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The Asteroid Impact the Bible’s Writers Missed (LSP #203)

The Asteroid Impact the Bible’s Writers Missed (LSP #203) August 2, 2021

Hi and welcome back! The other day, we had a good laugh at a comic book called Manga Messiah. This comic book tried to wrangle the many contradictions and weirdnesses in the Gospels into a single coherent narrative. As well, on Fridays lately we’ve been looking at 1st-century writers like Seneca the Younger who really, really should have known something about Jesus and the earliest Christians — but just don’t. Well, now let’s look at one of the biggest, most shocking events in our entire planet’s history: the day that a giant asteroid hit us 66 million years ago (mya). Scientists have found more evidence of both the impact itself and the sheer, unthinkable power of it. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the asteroid impact that somehow, a supposedly omnimax god forgot to mention anywhere in his divinely-dictated Bible.

man standing in a shaft of light in a cenote's ramp in Mexico
(Jared Rice.) A cenote in Mexico. Cenotes are sinkholes that formed in the Chicxulub impact.

(This week’s 1st-Century Friday topic can be found here.)

The Boundary Marker We Didn’t Understand At First.

All over the Earth, geologists knew there was this line running between particular layers of rock. It marked a period of teeming life from one of death and destruction. At first, scientists called it the K-T boundary (for Cretaceous-Tertiary), but it’s been renamed since then to the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary.

And this thing is dramatic. Just check out this example:

the line between life and death
The K-Pg boundary marker, seen here in Alberta.

And y’all, this boundary exists all over the planet. It’s always in the same geologic place, too. Furthermore, the boundary line itself contains a very rich concentration of iridium, which isn’t too common on our planet.

Iridium, however, is plentiful in asteroids.

So in 1980, scientists led by Luis Alvarez proposed that an absolutely huge asteroid had hit the Earth in its distant past. This asteroid impact had been so unthinkably powerful that it had thrown dirt and iridium up into the atmosphere so far that it settled around the globe — and that impact had killed most of the life on the planet.

Now, other scientists had proposed — back in the 1950s no less — that asteroids had caused mass extinctions at that same point in Earth’s history. But Alvarez was out there saying no, it’d been one big impact.

The only problem with the “Alvarez hypothesis” seemed to be that he and his team couldn’t quite figure out exactly where this asteroid had landed when it hit the Earth.

What Happens When Knowledge is Hoarded.

In the 1970s, a pair of geophysicists worked for a petroleum company. In that capacity, they were supposed to find this company new places to drill for oil.

One of them, Glen Penfield, had done a lot of work mapping large-scale geophysical features like volcanoes. He seems to have gotten quite good at mapping areas covered by oceans and thick foliage.

As Penfield worked, he realized he’d just discovered something shocking:

The old data showed a large concentric set of onshore gravity anomalies. When I laid it next to my No. 2 pencil mapping of the offshore magnetic anomalies, the fit was perfect: a shallow, 180-kilometer diameter gravity-magnetic bullseye on the almost non-magnetic, uniform carbonate background of the Yucatan platform! We recognized the crater as the likely Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary event.

Interestingly, ten years earlier another scientist working for this same petroleum company had discovered the same thing in a similar way, working on the same goal in the same area. However, petroleum companies are super-skittish about releasing any data they gain (for what are likely obvious reasons).

So they’d refused to let him talk about his discovery.

This time, the company allowed Penfield and his partner to present their findings. And they did, in 1981.

What Happens When Knowledge is Shared.

Around the same time, a geology grad student named Alan Hildebrande wrote a paper theorizing that an asteroid impact had caused the geologic changes seen in the K-Pg boundary. He’d found good evidence of his theory, but hadn’t yet found a crater that fit the bill.

Among other pieces of evidence, he’d found pieces of clay containing lots of iridium (which, again, is rare on Earth but way more common in meteors), shocked quartz (a deformation of quartz that only happens in extraordinary circumstances like lightning strikes, nuclear explosions, and asteroid craters), and tektites (which are tiny pebbles of glass created during meteoric impacts as the heat and pressure of impact interacts with our planet’s dirt and debris).

Now, he was searching the planet for the crater he was sure still existed. He’d gotten as far as the Caribbean, Haiti in particular.

In 1990, though, a reporter interviewed Hildebrande. This reporter mentioned Glen Penfield’s discovery in the Gulf of Mexico — and that Penfield thought he’d found a massive crater there.

Hildebrande hadn’t heard about it. But he wasted no time in contacting Penfield. The two soon collaborated together to examine samples that the petroleum company had taken from its oil wells in the area.

These scientists had finally found their crater. And oh boy, it was big — about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) across! They called it Chicxulub, after nearby towns.

the asteroid crater itself
(Wikipedia.)

Here’s a kicker, too: this is just the second-biggest asteroid to hit us. The biggest confirmed one is Vredefort in South Africa. That one was 160-300 km (99-186 miles) across. It hit us about 2 billion years ago, when life was still just getting going on Earth.

(See also: A neato list of craters listed by size and age. Spoiler: Guess how many the Bible mentions!)

A Recent Discovery Regarding the Chicxulub Impact.

A few days ago, a paper by scientists reported on a stunning discovery: they’ve found “large-scale megaripples” left behind from the Chicxulub impact. These ripples aren’t in water, but in stone and sediment — and they’re located 5,000 feet underground in Louisiana. Otherwise, they’re what you’d expect: they’re ridges formed as wind and waves move sediment around. Just this time, think on the grand scale. These megaripples are 16 meters (52 feet) tall and spaced 600 meters (1968 feet) apart.

These ripples’ size and orientation suggest they formed right after the Chicxulub impact. The force of that impact generated a megatsunami. La Wiki says it was over 100 meters (330 feet) tall. It went all the way across the Gulf of Mexico into what is now Texas, Florida, and Louisiana.

Despite the size and force of this megatsunami, though, nobody’d ever found its ripples. That’s not a huge dealbreaker in geology, it doesn’t sound like, especially regarding ancient geological events. A lot of forces on Earth can destroy evidence of those events. But now we have that evidence.

Once again, incidentally, this discovery was made by a scientist, Kaare Egedahl, analyzing an energy company’s data for places to mine and drill. He contacted the guy who wrote the paper we’re talking about now. And here we are.

(Makes me wonder what these companies are too skittish to release to the public, if similar data has already led to what we have now! Kinda sad, really.)

The Asteroid Impact(s) That the Bible Never Mentions.

Granted, a worldwide slate-wiper genocide like the Great Flood, which we discussed just last week, would have caused even more devastation than the Chicxulub asteroid impact. I mean, that asteroid just wiped out most of all life on Earth — 75% of all plant and animal species, including every four-legged animal that weighed more than about 25 kilograms (55 pounds). That’s kinda small potatoes compared to what would have happened if a petulant man-child of a god had actually suddenly submerged the whole planet in many oceans’ worth of water.

Even so, this asteroid impact was one of the most important events our planet has ever experienced. Without it, it’s unlikely that we ourselves would exist as human beings. It cleared the way for our ancient ancestors to grow into all those emptied-out ecological niches.

Creationists struggle to attack the decades of research that have already gone into this matter. I’ve seen tons of their essays on the topic of the Chicxulub impact alone.

But I’ve never seen any of them offer an explanation for why the Bible never mentions this massive asteroid strike in Mexico. Or any other, really. Depending on exactly how “young” our Young-Earth Creationists mistakenly think the world is, there’d have been people around who’d have noticed!

(Obligatory classic post from The Onion.)

Sidebar: What the Bible Actually Says.

Oh sure, the Bible tells us a lot about the local events around Judea and its surrounding neighbors, albeit in a really jingoistic, revisionist way. And yes, to be sure, Creationists like to theorize that their god might have flung meteors at the Earth to trigger his desired genocide. Indeed, they’ve become very fond of rewriting the Bible against their god’s direct orders not to do this to make their wackadoodle conspiracy theories work better.

However, the Bible itself never mentions any of the massive asteroids that have hit our planet. All it says is this, in Genesis 7:11:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

Hmm.

Y’all, that doesn’t sound remotely like an asteroid impact to me. It sounds like whoever wrote that myth put the cause down as underground aquifers opening and it raining a lot.

(Check out this Old-Earth Creationist chastising a Young-Earth Creationist for dishonesty. See also: how Christian infighting works against them the most.)

The Asteroid and the Cruel Dilemma.

If you’re going to tell someone that their identity, group affiliation, and entire worldview depend completely on them believing something, you’d damn well better make sure that thing is true and real. Because if they ever find out it’s not, they’ve got a decision to make:

Do they keep the identity/affiliation/worldview, and just close their minds off to the truth they’ve discovered?

Or do they embrace reality and work to re-craft all that stuff about themselves to reflect it?

Because you’ve told them their entire lives that they can’t embrace reality and still have that stuff intact.

To me, this whole predicament represents a cruel dilemma. It’s a collision of belief and reality that is set up by religious leaders. They are banking on their followers deciding to drill down on their existing beliefs.

More often these days, though, their followers go the other direction.

A Collision Like an Asteroid.

That’s what’s going on here. Creationists created this massive conspiracy theory about a debunked pseudoscience idea. Then, they convinced fundagelicals that it was the only way to Jesus correctly.

However, the Bible doesn’t mention one of the biggest, most massive events in our planet’s entire history. It mentions a pair of ancient cities supposedly razed to the ground by the Bible’s tantrum-throwing toddler of a god, and it even tells us he flung down “sulfur and fire” to do it.

But strangely, it doesn’t mention a miles-across hunk of space rock plowing right into the Earth.

You’d think a god might have mentioned his love of asteroid strikes to his followers. I mean, getting hit by a giant space rock sounds more scary than being drowned by excessive rain. He sure does love to threaten people, too!

And yet, here we are.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the increasing number of strangely missing stories in a book that’s supposedly “breathed” by a god.

NEXT UP: Why nobody should be shocked at this recent kerfuffle over an award-winning Christian romance novel.


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1st-Century Friday Topic:

For the next 1st-CENTURY FRIDAY, we’ll be talking about Pliny the Elder (23/24 CE – 79 CE).

As always, nobody is required to do anything. I provide this announcement only for those who want to read up on our sources ahead of time. (Back to the post!)


About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)

Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind: there’s no official topic on these days. I’m just starting us off with something, but consider the sky the limit here. We especially welcome pet pictures!

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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