Geology: The Dreadful Science

Science used to be such a respectable word.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that all manner of disreputable and dishonourable faith systems have attempted to acquire a veneer of respectability by incorporating the word “science”.

The grouping of academics humorously referred to as “social scientists” is [perhaps] the best known group clamouring for scientific respectability.

Social science refers to the academic disciplines concerned with the society and the relationships of individuals within a society, which primarily rely on empirical approaches.

Amongst the massed ranks of modern “social scientists” there are many sub-species [such as “economists”] that have shrouded themselves in a secondary layer of mathematics as an additional means of claiming scientific respectability.

Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

But to no avail. Instead, economics has just acquired the “dismal science” sobriquet.

“The dismal science” is a derogatory alternative name for economics coined by the Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century. The term is an inversion of the phrase “gay science”, meaning “life-enhancing knowledge”, a reference to the technical skills of song and verse writing. This was a familiar expression at the time, and was later adopted as the title of a book by Nietzsche in The Gay Science.

Similarly, Geology claims to be a “science” – but without the mathematics.

Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change.

But don’t be misled. Geology is simply “dreadful science”.

The underlying assumption that turns geology into academic detritus is uniformitarianism.

Uniformitarianism is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It has included the gradualistic concept that “the present is the key to the past” and is functioning at the same rates.

Upon this baseless assumption the academic geologists have chiselled out [in their “clay tablet” text books] a set of commandments that are [euphemistically] called “laws” and “principles”.

These are not scientific laws. They are just articles of faith.
Unfortunately, most of these articles of faith are very distinctly unscientific.

The law of superposition (or the principle of superposition) is a key axiom based on observations of natural history that is a foundational principle of sedimentary stratigraphy and so of other geology dependent natural sciences:
Sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on the top.

law of superposition

The principle of lateral continuity states that layers of sediment initially extend laterally in all directions; in other words, they are laterally continuous. As a result, rocks that are otherwise similar, but are now separated by a valley or other erosional feature, can be assumed to be originally continuous.

Wealden Dome - Simple

The Principle of Original Horizontality was proposed by the Danish geological pioneer Nicholas Steno (1638–1686). This principle states that layers of sediment are originally deposited horizontally under the action of gravity.

Principle of Original Horizontality

The principle of faunal succession, also known as the law of faunal succession, is based on the observation that sedimentary rock strata contain fossilized flora and fauna, and that these fossils succeed each other vertically in a specific, reliable order that can be identified over wide horizontal distances.

principle of faunal succession

The law of included fragments is a method of relative dating in geology.
Essentially, this law states that clasts in a rock are older than the rock itself.
One example of this is a xenolith, which is a fragment of country rock that fell into passing magma as a result of stoping. Another example is a derived fossil, which is a fossil that has been eroded from an older bed and redeposited into a younger one.

law of included fragments

Walther’s Law of Facies, or simply Walther’s Law, named after the geologist Johannes Walther, states that the vertical succession of facies reflects lateral changes in environment. Conversely, it states that when a depositional environment “migrates” laterally, sediments of one depositional environment come to lie on top of another.

Walther's Law of Facies

Geology and Science are like chalk and cheese.

This is demonstrated by the many cheesy geology books which are chalk free zones.

Evidently, mainstream geology is not so keen on chalk.

I have on my desk a weighty geological tone from 1966: Geology Illustrated – J. S. Shelton.

The University College of North Wales [Bangor] originally purchased this book for reference.

However, regardless of pedigree, the index of this 424 epic does not reference chalk.
Not once.

However, the book does get off to a flying start on page 3.

Every few decades heavy rains, sometimes aided by melting snow, create torrents in the mountain canyons that are visible in the background of the upper view, a little over two miles away.

Flood waters pour out of the canyon mouths, carrying mud and sand and rolling cobbles and boulders from the canyons onto the adjacent flatter ground. As the flood subsides it leaves an irregular and thin deposit of this material.

Historical records show that three or four such floods have occurred in the past 100 years.

Geology Illustrated – 1966 – J. S. Shelton

Unfortunately, that’s also where the book grinds to a halt.

Does the author rush off to unearth and photograph the geological record of these floods?

Does the author discover from the geological record whether it was actually 3 or 4 floods?

The author [evidently] didn’t want to demonstrate the “rock solid” credentials of his “science”.

Thankfully, other authors are proud to document the geological impact of “a single flood”.

Sediments deposited during a single flood

Horizontally Bedded Features.
In the area of horizontal bedding, where currents are slightly stronger but still overloaded, fine to medium sand settled from suspension to form horizontally bedded and laminated deposits. Thick sections of these sediments have been deposited during a single flood.


The writing of Derek Ager [The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record – 1973] is far more inspiring.

Professor Ager starts writing about “Upper Cretaceous Chalk” in the very first paragraph of the book where he describes a trip in Turkey to view some “white limestones with chert nodules” which turn out to be “white chalk”.

Unsurprisingly, Professor Ager knew that “periodic catastrophes” are geologically important.

Derek Ager has noted that “geologists do not deny uniformitarianism in its true sense, that is to say, of interpreting the past by means of the processes that are seen going on at the present day, so long as we remember that the periodic catastrophe is one of those processes. Those periodic catastrophes make more showing in the stratigraphical record than we have hitherto assumed.”

Unfortunately, geology has chosen to ignore the insights of Derek Agar.

Unfortunately, geology and stamp collecting have too much in common.

Unfortunately, geology is dreadful science.

The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record - Derek Agar

Gallery | This entry was posted in Books, Catastrophism, Earth, Geology, Science, Uniformitarianism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Geology: The Dreadful Science

  1. Me says:

    What a load of tosh!

  2. Daniel says:

    Geology is both a hard science and a soft science and should be understood as such. I would not use the term dreadful science. The hard/good science of geology is descriptive, sandstone is sandstone and granite is granite etc. The soft science is the interpretation of the description, where there are often two or more hypotheses relating to formation and/or dating. Does this make geology any less of a science? Only when the interpretations by expert are taken as hard science does it become a problem. Interpretations are where ego,money, and politics get in the way of science.
    Understand that Geology:The Dreadful Science, is an interpretation as well and should not be taken as dogma. It is however useful in opening the eyes of students of geology, that there are exceptions to every rule. In understanding the exceptions, we can all get closer to truth.
    One example I would like to leave you with is the oblique impact that formed Matt Wilson crater in Australia. The directional force of the impact caused younger sedimentary layers to interleaved with older layers like a deck of shuffled cards putting younger layers below older layers. Does this falsify the Law of superposition? Yes as an absolute law and no as a rule that has exceptions.

    Underground Structure of oblique-angled Impact Craters
    Dr. Michael Poelchau – Prof. Dr. Thomas Kenkmann

    Matt Wilson Crater

    Almost all impact craters on Earth are circular. About 4% however might have been developed by oblique angled impacts of 12° or less (measured from the horizon). These impacts have formed elongated, elliptic crater shapes. So far the forming processes of elliptic craters have not been analyzed efficiently.

    The proterozoic Matt Wilson Crater in Australia is the first known elliptic crater on Earth, containing a central mountain. Because of the central mountain it is possible to study the mechanics of crater formations at a critical impact angle of 10 – 15°. Matt Wilson’s axis ratio is 1.2 . The diameters are 7.5 and 6.3 km. The axis follows a NE-SW direction.

    Field examinations in July 2007 revealed in the basis of the crater, which has been excavated after erosion, a central mountain with a favorite stacking of overlapping beds. This stacking indicates NE-SW shortening and transport of materials “ top-to-SW”. This sense of movement proceeds in the direction of the impact(“downrange”) and is presumably caused by transmission of the horizontal impulse of the projectile hitting the surface. Consequently we have indications for the significance of structural asymmetries as indicator for the impact direction of the projectile.

  3. Michael Bart says:

    This is the best hands down pseudo science I’ve ever seen that does a real great job of trying to look like real science.

  4. LMS says:

    A few counterpoints. Any quality sedimentology class covers all of this; and ask any sedimentologist and you will find that none of these exceptions are revolutionary nor call for a major overhaul of the science. Deltas growing outward is a prime of Walther’s law, and Alluvial fans can form high angle deposits; any sedimentologist worth their salt would know this. The law of lateral continuity applies in more cases than it doesn’t, and again was never proposed in any of my classes as not having exceptions. Should a channel deposit be expected to have lateral continuity? Cleary not. Despite not applying in some cases, most of the rock units in my region all follow this pattern: the Borden group, devonian limestones, and silurian rocks in my state certainly follow this pattern, occuring both in the Illinois and appalachian basins, across the Cincinnati arch. In addition:

    Horizontally Bedded Features.
    “In the area of horizontal bedding, where currents are slightly stronger but still overloaded, fine to medium sand settled from suspension to form horizontally bedded and laminated deposits. Thick sections of these sediments have been deposited during a single flood.”

    Is easily refutable, large scale burrowing of organisms destroys bedding and produces massive bedding form previously more finely bedded sediments.

    Hopefully I misinterpreted this post and it isn’t as facepalm worthy as it, at first glance, appears to be.

    • Dave Page says:

      Nope, you didn’t misinterpret it. Few things are less well understood by modern, model-oriented ‘scientists’ than stratigraphy. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that some interweb blogger doesn’t really get its primary significance (as non-interpretive Eucidean geometry) either. I’m a terrestrial geologist working in the planetary domain, and one-to-another you wouldn’t believe the kind of non-stratigraphical, pseudo-geological nonsense most of these physicists/astronomers/maths-grads posing as ‘planetary geologists’ come up with.

      This is the rightful target for such opprobrium, not the three-dimensional architecture that underpins the entire disciple of geology. Our conception of ‘deep time’, the age of the Earth, the evolution of life, the cyclicity of climate changes (and the scope for rapid change), all of these are a product of geological science, and all were predictive in their execution and borne-out in actuality, usually contra to the articles of faith of other ‘hard’ sciences (e.g., physics).

      Blogger, slap yourself and bow out.

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