A grove of aspen trees that proves Ken Ham is full of it

Meet Pando, also called the Trembling Giant. It’s a single grove of quaking aspen trees in Utah.

Photo by Will Scullin, snitched from treehugger.com.

The grove is “essentially one massive root system” containing “around 47,000 stems that create the grove of trees that keep the root system going.”

And it has been growing, continuously, for 80,000 years.

The Pando aspen grove, in other words, began growing 74,000 years before young-earth creationists like Ken Ham say the universe began.

So you can study legitimate biblical scholars and learn from them that Ken Ham is full of crap and that his “Answers in Genesis” are based on recent, illiterate misreadings of the Bible.

Or you can go to Utah and stand in the shade of trees that prove it.

Pando is in Fishlake National Forest, near Richfield. It’s less than a three-hour drive south of Salt Lake City.

If Ken Ham or Al Mohler or Denny Burk or any other prominent advocate of pseudo-biblical young-earth creationism wanted to, they could book a flight to Salt Lake City, rent a car, and drive to Fishlake. There they could rent a cabin and spend a relaxing vacation walking among the beautiful trees — trees they can see and touch and smell — that stand as proof that their exegesis is nonsense and must be changed.

I suspect they don’t want to do that, but they should. The price of a trip to Utah is a lot cheaper than the price of spending the rest of your life promoting ideas that can be, and have been, disproved.

(See also, Michael C. Grant, “The Trembling Giant.”)


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  • The price of a trip to Utah is a lot cheaper than the price of spending
    the rest of your life promoting ideas that can be, and have been,

    Really? I figured these guys were making mad bank off promoting their lies.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Clearly God created 74,000 year old trees in a 13.8 billion year old universe 6,000 years ago.  Which of course raises the question, ‘If, besides Ken Ham’s reading of the Bible, the universe and planet Earth look billions of years old by all known observational techniques, why not have science teach that and have Ken Ham say that ‘well, okay, you get the right answer by a 13.8 billion year old universe but for spiritual fulfillment you need to accept that God created it 6000 years ago.’

    Probably because the YEC crowd seem massively discontent with the idea that the universe looks far older than 6000 years, and keep trying to come up with reasons why the masses and masses of data that astronomers, geologists, physicists, chemists, biologists, archeologists have documented is wrong or mis-interpreted.  Invoking a sort of Biblical Last Thursdayism  where the Big Bang, evolution by natural selection, radio-isotopic dating, etc. still give you an internally consistent picture of a 13.8 billion year old world and only interpreting holy scripture their way  will give you ‘God’s answer’ seems to be less popular than in trying to argue with the data.  

  • AnonymousSam

    Ken Ham’s explanation is much more simple. “The scientists are wrong because the Bible says they are. Praise be to God for the complexity of His Creation!”

    Strip away all the obfuscating handwaving and nonsensical garbage psuedo-science and that’s exactly what you get.

  • John Small Berries

    Oh, come on now. You know perfectly well that Ham’s response would be “80,000 years? How do you know? Were you there?

  •  Ya know, if someone ever says that to me in real life (in seriousness) I think I’m going to respond as such:


    Them: “But that’s impossi-”

    “Were you there?”

    Because that’s how painfully moronic that line of argument really is.  That anyone is dumb enough to buy it makes me stabby.  (And yet…)

  • GDwarf

     The question of “Omphalos” (“Bellybutton”; The question of whether Adam was created with one and, from that, whether the universe was created yesterday but made to look as if it was older) has lead to some pretty serious religious schisms. But then, so has everything else. It’s interesting that Ham et al. don’t accept it as true, since it would make their job much easier. Though, of course, it would also mean that the money would dry up, since all of their “proofs” would now either be obviously wrong or imply that God made errors when making the world look older than it is.

  • Vermic

    I braved the Answers in Genesis website to see what it had to say about ancient trees.  I found this article about bristlecone pine dendrochronology which suggests the possibilities that 1) maybe trees were producing multiple rings/year in the millenium after the Flood and 2) something about external disturbances in a grove causing false crossmatching in the rings between different trees, gaaah I’m no scientist and I don’t know what he’s getting at here; bottom line scientists are misreading 1000 years as several thousand.

    Even though the technical details elude me, I recognize the overall game is “assume as Unassailable Truth that the tree is only 5000 years old, and then come up with possibilities to justify it,” an approach which sticks in my craw.

  •  (nods) I was raised alongside a Jewish variation of Last Thursdayism, and the response to it I ultimately adopted was “If God creates detailed, compelling evidence of a fictional history, I choose to believe that evidence. To do otherwise would be to deny God’s Creation.” It puzzled many people.

  • AnonymousSam

    There was a time when I made arguments just like that. After all, arguing that divinity never takes the form of a human is arguing against the existence of Jesus Christ…

  • Guest

    Anyone who denies science in the case of Young Earth Creationism should have to renounce everything else science has given us as unreliable. Throw away those cellphones and stop taking medicine, because scientists are wrong wrong wrong!

  • Magic_Cracker

    Clearly God created 74,000 year old trees in a 13.8 billion year old universe 6,000 years ago.

    Clearly, the God you describe goes by the name of Loki and he’s a real funny bastard ‘long as you’re not on the receiving end of one of his jokes.

  • Jim Roberts

    Well, see, it’s the difference between historical science and operational science*. Historical science is looking at the past for scientific evidence, while operational science is looking at things in the present. And historical science, like dendrology, isn’t all that reliable, y’see.

    *No, I did not invent those terms. These are actual words that people use in this combination believing them mean something.

  • The_L1985

    To which I would respond,  “How do you know that God dictated the book of Genesis as a literal historical account, rather than just another creation story like the ones every other religion on earth has?  How do you know that God had anything to do with the writing of Genesis? Were you there?

  • Random_Lurker

     It just bounces off and they change the subject.  I’ve debated with creationists for a long time.  The only way to make a dent is to turn the conversation to biblical inerrancy- they still won’t change their minds (then and there), but at least you’ll be getting them onto a topic they are actually willing to think about.

  • Eric B.

    Even back when I was a literal 6-day creationist I thought Ken Hamm was full of it.

  • I know that a lot of people take issue with him, but PZ Myers recently wrote up a very nice response to the “Were you there?” nonsense.

    I don’t think there’s anything terribly inflammatory or insulting in this piece, which I actually think is a beautiful piece of writing, but it is PZ Myers, so I feel like I have to provide at least some kind of warning for anyone who might need it.

  • The_L1985

     That’s beautiful.  Thanks for the link.

  • Jim Roberts

    It was guys like Ken Ham who persuaded me away from YEC, honestly. That, and lots of positive experiences with science.

  • MaryKaye

    It is a beautiful grove of trees.  But unless you are open to inferring things from scientific information, it remains simply a beautiful grove of trees.  You have to speak its language to know what it’s saying, and you also have to be willing to listen.

    I’m on record as saying I’d be totally convinced of evolution if there were no fossils of any kind anywhere (say, because some quirk of physics prevented fossilization).  The patterns of DNA similarity among organisms are quite sufficient.  But you have to (a) accept that these patterns, which no one has ever seen, actually exist, and (b) be willing to draw conclusions from them.  Otherwise it’s just a bit of whitish stuff in a test tube, and it doesn’t say anything to you.

    The gotcha I run into when talking with creationists is that they ask me what it would take to convince me evolution didn’t happen.  And I look at the DNA and think, “Well, what’s the alternative hypothesis, other than Last Thursdayism?” and I can’t come up with *anything* that explains the data halfway adequately.  Alien intervention?  But there’s no discontinuity between micro and macro on the DNA level, so you’d need an alien standing over each HIV patient intervening in the evolutionary process of the virus *within that one patient*.  And an alien in the lab next to mine, making my colleague’s yeast evolve the ability to climb out of the chemostat (they do this a couple of times a year, making a huge mess).  At that point you meet Occam’s Razor a lot better by removing the aliens and just letting the stuff mutate.

    But when I say “I can’t think of anything” they say “Aha!  It *is* a religion!”


  • markedward

    The subject of ‘Biblical inerrancy’ is just as impenetrable. I’ve brought up the undeniable existence of manuscript variations, and the response is just ‘Oh, those are corruptions’ or ‘Well, the original manuscript is what is inerrant’.

    Okay, that’s all fine and dandy. Except then they won’t tell you /which/ manuscripts are the corrupted ones (unless they think it’s the KJV). And the vast majority I’ve encountered completely fail to appreciate the fact that we don’t /have/ the original manuscripts, so that’s counterpoint is entirely moot.

  • MaryKaye

    I had not read PZ Meyers before.  That is indeed a beautiful piece of writing.

    (I also liked “Yes, I am The Highlander” as a response to “Were you there?”, from the comments.)

    Has anyone ever seen a computer animation of the action of glaciers on Puget Sound during the last Ice Age?  I really, really want one of these.  It would make the city’s topography so much more meaningful to me.  One of my colleagues has an animation showing what was happening to Madagascar while the continents did their dance (much longer time scale) and it’s incredibly revealing.  (Madagascar has never been as close to Africa before as it is now; it started out near India and has been lonely most of its existence, which helps explain why its fauna is so weird.)

  • The thing I always find very troublesome is that people who promote Young-Earth Creationism are essentially accepting that God will lie to your fucking face and do so as a Secret Test of Faith.

    That kind of sadistic hoop-jumping is not on.

  • Tricksterson

    Baldur was an accident!

    Sorry, he asked me to pass that along.

  • Tricksterson

    Suddenly I want to go over to Madagascar, pat it and say, “There, there, at least now you have Africa for company”.

  • Magic_Cracker

    That’s what guys like that always say when they get someone killed.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    That approach sticks in my craw because it is the polar opposite of science.  Science observes nature, collects data, and then hypothesizes based on that data.  The YEC-ers start with the conclusion and then try to find the data that supports the conclusion.

  • Random_Lurker

     You have to show them meaning in the text that they’ve never seen because they are blinded by the literal nonsense.  The won’t accept evidence or reason by definition, so you have to appeal to their sense of the spiritual.

    My favorite example is Genesis 1; plot out the first 3 days of creation, then the second 3, and tie in with the 7th.  It’s an order out of chaos story in poetry form, where the structure of the verse itself reveals things about the nature of God.

    Day 1/4 : Creation of light and dark/populating of day and night sky with stars etc
    Day 2/5: Creation of water and sky/populating the ocean with fish, sky with birds, etc
    Day 3/6: Creation of land/populating the earth with animals and people
    Day 7: Holy day

    It reveals an interrelationship of the elements of creation, and the nature of God, in a way that checking items off a list in a history never can.  Some people are blown away, some are just confused.  It makes a great example of why there’s more to the bible the literalism though, without appealing to evidence that YEC will naturally reject. I wish I knew more examples (Acts 10 is one I like thanks to Fred, but it’s too bound up in the culture war to be taken seriously) but I’m not a scripturephile. I’m sure someone else can come up with more good examples.

  • Ursula L

    Clearly God created 74,000 year old trees in a 13.8 billion year old universe 6,000 years ago. 

    Which of course makes God a liar, and Creation a lie, God lying, to us.  

    Now, why we should believe the Word of God is true, when the Creation of God is a lie?

  • MaryKaye

    The pro-Last-Thursday argument I’ve heard is that having fictional prehistory no more makes God a liar than having backstory for a novel makes the novelist a liar.  It’s an artistic necessity.

    My reaction to that is that I’d forgive the backstory, but someone who reads a novel and discusses the plotline as if the backstory happened is not doing it wrong!  In fact, treating the pre-novel backstory as not happening is really disrespectful.  The novelist put it there to make the story real–ignoring it breaks the story contract.  So the scientist is the one Doing It Right.

    Greg Egan’s _Permutation City_ inspires me to put forward the argument that if the entire Universe is precisely as it would be if it were 13.7 billion years old, then it *is* 13.7 billion years old, because all of the states it would have had to go through in the last 13.7 billion years have all been calculated and therefore exist.  (No, I don’t believe this; I didn’t believe it in _Permutation City_ either.  But I do like looking at it.)

  • Water_Bear

    Well, you could always be a Gnostic Christian.

  • Steve Morrison

    The gotcha I run into when talking with creationists is that they ask me
    what it would take to convince me evolution didn’t happen.

    There’s always Haldane’s “fossil rabbit in the Precambrian”.

  • Ursula L

    The pro-Last-Thursday argument I’ve heard is that having fictional prehistory no more makes God a liar than having backstory for a novel makes the novelist a liar.  It’s an artistic necessity.
    My reaction to that is that I’d forgive the backstory, but someone who reads a novel and discusses the plotline as if the backstory happened is not doing it wrong!  In fact, treating the pre-novel backstory as not happening is really disrespectful.  The novelist put it there to make the story real–ignoring it breaks the story contract.  So the scientist is the one Doing It Right.

    There is a reason, however, that the library shelves novels as “fiction” and we  don’t turn to novels to tell us about the real world.   There is truth in art and fiction, but not the sort of truth that counts as nonfiction, and that belongs in the study of science and history.  

    You accept the “truth” of backstory as part of your suspension of disbelief when reading a fictional story.  

    And suspension of disbelief is nothing at all like faith.  When you suspend your disbelief, you know that you’re doing it, and you set aside your disbelief for the moment to enjoy a story, you don’t carry that suspension of disbelief into your understanding of the real world.  

    What the creationists are doing is asking us to treat what we experience in the real world as fictional “backstory” while words on a page are to be treated as reality.  

  • Mark Z.

    In Haldane’s time, maybe; at this point I think we’d all assume it was a hoax.

    And even if it was real, okay, fossil rabbit in the Precambrian. That shows that we’re wrong about rabbits. Or about fossils. Or about the geological history of that spot. You find something like that, you modify the theory. It’s a pretty extreme anomaly, and that’s why the first thousand questions would be “Are we SURE this isn’t a fake?”, but it doesn’t refute all the gazillion other cases where we’ve seen evolution at work.

  • Edo

    They don’t because they can’t. Inerrantism is a symptom of a broader blindness to Christian tradition, usually because it’s categorically rejected. Discussing textual recensions puts you in a relationship with the past, and it’s a relationship some people are afraid to have.

  • DMG

    > The gotcha I run into when talking with creationists is that they ask
    > me what it would take to convince me evolution didn’t happen.

    The trick I take to that is to split “Evolution” into a bunch of smaller ideas, each of which could conceivably be falsified by an experiment.

    One is common descent. If we discovered tomorrow that an obscure species never-before-sequenced had no genetic similarity to any known organism – maybe it even used different amino acids or nucleotides in its basic chemistry – that would demonstrate that not all life on Earth descended from a single common ancestor. (Though it would leave the door open for two parallel evolutionary trees, that would still be a radical enough shock that I could say “I was fundamentally wrong in what I thought about evolution”)

    Another one is undirectedness of mutations / dominance of selection in creating adaptive change. Say you put a population of organisms in a situation where a particular adaptation would be greatly advantageous, but carefully control their breeding so that each individual is equally represented in the next generation, regardless of its fitness. Evolutionary theory would suggest that new adaptations would not easily arise in this situation (gene changes could only drift to fixation), and deleterious alleles would become more common. If instead the experiment showed a positive drive toward adaptation even in the absence of selection, that would demonstrate a powerful force in adaptive change other than selection, or an innate directedness of mutation, which would again topple a major pillar of the evolutionary model.

    I’m not holding my breath for either result, but such findings are conceivable, and would render false my current understanding of evolution. So, I think I could argue that I don’t believe evolution on faith – I consider it correct because experiments done to date have found the opposite of those above, lending ever-increasing support to the theory of evolution as we know it today.

  • David Starner

    What do you mean by yeast evolve the ability to climb out of the chemostat? What happens, what’s different?

  • P J Evans

    There’s a creosote-bush ring in the Mojave  Desert that’s estimated to be 10,000 years old. (The newer plants grow up outside of the older ones, so it becomes a slowly-expanding ring.)

  • David Starner

    I’m not sure any real scientific theory is falsifiable in that sense, though that won’t help you with the creationists.  The scientific answer to having a piece of evidence that doesn’t fit a huge pile of known evidence is always to look for a way to make it fit. It’s like locked room mysteries; in real life, a locked room mystery might make you think that a person can squeeze through a window that you previously thought impossible, but never that people could get shot without a gun or that people can teleport.

  • MaryKaye

    Standard lab yeast does’t stick to glass much.  (It’s not a survival trait in standard lab situations; you end up part of the cleanup rather than going into the next experiment.)

    My colleague raises yeast in long-term chemostats:  medium drips in from above and flows out through a filter at the bottom, and this goes on for a long time.  The population reaches a steady state where it can’t expand.  But sooner or later, some adhesion mutants appear that can stick to glass, then grow up the glass in a biofilm and into the sterile medium source.  (At that point she used to throw the whole thing out, but now she has a student who’s interested in how this happens, so they’re collecting the stuff.)

    She is generally interested in how yeast innovates, and does things like starving them of sulfur and waiting for them to evolve improvements in sulfur metabolism–an interesting question is whether it’s always the same innovation, or a bunch of different ones.  (For sulfur it’s always the same one so far, and quite fast for a gene duplication–there may be mechanical genomic reasons for this.)

  • Joy_F

    I am guessing they will have a theory on thi very quickly and the theory will be held as fact just as quickly as it is developed :)

  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis

  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis

  • Nomuse

    Omphalos was the way I read the famous “Puddleglum’s Reply” (from “The Silver Chair,”) — but, I’m afraid, rather differently than C.S. Lewis intended.  The world of Narnia was complex but organized; it had causality, it had a beginning and an end. Math worked there.  The world of the cavern was a bell-jar world, with no clear rationale, no connections between causes and events.  The reason to reject the cavern was not just that Narnia was a nicer dream, but that the cavern was such a poorly detailed, poorly thought-out one.

    Plus, of course, if you believe in and accept the cavern there is nothing further to do.  If you believe in Narnia, then you can MAKE Narnia.  Even if the cavern is what is real.

    In short, I found it a pretty good argument against the simplistic kind of young-earth, god-ruled “mere temporal” existence the Ham-ites are always pushing.

  • The_L1985

     I like this explanation a lot better than the “You should believe in God, because God” B.S. I keep hearing.  I don’t like thinking that Puddleglum is that stupid–he’s insanely pessimistic, but not stupid.

    “The cave has nothing really going on, but Narnia is actually a thought-out world” works so much nicer and makes so much more sense in context. :)

  • jdens

    Oh that is good!

  • Jim Roberts

    I always assumed that was how you were supposed to read it – an illusion, however comforting, is still just an illusion, and reality, however messy and awkward, is preferable.

  • Carstonio

    Remember the stair cartoon that Fred found, the one that showed doubt leading to atheism? My theory is that the insistence on a young Earth is only superficially about a specific reading of Genesis. From looking at the Creation Museum displays, these folks seem to fear the stairs leading not to atheism but to suffering having no inherent meaning or purpose. The displays focus very strongly on the fallen world mythology, blaming everything bad on Adam and Eve’s transgression. Without them and without the redemption of the Resurrection, suffering becomes simply part of life, and the promise in Revelation of an end to suffering becomes false.

  • Jim Roberts

    I’d phrase it more as, “Without the Resurrection being all about giving their suffering a deeper and eternal meaning, suffering becomes simply a part of life . . .”, but otherwise agree.

    The odd thing I’ve found with a lot of evangelical Christians is that they they simultaneously lay claim to Christ’s death as being wholly theirs and their tribe’s but also as something that happened for the whole world.

  • FullMetalMarmotte

    You’re wrong. This grove is obviously 4000 y old. The flood makes it looks like it’s older!
    The flood: it’s like “because penis” but for YEC discussions

  • Lackinininsight

    i’m not sure why it bothers ppl that others believe whatever weirdness they are into

    i think it’s because we are all essentially in a state of ignorance

    one amazing thing about perceptions and reason is that they are able, to connect whatever one is, to whatever is out there 
    the process has involved the personal effort of each of us, as well as of countless generations before us, making up civilization; it is an ongoing hardwon endevour to open up the mysteries of the universe

    understandings are important because they bring the world to light, 
    if we hear something that contradicts one of our “facts”, our mind quickly acts to patch the gap, to reinterpret things back so that our experiential world is stable
    it happens to all of us

    i guess the other thing is, that it is important for ppl to communicate; 
    we have to share in the same reality; it is diconcerting to be on different planets
    irritating, fraustrating
    unfortunately we frequently try to force a communication, by attempting to convince the other of our POV rather than listening to theirs

    while it seems totally odd that someone would believe that the world is only 6000 yrs old, i get the feeling i likely would find the views espoused by some of the posters here equally peculiar, altho’ we might agree on that one thing