Sunday, 8 January 2012

Giant Mistakes

‎"And there were giants in those days..." says the book of Genesis. And there is on YouTube a video to prove it - a giant footprint, allegedly millions of years ago, found in South African granite.

"It is estimated to be between 200 million and 3 Billion years old because of our current understanding of the formation of granites in Earth's history."

Which explains why there aren't any giants around now - they were clearly ignorant of the fact that granite is not a sedimentary rock and is a very hot rock. To put a footprint in it (if you somehow could) would be the last thing you would ever do. Nor would it congeal around you, because granite is a plutonic rock, not a volcanic one. That means it is formed deep underground, high pressure, and very hot - it would incinerate a foot, if one good get deep underground, which one cannot. The liquid state of granite is over 1,000 Celsius.

As tectonic plates shift, rocks that were deep underground like granites get pushed up to the surface, but unlike volcanic rocks, that's not where they are formed. The process is called "uplift" - the pressure causes faults and folds in the rocks, then erosion wears away softer sedimentary rocks, until the deep rocks are visible at the surface.

The rock itself then must be a natural formation, although some people suggest it may have been "enhanced" with a chisel to sharpen parts of it - the toes.
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It is strange that people want to believe something like this. The more prosaic facts of geology have a vast timescale, where human beings come in very much at the last minutes. Far from being "lords of creation", they are a tiny blip in time. If the 4 1/2 billion years of the planet were compressed into one 24 hour day, then single cell organisms only appeared at 4 am. Multicelled animals evolved around 9 am. And dinosaurs started roaming the earth around 11 pm, very late in the history of the planet. Human beings - the last 30 seconds! 11.59 pm and 30 seconds.

Biblical Creationists don't like this at all, as they want a literal chronology from Eden, which is why they rejoice at anything, however preposterous, that they can use as a stick to attack this chronology. The flood, of course, wiped out the dinosaurs, but that means you need human beings around at the same time as dinosaurs, like Rachel Welsh in the Hammer film One Million Years BC.

And alongside them are the Ancient Astronaut, or Atlantis supercivilisation believers, who also want anything that can confound the existing chronology. You often need, after all, lots of time for supercivilisations to rise and fall leaving barely a trace, especially if they were wiped out in some kind of nuclear war, leaving no advanced artifacts or any background radiation.

In a way, it is a reversion to the universe of Aristotle, which had man at the centre, and a stationary earth around which everything moved. The planets included the sun and moon, because planet meant wanderer, and unlike fixed stars, they moved. Aristotle knew that the earth was round - the notion of a flat earth was a myth, largely propagated by Washington Irving and his contemporaries. But the curvature of the earth, and a pretty accurate measurement of the diameter of the earth by the Greeks, was known since ancient times.

Anyone who sails must see that the earth cannot be flat, the only question which Columbus asked was how large. He thought it was a much smaller earth, which is why we have the West Indies, as he imagined he'd landed on a remote area close to India.

The stationary earth was actually very logically thought out. Firstly, we do not notice any sense of spin on the earth. But Aristotle had another argument to play - the Tower. Imagine climbing a very tall tower, and dropping objects from it. As they move down, the earth is spinning under them, so they will not end up directly below the tower - the ground there will have spun onwards as they were falling. But, as we know, they fall directly under the tower, so clearly the earth cannot be rotating. It's a very neat argument.

Galileo countered it with an argument from ships. If a ship is racing along with a strong wind in its sails, and someone throws a heavy ball (so as not to be blown by wind) across the width of the ship, the ship has moved onwards as the ball is in motion, so by Aristotle's principles, the ball should travel both across the ship, and move towards the back of the ship, moving in a diagonal, because the ship moves on once it is in the air. But of course, the ball just travels directly across - its motion is relative to the ship, not relative to the surrounding sea.  The frame of reference in which it moves is the ship, not the ship on the sea. It took a long time for people to grasp relative motion well, and even when railways started, there was a notion that air would be sucked out of the carriages as the train picked up speed.

The idea that the earth was not stationary, and the sun was the center around which it moved (albeit in an ellipse not a circle) was a profound shock, and I think people still like to cling on to a vestige of that. They can't now believe in a stationary earth at the centre of the universe, but they can place humanity on a pedestal, at the apex of creation. That's a very strong impetus.

Even early ideas of evolution tended to see evolution as a ladder, progressing up rung by rung, from bacteria and simple creatures to land creatures, mammals, apes, and finally mankind. It is a wholly misleading picture because evolution is more like a bush, with lots of branches all reaching the same height - after all, the bacteria are still here. Some branches die out relatively quickly, and we may be one of them, which in today's climate of uncertainly about the effects of climate change is something few people want to contemplate. So when anything comes along that asserts that conventional pictures of the world's history are wrong, critical thinking falls away, and the "evidence" is greedily latched onto. Perhaps the step to true maturity will be when we do recognise our small place in the history of time.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Tony: What a brilliant and timely article! We humanity just gotta to realize we are nothing but chicken little in the cycle of life and that we are not at the top of the evolutionary chain. Thank you! I loved reading it and accept the notion wholeheartedly! Would love to repost this article on my blog with links to this article.