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Genesis and Geology

Edited to add: The GeoChristian blogger has responded to our Skepchickating of his poll. I’ve edited a few items below to reflect his response. I apologize if I mis-represented the GeoChristian in any way. Also, I would like to thank the GeoChristian for responding gracefully and inviting the Skepchick readers to look around his site. I encourage you to do that– there is some excellent content on there.

Again, I would like to emphasize that the work the GeoChristian does to encourage conservative Christians to learn about science is important. I’m sure that conservative Christians are much more likely to listen to a fellow Christian than, say, an atheist heathen like me. At the same time, I stand by my opinion that The Bible has no place in geological science except, perhaps, in the investigation of certain stories (such as Noah’s flood) that may have been inspired by actual geological events.

Skepchick readers, thanks for voting “myth” on this poll. Keep it up!

As a new geoblogger with my geology blog Georneys, I have recently started following some other geobloggers. Actually, I’m afraid that a large proportion of the people who read my geoblog are other geobloggers, but that’s okay. I read their blogs, too.

One of the geoblogs that I have started reading- casually- is a blog called The GeoChristian. The blog is written by a liberal Christian with some science (especially geology) background a B.S. degree in Earth Science and a M.S. degree in Geology. In many ways, I admire this blog and the blogger. The author tries to improve the science education of very conservative Christians, including the Young Earthers. This is a noble effort, and I really hope that the blogger is successful. The blogger accepts an old Earth, which I find comforting.

However, this blog sometimes touches on things that make me upset and angry. I am usually a nice person and try to conform to the “don’t be a dick” skeptical mindset. I don’t attack people about their religious beliefs or try to convert them to my atheism. I try not to bring either religion or atheism into the workplace or into science. I focus on the data, models, and concrete scientific evidence. If someone asks me about my beliefs (or lack thereof), I will be honest, but I won’t bring it up unless they ask. If someone talks about going to church and offers to pray for my mother (who has been very ill recently), I ask them how church was and thank them for praying for my mother. I thank them not because I believe in prayer but rather because I am touched that they are thinking of my mother.

However, when the author of the GeoChristian blog tries to reconcile events in The Bible with geological science, my blood starts boiling. For instance, I just noticed that the GeoChristian has put up a poll titled Understanding Genesis One. This poll asks “What is your preferred interpretation of Genesis One?” and gives a number of options– including a Young Earth Creationist option (6,000 years) and several options trying to re-interpret the text in The Bible in order to make it compatible with the old age of the Earth.

Finally, at the end, there is the option: “Myth — Genesis One is a myth and has no relevance to the true origin of the universe, Earth, life, and humanity.” Sadly, only 7 people have voted for this option (out of 136).

19 people have voted for the Young Earth option while 26 people have voted for the wishy-washy “Old Earth — Not committed to any one particular Biblical interpretation.” You can go to the poll to see the other options.

Some of you may remember how much I hate Young Earth Creationists and my strong opinions on trying to bring The Bible into geology. The Bible is religion and irrelevant to scientific geology.

Here is an excerpt from my Skepchick post (in 2007) “Young Earth Creationists are NOT Geologists” that sums up my viewpoint on The Bible and geology:

As for the intersection of geology with Biblical events of creation… well, the science is totally gone here. Why? Because The Bible is not a scientific text. The Bible is not a historical record. The Bible is not a valid reference for a scientific paper, for a geological paper. Actually, I think that there is some merit to considering geological explanations for events which happened in The Bible, which I personally consider to be a work of fiction inspired by actual events, here and there. Certainly, there have been large floods in the Middle East in the past. Could one of these be a Biblical flood? Sure. Why not? I’m sure geologists and Biblical historians have considered the possibilities. But that’s all they are–possibilities. They are possible inspirations for a fictional work.

As you may have guessed, I voted for the last myth option on the GeoChristian poll. If you agree with my viewpoint, please go vote myth on the poll, too.

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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25 Comments

  1. I am left wondering… Why do some Christians insist that the Bible is a better scripture, better evidence of the will of their god, than the world they say their god created?

    It makes me wonder why they prefer a small, petty god to one that encompasses the marvels we see when we look at our Earth, our universe.

    Me, I believe in no god, but I can see the divinity inherent in a universe full of wonders. Why do these people look at the evolution of our planet and feel threatened? Why do they look at the enormity of the universe we live in and feel like it must be a falsehood?

  2. @Autochton: You cannot go there. They will tell you this wondrous universe could not have come into being by “accident”.

    Slugging a tar baby rarely pays for the effort.

    Hmm, maybe a t-shirt that says, every time you deny evolution, jebus kills a kitten.

  3. We’re flooding their poll. (Flooding? It’s a joke. I’m just ribbing them.) Okay, I’ll stop and rest now; it is Saturday after all.

    Anyway, 80 votes of 210 for Myth.

    I don’t think the Myth position is necessarily non-Christian. It was pretty much the view I held when I still regarded my self as Catholic.

  4. @hall of justice: It looks like Skepchick has enough minions to start pharyngulating internet polls.

    Maybe there can be a tiered system. Large online polls that require heavy mashing get pharyngulated. Smaller online polls that just need a light crushing get skepchickated. I notice on this poll there is also a lack of venomous comments that usually accompany a pharyngulation. Definitely a softer touch. I like it.

  5. Hey, the blogger noticed that we are Skepchickating the poll. To his credit, he is being very nice and welcoming us to his site.

    Thank you everyone for not posting mean comments. I definitely prefer the softer Skepchick touch.

  6. I read his reply. I followed the links and read all of the suggested pages. I did not vote. I did not leave a comment. What point, really?

    Is critical thinking not taught in geology departments? If he really has a MS in Geology, he should ask for his money back. A barking mad apologist with a science degree is still a barking mad apologist.

  7. Well, I didn’t post any mean comments (not difficult, I didn’t post any comments whatsoever). And I’m not the type to post mean comments in any case – that’s not how I roll. Direct, even pointed comments, sure, but nothing mean or insulting. I’m very happy Skepchick isn’t a Pharyngula clone (N.B.: I read Pharyngula too, but one Pharyngula is plenty- great place for atheists to vent, but I’m not convinced the ridicule/venom/name-calling really does much to advance our cause).

    And yet… HEADDESK HEADDESK HEADDESK! The apologetics! IT BURNS!

    Besides common courtesy, the reason I don’t call people like GeoChristian (or his fans) stupid or moronic is because it isn’t literally true. Even long before I read Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” I had encountered people with above average (even way-above-average) intelligence who were YECs to the max [I’ve also known agnostic & atheist folks with poor logic skills that IMO (dis-)believe the right things for the wrong reasons] .

    If you spend some time reading GeoChristian’s arguments it is apparent he’s quite intelligent: it takes an agile mind to go through the logical contortions necessary to square religious belief with the natural world as we now understand it. To quote Shermer, “The reason smart people believe weird things is that they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” (I don’t have the book in front of me, but I’m pretty sure I at least captured the gist of the quote). I think this pretty well describes the GeoChristian blog (& apologetics in general).

  8. There is quite a lot of intellectual gymnastics there. His science is amazingly sound, as he is a trained geologist. But, there’s a but:

    There are valid criticisms of his world-view. It’s in a place of being half-pregnant. It is holding the raw information and data, examining for validity, hypothesizing on it, evaluating it for correlation and causation between and along the facts, coming to a conclusion that is tested, re-tested, and retested by others, and then saying, “I am going to still think what I like because that is what I like.”

    The lens of examination is never turned toward the tenet of faith, just an assumption of sand in which everything is built upon. And with. And for.
    The evidence, of what the universe is and what our own history is, needs to be given a meaning and a purpose, in these world-views. Existence cannot exist for the reasons of “There everything is” or “Make a good world because it is good for everything”.

    The idea of “goodness” for its own sake needs a Divine mandate for any creationist belief. A person cannot give to charity without a fear, apparently. They cannot want to love or make a family because of the sake of their own heart. If you help, however you define help (a firefighter or giving back a dropped glove), then it is either giving a ‘blessing’ or needing a ‘blessing’.
    (This isn’t even how the Buddhist notion of ‘karma’ works, which more like ‘reading a person like you’d read a book, up to the point where you put the bookmark in, and seeing it for its good and bad points; the anthropologist in me gets stuck on that point because that is how it is explained by practioners, modern and ancient alike, and how it has been written down in some very old books I’ve been able to see but not touch dangit).

    The apologetics and maneuvering to get to the answer and need of God is aggravating simply because it’s always presumed and never given the question of “Is this assumption necessary for the observations from life, the universe, and everything?”

    All that said, he does have this picture, with its link (on the right side), to this
    http://www.genesispark.org/genpark/fire/fire.htm
    and does tear down that nonsense. I only mention it now because of that drawing. It is _amazing_.

  9. @DanSRose:

    The thing is, I suspect that if GeoChristian were to analyze the arguments of a Muslim apologist, or a Hindu apologist, or even a Mormon apologist, he would have no problem zeroing in on the leaps of logic, evidentiary gaps, internal contradictions, etc. He might even relish doing so, as he doesn’t strike me as the sort of liberal pan-theist who sees all faiths as just different paths to one underlying Truth. If (my brand of) Christianity is right, all other religions must be wrong (including competing Christian denominations/sects).

    To quote from his blog, “As a Christian, I believe that if there is a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we don’t understand the Bible correctly, or we don’t understand science correctly (or both). In the end, if we were to correctly understand both, there would be no conflict.” He does not even admit the possibility that the Bible could be wrong in any real sense, only that it could be misinterpreted: it is axiomatic for him – i.e., he has blind faith. The thing that is maddening to me, albeit not even a little but surprising, is he repeatedly denies that his faith is blind (moreover, he goes so far as to say that it is atheists whose faith is blind, not theists like himself).

    I suppose we should give him a little credit in that he criticizes AIG and YECs in general on scientific grounds, but that’s as far is it goes: he’s still a very conservative Christian who professes a belief in biblical inerrancy, albeit in a somewhat more subtle sense than, say the Southern Baptists who (IIRC) argue for literal word-by-word inerrancy without room for interpretation.

  10. He the omniscient could have made the world appear anyway He liked… very, very, very old for example — even if it only took him a bit less than a week to hammer it all out! Strong faith would not be shaken by appearance. These people don’t seem to realise they are revealing their faith as less than certain.

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