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Contrasts and Craziness: Skeptics’ Geology Tour Ends at Creationist Museum

by Michael Shermer, Feb 22 2011
Mt. Palomar telescope

click to enlarge

Over the three-day weekend of January 15–17, the Skeptics Society sponsored a geology tour organized and hosted by the Occidental College and Caltech paleontologist and geologist Donald Prothero and his Whittier College professor wife Teresa LeVelle. Around 50 skeptics departed Pasadena on a bus bound for our first stop, the Mt. Palomar observatory, home of the famous 200-inch Hale telescope, once the largest in the world and from which numerous important observations about the universe were made, including the discovery of quasars. No less an astronomical giant than Edwin Hubble was given the honor of being the first astronomer to use the telescope. They don’t build ‘em like this any longer: big and beefy!

In this limited space I cannot republish Prothero’s 30-page geological guidebook. Suffice it to say that Prothero is a brilliant lecturer who in the course of days packed in a 14-week semester’s worth of geological science as we wended our way around Southern California with it’s countless faults, uplifts, basins, and ranges. I’ll let a few photographs do the talking here, but this is no substitute for joining us on a future trip with Don Prothero, whom I call Protheropedia for his encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly everything under and including the sun. Join us, for example, on our next big trip to see the glaciers of Alaska.

Our three main locations on this trip, represented in the photographs below, after visiting and getting an inside tour of the Mt. Palomar telescope, were the Anza-Borrego badlands and surrounding areas, the Salton Sea, and the Joshua Tree National Park. All were spectacular sites for science, some of the most dramatic scenery to be found anywhere on the planet.

Click any photo below to view the entire gallery in larger format, with captions.


With considerable irony we ended the trip with a final stop along Interstate 10 west of Palm Springs (near Cabazon and the cluster of factory outlet stores just off the freeway), where you can’t miss the two giant dinosaurs—a T-Rex and a Brontosaurus (now Apatosaurus)—originally built in the 1960s by Knott’s Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell (1897–1988) to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Café. They have been a California driving fixture ever since, and few people (including me!) realized that after Bell died his estate sold the property to an Orange County creationist who converted the site into a Young Earth Creationism park, teaching children that the entire world was created in six days around 6,000 years ago, around the same time that the Egyptians invented wine. The pictures below speak for themselves.


18 Responses to “Contrasts and Craziness: Skeptics’ Geology Tour Ends at Creationist Museum”

  1. Other Paul says:

    Ooh look – a talking dinosaur. Explain _that_, science!

  2. That level of irony made my head hurt this early in the morning!

  3. James Hammond says:

    We had a great time on the trip! Palomar was amazing and the geology was both beautiful and fascinating. Batholiths! Opening our eyes to the knowledge of the heavily eroded hills around us as the exposed magma chambers of ancient volcanoes – priceless. And the astonishing amount of warping of the layers of rock in Fish Creek Canyon! Wow.

    I encourage everyone to go on a geology field trip with Skeptics. We are already signed up for the Alaska cruise.

  4. Kostas says:

    According to wikipedia wine was probably first made in Georgia or Armenia long before the world was created…

  5. feralboy12 says:

    For a better dinosaur experience, head north to Oregon and see the Prehistoric Gardens. On the coast, out on Hwy. 101 south of Port Orford. More dinosaurs, no Jesus.

  6. Anza-Borrego is a great place for hiking. Palm oases, desert wildflowers, desert bighorns, more.

  7. Tom Auten says:

    You almost make wish I lived in California! My wife and I had a pleasant visit to nearby Tucson last year, where one of the more interesting places is The Desert Museum. No bighorns, but a wonderful desert environment. After a tour with the ranger, we strolled the grounds a bit and came across a separate tour group of 3-4 people. They had their own guide, who was busily explaining the museum in young earth terms. I guess this is going to go on for another 6000 years!

  8. It must have been quite a funny site to see all those heathens at a creationist museum. Keep up the great work, Dr. Shermer. It’s great that you all can look at the creationists with a sense of humor. If you didn’t, I suspect you would go insane.

  9. MadScientist says:

    “They don’t build ‘em like this any longer: big and beefy!”

    That’s funny – I swear I’ve seen telescopes which simply dwarf the Mt. Palomar Hale Telescope. The Gemini telescopes for example have single primary reflectors about 318 inches across, as opposed to the 200-inch Hale. There are mirrors about 300 inches across currently being cast and shaped to form a very large multi-section primary mirror. The Keck telescope(s) have a multi-section primary about 390 inches across. These enormous telescopes have an overall structure weight less than the Hale telescope thanks to the use of appropriate materials and techniques, but except for total weight, I don’t see how these telescopes are any less big of beefy than the Hale. On top of that, you might say the Hale has a weight problem – being more massive is not a desirable design parameter.

    • Stan Miller says:

      “big and beefy” is not equal to “enormous” but “except for total weight.” Simple logic.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Oh, those are *huge* and beefy. LOL

      I’m just playing since I can’t imagine that you aren’t playing, too.

      BTW: The Hale scope took the laurels from the 100 inch Hooker ‘scope, which spins on a liquid Mercury bearing. How cool is that?

  10. Brandon Z says:

    Well, from one perspective the universe did really begin when the Egyptians invented wine ;-)

  11. frank says:

    i accept softened / plasticised or molten rock folding – but how much time and pressure could ever bend sedimentary layers without shattering them?

    they had to be soft and wet

    and the whole assembly of layers together! – not spread sequentially

    awesome event scale!

  12. Pfffft! Please explain why I can’t find an Egyptian wine with a 3989BC vintage at the local liquor store?

  13. Calypte says:

    Michael, you need a minor adjustment to the article. Palomar Observatory is on Palomar Mountain, not “Mt. Palomar.”

  14. A visit to the creationist museum is one way of confronting the reality that Darwinian delusions have never been based on real science.

    Science based on the Empirical & Scientific Method is testable, repeatable, verifiable, and “publicly” observable such that everyone is forced to accept its conclusions in spite of their scientific or religious beliefs. In contrast, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been aggressively promoted by the scientific establishment for over 150 years, yet billions of people, and thousands of scientists, are still highly skeptical, and for good reason.

    All “historical” theories are based on “unobserved “ past events that “supposedly” occurred over time, ensuring there were never any observers. This means that no scientist can ever conclusively establish that evolution happened one way, and not another way, or even whether it actually happened at all. Historical based theories (cosmology, geology, and Darwinism) are thus ultimately based on SUBJECTIVE presuppositions, inferences, conjecture, predictions, and (more often than not) sheer speculation. Even the Nobel committee well understands that historical based theories fall far short of science based on the Empirical & Scientific Method. As such, “science by explanations” is not seen as the real thing by countless millions, particularly when “explanations” are endlessly manufactured to fit any and every situation. Evolutionary theory has become so elastic it is “unfalsifiable”, and therefore unscientific.

    Skeptics would have discovered this reality at the creationist museum.

  15. The Fossil of the Ichthyosaur giving birth is really interesting, not for the crazy “it disproves evolution” thing though. That must of required some pretty odd circumstances. I guess it would either be the mother dying as it gave birth to a still born baby or both the mother and baby dying during birth. Now I’m remembering why I thought dinosaurs were so awesome when I was 4.

  16. Jonathon von Tischner says:

    Thanks for letting me know, I went there and dropped some cash. Youtube “ultimate proof of creation”, still waiting for a rebutal lol.