Glaciers, Sculptors of the Earth

Enough philosophy. We have just discovered that glaciers sculpted the underlying granite rock of the Sierras. When did the glaciers accomplish this prodigious task? How did they do it? What did they do? How was it discovered? These and other questions emerged when confronted by these glacial valleys. Let’s find some answers.

The Sierras are one huge granite block, an enormous batholith, and batholiths are big already. Glacier rivers are sculpted right into this granite block. Awesome power. How did that work? Let us begin with some basic glacier facts.

“Glaciers cover no less that 10 per cent of the earth’s land surface. … By locking up some 75% of the planet’s fresh water, glaciers prevent a catastrophic rise in sea level. … Yet of all the ways in which glaciers influence life on earth, the most significant is the power of ice to remake the very surface of the planet.” (Glacier, Planet Earth, Time-Life Books, 1982, p. 20)


Raised in Southern California I had only seen valleys formed by liquid water based erosion. Suddenly in the high Sierras, I had experienced these totally different landforms. Awestruck I slowly began to realize that the erosive “the power of moving ice is infinitely greater than that of moving water.” (Glacier p31)

This led into the following exploration of glaciers.

Scientific misconceptions
or Their minds would not let them see.

Let us begin with the history of glaciers.

Glaciers have been around almost as long as the earth itself. And they almost always do the same things. They grow. There is an Ice Age. They shrink. The Ice Age ends. This repeats itself over and over. Boring.

Let us take a different tack. Who discovered glaciers? People have always lived near glaciers. They’re pretty big. Hard to miss. Nobody really discovered glaciers. They’ve always been around. Well, that’s real exciting.

But wait just a minute. How do we know that glaciers have been around as long as the earth? How do we know about Ice Ages if we weren’t around when the last one occurred? What is history of the scientific exploration into the nature of glaciers?

At the beginning of the 1800s, the Biblical conception of history still dominated the western world. The Copernican revolution had led us away from an earth-based, i.e. geocentric, view of the world. The Ptolemaic system of the universe, with the earth at its center, had achieved a Biblical status. It was the dominant scientific statement for over 1000 years. Breaking the stranglehold of the Ptolemaic system was not achieved easily. Galileo had to recant his views at the risk of his life. However as evidence combined theoretical results mounted hard science began to break the chains of the Greek preconceptions.

With the French Revolution came the sublime French mathematicians and astrophysicists, foremost of which were LaPlace, Legendre and LaGrange. Upon examining Legendre’s astrophysics, someone mentioned that there was no mention of God. He casually replied that he hadn’t needed that postulate to formulate his theory. With this statement the theoretical and physical sciences set themselves apart from theology. They had come up with some amazing physical correspondences without the need for God.

Although physicists and astronomers had been able to break through the Greek and Biblical filters, the social sciences had not. History, in the early 1800s, had still not weaned itself of the Bible. The 1800s were to challenge two long held Biblical views of the history of the planet. The Biblical story is that first God created the firmament, the earth, the flora, fauna, and humans in six days, resting upon the 7th day. Then because humans were so evil He destroyed the world in a great Flood, which covered the earth. This Biblical Flood killed all living creatures that did not make it onto Noah’s Ark. The Biblical view was simple. First He created the Universe, as it is now, and then the Flood.

These two events explained a great deal of prehistory. The idea of Creation explains the great diversity of plant and animal life. Furthermore it justifies why humans are in charge of the planet. The Flood explains why there are sea remains high in the mountains and more importantly, for this exploration, it explained why huge boulders are scattered erratically around the globe. How did these boulders come to be here? Obviously they are evidence of the Great Flood. The Flood was of such an enormous magnitude that it could even move huge boulders such as these.

These Biblical facts explained a great deal about our planet - especially if you weren’t looking too hard. Or if your preconceived notions convinced you to emphasize relevant facts to support your own theory and to dismiss contrary evidence as anomalies. Because the dominance of these Biblical preconceptions it was hard for scientists to let go of the Flood as an all-encompassing cause of many of the earth’s mysteries. And this cultural stranglehold of the Bible is why it is hard for many Christians to let go of it now.

Static Biblical mind set supports aristocratic privileges

Why did the Western world embrace the Bible so thoroughly? And why did they so reluctantly let it go? Simply put the Biblical worldview was static. For those looking for stability in a chaotic world, they found it here. Those invested in the status quo especially liked to hold onto this static world. “We are nobility because God has made it such. We are meant to rule the world. We were predestined to subjugate all the primitive races of the world. We are meant to be the spiritual leaders because that’s the way the world is.”

A static worldview is simpler to deal with. This is the way it is; this is the way it was, this is the way it has always been; this is the way it will always be. A scientist would have knowledge of past, present, and future by studying the present structures. Those in power argued, “The planets and stars have regular, predictable, unchanging orbits. Obviously the social structure has the same preordained stability.

For those denied the advantages of the status quo, an evolving, changing world reflected the social changes that they hoped to accomplish. Because those in charge hoped to stay in charge, they liked a worldview that did not include change. This was the Biblical view.

Furthermore the political and religious structures had been married for so long that they augmented each other. Although there was always infighting amongst the power mongers, they were united on their suppression of the poor. “It is God’s will that we are in charge.” Henry VIII of England might be fighting the Pope for supremacy but they would join forces to crush the peasantry. The world leaders, political and religious, supported the static Biblical world order because it put them in charge. Western religion and politics had been inextricably intertwined and mutually supporting since the time of Charlemagne. The scientific establishment, supported by the political establishment, attempted subconsciously and consciously to support the hand that fed them. The political, religious, and scientific establishments were all linked in a mutual admiration society which kept them all in power over their respective domains. With this minor or major investment in the status quo, the mind blinders went on - the eyes ceased to see. How was this stranglehold broken?

The Problematic Question of Erratics

There were a few facts that the Biblical theory did not explain. First the rocks that were spread somewhat randomly about the mountain landscapes did not show the pattern of water. Debris is only carried by its force of the torrent, but does not become part of the rushing water. When the liquid slows, it drops the heaviest boulders first, then the rocks, gravel, and finally the silt.

“Certain anomalies of the landscape puzzled the most ardent champions of the Flood doctrine. For example, the stony debris called drift because it was thought to have been carried by water, was piled up in chaotic jumbles. Floodwater would have deposited the debris much more evenly, sorting it out by size and density, and leaving several layers, with heavy stones at the bottom, then gravel and sand.” (Glaciers, p21)


The second more apparently disturbing fact were these huge boulders called erratics spread randomly far from their source. Local people said they had been carried by witches.

“Erratics of Scandinavian origin dotted the countryside of eastern England; it would have been necessary for the ancient Flood somehow to have carried them across the North Sea, which seemed highly unlikely.” (Glaciers, p22)


In 1833 Charles Lyell suggested to a skeptical scientific audience that icebergs had carried the erratics from Scandinavia. Because of his academic prestige, this became a widely held theory in academic circles. No matter how absurd an idea is, if someone with credentials after their name proposes a theory it is given respect. Conversely, as we shall see, if someone with no credentials, or the wrong credentials, presents a realistic idea it is rejected out-of-hand or viewed skeptically. It might even be subject to ridicule by those with credentials. Such is the power of preconception that credentials determine credibility.

Swiss Peasant Ancient Glacial Theory
or Does Your Mother Exist?

In the meantime far from academia, Swiss peasants living near the alpine glaciers already knew that glaciers moved, carrying stone and debris with it. Further because of parallel rock formations in the area they also knew that there must have been bigger, more ancient glaciers which had scoured their mountains. They did not know how, when or why, just that; in spite of what the preachers said, in spite of what the scientists said, in spite of what the politicians said. Obvious. Do you believe in your mother? Prove that she is not just dreamlike illusion, no more than a vision.

In 1815 a Swiss mountaineer, Jean Pierre Perraudin, chamois hunter by trade, told his theory of ancient glaciers and ice sheets to Jean de Charpentier, an amateur naturalist, who dismissed its validity. In 1829 Perraudin presented the same theory to a highway and bridge engineer named Ignatz Venetz, who then compiled some facts and presented the theory to a Swiss scientific society. All but one scoffed - Charpentier, who by now had come around. After assembling more evidence Charpentier presented his findings to the same society in 1834, and was also received skeptically. Ironically, a local woodcutter, upon hearing his theory, responded, “Of course there were ancient glaciers. Scientisis didn’t know that yet?” Their collective mind would not let their collective eyes see.

Louis Agassiz, father of glacial science

One of Charpentier’s students, Louis Agassiz, a professor of natural history, was also skeptical. But Charpentier took him to see the evidence, close up. Open your eyes and you will see. Open your mind and see through your eyes. Agassiz was converted.

Agassiz extended the previous ideas to include Ice Ages with the attendant glacial ice sheet extending down from the North Pole. He presented these theories at a conference in 1837. He was equally rejected, partly because of the Biblical Flood Filter and partly his ideas were so grandiose, leading the facts rather than following them. Antarctica had yet to be discovered and so there was no known example of this type of spreading ice mass.

Agassiz was not daunted and instead became obsessed with glacial science. He went into the field to explore the nature of glaciers first hand. He dimmed his mind filter to allow his eyes to see clearly - unobstructed by preconceptions. He set up a glacial ‘hotel’ so that geologists/naturalists could see a glacier first hand. William Buckland, a leading British geologist, and Flood proponent, visited his glacial ‘hotel’ in 1840. Although shaken he was not convinced. He invited Agassiz to the Highlands of Scotland to see Glen Roy, a beautiful terraced valley. Agassiz explained this mysterious formation in simple glacial terms, an ancient receding glacier. Buckland was convinced and began convincing others. Agassiz had found his Paul. The glacial theory became the rage all over England and Europe.

Agassiz recorded much factual information about glaciers and laid the foundation for glacial science, but his mind closed his eyes, too. According to his mind’s theory, in prehistoric times a great ice sheath covered the whole earth, killing all living things, “death enveloped all nature in a shroud”. After it began to melt away, God created the flora, fauna, and man. Hence no evolution.

Agassiz spent the last decade of his life attacking Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, misinterpreting facts, turning wind and water erosion into glacial erosion, to support his own glacier theory. He needed to cover the earth in his deadly ice to thwart Darwin, so he did. His mind closing his eyes, as our minds tend to do.

The Revolution becomes the Status Quo

As an aside, this is a common mechanism. The Seeker sees flaws in the present Truth. He sees through it in a flash of illumination to a deeper Truth. Those holding desperately onto the Past Truth resist and fight these insights. The Seeder fights for his Truth. But in the struggle to establish his Truth, he begins to hold on, just as desperately, to his Truth. Rather than understanding the relativity of Truth, he says, “I like my Truth. Let me apply it everywhere.” Instead of understanding the difficulty with which new truths are accepted and established, and supporting those attempting to project new truths, our Seeker holds onto his Truth rejecting the new truths. Agassiz was one example, but Einstein is another. We humans desperately seek a Pillar of Truth to hold onto rather than realizing that the Truth is somewhere in-between.

Horrors. In-between? I want to lean onto something. I want to lay my head on it at night. I want to rely upon it in times of doubt. I need certainty in this chaotic world. Where is my Truth that I can hold onto no matter what? Daddy! Tell me the truth. Relying upon myself is too scary. Then I have to take responsibility. What does the Tribe believe? That is what I want to believe. Then I will get to belong to the exclusive club. I will be part of the Tribe. Who cares about Truth as long as I belong. Unfortunately we are not only talking about the unwashed masses slavishly obeying the elite priesthood. We are speaking about the modern scientific priesthood as well. In this paper we will examine a few other examples of scientific myopia, where the need to belong to the Tribe supersedes the quest for Truth.

Of course for most, belonging to the Tribe trumps the Truth. Consequently for those interested in spreading their insights it is necessary to merge with the Tribe in order to project their Truth. The full Truth might be more than the Tribe can handle. Partial Truths can lead them gently forward. The Full Truth in its blazing glory can be overwhelming, perhaps devastating, to the non-initiate. Only those who are ready can handle the Energy. To those not ready, there may even be a violent response, as we shall see in Wegener’s case.


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