Silicon Dale

Mumbo Jumbo (of the Mumbo Jumbo kind)

A recent British TV documentary showed Uri Geller 'assisting' an international mineral exploration company to find ore deposits (, for which he received a six-figure dollars sum. Now, Uri Geller is a very clever person, but he can also afford to pay much more expensive lawyers than I can, so I shall refrain from calling him a charlatan. However, James Randi, the well-known magician and skeptic, has demonstrated that many of Uri Geller's best known tricks (such as spoon bending) can be performed by any moderately skilled stage conjuror (Randi, 1982). The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a prize of $1million ( to anyone who can prove in a controlled setting that they have 'super' powers. neither Geller nor anyone else has yet claimed this prize.

The mineral exploration 'method' used by Geller seems to be a flavour of dowsing. Although nothing at all has been proved scientifically, there could just possibly be some scientific basis for traditional dowsing, when the 'adept' walks across a field holding a hazel twig or a bent copper wire. It is just faintly conceivable that small variations in one or more of the known natural fields (geomagnetic, electrical, gravity, etc) can be detected by the human body and reflected in small muscle movements. But Uri Geller claims that he can do his dowsing perfectly well over maps of an area. To anybody with any scientific training this is clearly total nonsense, and as a result this calls into doubt all his other claims. A printed map does not have any physical connection with the area that it represents. A geoscientist may be able to use a map to help narrow the area of search - but this uses his or her extensive scientific training and experience, not some postulated psychic powers.

Dowsing, of course, is at the slightly less disreputable end of a whole spectrum of 'New Age' beliefs and practices. Those who believe in it tend also to believe in such things as ley lines (I have yet to see any serious geophysical case for their existence), geomancy, healing powers of crystals, and so on. All of these beliefs are irrational. None of them have any scientific basis, and many fly in the face of established scientific observations. Unfortunately that means nothing to believers, who tend simply to ignore the science. This may be relatively harmless, as long as it is not taken too seriously, though it does reflect serious inadequacies in our educational systems.

What is most definitely not harmless, however, is another irrational and unscientific set of beliefs. I refer to "creationism" or belief in the literal truth of the biblical account of the formation of life, the universe, and everything. This is endorsed by the President of the world's only remaining superpower ( The creationist lobby in the USA is extremely powerful and well funded, and totally anti-scientific. Accepting this particular irrational set of beliefs would require the dismantling of most of the geological, biological, astronomical, and physical sciences, because over the past two centuries a consistent scientific model of the universe has been developed, based on observations in all of these sciences. Teaching creationism in western schools as anything other than ancient mythology is to my mind as completely immoral and unethical as teaching children in North Korean schools to worship their 'Dear Leader'. Indeed I would go further and say that in my opinion it is equally immoral to indoctrinate young children in religious dogma of any kind before they have developed the critical faculties to distinguish the pure gobbledegook from the plain nonsense. And I do not exclude from this the relatively mild indoctrination of the typical 'religious education' classes in most English schools.

To deny that the earth is about 4500 million years old would imply a rejection of the fundamental physics used to establish absolute dates. In a powerful series of books (The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, and others), Richard Dawkins has shown that this is more than sufficient time for all of the Darwinian evolution necessary to produce complex life including the human species, by mechanisms that are being demonstrated by biological and biochemical research, and can be seen in operation around us in the evolution of bacteria and viruses. A consistent set of fossil evidence, dating back over much of earth's history, supports the theories. There is virtually no doubt now that some form of Darwinian evolution is true. Some of the exact mechanisms have yet to be established, of course, but it is in the nature of science that answering one questions raises further questions. The job is never finished. Recent discoveries of evolutionary mechanisms other than DNA mutations do not in the least contradict Darwin as some commentators claim. rather they extend and enrich the theory of evolution in the same way that Einstein's special and general theories of relativity extended and enriched Newton's theories.

I have yet to meet a geologist who believes in creationism, but suspect that such a meeting would lead to some very strange conversations. Creationists try to claim "equal time" with evolutionary theory on the science curriculum. Even considering such a preposterous claim seriously is an acceptance that creationism has something to say about science.

So what has all this to do with earth science computer applications ? Directly, on the face of it, probably not a great deal perhaps. But indirectly it is hugely important. We should not let ourselves be blinded by Douglas Adams' "SEP Field" (the Someone Else's Problem Field, which prevents you from seeing something because you think someone else should be responsible for dealing with it). Ore deposit modelling, for example, ideally should be concerned not only with the geometry of a deposit but also how it came to be - because the present-day geometry is merely the end result of a long geological process. If you can simulate the process then you are likely to have a better model of the deposit. This is what oil geologists do when they trace ancient river channels which are likely to contain suitable sediments for hosting hydrocarbons - and by 'ancient' of course I mean tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years old, not a mere 6000 or so!

Randi, James, 1982. The truth about Uri Geller, Prometheus Books

Stephen Henley
Matlock, England

Copyright © 2003 Stephen Henley
Mumbo Jumbo (of the Mumbo Jumbo kind): Earth Science Computer Applications, v.18,no.9