Jesus geology

Steven Austin, the creationist geologist, gave a presentation at the Geological Society of America this November. I’m not a geologist, so I’m not competent to judge the geological details, but you can download a pdf of the presentation, and it definitely is a weird thing. Most of it is about an examination of features in the geology around Jerusalem that are indicative of an earthquake; I’ll accept that as a given, and assume that sure, there were a few earthquakes in the Middle East in the first century AD, and that they left traces that a geologist can read.

But then I ask, “And so…?”

And that’s where it gets strange. This is a scientific talk presented at the GSA (I presume — it’s 40 slides long, which is at least an hour talk, and most of the slides are light on information — it looks more like a popular talk than the data-dense kind of stuff I usually see at scientific meetings), and a substantial subset of the slides are Bible quotes. Like this one:

I’d get up and walk out of a talk that was that shallow and irrelevant. And then there are a few suspicious remarks. Throughout the talk, the slides are very specific about the earthquake traces being from 33AD, and they even mention April of 33AD. Yet in the abstract, note the highlighted bit: the accuracy of the date is ±5 years, and the official measurement is 31AD…which Austin blithely revises upwards by two years by citing “history”, by which he means the untrustworthy religious account found in his bible.

Two thousand years ago the Dead Sea Basin was shaken by two earthquakes that left two widespread seismites within laminated Dead Sea sediment. The first earthquake (spring 31 B.C., Jericho fault, M~7.2) transformed adjacent Dead Sea laminated mud and aragonite into a persistent and distinctive intraclast breccia seismite in places greater than 1 m thick. The 1st- century Jewish historian Josephus described the 31 B.C. earthquake as a significant social and economic event during King Herod’s reign. A second seismite occurs within laminated mud and aragonite at 10 to 85 cm above the 31 B.C. seismite. Varve counting above the 31 B.C. datum indicates the second seismite can be assigned to 31 A.D. (+/- 5 years), but history specifies as 33 A.D. Superb mud laminae exposures are provided in two gullies at the southwest corner of the Dead Sea at Wadi Ze’elim fan delta where the 33 A.D. seismite outcrops 55 to 85 cm above the 31 B.C. intraclast breccia. The 33 A.D. seismite at Ze’elim is intraformationally folded, 8-cm-thick, sometimes brecciated, silicate mud and aragonite/gypsum laminae. Seismite facies progress from “linear waves” to “asymmetric billows” to “breccia” expressing transition to Kelvin-Helmholtz turbulence within the uppermost shearing laminae during shaking. Recumbent folds and imbricate faults are consistent with gravity collapse upon a broad arch structure during shaking. Folded seismite transitions northward within fan deltas to thicker intraclast breccia, suggesting an epicenter nearer Jerusalem. Matthew, the 1st-century synoptic Gospel author, reported two earthquakes in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. These are the Jerusalem earthquakes of April 3 at the crucifixion of Christ (Matt. 27:51), and April 5 at the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:2). Luke, a first century physician and historian, reported a smaller earthquake in the summer at the gathered assembly (Acts 4:31). The persistent 33 A.D. seismite indicates the biggest 33 A.D. earthquake was M~6.0. This biggest earthquake was likely April 3, 33 A.D. that startled city residents and caused moderate damage, especially to the western side of Temple Mount. Pivots of two, 20-m- high, metal doors of the Temple appear to have been damaged, and the 20-m-high curtain in front of the doors was torn, likely by displacement of the lintel of the Temple during the earthquake.

So, I’m just curious and throw a few questions out to the geologically informed audience here.

  • Were any of you at the GSA meeting, and did you attend? I’m just wondering what the audience reaction was. Also, whether this lengthy pdf represents an actual talk at the meeting.

  • Does the fudging of the dates look as dodgy to you as it does to me?

  • Is there any reason to think this correlation is at all important or even interesting? If you picked any random decade a few thousand years ago, how many earthquakes would a trained geologist be able to identify?

And a totally flippant question: it seems like every year after the GSA meetings I get email about crackpot talks. How much of this weird stuff is actually going on? I suspect it’s buried in an avalanche of good science, but you never know…maybe someday it’ll be as entertaining as a meeting of ghost hunters and UFO fanatics. (No, not really, I’m joking, geologists! Don’t hit me with those wicked pointy hammers you all carry around!)


  1. says

    Everytime I see that name, my first thought is “Astronaut. A man barely alive.” Am I old or what?

    Pity that we do not yet have the technology to provide a bionic brain.

  2. bobafuct says

    Nevermind that even most Christian scholars (using the term loosely) agree that Jesus probably was born around 4 BCE, not 0/1 AD, putting his alleged death closer to something like 29 CE. So no, Stone Cold Steve Austin, “history” does not specify 33 AD/CE.

  3. Beatrice says

    So… There might have been an earthquake in the area where Jesus might have died at the time (plus/minus a couple of years) when he might have died.

    Therefore, Jesus story is 100% true.

    Now that’s what I call some solid evidence.

  4. raven says

    Mathew 27:

    51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open.

    The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.</b

    The stuff about the temple is just straight out of the bible. He doesn’t know if it ever happened.

    Austin managed to omit the famous Zombie uprising when the dead rose out of their tombs and wandered around the city. Cafeteria xian. This is why Easter is sometimes called “Zombie Uprising Day”.

  5. Ogvorbis says

    Worse than that, Beatrice.

    There was an earthquake in the extremely earthquake prone area where a myth that has been mistranslated, altered for political purposes, bowdlerized and selectively edited claims that a mythical being called Jesus had a really bad weekend (plus/minus a couple of years).

    Therefore, Jesus story is 100% true.

  6. Beatrice says


    Your description is better.

    (and Jesus having a bad weekend always makes me laugh)

  7. cag says

    So at 7.2, the “33 ad” quake was a thousand times less powerful than the 1964 Alaska quake. So the alleged crucifiction of jesus must have been rather an insignificant event compared to Alaska 1964, Chile 1960 or the Indian Ocean 2004. I guess the “old man” didn’t give much of a fig.

    My spell checker wants to change crucifiction to crucifixion, but fiction fits better than fixion for this particular usage.

  8. nakarti says

    I propose a new fallacy*, though I don’t know the Latin for it:
    Coincidence is not correlation. Just because two things happened around the same time, around the same place, does not mean they have any relation at all. Example: There was a solar eclipse on the same day some guy bought a (small-) winning lottery ticket.

  9. umkomasia says

    I don’t know about this particular topic but I do know that Steve Austin earned a PhD in geology from Penn State under the guidance of Alfred Traverse, who was a leading figure in his area of geology (paleopalynology). I mention this because a stupid person cannot do this. If we continue to dismiss many of these creationists as stupid (as implied by the “bionic brain” comment above) , we will never defeat them. They are misguided. And for some reason they have chosen to misuse their minds to promote fundamentalism. We need to try and understand why they do this. But in the case of Austin and few others, it’s not because they are brainless.

  10. says

    @3: Damn, you beat me to it. Why the insistence on 33AD? It’s not like the Bible points to that year unambiguously — and as you say, the dating of Jesus’ birth (to the extent the Gospel details can be correlated to real events) is a few years BC, and I’m not aware this is controversial even among fundamentalists (it wasn’t in my day). It’s so beside even the point they want to make, it’s just bizarre.

    @5: That would be the second time I know of these liars have tried to inflate a poster into something more impressive.

  11. wvjim says

    People above have it correct. So what does any of this information show pertaining to the Jesus myth?

    But more importantly (also mentioned by someone above) this was NOT a talk, it was a poster! (The pdf supplied by PZM must just be the talk he gives at Wed night church basement gatherings.)

  12. w00dview says

    Where the GSA the ones who hosted that nonsense about the giant prehistoric octopus that hunted ichthyosaurs and made self portraits of itself using their bones? Or was that another geological convention? Glad it stayed there and never made it to peer review.

  13. kawishiwi says

    Funny, I am actually a near-defending PhD student in Penn State Geosciences.

    Varve counting is about as accepted in geology as tree ring counting, that is to say, pretty damn well. Varve counting is simply counting yearly sediment deposits, which are typically a different color in the winter versus the summer. I have no issue with the author suggesting that the second quake happened x years after the first quake, and yes, that could be +/- 5 years without issue. I would want to ask him, how they ascertained the first quakes age though. As you can imagine, it is a little goofy that he modified the age from 31 to 33 AD, but I suppose I can forgive him that… it is well within his error bars

    That particular region of the world does not seem excessively seismically active – see, and limit your search to that region, for magnitudes above 6.0. Hypothetically, and to answer question 3, if a magnitude 7 happens every 100 years, it would show up pretty darn well in the geologic record of the area (as long as there is someplace where sediment being actively deposited through time). So I do not have any issue with that aspect of his study. And no, I do not think that this correlation is particularly exciting, though it is always nice to see a validation of known methods (granted this might be too emotionally charged to add any credit to the method).

    Finally, I tend to agree with umkomasia. Just because these researchers views are biased, and they REALLY want these dates to work out, it does not mean their research can be totally discredited.

  14. raven says

    About half a dozen major earthquakes have hit the city over the last thousand years, Bein said, and archaeologists have found evidence of the damage. The last big earthquake in the area was in 1927, when a magnitude 6.3 quake centered near Jericho, about 15 miles to the east of Jerusalem, killed more than 200 people.


    The Great Rift Valley runs for 3,000 miles between Syria and Mozambique and passes through the Dead Sea, below Jerusalem’s eastern hills. The fault line was caused by the separation of African and Eurasian tectonic plates 35 million years ago, a split that weakened the Earth’s crust.

    FWIW, the area around Jerusalem is seismically active and earthquakes are common.

    The Dead Sea is near Jerusalem and in the bottom of a very deep rift valley.

  15. rabbitbrush says

    Mr. Austin presented this via Cedarville University, where he is not listed as faculty, however. What’s that, you ask? Why, it is “A top Midwest Christian College in Ohio,” according to its website, Baptist. Also, “Cedarville University is a Christ-centered learning community equipping students for lifelong leadership and service through an education marked by excellence and grounded in biblical truth.” According to, he is “Senior Research Scientist with the Institute for Creation Research.” Oh, I see.

    Why would the GSA allow this nut in the door unless he was being challenged or ridiculed? Yikes. No due diligence?

  16. raven says

    Earthquake hits Dead Sea region, felt in Jerusalem
    goingglobaleastmeetswest. blogspot. com/…/earthquake-hits-dead-sea-…

    23 Mar 2012 – An earthquake measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale shook the Dead Sea area and was felt as far away as Jerusalem on Thursday morning.

    The last earthquake to hit the Jerusalem region was 8 months ago. There are no reports of Zombies coming out of their tombs though.

  17. raven says

    Why would the GSA allow this nut in the door unless he was being challenged or ridiculed? Yikes. No due diligence?

    Entertainment value?

    Creationists can be amusing like Alien Upductees or Bigfootists if you forget that there are so many of them.

  18. bobafuct says

    It also makes sense (to me, at least) that a major earthquake in that general time frame, that maybe was a big deal at the time and well known to the locals, would be weaved into the Jesus myth to make the myth sound more plausible. “Oh this says Jesus died and there was an earthquake…my grandpa who lived during that time told me about a big earthquake that happened when he was a kid, so it makes perfect sense” or some such…

  19. Richard Smith says

    @Gregory in Seattle (#1):

    Steven Austin is the The-World-Is-Only-Six-Thousand-Years-Old Man.

  20. says

    @11: No, people like Austin are not stupid, nor are many of the prominent creationists, in the sense of having a general lack of basic cognitive skills. (Kent Hovind, however, really does appear to be as dumb as a sack of rocks). But while “bionic brain” is intended as snark, they really are beyond misguided (which to me implies an honest naivete). They have an emotional and social commitment to an ideology, which overrides everything else. The evidence that shows them to be wrong is abundant and overwhelming; they simply ignore it and rationalize it away. If they are deceived it is a willful self-deception, and they deserve the title of Liar every bit as much as a deliberate charlatan cynically milking his audience.

  21. coralline says

    As you can imagine, it is a little goofy that he modified the age from 31 to 33 AD, but I suppose I can forgive him that… it is well within his error bars

    A *little* goofy? It’s stupid because there’s no reason for it.

  22. James Stuby says

    To somewhat address PZ’s request, varve counting is a legitimate geological technique. Varves are thin layers that occur in muddy lake bottoms and they are assumed to develop annually due to seasonal cycles (it is a very common dating technique applied to glacial lake geology). It is wise to bracket the date with +/- 5yr in this case because he’s counting up from a seismite, which is inherently disturbed and probably has an irregular upper surface, making it hard to tell which is the lowest varve in the sequence above the seismite. It could be that his +/-5 is too low and that +/-25 is more appropriate, but I of course have not seen the exposure or sediment core where the counting was done. Another possible error is that varves in the Dead Sea are not actually annual, but that is pure speculation on my part because I’m not very familiar with middle-eastern climate 2000 yrs ago or with constraints on sediment influx into the Dead Sea basin.

    Other geologists, please chime in!

  23. raven says

    Huffpo 2012:

    The International Geology Review investigated an earthquake that was said to have occurred the same date as Jesus’ crucifixion. Biblical citations combined with geological research suggest the date may have been Friday April 3, 33 A.D.

    Taken alone, geological research has identified a window from 26 to 36 A.D.

    deleted paragraph:

    According to Discovery News, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences, analyzed earthquake activity in the area by studying three cores from the Ein Gedi Spa beach.

    The research confirmed that two major earthquakes hit the area specified, one during the period between 26 BCE and 36 CE, and could be the one referred to in the Gospel of Matthew.

    Here is what Huffpo says about the geophysical research.

    From Ein Gedi to Jerusalem is 80 km. Far enough away that it would be attenuated but they would still feel it.

  24. wvjim says

    @ kawishiwi:

    “Just because these researchers views are biased, and they REALLY want these dates to work out, it does not mean their research can be totally discredited.”

    If that’s all we had to go on, then sure . . . crazy or misguided, but not stupid. But, we have more. Steve Austin is a well known huckster. He’s the straight-shooter that makes the claim that radiometric dating is invalid because the samples he took from the Mt St Helens dacitic lava dome have readings all over the place. I assume that you don’t need to be told what’s wrong with that!

    Then there’s his Grand Canyon nonsense. So, perhaps not stupid. But dishonest &/or crazy, yes.

  25. Ogvorbis says

    Far enough away that it would be attenuated but they would still feel it.

    But would it have been strong enough to break open all the tombs and reanimate the zombies?

  26. cascadian says

    Engineering Geologist from the Seattle area here.

    Honestly, I can’t even bear to go through the details of this presentation right now. But, I skimmed it, and I’ll throw in my $0.02.

    I did not attand the GSA meeting.
    Varve counting is an accurate method for ‘recent’ events like this one. We use it all the time here because we have a rich history of glacial lake desposits that provide a great chronology reference.
    The identification of historic earthquakes is important for determining seismic codes for structures, and it certainly has scientific merit. However, the correlation of the seismic record to biblical events should be of zero interest to due to the very low level of accuracy that we can expect from biblical dates, and the extremely high level of bias and incentive for the original gospel authors to make this correlation. Even if there was evidence for a historical Jesus and an earthquake that occured on the year of his death, I still wouldn’t think that that was very interesting. Earthquakes and deaths go hand-in-hand, as we all know.

    The GSA is a great meeting with tons of scientific merit. The wacko creationist stuff doesn’t belong there and unfortuntaley it gets all the press. Please don’t let this intellectual pollutant taint your impression of the GSA or of geology! Remember, geology has provided some of the best evidence to counter biblical accounts.

  27. hexidecima says

    absolutely hilarious to see the poor Christians running to mean ol’ science to “prove” their myths. Alas, for them, there are no full eclipses of the sun that coincide with any earthquakes in that time frame. I do love to see varves invoked when these idiots can’t accept them when they show their “flood” to be absolutely bullshit.

    and really, this? ‘Pivots of two, 20-m- high, metal doors of the Temple appear to have been damaged, and the 20-m-high curtain in front of the doors was torn, likely by displacement of the lintel of the Temple during the earthquake.” Just where did this bit of fantasy come from?

  28. roxchix says

    You can see the actual poster presented on the GSA site:
    (search page for Jerusalem)

    It was accepted for a poster because GSA doesn’t censor submissions for anything other than scientific basis, and meetings have a much lower entry bar than peer reviewed publications.

    As long as an abstract is from a legitimate submitter (and Cedarville is accredited) and has potential on-topic scientific merit, there is no legitimate reason to censor or refuse the submissions. These guys usually submit something as bland as possible, and hype it up later.

    Note that in the abstract, and in the poster, the Biblical references are used like any other oral/written history would be, in support of the scientific findings. The Josephus references are used like any other historical written record. If there is an issue with the way the author(s) manipulate the data, or the legitimacy of the oral history, that is theoretically what these conferences are for, to debate those issues with the authors. The abstract and poster don’t make the conclusion that these disturbed lake sediments prove the existance of Jesus, they use a semi-contemporary (if you want to argue about that, that would be appropriate at the conference) written record that references a guy named Jesus as support for the earthquake interpretation of the plastically deformed sediments.

    The Cedarville submitters (and the like) tend to not be at their posters for the requisite session a lot, they don’t really want a good engaging meeting, they just want the cred of having submitted.

    Overall it’s a crappy poster, because the ‘conclusion’ section is as ambiguous as possible to let you read into it whatever you want, and it’s not really presenting new research. It’s basically a poster of a field trip, and all the data and varve interpretation presented is from previous work by someone else. That might have been grounds to refuse the poster as ‘not original work’, but the abstract didn’t give enough information to make that clear to the reviewing staff. At least the nicely done pictures seem to be original work.

    If GSA were to refuse submissions from these guys, they could scream ‘censorship’. As it is, it’s only their own cadre that think their vague submissions to GSA conferences give their work credibility. The larger community sees that all they get are abstracts, which never lead to peer reviewed publications that support the conclusions they make with their work outside of the GSA abstract machine, to their fundamentalist audience.

  29. georgemartin says

    @19 rabbitbrush asks:

    Why would the GSA allow this nut in the door unless he was being challenged or ridiculed? Yikes. No due diligence?

    Well if he is a member of the GSA, it would be kind of hard to keep him out. Since its been stated above that Steve Austin has PhD in geology, he likely is a member.

    Donald Prothero at Skepticblog has previously addressed stealth creationist poster presentations at this meeting. See his Nov. 9th 2011 post on this, Sneaking Pseudoscience into Legitimate Science Meetings.

    In there he mentions Steve Austin who, it appears, lists himself as an adjunct to the geology department at Cedarville which apparently contains only one full time faculty member.


  30. CJO says

    Pivots of two, 20-m- high, metal doors of the Temple appear to have been damaged, and the 20-m-high curtain in front of the doors was torn, likely by displacement of the lintel of the Temple during the earthquake.


    Unbelievable, the way he can just blithely go back and forth between what is ostensibly a result of archaeology (the pivots appear to have been damaged) and a bizarre rationalization of an obviously symbolic detail in the gospels, one that seems clearly to have been intended as a supernatural occurrence, not the consequence of an earthquake. First of all, I know of no damaged door pivots found at the Jerusalem temple, so he appears to be just making up this supposed find. And the curtain in the gospels is supposed to be the veil in front of the Holy of Holies, the doorways to which have certainly never been found since it’s probably under the Dome of the Rock. And you can tell it’s pure bafflegab. “The lintel of the Temple”? Like there was just one outer gate.

    As regards the rending of the veil, all of these events at the crucifixion originated with the gospel of Mark and were copied in Matthew and Luke. The verb used for the rending is a form of schizo (lit. cleave, rend; fig. to be divided), and in Mark 1, another form of that verb is used to decribe the opening of the heavens at the baptism by John, at which time Jesus is possessed by the Spirit (pneuma, lit. breath, wind)and driven into the wilderness. The Spirit which abandons Jesus on the cross. So the rending of the veil is symbolic of the release of the spirit of God into his newly inaugurated Kingdom upon the death of his son. The sort of thing, it should not need to be said, that is not corroborated by counting varves.

  31. says

    Well, this is probably a time to head over and ask Richard Carrier, but I think I can state with confidence that the “history” that is being espoused is nothing of the sort. It’s biblical accounts. In short, myths.

    Funny, though. No one who is actually known to be alive at the time noticed an earthquake on that date. We have lots and lots of records of that area and time, and anyone who was living in that area at that time would have mentioned an earthquake.

    No one did.

    Now, I’m not saying there was no earthquake in contravention of the science. I’m saying that there was no earthquake on that date that caused any kind of damage to Jerusalem. The residents of that city seem to have gone about their business quite normally.

    Anything earthquake powerful enough to cause damage to the temple doors would definitely have been noticed and noted in the real historical records. Wasn’t.

  32. dpitman says

    “I’m not a geologist, so I’m not competent to judge the geological details”
    If only you were consistent about thinking like this.
    You aren’t exactly a “people person” either. You certainly are no good example of how to treat people fair or with respect. Despite this you act as though you wrote the book on socially acceptable behavior and you have appointed yourself the judge of everyone on the planet. I wonder how a worn out biology professor in Minnesota came to believe he is well-qualified to instruct on the proper way to interact with other people, especially in this day and age. You know jack shit PZ quit acting like you are or ever were a person considered to be well liked by most. You are a dick, you know you are a dick and everyone else knows it too (except browian, he is busy tying to get his fly zipped without getting his dick caught in it, you gotta release your grip on it brownian. Let go of your dick and those pants will zip right up) I was watching a vid of you at Skepticon 3 Whats up with all the sexual predator behavior? Anyone who watches this video for 5min and still thinks you can speak to who is a misogynist and who is not has lost their minds.You straight out asked a woman to have sex with you on stage.13:09 Do you think that’s okay PZ? How long have you been a feminist? Funny way of showing it. One day the truth will come out PZ you can’t avoid it. You have been a leering creep for a long time.

  33. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    You are a dick, you know you are a dick and everyone else knows it too – dpitman

    You can tell that a troll is really fucking stupid when they make claims that a moment’s thought will show are false. Not only does PZ run a very popular blog, he is also in great demand as a speaker. How many invitations to address major atheist and skeptical conferences do you receive, dpitman?

  34. Lofty says

    This totes reads like the best student prank of all time. An earthquake hits, tomb doors crumble a bit, open up with a prod or two, and the poor students hanging around the cemetery for assignations dress up in old funerary clothes and wander about moaning theatrically to scare away the locals from their favourite haunt. The gullible populace writes the event into its folklore to impress other gullible people millenia later.

  35. says


    You can tell that a troll is really fucking stupid

    dpitman specializes in stupid. He happily shot himself in the head over at the memorial thread, again. Couldn’t argue his way out of a wet paper bag with sharp scissors.

  36. Lofty says

    Ooh, look, dslimepitman has crawled out of its swamp. Buzz off and learn about what makes PZ a valued, popular speaker.

  37. Menyambal --- son of a son of a bachelor says

    The Bible say the curtain was torn, then it says the rocks shook. Ol’ Steve twists it a bit there.

    And, how does a curtain hanging over a door get torn by an earthquake without the whole building coming apart? A cloth hanging from the top of a door should be the last thing damaged.

    Steven A. Austin, Ph.D. made this vid, Where Darwin Went Wrong, about Darwin’s assessment of geology in Patagonia, and tries to show Darwin was wrong, therefore evolution is wrong, therefore God. I have been trying to make a vid that says Austin is wrong, therefore sellout, but can’t get it narrated. Austin’s geology is wrong, and I think he knows it.

    (Warning: It is a bit nausea-making. (His vid, not mine.))

  38. Ogvorbis says

    I’ve tried, but my googlefu is seriously lacking (I need some training just to get a white belt in googlefu) and I found nothing. Did Steve Austin have anything to do with the creationist book that was forced down the throat of the Grand Canyon Natural History Association’s bookstore in the Visitor Center at GRCA back during W’s administration?

  39. Brownian says

    except browian, he is busy tying to get his fly zipped without getting his dick caught in it, you gotta release your grip on it brownian. Let go of your dick and those pants will zip right up

    dpitman’s crush on me is bordering on obsessive.

  40. Air says

    Interesting that the 6,000 year man can date an interrupted 1,979 year varve record to +/- 10 minutes. Wonder how he deals with inconveniences like the 14,570 year continuous varve from Lake Van in Turkey (one of many such)?

  41. madscientist says

    Goddamn … I should have been there to shout him off the stage – or at least to rip Jesus a new asshole during the brief question period.

  42. says

    The bible does say Jesus was 33 when he was executed. However the idea that he was executed in 31 AD or 33 AD or any other year is kind of a mess because the birth date is based on something that never happened (a census that would require Joseph and Mary to move to Bethlehem). Luke’s imaginary census was probably meant to be a real census that occurred in 6 AD, but this is inconsistent with Matthew’s claim that Jesus was born in the time of Herod the Great, i.e., before 4 BC.

    Matthew’s date is also likely made up to get Herod to massacre a bunch of babies in hopes of killing the Messiah. So there’s no reason to believe that an earthquake in 31 AD +/1 5 years was necessarily the year Jesus died and certainly no reason to pick out 33 AD as the year that matches the earthquake.

    If Jesus was in fact crucified during Passover (it’s likely as it’s one of the few things the authors agree on) then there was a full moon and hence no solar eclipse. The talk references a lunar eclipse, which is not consistent with the biblical description.

  43. cm's changeable moniker says

    Wow! Big red letters …


    creationist geologist

    What? Like, what? Seriously, how does that happen? The delusion is immense in this one.


    — — —

    I now also hazasad because 20 years ago I was a post-grad attending the GSA meeting in (IIRC) Winston-Salem, NC. I feel old.

    Didn’t see any creationist posters, but the a/c in the hotel induced nosebleeds that lasted for weeks. Not sure which would be worse.

    Don’t hit me with those wicked pointy hammers you all carry around!

    Mwahaha! We’ll hunt you down with our compasses and determine the optimal angle of attack with our clinometers!

  44. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Some advice dpitman: PZ is usually serious about this.
    If you comment anywhere except the linked thread, you’ll be banned.

    Given that fact the dpitman is a hit and run coward unable to defend its idiocy, I expect it won’t read PZ’s warning and will post somewhere else later. It is looking to be hammered to show the slymepit it has shriveled intellectual gonads like the rest of them.

  45. cm's changeable moniker says


    nosebleeds that lasted for weeks

    should be: nosebleeds that recurred for weeks. Sorry. ;-)

  46. saguhh00 says


    How could a solar eclipse have occured during the crucifiction when the Bible says that Jeebus died during Jewish Passover, which is during the full moon when the Sun and the Moon are diametrically opposite to each other in relation to the Earth?

    If the Sun went out for a few hours, why did no one else on the illuminated side of Earth notice it?

    If the Veil of the Temple was torn, why did no Jewish historians notice it?

  47. says

    The slide refers to Jesus dying on the cross an “extraordinary event.” What the heck is so extraordinary about crucifixion (and/or stabbing by spear) resulting in death?

  48. John Morales says


    chrismorrow, the kindness done to Jesus by the spear-thrust was atypical; the entire purpose of a crucifixion was a cruel and lingering death.

    (But yes, a fair point — the Via Appia reportedly had 6,000 crucified rebellious slaves lining it in 71 BC)

  49. says

    I reckon one of the reasons this guy studied geology was that he believes that earthquakes are a sign of the End Times, and he wanted to be able to make that prediction.

    It is so very astounding to me still when religious people study science merely for the purpose to use it to rationalize their fairy tales.

    If memory serves this guy has presented at geology meetings in Australia as well, but I can’t find a link right now.

  50. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    Ironically enough, this was the 1st GSA I attended in over a decade (and it was great!!! but another story). I didn’t see Austin’s poster so I can’t comment on it.

    The closest I came to seeing pseudoscience (or at least highly controversial science) was in one of the several sessions on sea level change. GSA was in Charlotte, NC, and you may recall that the legislature there has passed a law mandating no more than 8″ of SL increase in planning, so there was a great interest and a lot of pissed off NC coastal geologists there. I saw only one abstract in which the author was going to try and argue against the consensus (and seemed to imply in the abstract that it was a hoax) of global warming-caused SL increase. I went to see the talk (and so did quite a few others, evidently) and the speaker never showed up. No one knew why. I’ll always wonder if it was because he was a denialist and knew he’d be raked over the coals.

  51. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    Oh, and I forgot to add (after going through online abstracts for a half hour or so to find that talk (unsuccessfully)), that this was my first thought upon reading what Austin was saying:

    This is a seismically very active area. Since large earthquakes happen in this area geologically frequently, there are undoubtably other seismite layers as well. Is he prepared to say that they are ALL caused by his god? If not, then how can he distinguish the one he claimed is caused supernaturally from all the natural occurrences?

  52. dogfightwithdogma says

    @37 dpitman

    Not only are you a troll. You are also an asshole. You seriously can’t distinguish between bantering between two acquaintances and actual misogynistic behavior? You have got shit for brains and your mouth is just the portal through which this shit exits.

  53. rachaelacks says

    All right, so I will state now I haven’t attended GSA. I’ve been to AAPG and just attended my first AGU, where I presented a poster. But before there’s a freakout about the larger organizations of geologists, please consider these points:

    – Having a poster or even a presentation at a meeting is not the same thing as being accepted for publication in a journal. The bar is much, much lower.

    – If GSA is anything like AGU, there are orders of magnitude more good posters at these sessions. To the point that you literally cannot see all the posters available in a single day if you stop to read any of them. I have no idea if there were any wacky posters at AGU. I didn’t have time to go looking for them.

    – At a poster session, people will have a one-on-one discussion with you. I would be shocked to my toes if this guy didn’t attract some ire. There were creationists at the 2011 GSA meeting in Denver as well (PZ blogged it, my own thoughts here: but the issue is ultimately one of if the organization wants to give more fuel to whiny creationists by policing them hard when other kind of potentially iffy research gets posters because this isn’t the same sort of peer review process as you go through for actual publication. Honestly, you could consider the presenting of the poster itself a kind of peer review, because people will ask you questions, and they will argue with you, and they will call you on your research if they think it’s crap. To your face.

    Re: Varve counting can be used, and it’s got pitfalls just like counting tree rings. A lot of more geologically recent earthquakes get counted because of historical records, but unless the historical data appears to be really accurate I think geologists tend to go looking for physical, corroborating evidence. And the older a historical record, the less believable it is. Particularly because ancient peoples weren’t above making up earthquakes if it added drama to a story. My understanding is that it’d take an earthquake of pretty good magnitude to leave evidence for us to find (such as fault scarps). This is way out of my area though, since I’m not an earthquake guy.

  54. laconicsax says

    The whole reason for the specific date and time is based on a lunar eclipse (

    There was a partial lunar eclipse visible at moonrise on April 3rd, AD 33, but that doesn’t match the Gospel description of darkness from noon-3pm. Someone in Jerusalem would have seen the very end of the eclipse several hours after the supposed “darkness over the land.”

    Doesn’t the crucifixion earthquake also coincide with a zombie invasion of Jerusalem?

  55. Dana Hunter says

    Oh. My. Fuck. I wondered if he’d show up. Again. He’s the recurring boil on an otherwise near-blemish-free meeting, from what I’ve heard.

    I am seriously deficient in earthquakes, but I’ll report if any of my paleosesmologist friends kick his arse. Also, I’ve not got it on this machine, but remind me and I’ll post a link later to a paper using creationist geologists’ own research to prove they’re full of fail. It is a thing of beauty.

    I’m buried under volcanoes at the moment, but I do plan to do a series on Flood “geology” in which Steve will be given loving attention from the Smack-o-Matic 3000™. Stay tuned…

  56. says

    I do plan to do a series on Flood “geology”

    It has been done before, in that thread and the endless ones that came after it!

    (I was surprised to see that the comments are there)

  57. says

    However the idea that he was executed in 31 AD or 33 AD or any other year is kind of a mess because the birth date is based on something that never happened

    No, the idea that he was crucified in 33AD comes from the “facts” the bible says he was crucified:

    1: while Pilate was prefect,
    2: on a Friday,
    3: at Passover,
    4: and he died after John the Baptist.

    The first 3 gives us 2 alternatives, AD30 or AD33. The last one gives us after AD31/32, hence AD33.

  58. raven says

    No, the idea that he was crucified in 33AD comes from the “facts” the bible says he was crucified:

    Which doesn’t quite fit with when jesus was supposedly born.

    Using the same reasoning, jesus is thought to be born around 4 BCE. If he was killed in 33 CE, then he would be 37, not the 33 he is usually assigned.

    Which isn’t impossible. For supposedly the most important individual ever born, “god”, jesus is remarkably obscure even in the bible. Most of the details of his life are clearly made up.

    Pivots of two, 20-m- high, metal doors of the Temple appear to have been damaged, and the 20-m-high curtain in front of the doors was torn, likely by displacement of the lintel of the Temple during the earthquake.

    I don’t have a problem with an earthquake ca 30 CE. This is a seismically active area and earthquakes occur all the time. The last one in the Jerusalem area was a whole 8 months ago.

    The data is from the Dead Sea, 80 km away and 4,000 feet downhill. It doesn’t look like it was all that strong in Jerusalem.

    1. There is no historical record of it outside of the bible. These were literate societies under Roman rule. They did note the one during Herod’s reign.

    2. The details about the metal doors of the temple being damaged, the curtain in front of god’s house being torm (the Veil of the Tmple) look like mythology. There is no record of them either. It was the temple of the Jews and god’s home, seems like the owners would have noticed that. There is no record of the Zombie uprising either.

    3. There is a key fact of jesus’s life and death. He came as a Messiah to the Jews, his people. He didn’t make much of an impression on them in or after his life. Xianity never had much success among the Jews, only getting going when Paul invented xianity and started converting gentiles.

  59. says

    You straight out asked a woman to have sex with you on stage.13:09 Do you think that’s okay PZ?

    Are you also going to accuse him of being a cannibal serial killer? He used that as an example, too.

    What’s really amusing about this is the schizoid attitude of these people. If you mention sex, you’re a slut or a predator. If you don’t mention sex, you’re a prudish feminist. It’s almost as if they don’t have a legitimate complaint, but just grasp at anything to vilify their opponents.

  60. octopod says

    Well, I was at GSA and didn’t even notice this thing in the abstract booklet, but there it is. Admittedly I was concentrating on the paleontology sessions. (It’s a huge meeting — one can’t possibly see everything!)

    The geology seems…not bad but kind of uninteresting, unless you’re excited by the Jesus angle, which I’m not particularly. You know…Minor earthquake in seismically active region! Film at 11!

  61. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    Just a metacomment:

    With this many FTB readers at GSA, maybe we should have a session? Or at least a get-together at a bar. Don’t know when I’ll go next, but I’ll ask about it here when I do.

  62. eleutheria says

    Is it any surprise that the institution Steve Austin hails from, Cedarville “University” of Cedarville, OH, is a glorified bible college? Its admission criteria:

    Admission Criteria for Freshman Candidates
    Evidence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
    A consistent Christian lifestyle as confirmed by the church leader
    A 3.0 unweighted, cumulative grade point average in college-preparatory course work
    ACT or SAT test scores at or above the national average (22 ACT; 1030 SAT)

    Its majors:

    Bachelor’s Degrees
    Bible Teacher Education
    Christian Education
    Comprehensive Bible
    International Studies – Missiology
    One-Year Bible Program
    Pastoral Studies
    Preseminary Bible
    World Missions
    Youth Ministries

  63. eleutheria says

    Cedarville is Christ-Centered

    Our faith is not a label or a surface treatment, it is our lifeblood and permeates all aspects of the university, its programs and its people. Missions and ministry are integrated into every facet of the Cedarville experience.
    Unwavering commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture
    Creationist approach to scientific research and study
    Required Bible minor a part of all academic programs
    Daily chapels with relevant biblical teaching and authentic praise
    Discipleship groups that provide opportunities for Bible study, mentoring, accountability, prayer, and open discussion
    Missions and study abroad opportunities that reach nearly every corner of the world

  64. raven says

    Cedarville is Christ-Centered

    Our faith is not a label or a surface treatment, it is our lifeblood and permeates all aspects of the university, its programs and its people. Missions and ministry are integrated into every facet of the Cedarville experience.

    Sounds really boring.

    FWIW, these bible colleges also tend to be really expensive. For the same amount of money you could get a real education at a real university.