Aral Sea — environmental disaster

This is all that is left of what was the Earth’s fourth largest lake only 50 years ago.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory: Dust Over the Aral Sea.

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA/Terra MODIS

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union started diverting most of the water from the rivers that fed the Aral Sea to irrigation, primarily for cotton. This led to an environmental catastrophe that continues to this day. Effects of this include:

  • Drying up of the lake, which is now only 10% of its former size.
  • Increasing salinity of the lake. Only the northernmost basin still has low enough salinity to support fish. Most native species are gone.
  • Creation of dust storms blowing off of the dry lake bed. In addition to salt, this dust contains pesticides and industrial wastes, which cause health problems for residents living downwind.
  • Widespread unemployment and other economic hardships.

(For an animation of the shrinking of the Aral Sea, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aral_Sea.gif)

Our actions as humans always have consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others are unforeseen; some are small, and others are major. What will the consequences of our current activities be? What activities are we now involved in that will have long-term negative consequences in the future?

“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Prov 22:3 NIV)

Grace and Peace

Lake Eyre, Australia

I love this picture, as only a geologist who loves streams and sediments could.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory site: Rare Refill of Lake Eyre, Australia’s Simpson Desert.

LakeEyreAustralia
Credit: NASA/Landsat-5

From the EO description:

Waves in central Australia’s Simpson Desert usually come in the form of sand dunes. In these images, they ripple in long vertical lines across the surface of the desert. But occasionally, summer rain from northern Australia flows down into the desert, filling dry river channels and empty lake beds. Very occasionally, the water reaches a vast lake bed called Lake Eyre, turning it into a shallow inland sea where birds flock to breed.
In early 2009, heavy rains brought major flooding to nearly every river system in Queensland, Australia. By May, the water had made its way south and had started to fill Lake Eyre. The top image provides a natural-color view of water pouring into the lake through one of many channels that drain the desert during the rainy season. The muddy brown water spreads into the lake in a triangular alluvial fan.

Waves in central Australia’s Simpson Desert usually come in the form of sand dunes. In these images, they ripple in long vertical lines across the surface of the desert. But occasionally, summer rain from northern Australia flows down into the desert, filling dry river channels and empty lake beds. Very occasionally, the water reaches a vast lake bed called Lake Eyre, turning it into a shallow inland sea where birds flock to breed.

In early 2009, heavy rains brought major flooding to nearly every river system in Queensland, Australia. By May, the water had made its way south and had started to fill Lake Eyre. [This] image provides a natural-color view of water pouring into the lake through one of many channels that drain the desert during the rainy season. The muddy brown water spreads into the lake in a triangular alluvial fan.

Each depositional environment in this image will produce sediments with a distinct combination of grain size, sedimentary structures (various types of ripples and dunes, as well as things like mud cracks), mineralogy (evaporites in the lake basin), and trace fossils (footprints, burrows). The main depositional environments in this image are stream channel, alluvial fan/delta, arid lake, shoreline, and sand dune. Within each of these there are more specific depositional sites, such as near-shore or deeper water lake deposits. These are the types of things that enable geologists to interpret the depositional environments of ancient sedimentary rocks.

Grace and Peace

Conversations in progress

I’ve had a number of good comments in the past month on the following posts. Feel free to join in.

Dr. Dino still in prison — I consider the teachings of Kent Hovind (“Dr. Dino”) to be anti-apologetics that has no place in our churches and Christian schools. Not everyone agrees.

Augustine and Darwin — Allister McGrath ponders how Augustine would have thought about evolution. Or does McGrath get it all wrong?

Not quite so bright — Some of the “new atheists” like to call themselves “brights,” but I find them less than illuminating.

Grace and Peace

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 3)

This is part three of a six-part series examining supposed evidences for a global flood that have recently appeared on the Answers in Genesis web site.
The people at AiG are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I share their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, their respect for the Bible as the Word of God, and their desire to see people come to faith in Christ. However, I view their arguments for a young Earth and geological catastrophism as unnecessary Biblically, bad apologetics, and a serious obstacle to the evangelism of scientists.
Unfortunately, few people in our churches or Christian education system have the geological background to critically analyze these arguments. The result is that people read articles like these from AiG, find them to be rather impressive, and believe that these present sound arguments in defense of the Bible. The opposite, however, is true. A vast majority of Christian geologists find the arguments for a young-Earth and the geologic work of the Flood to be untenable. It is my strong opinion that the young-Earth arguments of organizations like AiG have no place in our churches and Christian education system.
Part one examined the young-Earth creationist (YEC) argument that fossils at high elevations are proof of a global flood.
Part two examines the YEC argument that sedimentary rocks that contain dense accumulations of fossils can best be described by the action of Noah’s Flood.
Part three — this article
Part four looks at the YEC claim that long-distance transport of sand grains can only be explained by Noah’s flood.
Part five looks at unconformities and the boundaries between geological formations. The young-Earth crowd claims that there is no evidence for weathering and erosion between layers, which is simply not true.
Part six looks at whether or not layers must be soft rather than lithified in order to fold. Laboratory and field evidence indicate that solid rocks really can fold.
Credit: USGS http://3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/coloradoplateau/grandcanyon_strat.htm
Stratigraphy of Grand Canyon National Park showing the position of the Tapeats Sandstone and Redwall Limestone.Credit: USGS http://3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/coloradoplateau/grandcanyon_strat.htm

Flood evidence number three” from Answers in Genesis is called “Transcontinental Rock Layers.” In this article, young-Earth creationist Andrew Snelling describes sedimentary rock layers that cover large areas of continents, and tries to show that the vast extent of these layers is evidence for a global flood.

His first example is the Tapeats Sandstone, which forms the base of the Paleozoic record in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This formation is of Cambrian age, and sits unconformably above Precambrian sediments of the Grand Canyon Group. The main part of the Tapeats is composed of a very clean quartz sandstone. Almost all of the mineral grains in this sandstone are well-rounded quartz; there are very few grains with different composition, and there is very little clay in between the grains. This is typical of a well-worked sandy beach or eolian (wind-blown sand) environment.

Sandstones analogous to the Tapeats Sandstone form a continuous layer at the base of the Cambrian sediments in much of North America. In Montana this layer is known as the Flathead Sandstone, in Colorado it is the Sawatch Sandstone, in the Midwest it is the St. Simon Sandstone, and in New York it is the Potsdam Sandstone.

Snelling discusses the Tapeats Sandstone as follows:

The lowermost sedimentary layers in Grand Canyon are the Tapeats Sandstone, belonging to the Sauk Megasequence. It and its equivalents (those layers comprised of the same materials) cover much of the USA (Figure 3). We can hardly imagine what forces were necessary to deposit such a vast, continent- wide series of deposits. Yet at the base of this sequence are huge boulders (Figure 4) and sand beds deposited by storms (Figure 5). Both are evidence that massive forces deposited these sediment layers rapidly and violently right across the entire USA. Slow-and-gradual (present-day uniformitarian) processes cannot account for this evidence, but the global catastrophic Genesis Flood surely can.

Snelling actually understates the extent of these very similar basal Cambrian sandstones. Derek Ager, in his influential book The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record describes this as a feature of global, not just continental, proportions:

Even more remarkable than the basal Ordovician quartzite is the one that is found, almost all over the world, at the bottom of the Cambrian. […] Perhaps all that it is safe to say in this context is that very commonly around the world one finds an unfossiliferous quartzite conformably below fossiliferous Lower Cambrian and unconformably above a great variety of Precambrian rocks. This is true wherever one sees the base of the Cambrian in Britain, it is true in east Greenland, it is true in the Canadian Rockies and it is true in South Australia. In fact it is even more remarkable than this, in that it is not only the quartzite, but the whole deepening succession that tends to turn up almost everywhere; i.e. a basal conglomerate, followed by marine shales and thin limestones. In the northern Rockies one can even recognize at this level the “Pipe Rock’ of the Scottish Highlands–a bed full of borings known as Skolithos.

(Ager, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, 2nd edition, p.11).

[a few explanations: 1. For our purposes here, quartzite is a very-well cemented or slightly metamorphosed sandstone. 2. Skolithos is a trace fossil interpreted as worm borings or tubes]

The standard geological explanation of these Cambrian sandstones is that they were deposited in a shallow marine to intertidal environment. The Skolithos worm borings are consistent with this explanation, as are the variety of sedimentary structures (e.g. cross bedding) that are found in these units.

The Madison Limestone at Gates of the Mountains, Montana. The Madison Limestone is equivalent to the Redwall Limestone of the Grand Canyon. Credit: Richard I. Gibsonhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gatesofmts.jpg

Snelling also uses the Redwall Limestone of the Grand Canyon as a example of a sedimentary rock unit that covers a very large area:

Another layer in Grand Canyon is the Lower Carboniferous (Mississippian) Redwall Limestone. This belongs to the Kaskaskia Megasequence of North America. So the same limestones appear in many places across North America, as far as Tennessee and Pennsylvania. These limestones also appear in the exact same position in the strata sequences, and they have the exact same fossils and other features in them.

Unfortunately, these limestones have been given different names in other locations because the geologists saw only what they were working on locally and didn’t realize that other geologists were studying essentially the same limestone beds in other places. Even more remarkable, the same Carboniferous limestone beds also appear thousands of miles east in England, containing the same fossils and other features.

Again, Snelling is understating the extent of these Mississippian Limestones. Similar limestones can be found not only throughout the American and Canadian West, but up to Alaska, into the Midwest, and in continental Europe and the Himalayas (Ager, pp. 7-8).

Snelling’s conclusion is that the only way to explain extensive layers like these is by invoking Noah’s Flood. He states that these layers could have only been deposited rapidly in a very short time. But there are a number of problems with Snelling’s explanation of these sediments:

    1. Snelling, like other young-Earth creationists, uses the wide extent of these units as evidence for large-scale, or even global-scale processes. I think that the opposite may be true: that the scale of these units works against the catastrophist explanation. For example, the fact that much of the North American continent (as well as large portions of other continents) is covered by the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone and its equivalents means that all of the other Flood sediments—let’s say the rest of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic—had to already be in suspension in the waters above the pure-sand Tapeats:

FloodSequence

  1. While all of these sediments were in suspension, according to the AiG/Snelling model, there could have been no mixing of sediments of different ages. There was no mixing of Ordovician with Silurian, or Paleozoic with Mesozoic.
  2. Likewise, there could have been no mixing of sediments from different sedimentary environments. Reef sediments (complete with intact ecological zonation: fore reef, back reef, breaker zone, etc.) couldn’t have mixed with beach sediments, deep water sediments couldn’t have mixed with intertidal sediments, and marine sediments couldn’t have mixed with non-marine sediments.
  3. Additionally, there could never have been any kind of turbulence that would place rock units out of order. The sequence isn’t Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian in one place, and Cambrian-Devonian-Silurian-Ordovician in another place.
  4. The boulder and cobble-bearing layers (conglomerates) of the Tapeats and its equivalents tend to be near what seem to be islands that stuck up above the sea, and the size of the grains decreases with increasing distance from the source areas. The rock types of the grains matches that of the islands. These are, therefore, local features; not the result of a global flood. The conglomerate layers likely originated during storms. (Additionally, the conglomerate layers don’t always occur at the base of the Cambrian sandstones as Snelling states).
  5. Snelling really gives no evidence in his article that these various units were deposited rapidly over large areas. He gives a few examples of rapid deposition on a smaller scale, such as the preservation of supposed water-laid dunes in the Coconino Sandstone (which most geologists interpret as wind deposits, not water deposits), but provides no evidence that catastrophism is the dominant means of deposition of any of the rock units he describes. Local deposition may be catastrophic for a short period of time, as in storm conglomerates, but it is a wild extrapolation to say that the entire geologic column was deposited rapidly, and there is plenty of evidence that it wasn’t.

The standard geological explanation of the Cambrian sandstones is that the sand was first blown around on the barren continental surface. This lead to exceptional rounding of the grains, distinctive microscopic textures on the sand grains, and a winnowing of virtually all clay. Eventually the sand was blown into shallow seas that covered large portions of the continents. Here the sand was reworked by various currents, as indicated by ripple and dune features (sedimentary structures) preserved in the sandstone. Actual deposition did not occur over the entire continent at once, but shifted as sea levels rose throughout the time of deposition. This explanation works well, is consistent with a variety of field and experimental data, and doesn’t require that all post-Tapeats sediments already be in suspension while the Tapeats and its equivalents were being deposited.

Remember: the Bible doesn’t say that the sedimentary rock record was laid down by Noah’s Flood. Organizations like Answers in Genesis do a considerable amount of arm waving and wild extrapolation in order to make the rocks fit their model, but this is completely unnecessary.

Up next: Flood Evidence #4: Sand Transported Cross Country.

With love for the body of Christ.

Lake Powell images, 1999 to 2009

NASA’s Earth Observatory has a series of images from 1999 to 2009 showing fluctuating water levels in Lake Powell in southeastern Utah. Lake Powell is formed by Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona.

Credit:
Lake Powell 1999, Credit: NASA Landsat 5
Lake Powell 2008, Credit: NASA Landsat 5
Lake Powell 2008, Credit: NASA Landsat 5

Earth Observatory has a “play” link to watch the images in played in order.

From the description at the NASA Earth Observatory site:

The Colorado River flows from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado through the southwestern United States. Along its route, the river passes through an elaborate water-management system designed to tame the yearly floods from spring snowmelt and to provide a reliable supply of water for residents as far away as California. The system is both appreciated for the water it provides and criticized for the environmental and cultural losses it has created.

Among the dams on the Colorado is Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, which creates Lake Powell—a deep, narrow, meandering reservoir—upstream in southern Utah. In the early twenty-first century, this modern marvel of engineering faced an ancient enemy: severe, prolonged drought in the American Southwest. Combined with water withdrawals that many believe are not sustainable, the drought has taken its toll on the water level in Lake Powell over the past decade.

Grace and Peace

Switching religions

A significant number of people move from their childhood faith to another, as shown in this diagram from Eclectic Christian and Internet Monk:

religiousswitching2

Most who “change faiths” do so by age 23 or 24. After that people are mostly set in their ways.

Note that we Evangelicals lose about as many of our own children as we gain converts through evangelism. Something is seriously wrong here.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Eclectic Christian has a larger version of this diagram.

Francis Schaeffer — 25th anniversary of his death

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Christian author, philosopher, and pastor Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer is highly regarded in the Evangelical Christian world for his defense of the faith, his advocacy of pro-life political action, and leadership of the l’Abri community in Switzerland. Francis Schaeffer was also an advocate of environmental protection.

HT: World Magazine blog: Remembering Francis Schaeffer, by Scott Lamb

The following item was originally posted in January 2008. I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.

pollution.jpgI recently finished re-reading Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. If you read only one book on why Christians should care about nature, this is the book. It is short, and fairly easy reading (by Schaeffer standards). It is not a book about “50 ways to be green;” rather it lays the Biblical and philosophical foundations for taking care of the Earth. Even though it was written almost forty years ago, it is still relevant to the environmental issues we face. Unlike many conservative Evangelical leaders, Schaeffer was willing to admit that we face an ecological crisis.

The book has seven chapters:

  1. “What Have They Done to Our Fair Sister?”
  2. Pantheism: Man Is No More Than the Grass
  3. Other Inadequate Answers
  4. The Christian View: Creation
  5. A Substantial Healing
  6. The Christian View: The “Pilot Plant.”
  7. Concluding Chapter by Udo Middelmann

The book also has two essays as appendices. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White, Jr., and “Why Worry About Nature.” by Richard Means. These were two important essays of the late 1960s; the first was written to state the case that the environmental crisis is Christianity’s fault, and the second was written to present pantheism as the answer.

I gave a long quote a few weeks ago: “I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness.”

Here are some more quotes:

Near the end of his life, Darwin acknowledged several times in his writing that two things had become dull to him as he got older. The first was his joy in the arts and the second his joy in nature…. The distressing thing about this is that orthodox Christians often really have no better sense about these things than unbelievers.

Our agreement with Means [an advocate of pantheism as the solution to the ecologic crisis] at this point centers on the fact that the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too, a long, long time ago, before the counterculture ever came onto the scene.

Again, a pantheistic stand always brings man to an impersonal and low place rather than elevating him. This is an absolute rule…. Eventually nature does not become high, but man becomes low…. In the Eastern countries there is no real base for the dignity of man.

Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into a bog.

A poor Christianity is not the answer either.

Much orthodoxy, much evangelical Christianity, is rooted in a Platonic concept. In this kind of Christianity there is only interest in the “upper story,” in the heavenly things—only in “saving the soul” and getting it to Heaven…. There is little or no interest in the proper pleasure of the body or the proper uses of the intellect…. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself.

We should treat each thing with integrity because it is the way God has made it.

The man who believes things are there only by chance cannot give things a real intrinsic value. But for the Christian, there is an intrinsic value. The value of a thing is not in itself autonomously, but because God made it.

But we should be looking now, on the basis of the work of Christ, for substantial healing in every area affected by the Fall.

But Christians who believe the Bible are not simply called to say that “one day” there will be healing, but that by God’s grace, upon the basis of the work of Christ, substantial healing can be a reality here and now.

Here the church—the orthodox, Bible-believing church—has been really poor. What have we done to heal sociological divisions? Often our churches are a scandal; they are cruel not only to the man “outside,” but also to the man “inside.”

The same thing is true psychologically. We load people with psychological problems by telling them that “Christians don’t have breakdowns,” and that is a kind of murder.

On the other hand, what we should have, individually and corporately, is a situation where, on the basis of the work of Christ, Christianity is seen to be not just “pie in the sky,” but something that has in it the possibility of substantial healings now in every area where there are divisions because of the Fall. First of all, my division from God is healed by justification, but then there must be the “existential reality” of this moment by moment. Second, there is the psychological division of man from himself. Third, the sociological divisions of man from other men. And last, the division of man from nature, and nature from nature.

One of the first fruits of that healing is a new sense of beauty.

We are to have dominion over it [nature], but we are not going to use it as fallen man uses it.

Man is not to be sacrificed…. And yet nature is to be honored.

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers. We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.

Most Christians simply do not care about nature as such…. These are reasons why the church seems irrelevant and helpless in our generation. We are living in and practicing a sub-Christianity.

If we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished.

To just list quotes does not do justice to the stream of reason that Schaeffer develops in this book. If environmental issues are important to you, this is a must-read.

Grace and Peace