Firestorm Comet?

Scientists figure a comet started breaking up about 12,800 years back. Nothing unusual there. Many comets break up while they’re this close to our sun.

This time Earth got in the way before the fragments spread out much.

Fire rained from the sky, consuming forest and meadow alike.

Sounds a bit like Genesis 19:1, now that I think of it. Except we didn’t start building cities until a few millennia later. Or maybe we haven’t found our first cities yet. And that’s another topic or two. (March 30, 2017; August 26, 2016)

Anyway, scientists think they’ve found evidence of epic firestorms just shy of 13 millennia back. If they’re right, the event could have triggered a severe cold spell and killed off quite a few big critters.

A key word there is “if.” Scientists who published the recent papers think they’ve got evidence and sound analysis. Quite a few other scientists aren’t agreeing.

I’ll be talking about that, ideas old and new, and quite a bit else. Even by my standards, this post is a bit nonlinear.

You might want to skip ahead to Fire and Extinctions. That’s where I talk about why some scientists think they’ve found evidence of a big firestorm. And others aren’t convinced.

Then again, maybe you’d enjoy seeing what I think about “believing,” language, God, and the Minnesota Driver’s Manual. Also science, assumptions and evolution.

Meanings and a Driver’s Manual

I don’t believe in —

I’d better explain what I mean by that.

Language, the sort folks use every day, is generally precise.

And profoundly polysemous. “Polysemy” means that a word, phrase or symbol means different things, depending on context.

Different words sounding alike is homonymy. Like ‘bears bear fur: can you bear it?’ Which doesn’t have much to do with hominy grits.

Where was I?

Let’s see. Language. Regional cuisine. Ursine ferreter. Ferreter? That’s not correct. Metaphorically, maybe. But not in this context, and that’s yet another topic.

Got it! “I don’t believe in….”

I don’t “believe in” evolution, science, or the Minnesota Drivers Manual.

Not the way I believe in God. I’m a Christian, a Catholic. I see God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the source of my faith. And everything else. Everyone, for that matter. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234, 279308)

But I “believe” that the Minnesota Drivers Manual tells me how I should drive. While in this state, anyway.

Studying God’s Universe

I “believe” that science is what we call studying this universe. But not the way artists or theologians do.

Science is pretty straightforward.

Scientists pay attention to something. Then they come up with a reasonable explanation of what they’ve noticed.

Next they see if the explanation actually works. Other scientist also test the explanation. (April 28, 2017)

I’d oppose science and all that — If I believed that God gave us brains and has a snit when we use them.

Or that the Almighty created this awesome universe so that a faithful few could get points for ignoring it. Maybe some folks believe that. I suspect it’s too blatantly illogical for any but the most muddled.

Another option is seeing this universe and everything in it as Satan’s creation — and God as Satan’s counterpart, striving to make everything immaterial.

It’s a bad idea on many levels. More about that later.

Beliefs and Babylon

I’m pretty sure at least a few Christians are convinced that our faith rests on Babylonian cosmology’s pillars.

But faith-based flat Earth societies seem to be on hiatus.

More accurately, I haven’t noticed any. And haven’t looked very hard.

On the other hand, it’s hard to not notice Christians who staunchly refuse to think evolution happens

My guess is that many of them also disapprove of this universe being more than a few millennia old.

Given their history, I can almost understand some Protestant groups defending the Ussher Chronology. Catholics who see a 17th century Calvinist’s timetable as vital to our faith, not so much. (November 5, 2017; November 3, 2017; March 24, 2017)


I might be supporting ‘young Earth’ ideas and insisting that ‘let there be light’ happened in 4004 BC — if I lived in different reality.

One where scientists plotted world domination while chanting ‘there is no God but Darwin, and Haldane is his prophet.’

Some old-time ‘mad scientist’ movies were nearly that weird. Yet again another topic. (January 12, 2018; October 16, 2016)

I don’t agree with Haldane’s view that God’s not there.

But I like his observation that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” That’s partly because I think it illustrates Isaiah 55:89. God’s thoughts aren’t ours. (January 19, 2018)

If Darwin really was widely regarded as a god, Huxley’d be a better pick for top prophet. Here in reality, Darwin’s research got scientists and quite a few other folks thinking. I see that as good news.

What happened when science and British politics mixed was not, I think, good news. On the other hand, it’s given me something to write about. (October 28, 2016)

Fire and Extinctions

(From University of Kansas News, used w/o permission.)

New research suggests toward end of Ice Age, human beings witnessed fires larger than dinosaur killer, thanks to a cosmic impact
News, The University of Kansas (February 1, 2018)

“On a ho-hum day some 12,800 years ago, the Earth had emerged from another ice age. Things were warming up, and the glaciers had retreated.

“Out of nowhere, the sky was lit with fireballs. This was followed by shock waves.

“Fires rushed across the landscape, and dust clogged the sky, cutting off the sunlight. As the climate rapidly cooled, plants died, food sources were snuffed out, and the glaciers advanced again. Ocean currents shifted, setting the climate into a colder, almost ‘ice age’ state that lasted an additional thousand years….”

It’s a good story, and may be true.

Quite a few scientists aren’t convinced. That doesn’t mean an impact event didn’t set off a recent cold spell. Or that it did.

Scientists, competent ones, don’t endorse the latest idea because it’s new and exciting.

They study it to see if it’s also reasonable and verifiable. That’s a long process.

We’re quite sure the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event happened, for example. But we’re still uncovering details. What set it off is another question.

We’ve had plenty of explanations, some plausible and some not so much. My guess is that the Chicxulub impact was a major factor. Maybe the most important. I also think the Deccan Traps eruptions helped. Or hurt, depending on viewpoint.

Scientists have started thinking that maybe the impact(s), eruptions, and other events made 66,000,000 years back a really bad time for dinosaurs.

And that’s still another topic.

Abstracts and Coffee

About the recent ‘comet impact’ research, I think it sounds reasonable.

I don’t know enough about the paper to have an informed opinion.

It’s not ‘open source’ research, which means that I’d have to pay a fee to read what they said. With my household’s budget, anything more expensive than “free” isn’t an option.

The cost isn’t unreasonable: $10. I suspect that’s barely enough to cover storage and database maintenance expenses.

Some Americans spend that much on a cup of coffee. The coffee: not the cup itself.

I don’t have a problem with fancy coffee. Many folks have more disposable income than I ever had. Many have less.

There’s no virtue in wealth or lack of it. What matters is what we do with what we’ve got. Finding balance and staying there isn’t easy. (July 9, 2017; September 25, 2016)

If the recently-published research sparks the discussions I think it will, some of that’ll most likely be open source. Meanwhile, happily, I can read the abstracts.1

Data, Analysis, and Healthy Skepticism

These scientists seem to have done a good job. They took data from over a hundred locations. Assuming that they picked a reasonably broad selection, it should be enough for analysis.

The data may be debatable, or not. Either way, I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t say the analysis is skewed.

Bayesian inference is a valid way to get results from a data set with pieces missing. It’ll do until scientists fill in the gaps.

Right now we’re looking at a reasonable idea that may or may not be true.

Scientists will discuss the data and analysis, look for more evidence, and run what they’ve got through other analytic tools.

That happens pretty often in science. It was happening when science was natural philosophy. It’s one way we learn.

If the ‘firestorm’ idea is true, scientists will find evidence. Wildfires scorching something like a tenth of Earth’s land will have left traces.

Healthy skepticism about the idea is reasonable, I think. It’d be a recent event, about 12,800 years back. If it really happened, it’s a bit surprising that nobody noticed earlier.

On the other hand, we’d been walking around evidence of ice ages for millennia before some scientists put the pieces together.


(From Ray, N. and J. M. Adams/Internet Archaeology 11; via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure why uptight Christians aren’t making ice age research their prime pick for pious pique.

It’s no more “Biblical” than evolution.

Less, in ways that I’ll probably talk about when I’m feeling a trifle less like napping through each afternoon.

I’ve been dealing with “nothing serious” for over a week now. It’s not enough to warrant medical attention. That’s good news. But feeling this way isn’t. Oh, well. As we say here in Minnesota, ‘it could be worse.’ And that’s — you guessed it — another topic.

Where was I? Science. Ice ages. Folks having conniptions. Right.

I don’t know why evolution upsets so many brittle Christians. The idea is at least as old as thinking Earth is round, so novelty may not be a major irritant. I mentioned the political angle earlier. It sure didn’t help.

Maybe geography, geometry, and glacial cycles are too abstract to inspire righteous rage.

Or maybe some folks can’t stand the idea that we’re made from the stuff of this world.

I don’t mind having a body. Even now, when the physical part of me shows signs of long use.

My opinions don’t make much difference, as I said earlier. But I’ve got more than personal preference behind seeing physical reality as good.

I’ll get back to that, Zoroastrianism, and Genesis. Probably. Jekyll and Hyde, too.

Now, about evolution.

The idea’s been around for at least about 25 centuries. Anaximander suggested that animals, humans included, developed from fish. He was right about that, and how Earth and our sun move. But he didn’t have data to back up his speculations.

Other philosophers had pretty good ideas, too. Including Aristotle. He was right about some things. But not where Earth is in the universe. He didn’t have much more evidence than Anaximander. But his ideas got more fans. Lots more.

We’d collected a lot more data by the time Copernicus started thinking. He delayed publication of his analysis to avoid dealing with “babblers.” I don’t blame him.

Some folks had conniptions about the newfangled ideas, as usual. Pretty much the same thing had happened in 1277. (November 5, 2017)

We’ve been on a steep learning curve since then.

God’s Decision

ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM, OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.Data and analysis show that Anaximander and Copernicus were on the right track.

We’ve learned that stars are other suns, and that we’re in one of a great many galaxies.

In a universe with more galaxies than stars in our galaxy.

Some scientists say what we’re seeing makes more sense if we’re not in the only universe. There’s a wide range of ‘multiverse’ models, long on convincing argument and short on supporting data.

I like the ideas, myself. Some of them.

I probably won’t be around when we find solid evidence that other continua exist. Or demonstrate that they don’t. Either result wouldn’t threaten my faith.

I figure it’s God’s decision.

Even if I thought God shouldn’t make other continua, I’d be obliged to accept reality. As the Church said in 1277 — God’s God, Aristotle’s not.

Neither is Copernicus, Einstein, or me.


Nicolas Steno helped launch paleontology as a science in the 1600s.

Thomas Molyneux studied Irish elk. They weren’t in Ireland any more.

But he figured they must be alive and living somewhere else.

Given what Europeans knew in the 1600s, that made sense.

Thomas Jefferson thought mammoths couldn’t be extinct. Or any other species. Jefferson wasn’t being stubborn or deliberately ignorant. Evidence of no-longer-living species was sparse in his day.

Most philosophers thought species couldn’t change. Their arguments made sense, based on available data.

Then we found evidence that didn’t support the ‘no change’ models. Lots of evidence. (January 19, 2018; May 19, 2017; April 14, 2017)


By the 1800s, folks who were paying attention knew about many extinct critters.

The data inspired scientific inquiry and ‘scientific’ flights of fancy.

Thomas Hawkins wrote about “…Dragon Pterodactyles flitting in the hot air with Vampire Wing….” His florid prose reminds me of Lovecraft’s work. (January 19, 2018; May 19, 2017; April 14, 2017)

Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” wasn’t nearly as colorful. But his analysis was reasonable. With verifiable results that other scientists could test. Which they did.

Some research supported Darwin’s model. Some didn’t. Scientists eventually learned how Mendelian and biometrician models work with population genetics. Over the last half-century or so molecular evolution and genetic studies have sparked lively discussions.

We’re still not sure exactly how evolution works: the mechanics. But we know it happens.

There may be someone with a science degree who still thinks Darwin’s model is accurate. As a viable scientific theory, though, Darwinian evolution is as dead as the last iguanodon. That doesn’t mean evolution is “wrong.” Just that we’ve learned a thing or two since 1859.2

Again, I don’t know why evolution upsets so many folks.

‘It’s not in the Bible’ may be a factor, but maybe not the main one. Quite a bit of what we know isn’t ‘Biblical.’ Electricity and lightning rods come to mind.

I suspect that many folks see philosophical problems with human evolution. Sort of.

A person can’t think about human evolution without also thinking that our bodies are made from the stuff of this world.

It doesn’t bother me. But it might offend persons of fastidious taste who feel that one must reject the physical to be spiritual. And that the physical is base. Ignoble. Despicable. Just plain icky.

Getting overly-immersed in physical pleasures or interests is a bad idea. But so is disrespecting what God called “very good.”

I’ll talk about that sort of thing, and then call it a day.


Shunning science might make sense to someone who thinks anything physical must be bad. It’s not my view, obviously.

I figure studying this universe is okay because I think God created what we see, and that truth matters.

Seeing this universe as good is in the first chapter of Genesis.

You know how it goes. God makes everything: the reality we live in, and all the creatures. God’s opinion is that it’s “very good.” That works for me.

Valuing truth is “Biblical” too, but not quite so localized.

Examples — Exodus 20:16 says that “false witness” is a bad idea, Psalms 85 laments a lack of truth, and 1 Corinthians 13:6 says love “rejoices with the truth.”

I’m a Christian and a Catholic, so I’d jolly well better think truth matters.

Faith, the Catholic sort, is a conscious acceptance of “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 150)

All truth.

Including what’s in the Bible and Tradition. About our Tradition — it’s not trying to live like it’s 1818. (Catechism, 7487, 142155)

There’s truth everywhere, ready for anyone willing to see. God makes everything, so studying this universe can tell us about God. (Catechism, 3135, 159, 279155)

Admiring and describing God’s work is a good idea. (Sirach 17:114; Catechism, 283, 341)

That’s pretty much the opposite of believing that physical is bad and spiritual is good.

Dramatic Appeal

Seeing darkness and light, chaos and order, evil and good as equal opposites is possible.

I see dramatic appeal in imagining a reality where there’s a half-almighty evil god opposing a half-almighty good deity.

That arrangement can be internally consistent, certainly on a ‘good enough for a story’ level.

What I know of Zoroastrian beliefs look like equal but opposite good and evil. Almost equal, that is. Ahura Mazda’s ultimate victory is apparently a forgone conclusion. But Ahura Mazda made good spirits while Angra Mainyu created bad spirits.

Folks have been practicing Zoroastrianism/Mazdayasna for millennia. I can’t see that happening if the faith didn’t make sense at some level.

But I don’t see how someone can believe that good and evil are two sides of reality’s coin and accept Christianity’s basics.

That hasn’t stopped folks from trying.

Having a Great Time

I don’t know how many times someone’s repackaged ‘dualism for Christians’ in the last two millennia.

I haven’t had personal contact with full-bore dualism with a Christian paint job.

But I’ve run into close approximations. Assorted Protestants and Catholics offer different options but the same main idea.

As I see it, they agree that physical reality is basically bad. Or at least something to be shunned by “spiritual” folks. Again, I don’t agree. (January 14, 2018; July 10, 2016)

Recognizing that evil isn’t good makes sense. Seeing good and evil as separate but equal, not so much. (Catechism, 285, 386387)

And feeling that God made a horrible mistake by seeing this universe as “very good” is simply daft. Particularly coming from folks who insist that the Bible is literally true. By their standards.

Oddly enough, Genesis 1:12:3 and Genesis 2:425 not quite matching doesn’t seem to bother them.

‘Not matching’ — again assuming that both were written by someone with today’s Western mindset and no sense of poetry and metaphor.

I like data and analysis. I also like poetry and metaphor.

I’m having a great time, living in this vast and beautiful universe.

And, as Tennyson put it, following “knowledge like a sinking star” — finding nuggets of truth along the way:

1 Abstracts:

  • Extraordinary Biomass-Burning Episode and Impact Winter Triggered by the Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact ∼12,800 Years Ago. 1. Ice Cores and Glaciers
    Wendy S. Wolbach, Joanne P. Ballard, Paul A. Mayewski, Victor Adedeji, Ted E. Bunch, Richard B. Firestone, Timothy A. French, George A. Howard, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, John R. Johnson, David Kimbel, Charles R. Kinzie, Andrei Kurbatov, Gunther Kletetschka, Malcolm A. LeCompte, William C. Mahaney, Adrian L. Melott, Abigail Maiorana-Boutilier, Siddhartha Mitra, Christopher R. Moore, William M. Napier, Jennifer Parlier, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Brian C. Thomas, James H. Wittke, Allen West, d James P. Kennett; The Journal of Geology, The University of Chicago Press Journals (Received Sept 11, 2017; Accepted Sept 14, 2017; Online Feb 01, 2018)
  • Extraordinary Biomass-Burning Episode and Impact Winter Triggered by the Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact ∼12,800 Years Ago. 1. Ice Cores and Glaciers
    Wendy S. Wolbach, Joanne P. Ballard, Paul A. Mayewski, Andrew C. Parnell, Niamh Cahill, Victor Adedeji, Ted E. Bunch, Gabriela Domínguez-Vázquez, Jon M. Erlandson, Richard B. Firestone, Timothy A. French, George Howard, Isabel Israde-Alcántara, John R. Johnson, David Kimbel, Charles R. Kinzie, Andrei Kurbatov, Gunther Kletetschka, Malcolm A. LeCompte, William C. Mahaney, Adrian L. Melott, Siddhartha Mitra, Abigail Maiorana-Boutilier, Christopher R. Moore, William M. Napier, Jennifer Parlier, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Brian C. Thomas, James H. Wittke, Allen West,21,, James P. Kennett; The Journal of Geology, The University of Chicago Press Journals (Received Sept 11, 2017; Accepted Sept 14, 2017; Online Feb 01, 2018)

2 Accepting reality and other options:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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5 Responses to Firestorm Comet?

  1. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I think the more my brain hurts.

    I read somewhere that all the dinosaurs died because of a comet hitting the earth. Why did the dinosaurs all stand on the same spot and got hit?

    I read somewhere else that we are all supposed to have evolved from chimpanzees. If that is the case then why are there still chimpanzees? Why have they not all evolved into humans? Are they late developers?

    I read somewhere else that God made the Universe and all that is in it out of nothing in six days. If so, why did He need a rib from Adam to make Eve?

    I also read that when Cain killed Abel (they were both sons of Adam and Eve) Cain escaped to a city far away. Who built that city and populated it?

    I was told to go for a walk to keep fit. When it rains I walk indoors on a treadmill. To encourage me to do so I have put a pint of Guinness on the handlebars of the treadmill. Does this negate any exercise I have taken?

    Please help me with all these questions. Thanx. God bless.

    • About the Guinness, it most likely depends on how often you refill it and how long you walk

      As the fellow said, Able would have lived if his parents hadn’t raised Caine.

      The theological implications of Adam and spareribs is mind-boggling. I checked my mind, and sure enough: it’s boggled.

      Some experts assert that today’s chimps are the smart ones. Particularly the ones living south of the Congo River, except they’re called bonobos. And have little or nothing to do with Bono and U2. ( ) I’m not so sure about that. I’m pretty smart, and I live far to the northwest of the Congo River.

      Finally, about the dinosaurs. My theory is that they heard there was free beer, but forgot to bring their umbrellas. 🙂

      • irishbrigid says:

        About the rib, I read somewhere that one possible translation of that passage isn’t ‘rib’ but ‘penile bone,’ which is present in every great ape except humans. Interesting.

        • Interesting – and not among the widely-varied versions I found, of what the word translated as “rib” meant.

          Some discussions, on a few higher-ed sites, were either marvelously learned – – – or highly imaginative. Maybe both. I didn’t pick up the ‘ape anatomy’ thing, but did learn how Genesis fits into feminist doctrine. Interesting, from several viewpoints.

          More prosaic discussions explored what Hebrew and Aramaic terms which can be translated as “rib” mean. They’re as varied as the various definitions for “rib” in our language.

          Who knows? Maybe, somewhere between the 43rd and 72nd centuries, up-to-date scholars will discuss how the rib reference in Genesis shows that the whole book was written by someone working for the Japanese shipbuilding industry (ships have ribs, you see) – – – probably the company that built the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria for Wernher von Braun, inventor of the Alcubierre drive. 😉

          I’ve wondered if anyone’s considered the long-term effects of excessive coffee drinking among university faculty. And that’s another topic.

          I have *got* to get more sleep.

  2. irishbrigid says:

    Missing punctuation: “ice age research their prime pick for pious pique”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Thanks for taking time to comment!