Geology for Somebody Like Me

The way it started was like this. I came across an interesting article about evidence of a land where there’s just ocean now. The article wasn’t very well written, and I’ve got really big gaps in my knowledge of geologic history. (The Earth has got some big geological gaps too, but the Earth wasn’t trying to read an online article, so anyway.) I gave up halfway through, frustrated that I couldn’t quite grasp what was being discussed. I needed a basic overview of geologic history, written in a way I could follow it.

Where would I even begin to look for the right book? Well, that part was easy. I messaged Swanson the First. (Glance at First’s blog and you’ll see why I assumed he’d have an answer about a book.) He came through within minutes with a suggestion that I found at our library. I was reading it that afternoon.

It took me a good week to read the whole thing, and I’m pretty sure I’d completely bomb a mastery quiz about it. But I sure did enjoy it while I was going through it.

Bjornerud is a professor at a small college in Wisconsin. She’s obviously deeply interested in rocks and what they can tell us. But she’s also a very good storyteller. She inserts humor, wry asides, and even some puns. Even better, she’s good explaining her points in a way that someone like me can understand.

Why “someone like me”? Well, here’s the thing — I love rocks and I find the discussion of what could have occurred in the past to be very stimulating to my imagination. But I am not in the least scientifically-minded. By that, I mean that I don’t ask myself, “Why is the world like this?” Thunder makes noise because that’s what thunder does. Water turns to ice because that’s what water does. Molecules, atoms, isotopes… it’s magic. It’s all magic.

So while I want to know about Pangea and plate tectonics and I have a vague idea about subduction and marine fossils on the crest of Mount Everest, I quickly lose the thread of discussion when it comes to matters too small or too big for me to see. Bjornerud saved me many times by pausing and recasting her point in terms that I could understand.

“Someone like me” is also someone who came up through strict creationism. Not the creationism that flows out of a faith in God, so that a constantly changing and renewing Earth — no matter how it happens or how long it takes — is testimony to what he can do. I’m still that kind of creationist. I mean the creationism that sets itself up as the foundation for my faith. It says that if I consider any other point of view besides a literal six-day creation that happened about 10,000 years ago, I am crippling my entire faith.

(“They never say you can’t be a Christian if you believe in evolution!” No — not in print, anyway. They just point out that “even though it is not a salvation issue, the belief that earth history spans millions of years has very severe consequences.” Basically, you’ll get to heaven, but it’s going to be a pretty close thing.)

(And God’s probably not going to pick you up personally at the Pearly Gates.)

(He won’t send a fancy car for you, either. You get a moped.)

(Okay, I did add that part.)

(But for what I’m talking about, see this old article here, and this not-quite-as-old one here.)

Having left that strict, stifling creationism behind me, I now enjoy putting together the bits and pieces I know with what I’m learning. It’s all new and fun to think about. Well, “fun” in a “we are at the mercy of a giant moving, changing, reacting planet and who knows what will happen next” way. It’s astonishing how perfectly designed the Earth is to support life — not just us, but all branches of living creatures. At various times, the Earth has apparently undergone disastrous periods of extinction… only to eventually reorient itself and return to the business of making and supporting life. Far from injuring my faith in God, I’m endlessly fascinated and awestruck.

Me being me, I’m less taken with the formation of mountains and fossils of now-extinct creatures. Instead I wonder… what happened all those ages ago that’s now mostly erased from the Earth’s memory? Maybe we aren’t the first sophisticated beings to build a civilization and conquer the world, until the Earth shifted and buried them. What if it wasn’t volcanoes spewing carbon dioxide and methane into the air, it was smokestacks from some other ancient “modern” civilization? What if the Snowball Earth theory, when the Earth was encased in ice and nearly all life wiped out, was the geologic event that inspired the story of the Noahic Flood?

I’m not putting forth any of these ideas as actual theories. Just stories. Just a creative way to understand who we are, and — maybe a little bit — cope with the fact that we are very small and fragile on the one planet that can host us.

I can’t promise that you’ll have all these same thought if you read this book. (I’m talking about that book, Reading the Rocks, remember?) But if you’re at all interested in the study of the Earth’s past, I highly recommend this book as a friendly introduction.



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