Reply to Mortenson about John Murray

Copyright 2002 G.R. Morton This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made. (

This is a response to Mortenson's reply to my critique of his position on John Murray. It is a bit of an open letter and a bit of a critique. I will discuss the important issues first and at the end discuss the appalling way this man has approached this issue with me. I put that part at the end as it is pedantic and won't be of interest to some so cease reading at that point if you don't want to know about Mortenson's behavior.

Mortenson wrote in his reply (Quote 1):

 “Morton does not seem to have read my ETS paper very carefully. Contrary to Morton's assertion, I never said in my ETS paper (which Morton read) or my Ph.D. thesis (which he hasn't read) or in my short article on the AiG website (which he has read) that Murray was a geologist.” (

  He also claims that I am quoting him out of context. It is interesting how these two claims don't hold up to scrutiny. The paper says in the Abstract (Quote 2):

 “Four of the geologically most competent Scriptural geologists are introduced to the reader before giving a summary of their main Biblical and geological objections to the idea of an old earth.” Mortenson ETS 2001 paper, p. 1

 Now, Mortenson doesn't put ‘geologists’ or ‘Scriptural geologists’ inside of quotes and throughout the paper he talks about their geological competence. The use of the adjective ‘Scriptural’ is entirely analogous with the use of the term ‘structural geologists’ whom all would believe are geologists. No one would think that a structural geologist isn't a geologist so no reason to think differently with the adjective ‘Scriptural’ except for the displayed incompetence. Thus, he has indeed called them geologists. Indeed he never places the word geologist in quotes as far as I can find anywhere in the paper. What is the reader to think? Mortensen is clearly calling them geologists or wanting his readers to think that is what they are. Furthermore, Mortenson notes that Murray's “knowledge and experience qualified him to become a Fellow of the Linneaean Society in 1819, the Society of Antiquities in 1822, the London Geological Society in 1823. . .” and then emphasizes that Murray's membership continued throughout his career. But now Mortenson claims he wasn't a geologist, yet in his article, Mortenson claims the man was a member of the geological society. Which is it Dr. Mortenson, is Murray a geologist or not? Is your paper correct or incorrect? Or are you changing now to avoid the problems you have stirred up by not having a nice private discussion with me?

Mortenson wrote (Quote 3):

“Murray and the others were not naïve, Bible-thumping, geological ignoramuses.” (

  And Mortenson writes (Quote 4):

  “Morton quotes out of context what I say about Murray. Murray was well informed about geological theory and evidence as it related to the arguments for an old Earth, even if he wasn't completely up-to-date about every detail of the structure of the Earth (most of the issues Morton mentions had nothing to do with establishing the dogma of the old-Earth interpretation of the Earth's stratigraphic record).” (

  One can't claim that the guy was knowledgeable and ‘competent’ about geology when the ideas he was spouting were outdated by over 40 years! That is the very definition of ‘ignoramus’! One might ask why Murray didn't know the density of the earth, know of the increase in temperature of the earth as one goes deeper and apply his knowledge of pressure when he assumed that the flood waters might sink back into the earth? The second of the above statements is an admission by Mortenson that Murray wasn't up to date, which thus undermines Mortenson's claim that he was competent in geology. 19th century geologists and even young-earthers today know that the earth has a density of about 5.5 g/cc rather than 1 g/cc which would be necessitated by Murray's statements on the flood! The inside of the earth simply can't be water. Mortenson also tries to change the topic by asserting the issue is the age of the earth. The issue is Murray's incompetence.

  Mortenson's paper says (Quote 5):

“The Scriptural geologists were not opposed to geological facts, but to the interpretation of those facts.” ETS2001 paper p. 15

  If this is true, why was Murray opposed to the earth getting denser and hotter as one traveled deeper? Murray was opposed to geologic fact, and that is a fact!

  Mortenson writes (Quote 6):

“First, contrary to the implication of Morton's points 1, 2, and 4, Murray did not work out a detailed ‘Flood model,’ but rather gave informed objections for why Christians at that time did not need to abandon their faith in the literal truth of Genesis 1-11. Furthermore, his failure to address topics that Morton demands that he should have written about (in a book that devotes less than 20 of its 380 pages to a discussion of Noah's Flood and geology), is not an indication of Murray's geological ignorance, but of Morton's unreasonable demands 162 years later. Morton is wrong to base his criticisms on what Murray does NOT say, especially since he does not cite any explicit statements of error by Murray on these very topics. Morton fails to take Murray's comments in the context of his whole 1840 book and what he was trying to accomplish through it.” (

It is clear that when Murray speaks of the diluvium and ossiferous fissures that he held a position similar to Buckland's 1823 position. Buckland believed that the flood left a surficial layer of unsorted material on the ground and washed bones into caves. The flood was a very late catastrophe in earth history. The only real issue which is missing from this view is where did the water come from and where did it go. Murray answered both questions, which are led to points 1, 2 and 4 of my paper. And contrary to Mortenson's claim I clearly document that Murray had available to him the knowledge which would have helped him avoid the silly mistakes he made.

     What is odd in Mortenson's reply is that above (quote 4) he acknowledges that Murray was behind the times but then claims it was irrelevant, but immediately above (quote 6), he claims that it was unfair to expect him to address these things. One can't have it both ways.

     Mortenson says I fail to take account of the context of Murray's book. As I mentioned earlier the issue is an examination of Murray's geological competence with the knowledge of his day, not what Murray was trying to accomplish with his incompetence. That is irrelevant to whether or not Murray was using the data correctly and was as competent as Mortenson claimed in his paper.

  Mortenson wrote (Quote 7):

“TM: The density of the Earth was never used as evidence for building or defending the old-Earth uniformitarian or catastrophist theories in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Since there are subterranean waters in abundance today, it is hardly a ridiculous assumption to think that there were such reservoirs before the Flood also, but containing even more water than today (given the teaching of Gen. 7:11).” (

My attempted discussion with Mortenson was not about the age of the earth but about Mortenson's claim that Murray was competent in geology. Thus, knowledge of the density of the earth IS very relevant to that issue. Only an incompetent geologist would claim that the center of the earth was water! And as to the subterranean waters ‘in abundance today’, Mortenson not only displays his ignorance of geology (of which he is attempting to be a historian), but also is diverting attention. There are no big pools of subterranean water anywhere on earth. The reason we know this is because seismic shear waves (waves whose particle motion is perpendicular to the direction the wave travels) can't travel through liquids. But we find shear waves traveling to every part of the world after earthquakes. If there was abundant water down there, the shear waves would never make it to the surface. And should Dr. Mortenson decide that he is referring to interstitial water, that is an equally bad answer. The interstitial waters in the earth occupy the pore spaces in between the grains of rock. On average the porosity of the rock is around 1-2% meaning that in 1000 feet of rock you might have 10-20 feet of water. But you can't move most of that water as it is immobile, being fixed in place by surface tension and molecular adsorption. This water is unavailable to be used in a global flood and can't be the ‘waters of the deep’ as they can't come out of the rock unless you grind the rocks up and evaporate the water.

Mortenson writes (Quote 8):

“TM: There was no reason for Murray to inform his readers in 1840 about Agassiz's theory. Contrary to what Morton implies, glacial theory was very much in debate in 1840” (

What Mortenson misses is that a scholar, one interested in truth, has an obligation to mention the data which may falsify what he is saying and to address it. Scholars who hide data or sweep it under the rug and act like it doesn't exist, are mere sophists. I will quote a history of Lyell's life. (quote 9):

  “From at least the 1820s there had been growing speculation about the possible role of a recent major land glaciation in processes of erosion, transport and deposition across much of the now temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. As is well known, more than a generation earlier both Hutton and Playfair had speculated on this possibility.”
     “In 1826 Robert Jameson published in his Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal a translation from the original Norwegian of a paper by the Dane, Jens Esmark, arguing that both Norway and Denmark had been recently glaciated.” (Boylan, 1998, p. 145)

  And four major publications by Jameson on glacial theory were published between 1836 and 1839 (Boylan 1998, p. 146). So, if Murray was ‘competent’ he would have known of these works. If he had known of the trend, then as a reputable scholar, he should have mentioned the possibility and been honest with his readers. As it was, Murray shows no signs that he is even aware of the argument and thus acts like one who is incompetent in the field.

  Mortenson writes (Quote 10):

  TM: First, Murray's statement is a passing comment in his discussion and he does not express it as a dogmatic position (for he says it ‘seems’ to him ‘more likely’ and indicates by the word ‘however’ that the other view might be right). Second, we must interpret him in his historical context. Many views that were dogmatically defended as fact at that time were not necessarily fact and have since been refuted or significantly modified. (Not until the 20th century did scientists agree that Newton's theory of gravitation doesn't apply at the sub-atomic level of reality.” (

What exactly does expressing it as a dogmatic position have to do with his competence????? If he expresses views which are entirely false and known to be false by his contemporaries, doesn't that mark Murray as an incompetent? If making patently false statements is not a mark of incompetence, then what exactly is? Would you go to a doctor who asked you to take two eye of newt and go to bed??? We would correctly judge the doctor as incompetent for making a stupid statement. Why must we excuse Murray for doing the same thing?

     And as for competence in science, Mortenson's statement that gravity doesn't apply at the subatomic level is patently false and displays a great misunderstanding of physics. Indeed, just about 2 weeks ago, a quantum experiment demonstrated quantum effects from a neutron dropped in a gravitational field. If gravity doesn't apply to this sub-atomic particle, why did it fall in a gravitational field? (Nesvizhevsky et al, 2002, p. 297)

  Mortenson writes (Quote 11):

TM: While the quote by Murray suggests (though it does not clearly state) that he believed the waters of the Flood came from the center of the Earth, it does not say that the Flood waters retreated back into the center of the Earth. Again, Morton did not read carefully, therefore putting words into Murray's mouth. On the very next page (p. 216, from which Morton quotes below under point 4, but apparently read too quickly) Murray says that the waters of the Flood ‘may have retreated into the profound abysses [note Murray's use of the plural] of the Earth.’” (

I am glad that Mortenson confirms what I thought. As a man who works mines and knew about pressure, Murray KNEW that this could not occur, yet he went ahead and proposed it as a possibility. That means that Murray was sweeping data under the rug and not letting his readers know of it. Thanks for the support.

Mortenson writes (Quote 12):

TM: Morton's mathematical discussion just makes far too much of Murray's brief and technically imprecise statement,” (

  Isn't the mark of someone who is competent that they make technically precise statements? Thanks for verifying that Murray was incompetent.

  Mortenson complains (Quote 13):

TM: One wonders when Lyell made this statement, since Morton doesn't tell us which of the three volumes and which edition of Lyell's Principles of Geology he is quoting from (I couldn't find it on p. 82 of any volumes of my Univ. of Chicago 1990 reprint of Lyell's 1830-33 first edition, nor does the index in any of the volumes help to locate the quote elsewhere in the Principles.)” (

Terry, talk about not checking out the facts. Have you ever considered looking in the references on my web page? I tell you exactly where the quote comes from. Indeed, you reproduce the reference on your very own page but didn't pay any attention to it! References are a really nice feature of most modern research and one should really learn how to use them! When a reference is on a page, one reads it and then one looks for the citation in THAT edition of the book and not some other edition which is on your book shelf. This is like the drunk looking under the streetlight for the keys he lost in the dark alley. Tsk, tsk.

  Of William Smith, whom Mortenson disparages. I would merely point out that by 1831 all geologists of competence recognized Smith's major contribution to the field. The London Geological Society, with no dissenting votes, awarded him the very first Wollaston Medal for achievement in Geology. You can say what you like, Terry, but you have never drilled an oil well, never interpreted a seismic line, never looked at well cuttings to see the fossils come out. In short, you don't know what you are talking about and seriously need some experience in the field you are trying to become a historian for.

Mortenson concludes (Quote 14):

  “Murray was not a geologist. Neither he nor I claimed this.” (

  The first statement is absolutely correct and is very supportive of my contention. Murray was certainly NO geologist! The second half of the second sentence is false as noted above.


This is the response to the way Mortenson has conducted himself in this discussion. Cease reading if you aren't interested.

   Mortenson wrote (Quote 15):

  “Morton told me in an email (dated 30 December 2001) that he got the paper from his son, who got the paper from me in Denver. But right here we have the first example of Morton's inadequate attention to details and to gathering the facts. The conference was the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, which met in Colorado Springs, not Denver, in November 14-16. Furthermore, I never personally met nor gave a paper to Morton's son in Denver, where I spent the weekend after ETS with my sister's family. I gave the paper to one person in Denver, my sister's pastor, who has written that he did not give the paper to anyone and in any case does not know Glenn Morton or anyone who is his son.” (

  I had written to Mortenson on Dec. 30, 2001 (Quote 16):

 “My son passed me the copy of the paper on early 19th century British Geologists which he got from you in Denver this Fall. Doing lots of research in that area today (collecting a personal library of books on that topic from that age see I enjoyed the paper, but was taken by your interpretation of the debate, which seems stilted by your presuppositional bias and especially by your error in regard to polystrate trees.” [stuff about polystrate trees snipped from e-mail—grm]

I got no reply to this. No questioning the Denver issue and not so much as a ‘boo’ and nothing in the way of a correction for my misunderstanding of the location of the conference. This was a conference attended by my son and since I live in Scotland, and my son is an adult who has his own life. I don't always know where my son is, nor is my married 25 year old required to tell me. (Will AiG next claim that I am a bad parent?) Nor is this issue important to my claims about Murray.

     By not replying to my e-mail and by then attacking me over this trivial misunderstanding, Mortenson shows that he wasn't interested in the truth but only interested in finding things with which to attack. He easily could have e-mailed me and told me that he didn't give his paper to anyone in Denver and that the conference was in Colorado Springs (as if any of this really makes a difference to Mortenson's characterization of Murray as ‘competent’ in geology.) But it does show that Dr. Mortenson is a bit sneaky in that he wants to use trivial misunderstandings to divert attention, doing no fact checking and offering no opportunity for a misunderstanding to be corrected—this is something that Christians shouldn't do. Or is it Dr. Mortenson? Is this refusal to talk the ‘outreach’ that AiG offers to people?

     If Dr. Mortenson had bothered to check the facts by simply e-mailing me and asking (but he didn't seem to care about knowing), I could have spared him the embarrassment of being told that he did indeed meet my son, in Colorado Springs at the conference, where he personally told my son where the papers were. My son knew of my interest in the 19th century wanted to pick up the paper for me but he wanted to go to another talk. My son walked in, saw Mortenson, asked him about the paper, and Mortenson told him that the papers were on the table and that my son could pick one up. My son picked up the paper and left the room. Of course, Mortenson wouldn't have known it was my son as no names were exchanged. But Mortenson's claim not to have met my son is simply false as he could have easily ascertained had he any interest in finding the truth rather than finding arguments for his propaganda purposes.

     Now, I have e-mailed Mortenson 3 times seeking a conversation on the historical aspects of that period. He didn't respond to the first note on December 29, 2001. I again e-mailed him on Jan 15, 2002 informing him of my web page on Murray. I had the courtesy to e-mail Mortenson informing him of my critique of his position. He did not have the equivalent courtesy when he posted his response on the web. His behavior makes me think that he really isn't interested in anything but polemic. His answer to that Jan 15 e-mail was a one line response to the effect that he was too busy to answer now but would when he could.

     On Jan 29, I e-mailed him asking again if he was ever going to answer my note on polystrate fossils. He said to the effect that he didn't jump every time a critic wrote him but that a reply would be coming out soon. Of course, he didn't have the courtesy to notify me of that response and I had to find out from a friend. Sneaky!

     And Mortenson has still never answered my questions on polystrate fossils. Why won't you respond to this Terry? Are you afraid? Here is the rest of the original e-mail to him:

  “Before I make my comments, I should let you know my background. I am a physicist who went into geophysics. I was a committed young-earth creationist when I came out of college and indeed held that position until I was 44 years old. (I published a lot in CRSQ in the early 80's. But the geologic data, which I work with every day, simply didn't support what the young-earthers, including me, were saying. I finally came to a point where I could either admit the facts of geology or remain a young-earther and know in my heart that I was not being truthful with myself or others.”

  “First, I would like to commend you for correctly pointing out that Lyell was not the one who converted the world from a young-earth/catastrophist view to one of uniformitarian/actualist view (p.5), although I wouldn't call this change a compromise. It was an acknowledgement of the data that existed (data which young-earthers don't see or look at)”

  “On page 12 you wrote:

     “A second important geological objection related to certain polystrate fossils, which were often found in an upright position, and cutting through two or more strata of rock. One of the most famous polystrate fossils of the early 19th century was this tree found in a quarry in Scotland in 1830, which can be seen passing through many strata of rock. Two theories to explain such fossils were proposed and debated by leading geologists well into the 1840s, namely, either 1) that the trees had been gradually buried where they grew, or 2) that the trees had been uprooted, transported and deposited by flood waters, which rapidly buried them in sediments. Since a dead tree would rot and disintegrate over hundreds or thousands of years, the Scriptural geologists, along with some old-earth geologists, believed that these trees had been transported and buried catastrophically.”

  “The fallacy of the polystrate fossil argument (which you, a non-geologist) feel is solid consists in the FACT that under proper conditions wood won't rot. Waterlogged wood simply doesn't rot! This is what you all absolutely miss or ignore. The Mary Rose was a British war ship which sank in 1545. It was rediscovered and raised again.(impossible if the wood had rotted over the 3 centuries)

  “Another example of 300 year plus wood preservation is: which tells of a Swedish warship which sank in 1628 and was raised in 1961.

  “Here is a case of wood being preserved from the Roman times--thus being preserved for something like 1500+ years.

  “Even wood from ancient Egypt has been preserved: Haldane, Cheryl Ward. “Boat Timbers from El-Lischt: A New Method of Ancient Egyptian Hull Construction. Preliminary Report” MM (1988) 74: 141-152.

  “One can see a picture of 5000 year old planks from a ship at

  “Now, the problem for the polystrate fossil argument is that you don't have a conclusive case to make that such features can't be formed normally as the evolutionists says. I used to live in southern Louisiana. A friend from there tells me of a fossil forest with trees 4-5 feet high buried under only 35 feet of deltaic muds from St. Mary Parish (down by the delta). This is not an old cypress forest as 35 feet of sediment doesn't take that long to deposit. New Orleans is sinking due to the dewatering of the shales which is a normal process. It is sinking at a rate of 3 feet per century ( . Using half this rate, the forest my friend talks about would be of the order of 2300 years old--much the same age as the Egyptian boat.

  “In 1993 the Mississippi River flooded terribly. It dumped as much as 6 feet of sand and shale onto forests between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. This killed a lot of the trees which were rooted in the pre-flood sediments and whose trunks now are buried six feet by new sediment. They are polystrate trees now. In 10000 years some future young-earth creationists will be able to argue that they are evidence of a global flood.

  “Trees, killed and then buried under water can survive millenia--enough time for them to be preserved. Yet people like you, who should know better, spread the polystrate argument and never tell their readers of this significant point.

  “One other thing I find interesting is your comment on page 14 about geology being in its infancy and thus their knowledge was too limited to justify a theory of the whole earth. It is interesting that the young-earthers still use this argument, pointing to future discoveries to turn it all around to their view. This in a day when we have 3 dimensional seismic data and over 200,000 world wide oil wells drilled to various depths.”


  • Patrick Boylan, 1998. “Lyell and the Dilemma of Quaternary Glaciation,” in D. J. Blundell and A. C. Scott eds Lyell: the Past is the Key to the Present, (London: Geological Society, 1998), p. 145
  • V. V. Nesvizhevsky et al, “Quantum States of Neutrons in the Earth's gravitational field,” Nature, 415 (2002):297-299

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