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Seeing landscapes from above
This is not your father’s creationism: A review of Creationism’s Trojan Horse


Hubble’s anniversary

On the Shelf:
Mars and beyond

Seeing landscapes from above

One geologist who has brought his own photos to laypeople is Ken Hamblin, a professor emeritus at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. He was inspired to put together his book, Beyond the Visible Landscape: Aerial Panoramas of Utah’s Geology, after looking at the shelves of aerial shots of national parks such as the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce. Hamblin says that often “what you see is discouraging for the geologist, in a way. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful,” he says of the books, but “scientifically it’s useless” because professional photographers tend not to frame images for the geology.

Cookie Jar Butte on Lake Powell in Arizona contains a series of remarkable “holes” formed in the Entrada Sandstone, and captured aerially for the recent book Beyond the Visible Landscape. Courtesy of Ken Hamblin.

“The geologist will photograph what he sees: all these exciting things that the landscape has to tell us. To most people, it’s invisible,” Hamblin says, “because they don’t have the background to see it.”

Using a panoramic camera “to provide a new perspective of the landscape” only now made possible with technological advances and Cessna planes, Hamblin’s 40 years’ worth of geologic field experience is included in the explanation of every image in his book. The geologic descriptions for each image are easily accessible to lay readers, from the “graceful sets of cross-bedding” exposed at Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park, to a panoramic view of the Canyonlands “that no one has ever seen before,” Hamblin says, to the Grand Staircase in panorama and photographs of each “step,” each accompanied by explanatory cross sections.

Over the 15 years he has been photographing Utah from the air, noticeable changes in the landscape “have been initiated by humans,” Hamblin says. Lake Bonneville’s gravel shorelines, for example, he says, are now in nearby freeways.

The variety of geologic changes Hamblin has documented include the effects of flash flooding in both wild and urban settings. “What we’ve been teaching the students is true: Earth is a very dynamic thing. Any one moment may look stable,” he says of the photos, “but it is in constant flux.” In 1983, flooding created 91 landslides in the Wasatch Mountains, ripping up homes and leaving scars on slopes, some of which are now populated again.

Hamblin says his “purpose is to show the remarkable landscape of Utah from above,” but the book also serves a slightly different objective. When publishing companies could not bring the costs of publication down so that the book’s price would be affordable, Hamblin says, the BYU geology department published it, and all proceeds are folded back into travel funds for BYU students, who go into the field in Hawaii, Alaska and elsewhere.

Although professional photographer Alex MacLean is not a geologist, his images in Designs on the Land: Exploring America from the Air vividly portray how people have used and changed the landscape — from an open-pit mine that looks like a big carved bowl in the earth, to green crop circles in the desert and orderly rows in a tree farm, to rectangular factory skylines and loops of suburban streets. An architect by training, MacLean’s aim seems to be more environmental than geological, to record development and human impacts on a landscape, according to his Web site.

MacLean’s geologic images portray a larger scale of geologic processes, in time if not in space. One image shows knife-sharp ridges that radiate from a needle-like tower in the West’s Basin and Range. River deltas and tiny canyons carved by streams in the western Midwest to the Grand Canyon also portray geologic phenomena from above.

Professional photographer and geologist Michael Collier also has studied landscape changes from the air, from a geologic perspective, covering Alaskan glaciers to the San Andreas Fault (see Geotimes, May 2005). While in his 20s, Collier says that he decided to study “something that would inform photography,” and he settled on geology because of his love of landscapes. As a structural geologist, among his other professions, Collier has created books that show — using aerial photos — as well as tell about everything from glaciers to the Grand Canyon. “My intention was all along [to] present geology to laypeople,” he says.

Although the ultimate geologic view from a plane may be astronauts’ photographs, snapped from the space shuttle, a more accessible space view can be found flying at 35,000 feet. A travel companion called Window Seat: Reading the Landscape From the Air, by Gregory Dicum, provides images and geologic details for a lay person or geologist traveling on major airline routes in the United States, from the glacial outwash of the Corn Belt to the barrier islands of the Outer Banks and the volcanoes of the West.

Window Seat and these other photo books make it unnecessary to hire a Cessna or learn how to focus a camera to indulge in such aerial views. “The tiny details fall away,” such as rocks, trees and streets, Dicum writes. “From outside the ordinary human scale, we can see things normally not visible to us.”

Naomi Lubick

Images from these volumes and more can be seen online. See below for links to these photographers’ work and sources for aerial landscape views.


Book Cliffs and Bryce Canyon, pages of Kenneth Hamblin's Beyond the Visible Landscape: Aerial Panoramas of Utah’s Geology
Alex MacLean's Web site Landslides
"Michael Collier: Doctor, Photographer, Geologist," Geotimes, May 2005
Window Seat publisher's Web site
LPI Space Shuttle views of Earth

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Book review
Creationism’s Trojan Horse:
The Wedge of Intelligent Design

by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross.
Oxford University Press, 2004.
ISBN: 0 1951 5742 7.
Hardcover, $40.00
This Is Not Your Father’s Creationism
Mark A. Wilson

Earth scientists will soon be wishing for the old days when creationists held such distinctive positions as believing Earth is only a few thousand years old, a worldwide flood produced all sedimentary rocks, and that people and dinosaurs knew each other. Many dramatic battles were fought against this pseudoscience, and we learned much about the politics of science, education and religion in a constitutional democracy, but we did not have to do much deep thinking. “Young Earth Creationism,” as we now call it, is so fractured with contradictions, misconceptions and delusions that it sometimes seems a self-parody. We learned how to defend science against such nonsense in the courts and public schools, and we won every case.

These legal and political victories against creationism, though, may have misled us. Despite all the resources devoted to public education, nearly half of all Americans still believe evolution never happened. The political energy in this population, along with new leadership tested in the conflict, has produced a reformed creationism far more sophisticated than the old.

Under the euphemism “intelligent design” (ID), creationism is once again rattling state legislatures and alarming those who care about the integrity of science education. Creationism’s Trojan Horse is a thorough documentation of the political rise and strategic goals of the ID movement. It is critical intelligence we need now.

“The wedge” is the name that proponents of ID gave to the movement, which started in 1992 under the leadership of Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor who had recently written a book called Darwin on Trial. As philosopher Barbara Forrest and biologist Paul Gross recount in Creationism’s Trojan Horse, a key event in the origin of the wedge was the thorough dismantling of Johnson’s arguments by Stephen Jay Gould in an issue of Scientific American. Thirty-nine academics (none of them geologists) circulated a letter defending Johnson’s work; many later became charter members of the ID movement. From the beginning, this movement had a religious purpose, even as it worked to obscure it by avoiding references to the supernatural or scripture.

The key to success was going to be a deceptively secular strategy in which scholars would sow doubts about evolutionary theory throughout the public square, “wedging” themselves into school curricula by appealing to issues of fairness and claiming the mantle of persecuted thinkers. Promoting an agenda beyond anti-evolution and a nod to the possibility of an “intelligent designer” would split the movement along ideological and religious lines, a mistake the traditional creationists made often.

Forrest and Gross show in detail how the wedge of ID has grown in the past decade through careful politics and the patient marshaling of resources. The movement’s first success was the shocking 1999 decision of the Kansas Board of Education to nearly remove evolution from the state’s science standards. Although this decision was overturned by the electorate the next year after receiving national attention (and embarrassment), the wedge barely slowed. It moved on to Ohio where it again lost a statewide decision but gained traction with its associated rhetoric. We see this year that it has reemerged with strength to again contest the Kansas science standards (with hearings held in May), and it is active in dozens of other states.

The amount and sources of money funding the ID movement are among the surprising revelations in Creationism’s Trojan Horse. The Center for Science and Culture (CSC) is a division of the Discovery Institute devoted to promoting ID “research” and “teaching students more fully about the theory of evolution” (you can guess what that means). CSC is generously funded by foundations with explicit religious missions, one of them so far to the right that it is virtually theocratic. Millions of dollars are available for continuing campaigns against evolution and historical geology at every political level from school boards through Congress.

The most valuable lesson we learn from Forrest and Gross is that the defense of science against creationism is no longer a matter of marching a series of transitional fossils before the public. Phillip Johnson made it clear when he said in 1996: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science … It’s about religion and philosophy.” The thin edge of the wedge is ideological. It claims only that the weaknesses of evolutionary theory should be taught along with its strengths, and that “alternatives” should be considered when teaching “origins.” It is the scientific method, after all, and common sense. It is also just plain fair, the argument goes.

The only way to fight against this argument is by understanding what those “weaknesses” are purported to be, and how ID creationists define the scientific method by removing “naturalism” and replacing it with the alternative of a ghostly designer beyond scientific analysis. Creationism’s Trojan Horse is a superb resource for our own necessary education about the new creationists.

Wilson is a geology professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio who specializes in invertebrate paleoecology and evolution. E-mail:

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On the Shelf

Mars: A Warmer Wetter Planet
by Jeffrey S. Kargel.

Springer/Praxis Publishing, 2004.
ISBN: 1 8523 3568 8.
Hardcover, $34.95.

Mars, the dry, cold, dusty red planet, was once a very different place. Looking at evidence from the various martian missions and rovers, this book describes the newly discovered evidence that suggests a warmer, wetter Mars in the geologic past and causes us to rethink the mechanisms of planetary change.

Infinite Worlds: An Illustrated Voyage to Planets Beyond Our Sun
by Ray Villard and Lynette R. Cook.

University of California Press, 2005.
ISBN: 0 5202 3710 2.
Hardcover, $39.95.

More than 140 extrasolar planets — worlds beyond our sun and solar system — have been discovered in recent years with a multitude of scientific and technological developments in the field of astronomy. Infinite Worlds describes many of these new scientific findings, complemented by artwork portraying what these faraway planets might look like.

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Hubble’s Anniversary

In April, the Hubble Space Telescope hit its 15th year in orbit around Earth. Launched in 1990, Hubble has since visualized the universe for us, yielding more than 700,000 pictures of everything from planets within our solar system to dying stars and far-off galaxies.

In commemoration of Hubble’s anniversary, the European Space Agency, which collaborated with NASA on the telescope, has released a new DVD, Hubble — 15 Years of Discovery, which covers the history of the telescope and its discoveries. The 83-minute film has narration in three languages: English, German and Greek, in addition to subtitles in 15 other languages. The film includes stunning visuals from the telescope, 3-D animations and commentary from scientists who have used the telescope for their research.

The movie is part of a suite of activities ESA sponsored for the anniversary, including Hubble Day and planetarium events throughout Europe. The agency has also made available a CD of the film’s soundtrack, a full-color book and a variety of educational materials.

Links to the Hubble anniversary products:

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