Science thoughts from underground 6

WULINGYUAN, HUNAN — One of my last stops before classes resume was Yellow Dragon Cave (Huang Long Cave) here, near Zhangjiajie. The cave itself is stupendous. The tour includes a short boat ride on the underground river and a lot of stair climbing.

For me the highlight was this stalagmite, the “Sacred Needle for Stabilizing the Sea,” which rises 19.2 meters from the cave floor.

Sacred Needle for Stabilizing the Sea

Sacred Needle for Stabilizing the Sea

The tour guide rattled off two impressive figures relating to this structure. One is that it is insured for several million dollars. The other is that the Sacred Needle is about two million years old.

This blog has highlighted the sheer silliness of creationism over the last four years, especially the ludicrous claims of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Ham (among others) figures the world was created in exactly six days about 6,000 years ago.

To bolster their claims that the Bible accurately describes the creation of Life, the Universe and Everything, Ham and Co. try all kinds of hand-waving arguments to counter reams of contradictory evidence from astronomy, geology, paleontology and biology, like

  • The flood in the story of Noah created the Grand Canyon, aided in the dispersion of humans across the planet, and buried all known dinosaur fossils at about the same time, 2348 BC.
  • Radioisotope dating is flawed, because in ancient times radioactive minerals decayed at faster rates than they do now.

Consider this stalagmite. [Mnemonic device: stalacTites are on Top, stalagMites are on the bottoM.] It has been formed over many years by the slow drop drip drip of water through the limestone above the cave. Each drop of water contains dissolved minerals, which are left behind as the water slowly evaporates (very slowly — caves are usually humid and cool). Each drop deposits yet another microscopically thin layer of minerals on the stalagmite. Over eons, these layers can build up to form a spike 19.2 meters tall.

[For the Sacred Needle, the growth rate is about 0.01 mm/yr, using the tour guide’s information for its age. That’s pretty typical for stalagmite growth, I found.]

Creationist handwaving cannot help explain away the antiquity of the Sacred Needle. Rapid water flow, such as one might find in a Noachian flood, cannot form stalagmites or stalactites. It takes a slow — a really slow — drip drip drip of water to deposit the layers of minerals so they form a column and not a puddle. Just walking around the cave confirms the drip rate. For the stalactites I could easily see, the drips were probably coming one a minute or more. Not bad enougha yet to fix the faucet, in other words.

It bewilders me how anyone in the 21st century can still insist the world is just a few thousand years old, and that it took only six days to make it.

Maybe these people should get out a little more. They don’t need to visit China. Skip the Creation Museum and visit Big Bone Lick State Park or Mammoth Cave instead. The evidence for the real age of the Earth is there; it doesn’t lie. The Creation Museum does.

Possibly Related Posts:

6 thoughts on “Science thoughts from underground

  1. Reply Sweth Chandramouli Aug 29,2009 11:19 pm

    The mnemonic I was always taught was that a stalaCtite grew from the Ceiling, while a stalaGmite grew from the Ground.

  2. Reply Monica Wolfson Aug 30,2009 12:10 am

    Yup, stalactites have to hold on "tight" and stalagmites have to be "mighty" to grow up!

  3. Reply John Wheaton Aug 30,2009 2:10 am

    You both also learned how to spell "stalactite" correctly. I blithely ignored my spell checker on that one. I have since fixed my post.

  4. Reply James Timothy Richardson Aug 30,2009 10:45 pm

    How does this cave compare to Mammoth Cave?

  5. Reply John Wheaton Sep 2,2009 5:28 pm

    Believe it or not, I lived 28 years in KY and never once visiting Mammoth Cave. I know, I hang my head in shame. Mammoth, though, is a lot bigger. Some parts of HuangLong are not open to the public, though.

  6. Reply eljefe Sep 4,2009 9:58 pm

    My posts here automatically end up in my Facebook Notes section, but I can’t easily import comments from Facebook to here. So, I am doing manually.

    Sweth Chandramouli
    The mnemonic I was always taught was that a stalaCtite grew from the Ceiling, while a stalaGmite grew from the Ground.
    August 29 at 2:19pm · Delete

    Monica Wolfson
    Yup, stalactites have to hold on “tight” and stalagmites have to be “mighty” to grow up!
    August 29 at 3:10pm · Delete

    John Wheaton
    You both also learned how to spell “stalactite” correctly. I blithely ignored my spell checker on that one. I have since fixed my post.
    August 29 at 5:10pm · Delete

    James Timothy Richardson
    How does this cave compare to Mammoth Cave?
    August 30 at 1:45pm · Delete

    John Wheaton
    Believe it or not, I lived 28 years in KY and never once visiting Mammoth Cave. I know, I hang my head in shame. Mammoth, though, is a lot bigger. Some parts of HuangLong are not open to the public, though.
    Wed at 8:28am · Delete

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com