a piss-poor job of explaining the second law of thermodynamics and how that relates to evolution.
  • Ken Ham - One thing I noticed a couple of times is that it seems that Ham equates Christian with Creationist. They are one in the same to him. I get the feeling that any non-Creationists are not Christians in his view.

My Overall Thoughts.
  • What was the purpose of this debate? What was the overall goal? 
  • Although, this wasn't much of a debate either. I felt it was a back and forth presentation battle with the debaters not really responding to what the other person said. Even in the last round, they were more responding to the questions and not their opponent. 
  • Overall the respondents did a rather poor job of just answering the questions they are asked and not going off on preplanned diatribes.
  • Nye did a poor job of relating to the "common person". I'm not saying they "common person" is dumb, but that they aren't scientists and they don't know all the little parts of many scientific explanations. Nye glossed over many points that (I feel) would have left many people lost or confused. I myself was getting figurative whiplash with how fast he was jumping around topics and adding in stories. 
  • Ham presented himself as intelligent and knowledgeable about a great many subjects but I also got the feeling he did not know what he was talking about when referring to geological concepts. He also fell back on "the Bible" as his be all and end all of debates. 
  • In essence my thoughts can be summed up with: Why even debate someone who feels that the word of law is written in a book? He stated himself there was no way his mind would be changed. I feel this debate could have been better served by getting a Creation geologist out there who know the Creation science and is able to back up his claims with something other than "because the book said so."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cloud Covered Mountains

Here is some pretty cool cloud coverage of the Wasatch Mountains (UT) on my drive in to work the other day. Click on it to get the enlarged version.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Geology in Pop Culture - Candy (Part 3)

And we have another Geology in Pop Culture with Candy. This time we go to the more mainstream "geological candy" when people thing of geological candies (if/when they ever do). Rock Candy. This candy is from the FAO Schweetz line.

Rock Candy is one of the oldest and purest forms of candy. In the 1800s, it was used as a home remedy for all kinds of illnesses. Because it is a very difficult process, Rock Candy making has almost become a lost art. Rock Candy crystals grow in a concentrated solution of pure sugar. It takes an entire week for them to grow to full size.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A "...allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes" response from theScience Community

There has been this video that I have seen circulating through Facebook recently entitled "Dear Mr Atheist allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes!". I post the video here, not to give this person credibility, but so that people can understand what I am about to comment upon:

Upon my first viewing of this video I had to turn it off in about 1.5 minutes due to the shear stupidity of the ranter. Normally my response to such things would be "What are you, a moron?" and leave it at that. However I have been called out by one of my Creationist friends (yes I have at least one of those) that I need to discuss the points brought up by Creationists as valid points (not citing this video, just in general). I know I am frequently not patient enough to do this, however I do have a friend who is, Abel G. Peña, who responded to this video of which a mutual friend had posted on Facebook. Abel is a published author and a philosopher of science who is far more eloquent than I ever could be, so I will repost his response, with his permission, to the video:


This gentleman speaks with great passion concerning his faith in God, with which I sympathize. He also asks good questions that many average people have who are not familiar with how science works. It's only unfortunate that he takes those questions as evidence for the "stupidity" of scientists and science only because he hasn't taken the time to research some of these concepts in greater depth. As a result, he is quite confused. Here are some common but important misunderstandings by this gentleman:

1) Evolution is *not* the idea of one man: Charles Darwin is most often credited with the formulation of evolution, but the idea was already circulating in the scientific community at the time of his work. (For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the idea of evolution by means of natural selection independently from Darwin at around the same time, and the friar Gregor Mendel is famous for discovering the mechanism of genetic inheritance, which is integral to evolution.) More importantly, many, many biologists that have come after Darwin, Wallace and Mendel have corroborated evolution through very careful research over 150 years.

2) Evolution is *not* a “theory” in the popular sense: This is one that people often get confused about. It’s understandable because words have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used and spoken. If the weather is chilly, and I say, “It’s cool out here,” while rubbing my arms for warmth, the meaning of “cool” I am using is in reference to temperature. But if I go to a club with bumping music in Ibiza, and I am sweaty from grooving on the dance floor, and turn to my fellow partier and say, “It’s cool out here!” what I mean by “cool” is now something completely different: that this foreign environment we are visiting is exciting and interesting. But if my fellow partier is a native-Spanish speaker rather than a native-English speaker, he might think I was insane for suggesting the temperature is chilly in a stuffy club.

This variation of meaning applies to the word “theory,” as well. The way the word “theory” is used in everyday speech is that a theory is like a fancy idea—maybe it is interesting or seems to have far-reaching consequences if true, but it is by nature questionable, which is why we aren't calling it a “fact.” But that is not how the word is used in the scientific community. (In fact, the word in science very close to the way we use “theory” in everyday speech is called a “hypothesis.”) In the context of science, the word “theory” instead means an idea that is both well-tested and well-substantiated: that is, it has not proven false in those tests, and is thus considered very likely true, especially when tested over a period of 150 years. It’s very natural to ask, “Why don’t scientists just say it’s true, then?” And that’s because it’s technically very difficult for something to be proven 100% true, and why science gives values of truth in terms of probability. We can ask the question, “Do we actually exist?” and I think most scientists would say we very, very probably do exist, but it’s technically true that our existence is not 100% certain. In Buddhism, for example, the concept of “emptiness” denies the reality of the self—that “I” exist.

This concept of belief expressed in probabilities is also directly relevant in reference to atheism: when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God,” that person is not necessarily saying, “I 100% don’t believe in God.” Instead, what they are often expressing is shorthand for actually meaning: “I believe that God is highly unlikely to exist,” and they feel comfortable stopping their inquiry at that point until some significant piece of evidence (probably based on physics) is presented.

3) Mr. Feuerstein does not understand the second law of thermodynamics: This law of physics, often referred to as the law of entropy, basically states that all things in a closed system will generally devolve toward chaos. But when you oversimplify the law, as this gentleman has done, it ends up sounding like, “Things always become more chaotic” (an idea which seems to contradict the theory of evolution because, likewise, evolution itself is often oversimplified as meaning, “Everything becomes more orderly”). However, an important component that is left out of the second law of thermodynamics in this oversimplification is that the law applies to a “closed system.” This means an environment in which nothing can get in and nothing can get out, sort of like a box. But the process of evolution through natural selection actually needs to interact with the rest of the world to work: that is, the kind of process described by the theory of evolution does *not* take place in a closed system, and thus, the second law of thermodynamics does not contradict evolution. (And, actually, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't say that all things move toward chaos in a closed system, but only that they *statistically* tend to. This is another common misunderstanding of the law. With enough time—such as infinity—the law also predicts that inevitably all things in that closed system will move toward order.)

 I am not sure which religion Mr. Feuerstein professes faith to but, based on his arguments, I am going to guess it is some form of Christianity. That said, not all forms of Christianity believe the same thing. For instance, Catholicism—generally considered a very conservative form of Christianity—has absolutely no quarrel with evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared (in an encyclical called Humani Generis) that the teachings of the Church and evolution were not in conflict, stating that the only thing the Church insisted on was belief that God was the one responsible for placing souls in human beings, whatever the specific process by which men and women came to exist. Then, almost 50 years later in the mid-1990s, Pope John Paul II went further and praised evolution, saying:

"Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."

This is significant because we see that it's not impossible to be both a Christian and to accept evolutionary evidence from the scientific community.

In this video, Mr. Feuerstein also seems to think that acceptance of the Big Bang theory is incompatible with religious belief or belief in God. But that also is not true. Here, again, John Paul II—generally considered a very conservative pope—actually loved the idea of the Big Bang, because he felt that it not only actually *proved* that God exists but that the theory tells us when the act of universal creation actually took place. He said:

"Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, [science] has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator. Hence, creation took place. We say: therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!"


On a side note I would like to point out his mistaking what the word "universe" is derived from. The word universe is from:

"Uni" - meaning one (got that part right)
"versus" - The past tense of vertere, which means to turn. (, Online Etymology Dictionary)

(It drives me nuts when people don't research such simple things as the origin of words before spewing their nonsense.)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Geology in Pop Culture - Fossil Butte Street Plaques

A small town in Wyoming, Kemmerer, is touted as "An Aquarium set in stone" due to it's proximity not only to Fossil Butte National Monument but also to a bunch of other fossil hunting locals in the region. While we were staying there we wandered around in the center of town (home to the first J. C. Penney Store). 

Outside the store

Inside the store

However, I noticed that where all of the sidewalks dip down to the street around the park in the center of town (across the street from the J. C. Penney's) there were these fossil plaques commemorating the fossils found within the region. You can see the location of one of them in the J.C. Penney picture. It is located directly in front of the traffic light pole,embedded in the sidewalk. Here are those plaques. Some of them are a little on the worn side but others look brand new. This was all of them that I could find. Some have clearly been lost/stolen but there were still a good number of them. Very cool to see paleontology in the spotlight in some towns.

 Knightia eocaena

Undescribed palm. Palm trees... in Wyoming?

Hyracotherium sp. World's only complete early horse.

Trionyx sp. Worlds largest soft-shelled turtles.

Priscacara liops. Although spiny it was eaten by Phareodus.

Phareodus encaustus. A common predator in ancient Fossil Lake.

Undescribed bird. One of many undescribed birds.

Borealosuchus sp. See ya later alligator... in 50 million years.

Mioplosus labracoides with Knightia eocaena in mouth. Death by... starvation or suffocation?

Heliobatis radians. Freshwater stingrays live in South America today.

Icaronycteris index. World's oldest fossil bats.

 And one last picture of a mural located across the other street from the J.C. Penneys.