Posts Tagged ‘mcrae formation’

SERMON: “The Rocks Cry Out” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

It seems to be the case for me that to be on the road is to be aware of natural history.

As I drive north (through south-central New Mexico) on the interstate I pass the Elephant Butte Reservoir that I know contains an outcropping of the McRae Formation: late Cretaceous fossiliferous rocks that have yielded bits of Tyrannosaurus jaws and skulls.  Further up the road is my favorite evidence of volcanism — a pert little plug of former magma that reminds me of a giant nipple protruding from the earth.  And every road-cut exposes the layer-cake of geology in which every stone or pebble tells a part of the story of the active life of the craggy crust of the earth.

My favorite, suggestive, volcanic plug in central New Mexico.

And, of course, here am I — a modern human animal scooting along a strip of pavement in a machine made of intricately-designed parts of metal, glass and polymer and fueled by the distilled carbon of ancient, long-gone forests.

The Bible says that should man refuse to recognize the evidence of God that “the rocks would cry out!”.  I can’t help but think that there is a deeper truth in this than we realize.  The rocks, do, indeed cry out, but not as evidence for a creator.  Rather, they bear mute testimony to the active, ancient history of the planet we occupy.

“Young earth creationists” are in the most difficult spot, I think.  On the one hand, they are among the more “honest” of religious believers in that they stand by their “book” unflinchingly.  They do not make accommodations to either culture or science (well, at least not to the degree that more moderate believers do).  But on the other, they must actively deny a literal mountain of evidence, for the youngest geological formations put to the test their determination to hold that the earth is about six or seven thousand years old.

So they have to deny the reliability of any of the multiple cross-referencing dating systems we have discovered (even tree-ring data takes us back some 11,000 years!).  They must also endorse the idea that God must have created the universe with light beams from distant planets, stars and galaxies (that he also created for some reason) already hitting the planet earth — otherwise our modern skies would be very, very dark indeed as we waited the billions of years some of those light beams would have to travel to reach our “irreducibly-complex” eyeballs.

The fact that we even SEE the stars is one more bit of compelling evidence for the true age of the universe.  So the reality that surrounds us is that every rock, every star and every living creature are the bearers of the evidence of our natural and ancient origins.  The elements that make up my body were formed in the deep furnaces of exploding stars.  My DNA carries the record of my evolution as a living organism from the first multi-cellular life forms that successfully colonized the waters of earth.  The rocks aren’t so much shouting as screaming at us (in their mute, polite manner).

It is a curious artifact of our natural tendency toward belief that we will not only ignore, but actively resist evidence that threatens our view of reality.  This isn’t a mysterious trait of humans — I think we understand it fairly well in psychological terms.  There is clearly something about possessing a consciousness like we do that demands that we maintain a sense of inner coherence — a unity of the self.  As rational as I think I am, I am no less the servant of this need to feel like my beliefs line up with reality.

As a result, I can wonder whether my views are driven as much by belief as any fundamentalist’s.  To be sure, my mind works to smooth off the rough edges of my own personality with justification, rationalization and — when those fail — apologies and efforts at amends with whoever I may have offended by my selfish actions.  But that being the case does it does not necessarily follow that my embrace of scientific evidence and evolution is purely rooted in my own sense of wish-fulfillment that is the root of so much religious dogma.

The obvious difference is, of course, the actual existence of evidence for evolution and our purely natural origins.  There is, yet, absolutely no evidence for the existence of any god or gods, or anything about our existence that requires such a god’s existence for its explanation.  The only hand-hold available for the theist is to believe that any gap in our understanding of life is the same thing as a mystery answerable only by god.   There is, of course, no reason this should be so.

For while it is true that science can never prove or disprove the existence of god, what it has shown is that the idea of god has become completely irrelevant to any understanding of life on earth, the existence of the earth itself, or the universe as a whole.

Science has steadily dismantled the myriad claims about the nature of reality that theistic religion claimed to have answered, leaving only the human need for something to believe in as the last sanctuary of god.

But from within that sanctuary, many believers still sally forth in an effort to discredit science, or to bend it to their doctrine.  They call themselves Creation Scientists, which rings about as sensible as Biologist Priests or Rabbinical Paleontologists (I know, I know — the terms can seem to fit a level of perceived arrogance, if not doctrine).

My motivation for using science to understand my place in the world is not a religious one.  And yet is satisfies an existential hunger in me that religion has traditionally fed.  But I would argue that religion, in the end, isn’t really up to the task of telling us who we are and why we’re here and has, actually, become a sort of intellectual anchor on our progress as humans.

And yet, returning to my awareness of biology and nature, I must recognize that there are loads of things about life that aren’t ideal or efficient — such as the convoluted paths our nerves and veins take through our bodies that are leftovers of the lifeforms our modern shapes were built upon.

Nothing in Life is about perfection — the changes wrought by natural selection are never started from scratch, but must work from what already exists.  It took us a very, very long time to change from fish to humans, but we’ve never completely left our watery ancestry behind.  And so religious belief is a part of the evolution of our consciousness and, as such, will never be completely left behind either.  Even if it gets in the way of our hearing what the rocks are really trying to say to us.

t.n.s.r. bob