Sympathy for the devil
As I was sitting outside on a fine unFloridian morning, taking my coffee and smoking my first cigarette of the day, I pulled my hoodie over my head and my thick robe tightly around my body. It was warmer than the previous day, a balmy 45 F (7 C). I started thinking about the ice ages on this planet. We’re in an interglacial period which means there’s another one coming. The Pleistocene glaciation being the most recent ending some 12,000 years ago, is only one of several geological periods in which glaciation of the planet occurred– mind you, believed by those who base their findings on scientific evidence. I wondered what those who believe the earth is only 4000 years old thought about ice ages. I mean, they happened way before Noah built his cruise ship.
Those who believe in the Bible as literal truth believe that all can be explained by the Flood–a really, really, big Flood. Noah built an ark (something like the QE II meets oil tanker) and animals and plants representative of their species were spared drowning. Obviously he missed some, which would account for massive extinctions (whoa, sounds like I’m giving the Flood People some help). I recently found that 6000 years is the amount of time many Flood People assert is the earth’s age, depending on how you interpret the Bible. Regardless, it must have been an extremely active time both geologically and biologically, for everything to have occurred in such a brief amount of time. Incidentally, those who believe the literal truth of the Bible have different “interpretations” for the amount of time it took Noah to build the ark.
What about ice ages? How do they explain the ice ages? Ignore them completely? Or, are we missing a part of the Bible where someone chosen by God, had to build an enormous sled during the periods when much of the planet was covered in ice and snow? That ark vehicle would definitely need skis to get to the ice free areas of the planet and do all this without satellite photos to guide the way. Sounds like silly musing, doesn’t it? Moses didn’t have GPS. That’s why he wandered for 40 years. Yes, I know the joke: Moses wandered for 40 years because, like most men, he wouldn’t stop to ask directions.
Of course, during our last Ice Age, the Pleistocene, our human ancestors did not have a written language. Humans’ intellectual adventure did not begin until language evolved and humans mastered it. So, who would have written about the age of ice and snow? The earliest cave paintings are at El Castillo Cave in Spain and date back to at least 40800 years ago. That was near the end of the Pleistocene which began about 2.6 million years ago and ended about 11,500 years ago– about the time that cave paintings ceased being produced. During the Pleistocene there were interglacial periods; times when the temperatures rose and the glaciers retreated. We are currently in an interglacial period called the Holocene. How do we know all this? There are several ways to date events which occurred on the planet. One is radiometric dating. Richard Dawkins suggests that if you do take on a creationist, you can argue for the evidence of radiometric dating, asking how he/she accounts for the data we have.
Radiometric dating is the process by which radioactive isotopes, which decay at a known rate, are used to date rocks and fossils. For instance, radioactive carbon is used for fossils found in sedimentary rock– rock that is formed by the deposition of sediment, particularly transported by water, such as rivers, and deposited in layers. Carbon, however, decays rather rapidly so we are only able to date rocks and the fossils in the rocks, younger than 50,000 years. For anything older, scientists use potassium or uranium isotopes found in volcanic rock and ash to date the area in question, and, therefore, “bracket” the age of the surrounding sedimentary layers, determining the youngest and oldest age that the fossil might be.
The above discourse brings up a point. My point, my opinion. I was talking to my housemate and best friend after reading something on the internet which reminded me that there are still people out in the global community who believe every word in the Bible, no metaphorical interpretations. With these heavy musings on my mind, I strode out into the living room and diverted my housemate’s attention away from the TV. Relatively sure I had her attention, this is how our conversation went:
me: “Did you know that there are people who still believe that the earth is only 4000 years old?”
she: “Yes…. I’m one of them”.
me: ” ………………………………………………………………………”
It was the first time I ever remember being speechless, in such a surprised, appalled and incredulously disappointed and almost embarrassed way. Needless to say it took me awhile to recover. Finally, I asked her how she accounted for the geological record. Her answer: “the Flood”.
With that I took a deep breath, smiled at her and excused myself. As I left the room, I’m pretty sure I recognized a “take that” look in her eyes. In all the years I have known her the subject of the age of the earth never came up. In all these years she has known that I am an anthropologist, an agnostic and recovering Catholic. I have known for years that she believes in the Bible and that Noah built an Ark and there was a guy named Adam and a girl named Eve. I thought she believed all of it metaphorically. I have a hard time wrapping my Vulcan logic around unreasonable beliefs. She is very active in her church but she has always maintained a demeanor of one who is not one of the Flood People. She likes telling her church friends that I’m an anthropologist, which I always thought strange since that field in particular carries the stigma of “evolutionary”.
Very seldom did I ever get on Facebook. I recently closed my account with much fanfare. My housemate “knows” so many people (she collects Facebook friends the way she collects cans of tomato soup) that I was being inundated daily by emails asking me if I knew so and so or so and so wants to friend me. It was too much communication for me. Just before clicking the button to detonate my account, I saw her latest entry for that day which had infiltrated despite my preferences. A day when I misguidedly talked with her about the procedure for being ‘saved’. She posted that the devil had tried to weaken her but that her faith triumphed. Since we were home all day and no one visited, I can only assume that either the devil has a cell phone or I am the devil’s minion. I found that disturbing.