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In my opinion, the two biggest flaws of the religious person’s thought process are 1) a deficiency of good information (or a complete lack thereof), and 2) the inability or unwillingness to examine details. The causes and impacts of the former are well known and have been thoroughly discussed, by myself and others, elsewhere on this blog and across the furthest reaches of the internet. I believe there are still some interesting and, as of yet, unexplored points to address in regards to the second of these two flaws.
What exactly do I mean when I claim that Christians (and I do mean all Christians) are blind to detail? To illustrate, let’s look at an example scenario combining Christian belief and geology: specifically, the vast layered collection of materials which form the geological column.
*I must first issue a warning: I’m about to engage in a brief thought-experiment where I make some fairly broad generalizations. I’d like to point out that, although it might not pertain to everybody, it most certainly does pertain to you, dear reader.*
If you dig a hole anywhere on planet Earth, it will come as no great shock to find the soil, rock, and other materials form discrete layers. Astounding, right? The earth is made of layers and layers within layers and more damn layers. We live on a layered planet. Moreover, most people are aware of this fact and take it more-or-less for granted.
Now, add to this equation an average American Christian advocating for the veracity of the Christian bible. They need not be a strict biblical literalist, but they must be somewhat vocal and hold the general believe (as most American Christians do) that god is the master architect and craftsman of the universe.
If pressed, there is a good chance my hypothetical Christian will state some or all of the following:
1) The layers of the earth do not contradict the truth of the bible or the existence of god.
2) God could have created some of these layers, or they are part of his grand design.
3) The layers of the earth are positive evidence for specific aspects of the bible, such as Noah’s flood.
4) The layers of the earth can only be explained in the context of an all-powerful Christian god.
I suspect most Christians of the type I’m referring to would not disagree with any of these claims. Indeed, I’ve purposely limited their scope for simplicities’ sake: I’m sure many would take this list to its natural conclusion: god created everything and everyone. Here’s the catch: notice I didn’t specify any sort of formal education or working knowledge of geology for our Christian straw man, and you can assume they have none. Why? As I stated earlier, we’re assuming an average Christian, with an average level of education. That entails a high school diploma and perhaps some college level or technical education (http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/2009/tables.html), but most likely no in-depth training in the geological sciences.
As far as the typical Christian living in the United States is concerned, there is no minimum amount of background needed in geology in order to conclude that god is the designer of the Earth and is, therefore, responsible for all observable facts within geology. No mechanisms are needed. Not only is this true in regards to every other scientific disciple, but there appears to be no lower limit to knowledge of the bible and Christianity necessary to come to the same conclusions.
Like some kind of debased logical wizards, Christians are able to conjure certainty and objective facts about the natural world out of thin air. I have personally spoken to individuals who will freely admit they have never read even the introductory paragraph to a geology text book, yet claim privileged divine scientific insight to every facet of the field. They say the signature of god is practically inscribed on every single rock in sight, even if they are unable to tell me whether that rock is igneous or sedimentary. If starting from their preferred deity renders doing any actual work unnecessary, why bother with understanding the details? They simply don’t matter.
In any other situation, somebody attempting to do this would qualify as “a jackass,” “being full of bullshit,” or “a goddamn idiot.” I am a gentleman and a scientist, so I would never say those sorts of things; but I can assure you that I’m thinking them.
I invited those creationists, and I now invite you, dear reader, to actually look at the ground. Most of us, including myself, are not formally trained geologists, but that doesn’t preclude us from learning about and enjoying geology. Pick up an elementary geology textbook or a rock field guide. Find a cut-away hill along a road and look at the bones of the Earth up close. Look at the layers and think about what they are made of and how they got there. Are they sandy, muddy, smooth, rough, rocky, or full of fossils? What kinds of patterns can you see? If you want to get extra sciency, look at the soil in a floodplain, take notes, and use that information to try and find evidence of a global flood.
If you are so convinced that your god’s handiwork is everywhere, why not actually look for it?
James is a graduate of the University of Missouri, Columbia. He is a research biologist specializing in the molecular evolution of invertebrates. If you would like to pay James to do science for you or your laboratory, please post in the comments. Also, feel free to visit his subpar research blog.