Stand Back! I Don't Know How Big It Gets!

How mind-numbingly daft does an idea have to be before it's rejected outright by everybody? This is a question that keeps me awake at night, and is threaded through these disparate writings as the glue that holds them all together.

We've encountered some pretty batshit insane ideas over the course of my musings on the nature of thought, but few plumb the chasm of stupidity as deeply as our topic for today: Expanding Earth.

I first encountered this notion back in 2010, on the then newly-formed Ratskep forum. A certain user, a fairly egregious troll going by the appellation Brain man, presented it as ostensibly some sort of psychological experiment in one of the most horribly incompetent bits of experimental design I've ever come across, and that includes the creationists pouring water into a hole in the mud in some palsied effort to support the Noachian fludd. I'll link to the forum thread at the bottom of the page. It was debunked in fairly short order, yet I note that the thread is still going strong six years and five hundred-odd pages later.

The thread began with this video by cartoonist Neal Adams from 2000:

On the face of it, one might think this looks quite compelling, and that's not surprising, since the creator of this animation really wants to convince you that this 'theory' has merit. Unfortunately, it runs hard up against some deep empirical issues, issues that the proponents of EE models are generally keen to sweep under the carpet. 

It's important to note before we begin in earnest that there are several flavours of expansion, and which particular problems are encountered depends largely on which of these flavours the proponent is defending. We should also be aware that which model the proponent is defending often depends on what objections are levelled at the ideas, and that they can often switch between models whenever it seems convenient in order to distance themselves from said objections. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't also point out that the Earth is expanding, by virtue of a net energy gain due to in-falling matter and energy, but that this expansion is orders of magnitude below what any of the EE models require, and nothing like commensurate with the separation of the continents, meaning that expansion alone is insufficient to account for that separation.

In a previous post, DJ, Spin That Shit! we looked at the history of evidence that the planet we inhabit is an oblate spheroid. Among the pieces of evidence that we examined was the measurement of the Earth's circumference by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, and how he derived his figure of approximately 26,000 miles. Today, we've got a pretty robust figure of 24,901 miles at the equator. As we noted, there's a degree of uncertainty in Eratosthenes' measurement, not least because it was expressed in an archaic unit (stadia) that was far from standardised. He also assumed a perfect sphere, while we now know that the planet is oblate due to opposition of forces. This latter will become important for us before we're done, because there's an empirical law that underpins a huge amount of modern physics, and it's expressed neatly in the oblateness of the Earth.

In general, the idea of an expanding Earth has been with us for quite a while. What may come as a surprise to some is that one of the earliest advocates of an expanding Earth was Charles Darwin. Darwin, during the famed second Beagle voyage, was in Patagonia investigating stepped plains, which he hypothesised had been lifted up during a series of concentric elevations, suggesting expansion from a central point. He later revised his hypothesis, suggesting that the sea floor dropped while the plains were elevated.

In The Idiot's Guide to Relativity, we touched on the concept of translational symmetry, and in particular that Noether's theorem demonstrated that the translational symmetries discussed there were expressions of laws of conservation. It's worth looking a little more closely at Noether's theorem here, because it has consequences for all flavours of expanding Earth.

First, we should look at symmetry, because the common notion of symmetry, while a case of symmetry in the sense that we're discussing, doesn't reflect all symmetries as used in physics.

A symmetry in physics is any feature of a system that remains unchanged under a transformation. A transformation is basically a change in the conditions of the system in some respect. We might change the direction we're facing, or the location, for example, and there will be features that remain unchanged. Such features might be specific quantities, or the ratios between specific quantities. We'll look again briefly at those examples to make things clearer.

It's worth a small aside here to note an interesting point.

A while ago, I started a post about the unsung heroes of science. I talked to a lot of friends and acquaintances in the scientific community, as well as asking for a broader list of candidates of scientists I might not be aware of. I already had Emmy Noether as one of the inspirations for that post, but it's noteworthy that her name was touted by almost everybody, especially the physicists, including well-known names, such as Lawrence Krauss. In the event, just in researching Emmy Noether for the purpose of that post, I realised that there's an entire book to be had. Watch this space.

In the broadest terms, Noether's first theorem tells us that each differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system, where the action is the integral over time from which the behaviour of the system can be calculated from the principle of least action, corresponds to some conservation law.

In our earlier outing, we talked about rotational symmetry, and how Noether's theorem applies, showing that it corresponds to conservation of angular momentum. If I conduct an experiment facing West, it should yield the same result as an identical experiment conducted facing East, or indeed any other direction. We also looked at how conducting the same experiment in different locations should yield the same results, and how this corresponds to conservation of momentum. There are many such symmetries, and Noether showed that all of them correspond to some law of conservation.

As another brief aside, there's a common misconception that, if the constants of the universe were even slightly different, life would not be possible. I won't belabour this point here, as fine-tuning is to be comprehensively addressed in a future post, but Noether's theorem, properly applied, tells us that this is simply false, because it isn't the constants themselves that are important, it's the ratios between them. For instance, the masses of particles can be changed radically but, if the gravitational constant is altered commensurately, the relationships remain unchanged. This is setting aside the theoretical prediction that one of the fundamental forces of the universe could be removed in toto, and it would result in life arising with even greater probability.

So, let's look at the different flavours of EE:

Here's our first flavour, and we'll call it the 'constant mass' hypothesis. In this model, the Earth expands without acquiring any new mass. This presents several problems that should be reasonably obvious to anybody with any competence in physics, or who's been following this blog from the outset. Even for those joining the show already in progress, the foregoing discussion should provide some pause. Here's a critical equation, one of the most easily recognisable in physics.

\[ F=G \dfrac {m_1 m_2} {r^2} \]

This is Newton's famous equation detailing the inverse-square law for gravity. It's known to be inaccurate, but it serves well enough for our purpose here. F is force, G is Newton's gravitational constant, m1 and m2 are our two masses, and r2 is the square of the radius between their centres. What it tells us is that, as the distance between two centres of mass increases, gravity falls off as the square of the distance. In other words, if you double the distance, the gravitational attraction is one quarter. If you triple the distance, the attraction is one ninth.

This has some obvious consequences. The first is that we should expect to see that surface gravity on Earth was considerably stronger in the past. Let's pick a couple of snapshots from Adams' video above and try to work out what that might mean. Look at the point in the video at seventy million years ago, and let's put it alongside a snapshot from today.
Now, even allowing for the fact that I may have been less than entirely precise in my snipping of these captures (although you can see by the size of the text at the top that I can't be a million miles away), this is a significant difference in size. It's almost, but not quite, double the size today that it was 70 million years ago on Adams' view. This means that the gravity at Earth's surface would have been almost four times what it is today. This should have observable consequences.

One simple and obvious consequence is that the organisms of the time would have left much deeper trackways. There's an entire field of study on this topic, known as ichnology, and there are examples of dinosaur trackways all over the world. What do we find? Yep, they're exactly commensurate with gravity at the surface remaining unchanged, and this goes back considerably further than a mere seventy million years. Here's a particularly nice example from Cal Orcko in Bolivia of a baby T. rex flanked by two adults*.
Look for contributions in the Ratskep thread by palaeontologist and former museum director Theropod.

Of course, higher gravity would have other consequences for organisms of any time. Most notably, even single-celled organisms are directly affected in size by the strength of the gravitational field they inhabit, with a direct inverse proportionality to their size. We have examples of microfossils going back three and a half billion years, and all consistent with no change in the strength of gravity.

In larger organisms, the effects are even more pronounced, affecting circulation, internal fluid dynamics and musculoskeletal development. In fact, if gravity were even a fraction of the strength implied by a constant-mass expansion model, organisms the size of humans would have been a stretch, let alone 30 metre sauropods weighing in at 60-100 metric tons.

So what about other consequences? An excellent example is lunar recession. It's well-established that the moon is tidally locked to the Earth. It's the reason that we always see the same side of the moon. This tidal locking manifests in a really interesting way. Firstly, it's responsible for the two marine tides per day that we encounter here on Earth. Here's what it looks like:
This is obviously quite exaggerated, but it highlights the principle quite nicely. Despite the fact that Bull O'Really thinks this is something we can't explain, we have an extremely coherent model of tidal forces. As you can see, the moon is gravitationally tugging on the oceans. That's why there's always a high tide on the side of the planet facing the moon. It leads the moon by approximately ten degrees. There's also a high tide on the opposite side of the planet, because the moon is also pulling on the planet, and tugging it away from the water on the opposite side, which is why you end up with that cigar-like shape.

One of the consequences of these tides is that, because the water is exerting drag on the rotation of Earth, the period of rotation is slowing over time. This has been empirically demonstrated over many millions of years via studies of strata of sedimentary rock laid down with a diurnal periodicity known as tidal rhythmites, as well as by observations of fossil stromatolites. There' a wonderful paper drawing all this evidence together by George E. Williams, which I'll link at the bottom.

This brings us nicely back to the wonderful Ms Noether, because the Earth's rotation is a manifestation of angular momentum. Angular momentum is a quantity that is conserved, which means that the angular momentum has to go somewhere. It can't simply dissipate. So where does it go? It gets transferred to the moon! The net effect of this conservation is that the moon's orbit recedes over time, so that the angular momentum in the Earth-moon system remains constant. Thus, symmetry is maintained, and all is well.

Now, look again at Newton's equation above, and put this all together, and we can see that there's a deep problem here, namely that, if Earth is expanding, then rotational velocity should be slowing purely as a result of the expansion in order to conserve angular momentum, meaning that tidal transfer would be reduced, resulting in a lower rate of lunar recession. All our observations are entirely consistent with the strength of gravity on Earth having remained constant.

So do other models fare any better? How about if we let the mass grow?

Afraid not. Many of the reasons are similar to those detailed above. First, of course, we'd still be dealing with significant changes in the strength of gravity, although this time it would be in the opposite direction. Dinosaurs would leave shallower tracks, tidal effects would be reduced, which in turn would reduce the past effects on Earth's rotational period and the moon's recessional velocity, tidal rhythmites and stromatolites would be affected.

And all of that is, of course, setting aside that there's no discernible mechanism for the addition of this mass. One tweep last night suggested a white hole inside the planet. This suggestion smacks of desperation, not least because a) a white hole is a purely theoretical construct - basically the opposite of a black hole, that spews matter out rather than sucking it in - with no observational evidence and b) that such an entity, were it to exist inside our planet, would have significant and measurable consequences, not least of which would be wild fluctuations in the mass of the planet. This is complete nonsense, regardless of the existence status of white holes.

The same user also suggested a white dwarf inside the planet, but this is even more silly. A white dwarf wouldn't provide any additional mass than it started with. A white dwarf is simply a low-mass star that has run out of all fuel, and is composed mostly of electron degenerate matter. All white dwarfs are formed from stars with mass lower than the Chandrasekhar limit of approximately 1.4 solar masses. Although they have low mass, because of electron degeneracy, these stars are held up against gravity only by the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which we discussed in Give Us A Wave! This means that they're extremely dense (the only things we know of that are denser are neutron stars and black holes, although there are postulated to be quark stars, which would be intermediate between the two). For example, a white dwarf with the mass of the sun would be approximately the same size as Earth. Ultimately, the mass of the Earth is known, and it's nothing like sufficient to have a white dwarf in its interior. It is, however, entirely consistent with a core of molten iron, which also explains the planet's magnetosphere.

 @hackenslash1 I have made a video about. I researched it for 3 years and concluded EE is a fact.
I put it to this researcher that he really needs to research some physics, because there are major issues here.

There's one more model, namely one suggesting that the gravitational constant - the G in Newton's equation - has changed over time. This idea fails for all the same reasons as above, as well as having other major observable effects on the history of the universe, most notably in the formation of stars and galaxies. Observations of galaxies and stars going almost all the way back to the last scattering surface show that gravitationally-bound objects have behaved in exactly the way that our models predict for the entire history of the universe, let alone the time that the EE models cover.

Another interesting discovery that isn't explained by any of the EE models, probably because the 'researchers' haven't even considered it, is Neil Shubin et al's discovery of Tiktaalik roseae on the Southern end of Ellesmere Island in the Arctic. This discovery detailed in Shubin's magnificent Your Inner Fish, required a prediction that is entirely incompatible with any of the expanding Earth models, and is only explained by modern plate tectonics. Now, you might think that this discovery has nothing to do with any of this, except when you note one thing:

The prediction leading to the location of this discovery was entirely rooted in modern plate tectonics. Ellesmere Island, in the deep past, was actually in equatorial regions. On an EE model, it could only have been in polar regions.

Another notable consequence of expansion would be obvious buckling, and this would definitely be observable. In DJ! Spin That Shit! we looked at the consequences of having a plane of a fixed size on different spherical surfaces. If Africa, for example, originated on a much smaller sphere, there would be measurable buckling as a consequence of the flattening of Africa to inhabit a larger sphere. This is not conclusive, not least because, as hard as we thin k rocks are, they're actually quite plastic under pressure. However, this is still a line of evidence that would indicate expansion.

One last thing before my final comments, namely that we've been monitoring the planet for several decades by various means, including by satellites. Indeed, our GPS system relies on the size of the planet being roughly constant, because the relativistic correction for rate of orbital motion and differential gravity is reliant on it. This correction is to the tune of 38 microseconds per day. Now, this doesn't sound like a whole lot but without it, as discussed in the previously-linked post on relativity, GPS systems would drift by about 10 kilometres per day. Even very small changes in the size of the planet would have noticeable effects in fairly short order. Aside from that, we have geomonitoring satellites whose job is to record everything from fluctuations in climate and temperature to the advance and retreat of glaciers. To within very small margins of error, no expansion is observed, and these margins of error are again orders of magnitude below what would be expected from any of the above models.

In short, there are plenty of good reasons to suppose that ALL expanding Earth models are complete nonsense. What they most definitely all are is pseudoscience. In Onus Probandi, Assertionism and Peer-Review, we talked about how science is conducted. One of the key elements in the conduct of good science is that we work as hard as we can to show that our ideas are false. If that's not what you're doing, then not only are you setting yourself up for a fall, what you're doing is really not science. I've yet to encounter an EE proponent who wasn't working extremely hard to show that his ideas were correct. This is exactly the sort of behaviour we see from Intelligent Design advocates, alien visitation/UFO advocates, and science-deniers of all stripe. 

There's a famous saying in physics circles: If you're going to be against Emmy Noether, you'd better be prepared to lose your shirt. There is no model for expansion that doesn't fall afoul of Noether's first theorem. This is complete drivel, and not to be entertained by a thinking person. 

Nits, crits and comments welcome as always.

*Tyrannosaur remains haven't been found outside Western North America (Laramidia). The information concerning the nature of these trackways accompanied the image at the source, the Smithsonian magazine's website. Trace fossils such as trackways utilise a different classification system than skeletal fossils, and the latter would be required to confirm the presence of T rex outside Laramidia.Even were these found, such trace fossils would be unlikely to be attributed to the T rex without direct robust evidence. It's entirely probable that these were made by another theropod entirely. Thanks very much to He_Who_Is_Nobody for the heads-up and to Theropod for the additional clarification.

Ratskep original thread
Geological constraints on the Precambrian history of Earth's rotation and the Moon's orbit - Williams - 2000

The Unbearable Shiteness of Beings... Redux.

People can be such shits.
Occasionally, I'll come across something that makes me feel like perhaps we might be OK after all, in spite of all the reasons I find to rant about how crappy we can be toward each other.

Yesterday, I came across just such a thing, a video on Twitter. It was a short film of singer Lily Allen visiting 'The Jungle', a refugee camp in Calais, France, where there are over a thousand unaccompanied and disenfranchised children and young people living in squalour.
My encounter with it was triggered by a retweet, by whom, I don't recall. The tweet immediately below it was this one:
 So, there's a beautiful logical fallacy in there, and you all know how I react to those:

This comes up all too often, and the issue with it is so clear that it boggles the mind that people can be so blind to it. There's absolutely no connection between the two, and the idea that drawing attention to one thing that you feel strongly about means that you don't care about other things is asinine. One might as well argue that, because oncologists focus on cancer, they don't care about tuberculosis. This is such an egregious failure of thought that it makes me despair at the intellectual turpitude of our species.

But wait, it gets worse. I'm not going to detail all the flak that Lily took for making this film, but I want to detail a few highlights.

Next up was a user @0KINDALUST0, whose account seems to have since been deleted. This user passed some comment to the effect that these children should be sent home to Syria, where they had homes, and going on to suggest that this wasn't the UK's problem, but was the purview of the EU. Others had already addressed the former assertion with photographs showing the state of the alleged homes in Syria, which had been mostly reduced to piles of rubble. I went after the latter suggestion:

Then I came across a tweet by failed politician and professional bigot David Vance:
Lovely bit of ad hominem, and entirely content-free.

Finally, this wonderful bit of tripe from possibly the most toxic and despicable person in popular British culture:
Setting aside the deep irony of being called a cretin by this moron, the assertion seems to be deeply counterfactual, as attested by the people of Britain being among the most giving anywhere. I could cite any of a vast number of examples in which 'this great country' - made considerably less great by this anencephalic turd's presence in it - pulled together to aid those in need. Band Aid, Live Aid, Children in Need, charitable giving in the aftermath of natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami, two earthquakes in Haiti, aid workers risking and giving their lives all over the world, etc. 

Here's the thing: As I said to the user formerly known as 0KINDALUST0, it's easy to sit in your armchair and criticise people for their efforts in trying to reduce the suffering of others. Far, far easier than actually getting off your privileged arse and doing something useful. Lily, in bringing the plight of children and young people in a dangerous situation to light, and using her public profile as a force for good, is doing something genuinely helpful that impacts the world for the better, and makes it a better place for all of us.

This isn't a responsibility we can simply paint pink and erect an SEP field around, it's something that we, as entities having empathy, and as members of a social species whose survival and well-being is predicated on working together, are ALL responsible for. 

The idea that we can, for whatever reason, denigrate the efforts of another to make the world a better place for our species by attempting to help vulnerable children and young people in a dangerous situation, especially by appealing to such fallacies as appeal to motive, poisoning the well, false equivalence, etc, tells me that our moral progress still has a long, long way to go.

When people want to assert that Lily has no place apologising on behalf of the nation that had a hand in engineering this situation, I say only that they also have no place speaking on my behalf. Lily is speaking for enough of us, those that actually have some basic human decency and empathy for the plight of children, that your toxic interjections are not only unsought, but unwelcome.

Working for the improvement of our society and the world at large is something that should be encouraged. If you can't do that, and only have asinine interjections that display your fuckwitted, neanderthal natures, then Lily and I have a message for you:

Now go crawl back under your fucking rocks and get on with doing something useful like licking your testacles. Yes, Katie, I'm talking about you.

Fucking cunts.


All Kinds of Everything.

Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Here, I want to look at a logical quagmire that crops up in apologetics with alarming frequency; the omnis.

Omni is a Latin prefix meaning quite simply 'all'. Traditionally, we think of the three classic examples from theology; Omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. There are others, but let's start with them.

Omniscience, rendered into everyday language, is 'all knowledge'. Generally, discussions about omniscience revolve around logical issues in conjunction with free will, and I do want to address that, but first I want to look at problems with the concept of omniscience in isolation, because it's highly problematic in and of itself.

In previous outings, we've looked a bit at knowledge and its limitations. In Who, What, When, Where, How, Why? we spent some time on what it means to know something, how knowledge is defined, and where we have to draw the line and say 'we can't know that'. I talked specifically about why I shy away from absolute or ontological statements. To summarise what I said there, because we're limited to what we can observe, and because there's no observation we can make, even in principle, that can tell us that what we observe is, in a fully ontological sense, real, we have to stop short of this kind of absolute statement and admit that there's a limit to what we can know. The philosophical literature -as well as science fiction - is riddled with models that are equally adept in terms of explaining what we observe without it being real. The Matrix, brain-in-a-vat, solipsism, idealism, all are empirically equivalent.

Much like the uncertainty principle which we've discussed in previous posts, although for different reasons, there are absolute limitations to what we can know. And these limitations can't be breached by any cunning in our observations, either, they're absolute logical barriers to knowledge.

What we didn't discuss in that earlier article is that this isn't simply a limitation that applies to humans. It isn't a limitation of science any more or less than it's a limitation to epistemology. As such, this limitation applies to everything. It's quite literally an omni-limitation, and it applies equally to any entity that could reasonably be described as a deity. Thus, a deity could only ever have the illusion of omniscience. 

'OK', you might say, 'but what if we limit omniscience to what is logically possible?'

This is a reasonable objection, but it isn't without problems when coupled with other assertions from the same classical theology, and it's time to address those. We're going to come back to omniscience later, but I want to move on to the next item in our shopping list; omnipotence.

Omnipotence translates into the vernacular as 'all power'. There's a classic argument against this in the form of a question, namely 'can your god create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?' This question has been thrown around a fair bit over many hundreds of years, and there seem to be quite a few possible get-outs. I prefer to cast the question slightly differently as 'can god construct a pile of bricks so heavy that he can't lift it?'

On the face of it, this looks like exactly the same argument, but cast like this it's easy to highlight  a problem with the main get out, the assertion that the proposition is inherently incoherent. By casting it in this manner, what we're actually doing is bringing this power into the realm of what can be achieved by an ordinary person. I can do this. Indeed, it used to be about 12 or 14 bricks (or slightly more or fewer depending on the type of brick), but is now considerably fewer since injuring my lower spine a few years ago.

The point is that I can carry out this act, whereas I can't build a rock. This becomes important, because it's perfectly reasonable to say that god can't do something illogical, but it's quite another to suggest that an entity that has 'all power' can't do something that a mere mortal can do. This is a perfectly coherent, logical 'power' that an omnipotent entity simply cannot do. If it can construct a pile of bricks it can't lift, then there's a limit to what it can lift, and it therefore cannot be omnipotent. If it can't construct such a pile, then it fails to possess a power that even I possess, meaning that there are abilities that it cannot possess. To be clear, there's nothing illogical about the act, it only becomes absurd when you bring omnipotence into the mix, meaning that it's omnipotence that's absurd.

I've heard many attempts to circumvent this, but they all fail for pretty much the same reason. If anybody knows of a good counter to this, feel free to post it in the comments and I'll either address it or concede the argument.

The most common attempted counter is that god can choose not to be able to lift it. That's all well and good but, if he can choose to lift it again later, then he was never without the ability to lift it. If he chooses to no longer have the ability to lift it at all, he's excluded a power and therefore is not omnipotent.

As far as I'm aware, there is no sound rebuttal to this.

I'm going to say very little about omnipresence except to note that I have no problem at all with something being in more than one place at a time. Indeed, I've talked in previous posts about quantum mechanics, and especially the principle that entities can have more than one location, and that this precise principle is what underpins both fusion in stars and the operation of the microchips in the computer I'm employing to deliver my various musings about thought. There are even well-regarded models in which all the electrons in the universe are actually the same electron! This means that, on its own, something being in multiple locations is not an attribute that points to divinity. 

There's one more omni that we should talk about, because it's another one that gets tossed around a fair bit; omnibenevolence. This is simply the idea that god is 'all good'.

Now, a simple reading of any of the major holy texts of monotheism will rapidly disabuse you of the notion that the entity described in them is in any way good. The deity described in the Torah is a ruthless imperialist, and has no compunction in annihilating entire races and taking their possessions (and their virgin daughters - for what, we can easily guess - once everybody else has been slaughtered) when it suited his needs. The deity of the Qu'ran and the Bible are largely the same book, with some additions that don't much improve things. Certainly the god of the New Testament seems, on a cursory reading, to be a little more likeable, except that, among other things, we've now been introduced to the lake of fire, a metaphor for infinite torture for finite crimes. Indeed, since the only truly unforgivable crime is failure to give obeisance to the god in question, and all other sins, no matter how heinous, will be forgiven on accepting salvation, it's not stretching things too much to say that the goodness quotient has actually reduced.

Another thing that strikes you about the NT is the very central tenet of Christianity. It's often painted as the biggest selling point but, in reality, it's a truly repugnant concept to a thinking moral agent, that of vicarious redemption.

This was one of those things that always niggled at me like a splinter. I could never quite work out why this was supposed to be a good thing. It seems to me to be among the most deeply immoral ideas ever invented by the mind of man.

Here's the thing: I alone must bear the burden - whatever that might be - for the things I've said and done. The idea that I could simply divest myself of this responsibility is anathema to me, as it should be to any entity with any moral rectitude. This, completely aside from the accompanying suggestions that a) this occurs with absolutely no input from me concerning my desires in this regard and b) that the process for this has precisely nothing to do with my contributions to society and the well-being of humanity, relies only on believing in an entity that, should it actually be worthy of the appellation 'deity', should have neither want nor need of my belief or, indeed, my worship.

There's a common name for this idea, stemming from the roots of a particular practice in the ancient world. It's interesting to me that, when this moniker is employed, nobody would suggest that it's a good thing and, in fact, the word has entered the language as something quite wrong yet, when attached to this particular notion, it's delivered up as the greatest moral virtue. The name in question is, of course, 'scapegoating'. That this ideas is propounded by the purported moral arbiters of our species not only constitutes a fatal oxymoron, it tells us that it doesn't come from any divine source, but from the minds of frightened, fallible humans.

And, of course, all that is setting aside the fact that, to my mind, the idea of eternal life is excruciating, even without the eternal worship of an entity whose biography suggests is unfit to lick the boots of real moral beings.

So, aside from omnipresence, which I have no issue with, it's fairly simple to show that these omnis fail on their own terms. However, we're not done, because some really interesting things happen when you bring them together with each other and with other concepts.

I'll start here with the simplest example to ease us into the thought-space. The simplest example arises when we bring the three objectionable omnis together all at once, and it comes to us in the form of an obvious incongruence with observation, and the classic 'problem of evil'.

Now, I have issues with the concept of evil. It carries with it an awful lot of baggage and, being largely defined as violation of God's wishes is ultimately predicated on the existence of god. In Morality and the False Dichotomy, I talked at length about the perils of moral absolutes, and how they're not really morality.

That said, I'll use the term evil here as essentially 'unnecessary harm', as long as the caveat is borne in mind.

Observation tells us that evil exists as defined above. In this context, there can be no entity that has all three of those omnis and for evil to still exist. If an entity knows all about evil, has the power to stop it, and doesn't, it isn't benevolent, let alone omnibenevolent. If it's omnibenevolent and omniscient and doesn't, it can't, thus it isn't omnipotent. If it's omnipotent and omnibenevolent and doesn't, it's ignorant. This exhausts the possibilities, and shows that no entity with all three attributes can co-exist with evil.

The general attempt to escape from this is to invoke free will, but that idea is so riddled with problems that it's only the absurdities holding it together. I'm going to finish this outing with two of them.

The first is obvious, namely that a multi-omni deity would have known how things were going to turn out and could have created the universe without evil.

The second is a little more tricky, and requires some unpacking. This little chestnut has troubled apologists for generations; the compatibility of omniscience and free will. It's actually quite simple, but contains subtleties that can be tricky to grasp. It has even led to an entire area of thinkers, compatibilitists, and has garnered swathes of discourse, much of it nonsense.

The basic idea is straightforward. The sceptic will argue that omniscience and free will are not compatible, because omniscience entails determinism.

On the face of it, this looks unobjectionable, yet the cognitive pretzels erected to try to rescue free will and omniscience wouldn't look out of place on the ox-cart of Gordias.

Some apologists who've had a few minutes education in philosophy will assert that the incompatibilist is committing a modal fallacy. This is a fallacy that is committed when a false causal relationship is drawn between one thing and another, and the implication in this case is that God's perfect foreknowledge cannot be causal to the collapse of free will. This objection actually commits the fallacist's fallacy, in rejecting the conclusion on the basis of a perceived fallacy. The incompatibilist doesn't assert that the infallible foreknowledge is causal, merely that free will is not compatible with it.

Less sophisticated apologists will erect all sorts of examples, such as 'I offer you a mars and a snickers. I know that you will choose the snickers, and you choose the snickers; does my foreknowledge mean that you had no choice?' The answer to this is that, were such a choice to exist, the apologist could be wrong. With a properly omniscient entity, this would not be possible. If such an entity knew what I would choose, then there is no possible way I can choose contrary to his knowledge, and choice becomes an illusion. In other words, perfect, infallible foreknowledge means that the offer is more like 'I have a snickers in my hand; which will you choose?' There is no choice, because there aren't freely realisable alternatives.

Other attempts to rescue c.all upon such things as apologetic re-workings of such things are Everett's Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and suggest that God's knowledge is essentially the position that God knows all possible outcomes. This fails for precisely the same reason. If God knows which of the universes I inhabit, then there is no way that, in this universe, I could choose other than what he knows. In other universes, I might choose differently, but he knows that as well for all possible universes, or he isn't omniscient.

As it happens, there's extremely good evidence that free will is an illusion that doesn't have anything to do with omniscience. In recent years, there has been a lot of study in cognitive science dealing with the decisions we make, most notably that led by Daniel Kahneman. An entire field of study has arisen from it known as 'priming'. This research has shown that we respond differently to strangers on first meeting based on nothing more than a warm or cold drink being placed in our hands some moments before. It turns out that there are many, many constraints on our decision-making process, and influences we simply aren't aware of (and we've identified very few, but there are thought to be many). In light of this, free will must definitely be illusory. The question becomes, then, whether or not we have any will at all, free or otherwise. Even this is defeated in the case of omniscience.

So, do we have will? That's unknown, but problematic. Is the universe deterministic? Definitely not, as we discussed in treating the EPR paradox and Bell's Inequality violations in Paradox: A Game for all the Family! but this doesn't necessarily open the door to free will. Free will (or will) is predicated on determinism being false, but to assert that determinism being false means that free will is true commits the fallacy known as denying the antecedent. This takes the form:
P => ¬Q, ¬P
Where P is determinism and Q is free will.

"Of course we have free will; we have no choice" Christopher Hitchens

When Snacks Attack... Bigly!

The world holds its breath, the yawning chasm of oblivion open before it, quivering lips drawn back from its gaping maw in anticipation of its first succulent taste of the elixir of premium human stupidity in a few generations. For the vast majority of our species, all we can do is sit and watch, impotent, as the howling masses stage a re-enactment of a history forgotten and the impending doom of repetition.

I actually began this post some weeks ago, after the first presidential debate, but merely opened it up with the title and then closed it while I had a thunk, mulling over what I wanted to say. My goal was to try to channel the voice that's been most missed during the course of this campaign season, his acerbic wit and incisive mind having been lost to us almost five years ago, and this was intended to be a tribute to him and an attempt, however palsied, to say some of things I feel he would have said, albeit with nowhere near the eloquence.

I'm talking, of course, about Christopher Hitchens, one of the great writers and thinkers of our age. Described by one of his colleagues* as:
'the greatest writer of our time, who could talk off the top of his head better than most of his colleagues can write'
It isn't difficult to envision how he would have appeared - in his customary dishevelled elegance - on the news channels. Our palpable glee as we lapped up his carefully-crafted epithets, or the force with which he shredded shoddy thinking and unconscionable policy.

That was what I intended. Still unsure about how to proceed, events have overtaken me, and precipitated this outing as it now stands, because I simply can't remain quiet any longer, even if I wanted to. The news the last couple of weeks since that debate has been disturbing, but not nearly the most disturbing thing about it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

As I said in my possibly too-flowery opening, most of us are mere passengers in this process. I choose that term advisedly because, while those of us outside the US have no real voice beyond the little influence we can exert from a distance via our words and pleas, the simple fact is that the train is rushing headlong toward whatever destination and we're all along for the ride. It seems not to occur to a lot of Americans that the outcome of this election affects us all, even those of us sitting too far away to reach the emergency brake.

There's been a sea change in world politics in the last couple of decades. The United States, once extremely insular, has finally begun to look outward, but is still largely unaware of how its policies are felt around the world. Great Britain, even while entirely aware of its influence on the wider world, has done exactly the opposite and turned inward, even to the point of vilifying 'outsiders' whose contribution to the well-being of our society over the past few decades has been easily measurable. Riding on the lies and impossible promises of a buffoon and a smarmy liar, our nation has determined to sever its ties to Europe in the most self-immolating manner imaginable, swapping one un-elected body for another, and heralding the return of a brand of conservatism that I'd thought we'd left behind after the decimation of the country's economy by the Grantham witch.

If you'd asked me in May whether I thought there was really any chance of a playboy moron with no business acumen, no social grace or skill, no observable functional neurons and no discernible connection to reality, being in the running for the most powerful job in the world, I'd have laughed at you. Yes, Sarah Palin got closer than we'd have liked, despite the fact that she'd have impressed most of us if she could tie her shoelaces without assistance. Yes, Michelle Bachman got closer than we'd have liked, despite inhabiting an intellectual stratum to which the appellation 'intellectual' doesn't really apply - I mean, seriously; she made Palin look like a genius. But Donald Trump? Do me a lemon! You can't be serious, right? Right?!!

Then the unthinkable happened. By the narrowest of margins, the British people spoke, and voted to leave the EU. I'm not going to rehash Brexit here, other than to say that I thought it unlikely and that I think it's a classic own-goal on the part of the British people. The point here is that it happened and, of course, some of what's come after is an indicator of the flavour of things to come, and now I'm not as sure in my conviction that the general populace of the planet isn't as dumb as a bag of hammers.

I've said before that I'm Irish. It seems a bit of an odd thing to interject with here, but there is a reason. I was born in England to Irish parents. Many would say that that means that I must be English, and that I'm wrong to describe myself as Irish. I grew up mostly here in Manchester in the '70s, a bitter time in some respects, as my developing experience was massively coloured by a political situation I had no voice in and no influence over. I suffered abuse at the hands of peers and superiors growing up, ultimately leaving school at the age of 12 with no academic achievements under my belt, despite being a very good student, and obtaining a scholarship to a brilliant school. I loved school, and I was on a sound academic trajectory, all but guaranteed entry into one of the world's premier music institutions for my further education. Ultimately, the abuse became too much, and I bowed out of academic life. Not without problems, of course. I became firm friends with several education welfare professionals (truant officers), but ducked and dived until I reached school-leaving age. All of this for no other reason than that I have an Irish name.

I've had some clear advantages in that time, of course, over those of other ethnicities. All other considerations aside, I don't and didn't look any different from my peers. My accent was the same as my peers (mostly; I had quite a few different accents as a child, from living in other countries and other cities growing up). In fact, you had to know my name to draw any Irish connection. I grew up hating my name, which is a strange thing to admit.

When I started working as an entertainer, I took a stage name. Not for the usual reasons of evading tax, etc (I was too young to pay income tax at the time), but simply because I hated the name and thought it would put me at a disadvantage. I was well into my twenties before I accepted my name. Interestingly, the thing that triggered the change was my taking the time to find out what my name actually meant. I discovered that it was an Anglicisation of a Gaelic name meaning 'sea warrior'. I'm happy to report that I don't suffer these slings and arrows any more, nor have I for a very long time. Of course, this is in part due to the fact that I'm nothing like the easy target I was in my callow youth, but also because, I thought, attitudes have changed.

The point to this digression is that, during my childhood, I developed a keen sense of some things that those not subject to them might not even recognise for what they are. There's a term that's taken on a new usage in recent years that deals with it; privilege. 

It's very easy for somebody not on the receiving end of discriminatory behaviour to entirely fail to recognise that it's even there. The outrage, for example, at the Black Lives Matter campaign, and especially the All Lives Matter hashtag, as well as other outpourings of public indignation from those areas of society for whom the question of whether their lives matter simply isn't one they ever had to think about, such as those directed at the LGBTQ community. What I'm struggling to articulate here is that this indignation isn't just misplaced, it's highly irresponsible, and only serves to promulgate the attitudes that the BLM and LGBTQ contingents are attempting to address. Such issues have never been addressed by remaining quiet, and the indignation precisely mirrors the indignation levelled at uppity nigger Rosa Parkes not relinquishing a seat on a bus.

Since the Brexit vote, there's been a rise in the sort of behaviour that I haven't seen this openly since my youth. I was about to say that it's redolent of the National Front, which hasn't openly been seen in decades, and then I remembered this, from the day after the vote:
You'll note the NF logo in the top right corner. I'd thought that this organisation was dead yonks ago, but apparently these fuckwits have just been in hiding, only emerging again once the racist morons EDF and their political arm, the moronic, toxic UKIP, major architects of our DIY rhinectomy, found a voice.

This problem has never really gone away in the US. In the less liberal or progressive areas, such as the Midwest, I know racism is still rife. I lived in Iowa for a time as a child, and my sister's recently been back, and tells me that she couldn't quite cope with the degree of quiet bigotry that, she says, seems commonplace.

Since the presidential debate, the aforementioned Cheeto-in-chief has gone into full meltdown, starting with a Twitter-storm about a former Miss Universe and some of the horrendously misogynistic things he said about her, and advising his supporters to check out her (non-existent) sex tape. 

Of course, it's no surprise to anybody that he harbours these attitudes. It's crystal clear from his behaviour the disdain he holds for any group he feels is beneath him, not least in his uncouth interruptions of Hillary Clinton during the debate itself. When we engage in a little fact-checking, we find that every single instance of him denying having said something was a lie, as the evidence presented afterwards shows all too clearly, in the form of captions from his Twitter account of him saying exactly those things, or in the form of videos and audio clips.

Then this:
Since this video has come to light, The Dumbald has delivered a platitudinous apology:
It's worth noting that less than two-thirds of that video deals with his non-apology, the rest being given over to attacking Clinton. He also says that his comments in that video don't reflect him, yet earlier releases indicate a long-standing pattern of behaviour of that nature that runs to far more recent times. Here's a clip from Rachel Maddow:

Further, while his video release correctly states that the first video is over ten years old, and while some have dismissed his comments as youthful foolishness, he was 59 years old at the time of that recording. Moreover, it's important to pay attention to somebody who knows about such behaviour and whether it's really indicative of the type of person somebody is:
See, he sounds like he knows what he's talking about...

It's also worth noting that his comments reflect reported behaviours from other sources, notably a business partner who alleges that, in 1992, Trump did exactly what he admits to in this video.

There's something in the way that this is being reported in the popular press that's a little disconcerting. It's being reported as 'making lewd remarks'. Let's not be afraid to say what it is: A straight-up admission of sexual assault. 

Setting aside all of this, Trump stands accused of several counts of rape and attempted rape, at least one of which was with a 13 year-old girl in the company of a known paedophile and registered sex offender.

Now, let me be clear, I'm no fan of Hillary Clinton. I don't think she's anything like the best candidate to have been in the primaries. In any other circumstance, I'd say that voting down the ticket was a perfectly acceptable move. This isn't any other circumstance, though. Voting down the ticket is essentially voting for Trump, and this is unconscionable.

The evidence is clear. He's a criminal and a sexual predator who wants to impose his own views on women's reproductive rights. A racist who has no problem tarring an entire nation with a brush that, on the basis of the overwhelming weight of evidence as detailed above, is best applied to himself, who wants to build a wall to keep them out, and who's got a record of poor treatment of minority tenants in his real estate holdings. A bigot who's happy to call for the the exclusion of all members of a religion, up to and including forced deportations, in a move that would make a good plot for an Arthur Miller allegory. A man who called for the death penalty for a group of innocent kids who, when shown to be innocent by virtue of the actual perpetrator of the crimes they served prison time for being caught and being tied to the crime by DNA evidence, still insists they're guilty. A man who ran and runs shady businesses, has clearly bought his way out of prosecutions and investigations when caught out. Has a record of failing to pay for work he's contracted, and is glib about it. Thinks that not making proper contributions to the governance of the country he purports to be qualified to lead is 'smart'. He has no political or social intelligence whatsoever, nor any other kind of intelligence that this commentator can discern. 

It's telling to me that vast swathes of life-long republicans are endorsing Clinton, news organisations who have either never or rarely endorsed any candidate or have always endorsed republicans, military and intelligence leaders and, most damning of all, two former republican presidents, are all endorsing Clinton.

If you're seriously considering voting for this odious twerp, I urge you to ask yourself the following:

Given all of the above, as well as the voluminous damning evidence of his rapacious and immoral behaviour over several decades, coupled  with his self-centredness, do you actually think he gives a flying fuck about you? Do you think he reflects your values? Do you think he gets you, or is a 'man of the people'?

I get it: You're fed up with career politicians and their unfulfilled promises. You feel disenfranchised and let down. Do you honestly think somebody who's consistently failed in business, who seems entirely incapable of planning five seconds into the future, who has already demeaned the alliances and partnerships that ALL nations need, is the right man to represent your nation on the world stage?

I'm truly sorry that the Hitch isn't still around to have saved me the agony of this presentation, and that I've felt it necessary to inflict my views directly on you all, but that yawning chasm is only partly figurative. The world at large is in a very dark and dangerous place at the moment. The last time the world faced such a looming threat to stability, the result was tens of millions dead.

I recall when Jerry Falwell died, and the Hitch appeared on TV saying variously that, if you'd given him an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox, or that he should be standing on a corner selling pencils from a cup. I'm pretty sure he'd agree with me that Trump's talents don't reach such dizzying heights, and that selling pencils from a cup is entirely out of his intellectual reach, or that, if you gave him an enema, there'd be nothing left of him to bury.

He also commented that it was something of a shame that there was no hell for him to go to. I put it to you that, if this shameful, toxic and utterly reprehensible individual is elected Groper-in-Chief, he'll create that hell, and this will be it.

Please, America: Just say no!

Valé Hitch. You're still greatly missed.

Edit: Since I posted this, there have been many leaping to Trump's defence concerning the recording. Most of the defences have been addressed above in one way or another, having revolved around the lengthy interim since the recording took place - not that my outing was entirely centred on the recording, of course; that was merely the catalyst.

Some of the defences of this despicable behaviour have dismissed his comments as mere 'locker-room banter', and some have even gone so far as to suggest that this is the sort of thing that all men engage in. This is simply not the case, so let me set things straight here and now.

While it's true that men - and women - engage in salacious talk, often via innuendo, it is not the case that we openly admit to what constitutes a crime. That's what this is. 

I was an entertainer for many years, and I'm known to have a sense of humour bordering on the tasteless. I've spent a lot of hours in locker-rooms and, while many men - and women (yes, I've been in both) - will titillate and talk about whose arse they find attractive or who makes them wet. We talk about who we find attractive, and we can sometimes do it in less-than entirely flattering terms. We can talk about how much we love boobs (they are magnificent, after all). We can talk about what salacious acts, given consent and participation, we'd like to engage in with a particular individual. We can express our fantasies. These can be expressions of admiration. They can be expressions of longing, of romance, of love or of pure animal sex. What we do not do is deliver open admissions of violations of the personal space or the person of others, or even to consider such violations. What we don't do is to demean. what we don't do is to say 'I do this thing all the time that is tantamount to rape'. Don't kid yourselves, that's what sexual assault is, it's rape.It has little to do with sex, because rape has little to do with sex and everything to do with power and violence. 

Over the course of my 47 years, I've encountered violence in many forms, some of which are detailed above. Much of my early life was centred around violence in one way or another. I know it intimately. Anybody who shares this knowledge and experience can see this man for what he is. He's a violent thug with a Napoleon complex. I'd say he was Neanderthal, but that would be insulting to our hominid cousins.

I have many friends, male and female, with whom I engage in playful banter of the sort that could be described as 'locker-room', but they do not sink to the level of telling another about committing sexual assault and being untouchable for it.

This was not banter, it wasn't funny or humorous, it wasn't innocent, and it was a clear admission of violating the personal space of others.

There was some outrage recently, quite rightly, about a man still referred to as a swimmer by those who won't call him what he is, a violent, invasive sexual predator, who was caught doing what the orange fuckwit is not only accused of, but actually admitted to in this recording. This makes this not banter, but a credible admission of an actual crime. This swimmer, coming from a wealthy white family, was given functionally no sentence. Meanwhile, there are those serving indefinite sentences for offences that hurt nobody (note: hat-tip to Obama for recognising this in at least one case this week). 

In another case, a black man accused of a similar crime received five years in prison and another five on parole, and he was innocent.

This orange cretin, because of his colour, financial standing and celebrity, looks set to walk away scot free. 

Trump is running as the law and order candidate. He's certainly shady, has admitted to being a criminal, whether mere braggadocio or not, has definitely engaged in shady dealings, has fiduciary ties to enemies of the state, and is a complete twunt in every single measurable respect, yet there are still people defending him.

Frankly, if you vote for this oxygen-thief, you deserve him. The only problem is that the rest of your compatriots don't, and the rest of the world who have no say in the matter do not.

Since the original post, the second debate has taken place. There are those who said that Trump did much better, but it's also clear that he's still being graded on a curve. Clinton, meanwhile, who in my mind represents the better of a bad lot, but still lightyears ahead of her opponent is, as one of my twitter friends put it, living proof that it doesn't matter how qualified or experienced you are as a woman, you still have to compete with lesser-qualified men for the same job.

I'll say it plainly. If you vote for this fucking idiot, you're a fucking idiot as well. Donald Trump represents the single biggest threat to world security that we currently face. He's a science-denier, a responsibility-denier, unaware of the world and his place in it, and his running-mate is little better.

If you can find a worse pairing than these two carpet-chewers, I'll show my arse in Harrods' window.

I don't beg, but I'll happily beg for this. Think, America. Don't do it, for your own sakes and for ours. Trump is toxic, not just to women, and not just to America, but to the world.

*Michael J Totten, journalist and author.
It's well known that I have no love for Islam, nor any other religion. They represent the worst of the world's failures of thought. I always draw the distinction between the idea and the people who hold it, though. Ideas are fair game, and not to be respected. Failing to respect people, however, is failing to respect yourself.

Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Stop to Think!

Do you ever get that sinking feeling?

We've previously looked at the phenomenon of cognitive inertia, the tendency to cling on to ideas that evidence shows are on shaky ground. Here, I want to look at a particular example, one that's not so much on shaky ground as buried beneath mountains of unequivocal contradictory evidence.

Earlier this year, on July 7th 2016, a 'tourist attraction' opened in Williamstown, Kentucky. I place the above term in scare quotes advisedly, because it isn't so much a tourist attraction as it is a tool for proselytising children. Built by Answers in Genesis, who also run the Creation museum in Petersburg, the 'Ark Encounter' is a 'replica' of a craft that only exists in the imagination. Costing close to $100m, and eligible for substantial tax subsidies, assuming the visitor and thus the staffing numbers are as projected (there's good reason to think they may not be), this is possibly the greatest monument to shoddy thinking in the history of bad ideas. Here it is:
I'll say one thing for it, it is fucking colossal! It's certainly a spectacle, even if it is complete bollocks.

So what's it all about? 

It stems from Genesis, and Yahweh's alleged first attempt to eradicate sin from Earth (setting aside the fact that, according to his biography, sin only entered the world because of his application of a wonderful trick that hucksters throughout history have employed to fleece the gullible). Apparently not having yet come up with the idea of sacrificing himself to himself, he determined that the best way to go about making the world a better place was to wipe the slate clean by killing not only the vast majority of humans, including innocent newborns, but also almost the entirety of the biosphere. 

Even a cursory assessment should be enough to punch holes in this story. Indeed, this was one of the first things I encountered in Sunday School that stood out as obvious nonsense, even to my five or six year-old self. We're told that this all-knowing, all-powerful being, who allegedly even knew the future with perfect, infallible accuracy, and thus knew this plan was doomed to failure even before setting it in motion, couldn't come up with a better way to defeat bad behaviour than to eradicate almost all the life on the planet. Even at a very young age, my developing bullshit detectors screamed the awuga waltz at me.

Shifting focus away from the howling, carpet-biting absurdity of this notion, how do we know it didn't happen?

Let's start with a group of researchers who believed this tale and went out searching for evidence of it. After the contributions of ancient philosophers and medieval Muslim scholars, much of the history of the science of geology is interwoven with biblical accounts of the formation of the Earth and the great flood. Many Western geologists set out specifically to find confirmation of their biblical history. A brief scan of the Wiki page on the history of geology* reads like a Who's Who? of Christianity from about the late 17th century onward. Indeed, geology was the field of battle for creationists long before the proposal of Darwin's theory (though evolutionary ideas were around long before Darwin, of course, not least from Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus). Creation(dot)com (whose Google ratings I have no intention of aiding) cite Western geology as the vanguard in the battle against evolution.

I won't detail the history of geology here, as it's beyond the scope of this missive. I will include a link to Wiki's page on flood geology for entertainment purposes. Suffice it to say for the moment that early geology was fertile ground for countering evidence to the biblical chronology extrapolated by Ussher. His wasn't the only chronology, of course. Others were constructed by such luminaries as Bede, Johannes Kepler and even Isaac Newton.

So what would a geologist expect to find as evidence of a global flood? Well, we know that floods carry sediment. Anybody who's ever had their house flooded in torrential rain (an occurrence whose regularity is massively increasing in the last few years) will know that there's always a sedimentary deposit left behind. Flood geologists set out to look for it and, although they identified several candidate deposits, none stood up to scrutiny.

Fast forward to 1961, and a book released by John C Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, known among sceptics less than entirely affectionately as the first place to look if your lab-coat is stolen. This book, The Genesis Flood, was rooted in the assumption of biblical infallibility. Here's Morris, in a quote from 1982, that's fairly informative regarding the integrity of his 'science':
"No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture."
In short, where doctrine and reality give you different answers, reality is wrong and doctrine is right. This is the most egregious manifestation of cognitive inertia.

In any event, this book was essentially a reworking of an earlier work, George McCready Price's The New Geology, although little reference was made to Price. In it, Whitcomb and Morris advanced the hypothesis that all sedimentary deposits from the beginning of the Cambrian to the end of the Pliocene were laid down by the flood. It wasn't a new idea but,because the book was so popular, it spurred a huge amount of 'research' by YECs attempting to find support for the conclusions therein.

In one of the great twists of irony, it was actually this research that finally nailed the idea of finding evidence for the global flood in the geologic column. There's a wonderful treatment of this by Phil Senter of the NCSE which I recommend highly. I'll simply include this image, taken from his paper, that shows the scale of the problem. It details the geologic column for the entirety of that period, and the things we find in all the strata that demonstrate that there could not have been a global deluge in this time. Bear in mind that even this timescale flatly refutes Ussher's chronology, not least because the end of this vast swathe of time, the Pliocene, ran between approximately 5.5 and 2.5 millions years ago.
So, as we can see, they went looking for evidence, and they didn't find it. What they did find was a litany of intractable difficulties.

Now, you might say that maybe they just got the timing wrong, and the flood was more recent. After all, the flood was supposed to have occurred only four thousand years ago, right? Maybe we just haven't found the evidence, you might posit. After all, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, is it? Well, is it?

This is an extremely popular trope, and entirely wrong. I won't go into detail as it would take us too far afield but, in a nutshell, any data that do not support a hypothesis stand as supporting data for the null hypothesis. I'll deal with this in more detail in a future submission.

That said, we need not rely on mere absence of evidence when we have categorical evidence that this global inundation cannot have happened on these shorter timescales, or indeed any time in human history.

The first thing we should deal with is humans. We have a wonderfully complete history of our species available to us if we know where to look for it. We're only going to look at the time the flood is alleged to have occurred, but most of what follows applies equally well to the entirety of the tenure of Homo sapiens on the planet.

There's good evidence to suggest, first of all, that the Quitu tribe, founders of the Ecuadorian capital Quito, lived there continuously from around the time of the alleged flood until conquered by the Caras, who in turn occupied the area until the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century. Prior to maritime excursions, notably by the Vikings, the only route to the Americas from the rest of the world was via the Bering land bridge, a stretch of land between Siberia and Canada which has been continuously submerged for around 11,000 years, since the recession of the last glacial period. It's well understood that the indigenous people of the Americas all arrived via this route some 16,000 years ago.

Indeed, Jared Diamond tells us, in his brilliant Guns, Germs and Steel, that around the time of the purported inundation, a flourishing agrarian society was growing maize only a stone's throw from where Ham's fantasy bathtub sits today.

Elsewhere, in India, for example, we do find some evidence of a flood in the ancient city of Lothal in Gujarat, site of the world's earliest known example of a dock. Unfortunately, it didn't quite reach nine kilometres, which is just as well, since the elevation of Lothal is only 1/1000th of that, at a little over nine metres above sea level. Also, the flood at Lothal was some fifty years too early to have been Noah's flood according to biblical chronologies.

In Egypt, Pharaoh Pepi I of the sixth dynasty was busying himself digging canals, primarily to strengthen his hold on Nubia - the Nubians were conducting raids against Upper Egypt at the time - but also for economic purposes, in the form of transporting obelisks and large granite blocks downriver. There's strong evidence that they were trading as far afield as the Lebanon and Somalia, and there are records of excursions into Palestine. The locations of these canals were at the 'cataracts', stretches of the Nile too shallow for ships, running between Aswan and Khartoum. All this seems to have continued with relatively little inconvenience arising from being under nine kilometres of water.

Slightly further South, there are some sites of extreme interest to evolutionary biologists - and to aquarists - the African lakes Victoria, Malawi and Tanganyika. These three lakes between them house the vast majority of all the species of cichlid fish on Earth. There are other sources, notably the Americas, which house a few hundred species between them, but the African lakes are home to most of the 1,650 or so species that have been described in the primary literature. This is thought to represent only a half or two thirds of the total number of species.

Cichlids are a rich source of information for evolutionary models, especially models for speciation. The advantage in studying them is that they diversify extremely rapidly. This occurs for several reasons, not least the fact that they have a degree of phenotypic plasticity. They also exhibit all three of the classic models of speciation, sympatric, allopatric and parapatric. For more on speciation, see Has Evolution Been Proven? 

So why are these fish a problem for the flood? Well, while some species can survive in brackish water for short periods, most cichlids are extremely intolerant of saltwater. Any inundation sufficient to bring seawater into those lakes would mean that the cichlid populations would be extinct.

There are some species that are struggling, mostly in Lake Victoria since the introduction of the Nile perch in the 1950s, but also due to siltation arising from deforestation and overfishing. However, the fact that they are there at all is testament to the fact that the Noachian flood is a fantasy.

Finally, no post would be complete without touching on thermodynamics, so that's what we'll finish with.

It's not immediately obvious, and possibly even somewhat counter-intuitive when dealing with water, but rainfall involves thermodynamic exchanges, which means that it produces heat.

I thought long and hard about how best to present this bit. To make this as simple as possible, I decided to keep the numbers very small. So, we'll take an area of one square metre. Even this gross oversimplification should result in a spectacular outcome. I am going to assume perfect conversion of this kinetic energy, but this is more than offset by the energy we're excluding.

The formula for kinetic energy is \(\dfrac 12 mv^2\), where \(m\) is the mass and \(v\) is velocity. A typical raindrop has a mass of about 4 mg and typically reaches terminal velocity, the speed at which the downward force of falling is exactly matched by the force of air resistance, at about 8 m/s. Plugging the numbers in, we find that the energy in rainfall over this area sufficient to cover our square metre to a depth of one centimetre is in the ballpark of three hundred Joules. That's not a huge amount, of course, although it isn't entirely trivial either. This is about the same amount that a defibrillator delivers to a patient's heart when being treated for fibrillation.

To a depth of one metre, the kinetic energy release is thirty kJ. This is roughly the energy release in metabolising a gram of fat.

Let's ramp up a bit more. To a depth of one kilometre, the energy release is 30,000 kJ. That looks like a more promising figure. It's roughly the output in horsepower of this, the Daihatsu Midget:

Actually, it's a bit more than that. The midget weighs in at an astronomical power output of 10 horsepower, while our 30,000 kJ, or 30 megajoules, delivers a whopping 11 horsepower.

OK, so we're starting to get a picture, as well as getting extremely silly. Let's increase the area, then, to one square kilometre, and we can see what happens. Now the numbers start to get a bit large. Indeed, it's probably time to start using exponents. At one square kilometre to a depth of one kilometre, the energy release is thirty billion joules, or 3 x 109 joules (3 gigajoules).This is roughly equivalent to a Boeing 767-200 travelling at 555 kph. We're getting to some serious energy release here, and we're not even beginning to put a dent in the real figures, not least because we're only one ninth the depth, and that's before we get into the area of the Earth's surface, which is a whopping 510 million square kilometres.

Setting aside the simple fact that, even at a depth of only one of the nine requisite kilometres, the surface of the planet (including the oceans) will heat sufficiently under such precipitation to ensure that the rain stops due to evaporation long before it reaches the surface, and even ignoring that the surface area goes up as the depth increases, meaning that the numbers climb commensurately, and allowing all of the rain to reach the surface regardless of temperature, the planet would end up glowing like a minor star, would be completely sterile, even killing the most resilient of extremophiles, and certainly wouldn't be conducive to sailing in a fucking wooden boat.

I'll leave with one final thought. Here's a rendition of the Earth with all the water removed, with the removed water juxtaposed:
This image represents every molecule of water on the planet. The common sceptic's objection to the flood is 'where did all the water go?' This image puts that question properly into perspective.

I'm not even going to cover how a dove could fly back to the ark with an olive branch, allegedly still recognisable after spending most of a year under several kilometres of saltwater.

So, to return to the question at the head of this post, do you ever get that sinking feeling? I do, every time somebody starts an argument with 'well, before the fall...'

Not to be believed by a thinking person. If you do believe it, thinking is just something that happens to other people.

Hope this was informative and/or entertaining. Share and enjoy. Nits, crits, typos, maths corrections, etc, always welcome.

*I note that there's no mention of Leonardo da Vinci, who was among the first to propose a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics, derived from finding fossils of marine organisms in the mountains.
Anglican James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, who formulated a biblical timeline by, essentially, adding up all the begats in the hokey blurble, and asserted in that basis that the Earth was formed on Saturday, October 22, 4004, at about teatime.
You can find similar statements in the historical mission statements of pretty much all creationist organisations, and even from some who would not describe themselves as creationists. William Lane 'Kalamity' Craig, for example, has this to say: "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter."