Addressing the Literary Questions: Question Four

Ahoy readers!  A minor window has at present come to open – merely enough that I may fold and slip this missive through it by the use of two hands on a body that indeed requires at best a doubling of such; for I am constantly awash in multiple disciplines, each owning seemingly infinite demands.  Let us not joke about then, and tackle directly question four of the literary questions existing in the back of Of Woodbridge and Hedgly, after the story has concluded.  This will be my second shot at the questions; the first – my examination of the seventh question – can be found here.

garden-in-bloom-at-sainte-addresse
Spring time, ain’t it?

4.  Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism).  Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas?   Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?

In addressing question four, we shall sail to the head of chapter four in the novel, which serves as an introduction to the antagonists’ propagandistic designs – those that confound Mr. Winter and Parson Moore throughout the story.  It is here that they – the antagonists, Preacher Edwards, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Wyatt – start to enthusiastically clap hold of obsolete geological theories, that, were these men not in the throes of rivalry, would have been found to be of little good by any of them.  Their tutor, and fellow they’ve hired to incorporate these weary ideas into counterarguments against our protagonists, goes by the name Princep – a man with credible talent for understanding natural philosophy but who possesses none of such regarding personal contributions to the discipline:

Mr. Princep was something of a fading grey dandy, haggard but well shaved, and missing a hand’s area of hair his junior self did once possess atop his forehead.  More importantly to his company though, was that he was a natural philosopher and Fellow of the Royal Society of London – the title everything to their wants – and it was neither here nor there that he was a most unproductive member, having contributed no articles to the Philosophical Transactions along his tenure. 

Mr. Princep represents those which are known in our modern era as ‘fake experts’:  Men that antagonize a right scientific theory with sophistry and who hold no viable alternative against it, but who gain a large misguided following for being highly advertised in the media, which is complicit in the manifestation of this antiscience propaganda.  An example of such is Professor Richard Lindzen who teaches atmospheric sciences at MIT.  His Lindzen and Choi ‘series’ (in quotations as he has rewritten this selfsame paper multiple times, trying to sneak it past peer review, which does never occur) entitled On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications  seeks to argue climate sensitivity (the steady state temperature the air close to the surface of the Earth will own upon a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) is much lower than what the rest of his colleagues propose.  In the version I’ve linked above, the professor admits (after colleagues point such out during peer review) in the Feedback Formalism section of the paper that previous versions of the paper contained a novice error in the basic construction of his feedback algorithm.  Further the paper is riddled with unbacked assumptions which are explained by Skeptical Science here.  Lindzen is the most unsuccessful climate scientist of the modern era, and my character Mr. Pricep is in this respect modeled on him; he too having failed to publish anything substantial in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, the prestigious journal cataloguing the scientific discoveries of the day.  And just as science denialists prop up Lindzen by way of his position as a MIT professor, our antagonists wish to prop up Mr. Princep by way of his position as a member of the Royal Society – an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy.

Let us hear what Mr. Princep has to say in our chapter of interest:

‘It is natural that he would be a champion of Hutton, having cut his teeth in Edinburgh’, said Mr. Princep to his dinner companions, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Wyatt.  ‘But it is poor form not to allow Cuvier and Werner their proper places, foreign as they are, and may I also note that Comte de Buffon retracted his findings regarding the age of the earth?’

Here we will break to note that Comte de Buffon only retracted his written ideas on an ‘aged earth’ – an earth he calculated to be 75,000 year old – because of pressure put on him by the powerful religious component that occupied Sorbonne (the former University of Paris), and not from some scientific revelation.  But our propagandist has communicated such to his audience  in a manner that makes it seem as though the latter could indeed be the true reason, and that their rival, who continues to use the retracted number, is in the wrong.  Mr. Princep is using the selfsame propaganda technique Fox News, or any of the climate denial blogs use:  They give the audience the rest of the story in a simple, quick, and elegant package, piquing their arrogance that they know something the othersthe simpletons – do not; agitating them in the process, that they may become active in the political process against the ‘charlatans’.

Mr. Princep continues to reel the men in with more on the Comte and age of the earth:

‘But the spots in the pudding have to do with this three million year number, supposedly entered into Buffon’s manuscript, based on his sediment observations; not because that too was self removed, as it did not appear in the published addition of Les époques de la nature, but because it varies so much from his first number, such that it is the like to an admission that he knows not a true figure.  Which is it?  Seventy five thousand or three million years?  If we subtract the latter by the former we have two million nine hundred and twenty five thousand years.  And if we subtract the former by the age of the earth then we have sixty nine thousand one hundred and seventy six.  There is a greater discrepancy between the man’s two numbers than there is between his formerly published number and the true age of the earth!  Would I had a quill and paper I could show you that the fractional difference between the division of his lesser and greater numbers and the true age and the greater number is quite insignificant.  He could just as well claim the earth to be but fifty years old and there would be little difference in such and what he has thus put forth.’

Here Princep offers some mathematical non sequiturs.  He tries to dismiss the growing evidence that the earth is older than what the Biblical generations infer by illuminating the large discrepancies in the earliest calculations on the subject.  As I was authoring this section of the novel, I was recollecting a particular mathematical non sequitur that was making the rounds in the low information climate denial community four or five years ago, which presented as the following:  ‘The difference in atmospheric concentration of CO2 concerning today’s readings and those of the preindustrial era only amounts to a 0.013% change.’  This number was billed as the ‘real’ number to ‘debunk’ the actual rise in concentration from 270 to 400 ppm (which works out to be 400-270/270 = 48%).  What the propagandists had done then was simply subtract the original atmospheric percentage from the present one:  400/1,000,000 – 270/1,000,000 x 100 = 0.013% (with respect to atmospheric diluent), or in other words, the CO2 concentration was 0.027% and now it is 0.040% (and this was supposed to ‘feel’ like a small, insignificant change to those without the capacity to question the effects of such).

After Princep riles the antagonists up into a righteous fever, he offers this:

‘You’ve told me of your parson’s account of Hutton, and now I will tell you of two equally compelling philosophical explanations of the origin of our world that vary considerably from The Theory of the Earth; one by each of these men:

‘First I must say that Steno’s superposition does govern all these men’s work – Smith, Cuvier,…; in this there is no divergence with the parson’s offerings.  Indeed, it can be rightly supposed that all these respective philosophers agree that stratification requires some measure of time to be accomplished.  But let us examine Werner who offers that all rock was indeed precipitated or deposited from a receding ocean, originally stocked with all the necessary elements that our strata presently contain.  On Werner’s earth, we start with an irregular solid body surrounded completely with a primitive ocean that is heavily saturated with these elements or minerals, who over time fall out in series based upon their particular qualities:  the primitive series precipitates first, still underwater, which contains our primeval rock – granite, granite gneiss and the like; a transition series then follows, universally depositing our most indurated limestone and seemingly intrusive interstices, by Hutton’s eye at least; after such comes our stratified series with our fossils, and then our sands, gravels, and clays which were deposited on land as the ocean permanently retreated; and lastly local lava flows.  I should add that these lava flows are not the product of some unproven, universal underground heat source, invented by a sprightly imagination to confound the sweeping of Hutton’s erroneous assumptions out the door.  Instead they are the consequence of local coal bed burning, which any man who’s warmed his hands by the material can readily understand:  I fancy the least burdensome explanation is quite often the most true, that I stand by such dogma fearlessly!’

‘Hear him!’ Mr. Wyatt generously applied to the room.  ‘Mr. Princep, a glass!’ he added emptying the decanter into each of the men’s glasses, they all suffering a boiling excitation arising from the discourse.  It wasn’t that the two staunch Baptists were suddenly great enthusiasts of Werner’s hypothesis, but that there existed such articulate opposition to what indeed was flowing out of the Woodbridge parish every other week.  ‘To ease in explanation’ was jollily toasted at such a barking fortissimo, that the serving maid presented some moment later, unprovoked, with a new decanter. 

After glasses were replenished, Mr. Edwards and Wyatt then reinvented conversations first had a few decades before, concerning the similarity of Werner’s all encompassing ocean and the Noahic Flood, each convincing the other that the hypothesis was evidence for the event and visa versa.  Mr. Princep then added a secondary piece of evidence by regaling the men of Cuvier’s interpretations of what he had found in the geologic column around Paris – a series of strata with alternating sea and freshwater fossils consistently ordered in the rock: such he found was the residuum of multiple singular and catastrophic events, each being followed by periods of stability in which a new succession of flora and fauna would repopulate the land.  The last of these catastrophic events, the naturalist explained, was what Cuvier believed to be the founding of Genesis, for the abrupt nature in which each series of fossil did appear over stratigraphic time, gave him cause to find no fault with biblical creation.

It should be noted here that Cuvier did not accept evolution (which is why he is plopped upon Princep’s dinner table), and at one point argued against his colleagues with respect to such by offering that they were relying too heavily on deep time to satisfy their desire for the success of the concept.  This has been wrongly inferred to mean that Cuvier was a proponent of the young earth hypothesis (derived from Archbishop Usher).  Indeed the father of modern geology, Charles Lyell, actively promoted this untruth, which one may read about here:  Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century (page 174).

But the plum in the pudding regarding Princep’s lecture is that the antagonists joyfully devour these ideas as they are presented, for they find merit in the function of their existence on a few counts:  Firstly, that they are in eloquent opposition to their rival’s position, and secondly, they can be sold in a facile fashion to not only their Hedgely flock, but to the Woodbridge community as well, as seemingly valid counterarguments against Mr. Moore’s scientific lectures, causing individuals to confusedly question the merit of the material from the parson.  That these outdated hypotheses are true or not is neither here nor there for their – the antagonists – part:  When immortal souls are at stake, or other issues of great importance, necessity compels the use of any devilish means.  This is the tragedy of holding fast to any rigid ideology, whether it be the religious conviction that Archbishop Usher was correct in his methodology and calculation of the age of the earth, or the religious conviction that greenhouse gas concentrations don’t affect the energy budget of the planet – at some point one will have to ally themselves with not merely untruths, but widely known and settled untruths, and look like a flat for doing so.

Break Time

I’ll be back later to talk of each antagonist’s motivations for conspiring against the Enlightenment, whether these be rigid ideologies, indifference to change, or perhaps a bit of romantic and business related rivalry for the part of one man.

Introduction to James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth

James Hutton, grandfather of modern geology.
James Hutton, grandfather of modern geology.

In my last post, I produced a summary of a natural history lecture series that the novel’s character, Jonathan Moore, provides to a relatively voluntary group of simple, uneducated, Anglican church goers.   The very first of these revolves around 1) elementary ideas on the subject of knowledge. [I don’t believe by 1820, the year of the novel’s setting, a solid definition of the scientific method was yet in place]; 2) the notion that an idea can be compelling and probable without every last miniscule detail of it having been worked out. [This is actually commentary on the science of climate change, but is relevant to what was known about the age of the earth in the early 19th century]; and 3) an elementary introduction to James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth.

Here I would like to share those passages from the book in which I’ve summarized the first part of Hutton’s geologic observations.  I spent a week and read through his often rambling, disorganized and redundant writing (it was written near the end of his life, and there wasn’t any computerized, word processor editing back then), and then tried to organize particular parts I found compelling:


Grammar Nazi Trigger Warning:  ‘that’, in many cases in the novel, substitutes for ‘so that’, and ‘would’ sometimes substitutes for ‘if’, to give the prose a more ‘biblical’ or Shakespearean feel.

[Note:  This is a re-posting of an article I originally published in February of 2015.  Since then, I’ve edited a few sentences in this particular section of the novel, so that what is published below it a tad less polished than what you get from the most recent edition available at Amazon and Lulu.]


W&H_Hutton_Theory1

Of Woodbridge and Hedgely; Pg. 79-88: 

‘And so with that introduction, I will now entertain you along a subject that has caused an amount of uproar in Edinburgh – one which has afforded both criticism and defense, where arguments on particular details may be shewn to be just in some cases, but still fail to refute the general idea, for it is hardy with much evidence lending it support; one which my brother did staunchly champion. It will be of some interest here, I believe, as it is intimately concerned with the properties of the soils, yet there is a much greater goose to be cooked:

‘In the year seventeen eighty five, a philosopher, expert on the workings of the earth, did present to the Royal Society of Edinburgh a theory based upon the findings of both his eye and mind. James Hutton was the man’s name and he called his idea the Theory of the Earth which he later published at the end of the century. I do indeed own a copy, and it is rambleously profound. Let us begin to understand it:

‘Hutton starts his book with the following observation:

“When we trace the parts of which this terrestrial system is composed, and when we view the general connection of those several parts, the whole presents a machine of a peculiar construction by which it is adapted to a certain end. We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it.”

‘and goes onto pronounce:

“We shall thus also be led to acknowledge an order, not unworthy of Divine wisdom, in a subject which, in another view, has appeared as the work of chance, or as absolute disorder and confusion.”

‘You see Hutton had found that the earth is a machine made up of many parts: rock, soil, heat, water, air, ocean, plants and animals which, through particular observation of such, he concluded is in a constant motion that brings about both the destruction and renewal of rock, sand and soil, that we farmers many never be in want of it. Let us enjoy his reason:

‘We must first concede the man had a proficient understanding of the classification of minerals – feldspar, gypsum, etcetera – and what he did not know, just as I’ve previously stated concerning the interconnectedness of science, he found in a book by a right man of minerals by the name of Cronsted. Now we may address his first point: that across our earth, whether it be along the shore or as high up as the Alps or Andes mountains – soaring features of the new world – it is found that the rock is inundated with the relics of sea creatures of long ago! He further found that our calcareous rocks, soil, chalk and the like are indeed made up of the shells and bodies of a particular set of these creatures – coral or cockle shells as examples – for it is quite uncommon to find a stratum of such without having these relics embedded, and they are of the selfsame elements, shewn by our men of chemistry. Here again I will refer to his writing:

“But that which renders the original of our land clear and evident, is the immense quantities of calcareous bodies which had belonged to animals, and the intimate connection of these masses of animal production with the other strata of the land. For it is to be proved, that all these calcareous bodies, from the collection of which the strata were formed, have belonged to the sea, and were produced in it.”

‘He then had reckoned a mechanism for how it became that these creatures of long ago had transformed into our fine rock of lime. He did so by contemplating the following: firstly – that inside these marbles, these chalks and marles there exists, by his words, a ‘sparry structure’ or a crystalline expression of the limestone that may only be born from a state of fluidity; secondly – that as glass or iron may be molten, so too may be rock, as shewn by the work of volcanoes; thirdly – that the interstices of our rock’s strata, each articulate in its particular mineral composition, are consolidated upon each other in a manner that only can occur by a state of molten fluidity, whilst there are examples of calcareous regions, such as those of the Isle of Wight, whose hardness is a feature of their strata’s depth: soft and crumbly atop, graduating to well consolidated below; and lastly – the general observance of what one would conclude was the attrition of rock, gravel and sand by the work of water against them, inland or along the shore, and the taking of soil by a flooded stream or ditch away from its original position upon the land.

‘And from these he offered that as the marine animals shells accumulate upon the sea floor at their deaths, their structures are worn by attrition, motivated by the ocean’s inexhaustible currents, so that most of their matter becomes finer particulates, just as we may break apart a marle or limestone into an impalpable substance to manure our fields. This broken shell is then covered by even more of such, or thusly by sand or soils being deposited into our oceans from river outlets, having been taken and carried there from inland. The process continues until what was once the floor of the ocean now is quite underneath! Here I will demonstrate how the accumulation forms particular interstices of the strata’.

Mr. Moore visited his table, held up his rummer that was resting atop it to show his audience, then filled it partly with a chalky soil from a bag underneath. Once again displaying the object, he continued to fill it with a darker, sandy material from a second bag, then topped it off with the original entity, that the effect was three layers of material, shown through the clear wall of the cup. A few smiles, a few inquisitive faces, and a few blinking eyes replied to the display, yet the lack of nods compelled the lecturer, with his other hand, to hold up a shale specimen with many thin strata, as a comparator to the rummer.

‘How does this become this? To answer, Hutton apprises the lurid toil of the volcano whose many instances occur both on land and in the ocean; Mount Aetna and the ancient Mount Vesuvius being right examples. He argues they are not but isolated events, but express a regular and extensive heat of unfathomable power that occurs deep within the earth. And just as this heat produces fluid rock that ejects from the mouths of these mountains, it too causes a general fluidity in the material deep inside the earth, that bakes and consolidates our poor shells, sands and soils, which when cooled creates the hardened rocks of strata; pieces of which now lie on this table. Take care not to drop them when passing them around. Let us hear again from Hutton as we do so, who further presented many cases that this fluidity is not of an aqueous origin, but solely heat:

“We have strata consolidated by calcareous spar, a thing perfectly distinguishable from the stalactical concretion of calcareous earth, in consequence of aqueous solution. We have strata made solid by the formation of fluor, a substance not soluble, so far as we know, by water. We have strata consolidated with sulphureous and bituminous substances, which do not correspond to the solution of water. We have strata consolidated with siliceous matter, in a state totally different from that under which it has been observed, on certain occasions, to be deposited by water. We have strata consolidated by feldspar, a substance insoluble in water. We have strata consolidated by almost all the various metallic substances, with their almost endless mixtures and sulphureous compositions; that is to say, we find, perhaps, every different substance introduced into the interstices of strata which had been formed by subsidence at the bottom of the sea.”

‘Here too is a Spanish pudding stone – a marble – in which gravel also has been caught up in this baking process and is made to perfectly conform to the calcareous material around it – see how well it takes polish! And note the fusion of the two species of mineral on this piece – feldspar and quartz, I believe – and contemplate how this feature could ever exist without but the fluidity found in heat and pressure.

‘Yet Hutton did not desist at the horizon of these ideas and retire, to the comfort of his colleagues; no, he exploded their comfort by further offering that this heat not only affords molten lava from fiery mountain summits, but does inject our strata, when in a relatively cooler state (that endeavoring to become, from the ocean, dry land), with veins of liquid mineral and metal, sometimes by violent fracturing, exemplifying the immortal power of the bowls of the earth. His reasons that did oblige him to torment these learned men are that such hardened venous injections are found on land who has known no volcano, ancient or not; that they do contain fractured shards of the impregnated strata, attributed to the sudden nature of the operation; and too the same crystalline and fusion features we’ve thus covered are there present. Here I’ve a capital stone that has been collected by a naturalist retracing Hutton’s journey to Glen Tilt in the Cairngorm mountains: observe this pinked granite injected into this dull sandstone. This stone puts to rest the notions that granite is a primeval substance – for here it is clearly injected into, by plain reason, an older piece of sandstone – and the foolishness that granite was original of sedimentation or chemical precipitation from an aqueous fluid.

‘Now let us to the goose: This unimaginable heat does not but consolidate material to stone, and fracture and inject new land into the ground; it has a mechanical force of equally inhuman magnitude: Hutton says “we are not to limit nature with our imbecility, or estimate the powers of nature by the measure of our own”. Wherefore does it come to pass that the remnants of marine animals do appear in the bodies of the great Alps? It is this force that compels the land from the oceans to rise, dry out and continue its journey upward. The motive power of this heat is shewn by strata found twisted from their horizontal, sedimentary position in the abyss, into every possible position, be it vertical, bent, doubled over from their plane position, and even broken. One plate in his book does shew a drawing of strata from Jedburgh, Scotland in which horizontal layers sit atop vertical layers – a proposition Hutton called “angular unconformity”, and by its sight one is struck with terrible appreciation for this motive power. Further he proposed that none of all which I’ve addressed this day is of limited accident in the system. Rather, these operations occur in uniform fashion, with regard to the global system, that not one nook or cranny lies untouched, for he does say:

“…but from the accounts of travellers, and from the specimens which are brought to us from distant parts, we have reason to believe, that all the rest of the earth is of the same nature with that which has been now considered. The great masses of the earth are the same every where; and all the different species of earths, of rocks or stone, which have as yet appeared, are to be found in the little space of this our island.”

‘And just as the earth – this perpetual apparatus – reinvigorates itself by the formation of new land, it does so by the destruction of old land, decayed by attrition through the work of water – rain, flood, tide and current – that rock begets gravel, gravel begets sand, sand begets impalpable clay, and these are carried back to the oceans as nutrients that continue the process; all the while, by our relic evidence, plants and animals do thrive – the selfsame species, in fact, and perhaps a few that we are not yet acquainted. Let me reemphasize this: the land we do set foot upon, was once the floor of the abyss, and before it was so, was olden land from a world that does no longer exist, save the species of animals and plants that are more indifferent to the process, and that olden land is thus begotten from that proficiently older. Hutton also puts to the point that the forces which cause such change do still exist at present, undiminished in their power! I will further emphasize that these suppositions are not prophesy derived from a vast imagination: they fully rest upon the merits of observation and reason. In the man’s words:

“It must not be imagined that this undertaking is a thing unreasonable in its nature; or that it is a work necessarily beset with any unsurmountable difficulty; for, however imperfectly we may fulfill this end proposed, yet, so far as it is to natural causes that are to be ascribed the operations of former time, and so far as, from the present state of things, or knowledge of natural history, we have it in our power to reason from effect to cause, there are, in the constitution of the world, which we now examine, certain means to read the annals of a former earth”

‘Yes, Mr. Orton – you’ve something for us?’, he called upon a man – indeed a well respected ploughman – whom the parson had known first as a young scarer of birds, then a cow boy, and presently as a devout Christian man. The laborer had heard every word of the lecture, that he felt the ominous prodrome of a splenic fever derived from the gross disparity between what he knew of the world – which had indeed been impressed upon him in that very church – and that which Mr. Hutton, and now seemingly Mr. Moore did know. This, and his familiarity with Mr. Moore, compelled him speak:

‘Beh, beg pardon sir! Beg pardon Mr. Moore, but we none of us simple folk have ever heard any account of land rising up from the ocean, and perhaps it’s on account that we are so very far from it, yet we further do neither see rocks turn to soil, at least in any quantity needed to remake an entire stretch of land!’ This caused some break of propriety, and muddled agreement and exclamation within the room.

‘Ah, and neither do I, Mr. Orton. And there are no accounts that the natural features observed around sea ports as far back as ancient Greece or Rome are worn in any measurable way through attrition, yet the land plainly tells us it is true. This illuminates the most profound feature of this earthly system: that the interval between ancient Rome and present is but a grain of time inside a heavenly glass keeping an indefinite quantity of such.

‘Again here in lies the matter concerning generality and detail: just as we do not know the exact moment that it will take for any one carriage to arrive in London from Edinburgh, it is not known – the age of our earth. We may only say the time between our cities is a good, long time, and hence we may only say the earth has existed a great, long time – much longer than we’ve been told by many a scholar who insists on adding up ages of the men of Genesis and so forth. A man of the last century – a Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon – did observe the time in which globes of white-hot iron and rock took to cool, then deciding upon a mathematical relationship between their sizes and cooling times, he was able to calculated the cooling time of an earth sized globe, and from such he pronounced the earth to be seventy five thousand years of age. Naturally this was retracted to comfort the authorities of the University of Paris’.

Mr. Moore’s last remark was drowned out by the most abhorrent destruction of silence his church had known; several attacks on the qualities of French character leapt out – embers of the fire he had stoked with his extravagant but indefinite number of grains in the glass of deep time. And as this rabble blazed on, he quietly repeated Hutton’s final sentiments issued some thirty five years removed from the present, at the closing of the man’s lecture in Edinburgh:

“We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is: But we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system, and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for any thing higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.”    

[Note this is a post originally published in February of 2015]