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I'm not referring to hell, although hell definitely enters into the discussion.  I'm referring to the banquet hall of the Liberty Baptist Church of Hartwell, Georgia, where on September 27 of this year, United States Representative Paul Broun denounced most current scientific thinking as the work of the devil.  The horned creatures, by the way, were an astonishing number of stuffed deer, which provided a fitting backdrop to Broun's evocation of the pit of hell as the source of embryology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.

Broun's remarkable diatribe has been well documented and commented upon throughout the online community, but his remarks actually clarified something I have been pondering recently regarding the insistence of the evangelical right wing on a young earth.  Broun gives the age of the earth as 9,000 years, which is generous compared to Bishop Ussher, who in 1650 published his chronology of the earth, stating that creation occurred in the year 4004 BC.  (The actual cosmic birthday is coming up soon: October 23.  Buy lots of candles!)  But where Ussher was using the best scholarship and calendrical methods at his disposal, Broun is tying into something completely different.  Follow me below the fold on a literal and figurative hike through the West Woods and past the gates of hell.

Despite my Dkos handle, I am currently living in Connecticut.  I grew up on the shores of Long Island Sound, where rocky woodlands meet tidal marshes in an unending display of subtle beauty.  Lately, I've been spending a lot of time in those woodlands, especially in Guilford's West Woods, where a wonderful trail system winds around and over spectacular granite formations.  I am accompanied on these walks by various imaginary companions, about whom I'll write later, and my iPhone.  One of my favorite iPhone apps is a field geology guide called Geology New York, which (fortunately for me) includes New Jersey and Connecticut.  I consult it occasionally when I encounter some obviously new terrain, and as it turns out, most of the West Woods is underlain by a granitic gneiss, closely related to the famed pink Stony Creek granite used for the base of the Statue of Liberty.  Some of this stone is a billion years old, and every once in a while, I'll reach down and touch the exposed bedrock, just to see if those billion-year-old vibrations run up my arm into my brain.

A billion years here, a billion years there, and pretty soon you're talking about the age of the universe.  A few years back, I entered into an ill-considered discussion about evolution with a family member.  This relative is a wonderful person – a hard-working teacher who has raised three children and held a family together through difficult times.  Normally, I don't argue with people who deny evolution, since anyone who has ignored all the available evidence to date is unlikely to be persuaded by me.  But since my relative is a teacher in the public school system, I made an exception, and I have regretted my decision ever since.  I didn't harangue or criticize, but I allowed myself to butt heads with someone who was not susceptible to logic or argument, and I felt demeaned and ineffectual.  The topper, though, was the end of the discussion, when this hard-working, admirable teacher said, "And by the way, you probably think the earth is a lot older than I do.  It was created ten thousand years ago."

This floored me.  The evidence for evolution is irrefutable, but it requires a fair amount of knowledge and intellectual effort to really understand.  The evidence for an old earth confronts us in every highway cut, every beach, every mountain range.  How could an intelligent, college-educated person believe this?  More puzzling, why do they believe it?  Why is a young earth an article of faith with so many evangelicals?  In the case of evolution, the easy answer is "Evolutionary theory conflicts with the biblical account of creation."  In the case of geology, the biblical evidence is much hazier – it took Bishop Ussher a significant amount of time and effort to come up with his chronology, based largely on the genealogies of the Old Testament – and there have been disputes about the accuracy of his system ever since.  But neither evolutionary denial nor young earth enthusiasm is really about biblical inerrancy, and neither was Broun's rant.

In his presentation to the god-fearing deer hunters of Hartwell's Liberty Baptist church, Broun referred to the bible as "the manufacturer's handbook. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society."  In fact, it does no such thing.  Unless Broun is following the Levitical injunctions to the letter, or holding up David as a moral model for the young men of Hartwell, Broun is picking and choosing which parts of the bible he pays attention to, and how he interprets those acceptable parts.  Is he really arguing for a monarchy? For animal sacrifice? For voluntary poverty?  Well, maybe – Broun is pretty far out there.  But for most evangelicals, the bible is prescriptive and inerrant only when it fits their basic inclinations.

Of course, there is a long tradition of selectively interpreting sacred texts in every religion, and creative interpretation always favors the mindset of the interpreter.  But once again, why?  The objection to an old earth – to deep time, in one of my favorite phrases – is closely linked to the denial of evolution.  Without billion-year time spans, evolution could not have generated the past and present diversity of life.   Again, so what?

We humans have had a lot to be afraid of in our relatively brief time on earth.  Famine, disease, predators, scorpions, snakes, violent weather, droughts, and of course, other humans.  It's comforting to think that we are here for a purpose, that we are loved and understood by a benevolent power, that all the terrible things that happen on earth have a good purpose, and that the death which we all face will be followed by another, better life.  It's no wonder that we have developed elaborate belief systems, complete with rituals and practices, to help us deal with this fear.  These belief systems are so powerful, so comforting, that anything which appears to contradict or threaten them raises that old primal fear all over again.  For some, the theory of evolution is the ultimate threat to their belief system, and Evolution's handmaid, Geology, is equally suspect.

Relatively few of us in the West are worried today about wild animals, but to the already long list of feared things we can add pollution, noise, microwave radiation, overcrowding, and even more violent weather.  I understand why, in these difficult times, some of us will cling even more tenaciously to the beliefs that give us comfort.  But denying the facts, or at least the facts as we best know them, won't help.  Denying that the flood waters are rising gets you killed: accepting the fact gets you to high ground, and maybe even prompts you to build a levee or dredge a channel or consider moving away from the river.  Many of us have been successful in adapting religious beliefs to an emerging view of the world and the universe – that seems healthy and constructive to me.  I think we can function without belief systems that rely on supernatural explanations, but that's just me.  Excuse me while I touch a billion-year-old mass of granite.

If the bible really is the manufacturer's handbook, as Broun claims, it is the kind of handbook with which most of us are sadly familiar.  It appears to be a translation from a foreign language, it doesn't seem to describe the product we're trying to operate, and parts of it are demonstrably inaccurate.  In such cases, many of us put that handbook down, and try to figure things out on our own. Others might try to call the manufacturer directly, and get answers to the problem from the source of the problem.  Good luck with that, Congressman Broun.

Originally posted to marc_in_MD on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 07:13 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Do you really mean to say... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, G2geek

    in the first sentence of your last paragraph

    If the bible really is the manufacturer's handbook, as Broun claims, it is the kind of handbook with which most of us are familiar.
    I'd agree with you if you meant to say "isn't".

    That quibble aside, thank you for a well-written post.

    There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect... --William James

    by oslyn7 on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 07:26:35 AM PDT

  •  I personally think, as Carl Sagan would say, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Billions and billions.

    But I honestly don't think it will be truly answered until
    TMZ gets involved...

     The Universe: Good Genes or Good Docs?

    "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room." - President Merkin Muffley

    by Farkletoo on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 07:29:24 AM PDT

  •  As always, they're using version 1.0 (5+ / 0-)

    There have been so many product revisions and updates to make "Bible" compatible with "Science".

    True there are still a few bugs, but the products are compatible, provided you continue to update your products.

    I don't know WHY they keep sending out the original source code...

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 07:38:20 AM PDT

  •  Not so much about 'truth' (8+ / 0-)

    as about tribalism, jostling for leadership of tribes, and forced subservience to whatever nonsense the tribe's leaders foist upon the underlings.  "The earth is however old I say it is, and no it doesn't matter to anyone except that I get to say how old it is, not you."

    He's arguing for the supremacy of religion in American life, with science being subservient, requiring permission to exist.  Sort of like how it was during, oh I don't know, the Dark Ages.  I notice these people don't make these arguments about things like, say, bridge engineering (if there's any chance they might drive over a bridge).

    190 milliseconds....

    by Kingsmeg on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 08:51:33 AM PDT

  •  So fossils in the rocks (11+ / 0-)

    are put there to fu(k with your perspective? As a joke, maybe? Evidence of a Prankster God?
    It always gets me that western "authorities" try to claim a young earth, 4000 or 6000 years, when there are more than 6000 years of continuous recorded history in China.
    But it's pointless to try to correct this delusion, like trying to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    •  "Prankster God" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, qofdisks

      Maybe the seeming evidence of an old Earth was put there as a test of faith.

      Or perhaps the seeming evidence was created as a sort of coded textbook by a benevolent Creator who wished his children to eventually learn about science. All the seeming evidence of geological processes was in fact created 6K years ago, or maybe 10K, at the same time as the rest of the world. Those processes couldn't have happened more than 10K years ago, because the world didn't exist at that time, that's pretty obvious. But the same geological processes that seem older than 10K years but aren't, actually have taken place since the Creation, which is why we can observe them with our own eyes, and will continue into the future for as long as the Creator wishes.

      So you see it all make sense, you just have to work a little harder to get everything to click into place!

  •  There's a good reason for this: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Desert Scientist, G2geek
    It appears to be a translation from a foreign language,...
    I think you already know that the English-language Bible is a translation from Hebrew and Greek with a few snippets of Aramaic and Latin.

    I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

    by ruleoflaw on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 09:59:30 AM PDT

  •  Many thanks for a fascinating post. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Renee, DBunn, G2geek, histOries Marko

    I wonder what would make a dent in the thinking of that intelligent unable-to-face-facts teacher.  Does she not understand carbon dating, for example? Or the evidence of glaciers moving boulders many thousands of years ago? What about the movement of tectonic plates and the mid-Atlantic rift?  Or the huge volcano in Yellowstone that last erupted 600,000 years ago? How does she deny the meteor strike on the Yucatan and its effect on dinosaurs 65 million years ago?

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 11:14:24 AM PDT

    •  I honestly think nothing would. Because to (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, DBunn, G2geek, tacet, nolagrl, VTCC73

      accept the reality of those things she would have to change her relation to the religion that she views as the key to everlasting life. I was raised by people who believed this stuff. To them change is unacceptable. There is a straight line between their refusal to embrace what we could call reality and their salvation.

      Poverty = politics.

      by Renee on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 11:29:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a lovely diary. (4+ / 0-)

    I'm a bedrock toucher myself. I'm in southern California now and I really miss seeing granite peeking through the earth.

    Poverty = politics.

    by Renee on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 11:30:29 AM PDT

  •  One of the more idiotic rants is that .... (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, DBunn, G2geek, wxorknot, qofdisks, VTCC73

    science disproved the existence of god just because it pretty well destroys a literal translation of Genesis (this is brought up both by Christians who want to have a case against science and atheists who neglect to study other religions.)  The Judeo-Christian God is not the only conception of the deity and it is rather arrogant to claim that!  As Richard A. Miller says in his new book (but which he has not always followed, as noted by Bill McKibben in The New York Review of Books) "Self doubt is the essence of the scientific method." If it can't be tested and possibly disproven (be falsified in the Popperian sense) it is not a scientific idea.  This necessary self-doubt makes it difficult to explain to true believers, who want cut and dried explanations.  I'm pretty close to being an out and out atheist, but I still have problems with claiming that we know how (and sometimes why) it all happened.  What came before the Big Bang (which I think is likely to have happened)? How did the explosion occur?  I think that our definition of magic may be at fault, as when you think about it what could be more magical than the forest, the sea, the deserts and the Arctic tundra that exist on this planet, and the universe in which our planet exists?  The magic (as Richard Dawkins puts it) of reality, as much as we are able to know it.

    •  we need to remind them (0+ / 0-)

      that you can't always get what you want.  
      And that the end of the world has not been scheduled for your personal convenience.

      This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

      by nolagrl on Sun Oct 07, 2012 at 08:18:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a tech writer & translator, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon, G2geek

    I loved your last paragraph. Suits the Bible to a T… and does indeed describe a lot of what passes for English-language documentation these days.

  •  4.5 billion years ago (4+ / 0-)

    there was no concept of "Earth."  Wasn't Eratosthenes (son of Anachrones) the first to attempt to measure the circumference of the Earth, implying it was a limited (presumably spheroid) entity?  If we look at it this way, "Earth" is only about 2,200 years old.  Pie came first.  

  •  Congressman Broun (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, G2geek, qofdisks

    hates poly-cotton. And shrimp. He must -  it's right there in Leviticus.

    As for your misled relative, may I suggest an outing to the Dinosaur Halls of the Museum of Natural History in New York? Even though that estimable institution has recently been besmirched with the name of David Koch, it holds such an overwhelming and breathtaking display of the fossil record I think it would either change your relative's mind, or explode it.

    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

    by sidnora on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 02:30:59 PM PDT

  •  I can't talk to Creationists either. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yamara, VTCC73

    It's one thing when someone needs to have the information laid out logically to understand it - it's another when they reject the basic concepts of logic and causality.  Trying to reason with such people comes painfully close to necrophilia.

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 06:31:48 PM PDT

  •  I always wonder about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    qofdisks, VTCC73

    people who take the bible literally. Do they not understand that the version most of them use today stems from a rewrite of a rewrite of many, many rewrites over centuries, when folk tales were first written down hundreds if not thousands of years after the possible actual events?

    And that today's modern bible generally stems from the King James edition, put together by a committee of privileged Englishmen in the early 17th century.

    The sheer mind-blowing stupidity of that alone is incomprehensible.

    "There are no Americans at the airport!" -- Baghdad Bob
    "I’ve got a very effective campaign." -- Mitt Romney

    by Mnemosyne on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 07:49:23 PM PDT

  •  One can take the bible literally. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If one does so, the first thing one will learn is that the Bible teaches - Diversity! That's what the Bible is all about. One place it says one thing, another place the opposite. It can go back and forth several times in a single book.

    That's the reason it is the way it is. That's the reason for the existence of the Talmud. It's all about teaching us that there is no one view that is correct, no one teaching that is correct. It's about the struggle, still going on, to teach humans to live together.

    If one has read the Bible, it's hard to see how one could come to any other interpretation except through willful distortion. Which is what has always gone on in the name of religion, when really the only thing that's happening is a struggle to control through belief, and when that fails, through arms. The Bible teaches the result of that too, and it's never been good.

    People wish to be settled, only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them. - Emerson

    by CarbonFiberBoy on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 08:01:52 PM PDT

  •  The vast distances (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in the universe must stop at 6,000 light years.

    I'll take a stab and guess that all those other galaxies and stars out there further than 6,000 LY are merely optical illusions then. Yep that's the ticket. Easy peasey.

    "We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Louis Brandeis

    by wxorknot on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 08:29:21 PM PDT

  •  I have a real solution to this debate and say it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    everyday.  I was brought up on the bible.  I read the bible and my husband is absolutely against anything that involves evolution of any sort.   I simply say.   I am only concerned with my 60 some odd years on Earth regarding my life and history.  The rest ...can be fought among scholars and theologists.  I remember the past, I live in the present and hope for the future.  I am not trying to spend what precious time I have here exploring it's orgins or it's demise.  I am self indulgent in this particuliar section of education.  I just don't go there on Creation or Evolution.  Life is too short.  That I am sure of.  I wasn't there when all of it started and won't be here when it all ends.  It really doesn't matter to me except to be the best I can be to mankind and nature.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Sun Oct 07, 2012 at 06:33:35 AM PDT

  •  Hit your relative up with Mark Twain (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Twain's proof that the earth was made for man is still classic.

    Broun is right about one thing though. You can't believe what he does without deliberately throwing out most of science - there is no way to reconcile that with his conviction about the age of the earth.

    Modern Astronomy has detected several hundred extra solar planets already; the Hubble has pushed our view of the universe out billions of light years. So, if the earth is only 10,000 years old, what the hell was the rest of the universe doing for all of that time?

    I can understand how some people, faced with that immensity, retreat in panic. What I object to is being caged within the boundaries of their limited world. It is an interesting paradox that people who believe in an all-knowing God of infinite power and grace insist on shrinking all of Creation down into a little cracker box toy.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Oct 07, 2012 at 07:04:34 AM PDT

  •  Yep. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is a good description of what Obama was trying to do with Romney in that debate! So frustrating. Makes you want to give up it seems so impossible:

    I allowed myself to butt heads with someone who was not susceptible to logic or argument, and I felt demeaned and ineffectual.
    On the MFG handbook:
    If the bible really is the manufacturer's handbook, as Broun claims, it is the kind of handbook with which most of us are sadly familiar.  It appears to be a translation from a foreign language, it doesn't seem to describe the product we're trying to operate, and parts of it are demonstrably inaccurate.
    This is a very cool way to look at it, new to me. And reminds me of the sewing machine my first (detestable) mother-in-law gave me back in medieval times (yes, I'm old). It was made in Japan, then a horror, and directions were totally incomprehensible and frustrating as hell. That thing got chucked pretty quickly.

    It was always so frustrating trying to use the Bible, back when I did that, to make your point or to understand what God wanted because of the abundant contradictions.

    I would be doing this too:

    I'll reach down and touch the exposed bedrock, just to see if those billion-year-old vibrations run up my arm into my brain.
    Often when I see dragonflies I think about how many millions of years they've been around and am amazed they are still here, presumably pretty similar in form. Love that kind of connection with the very distant past.

    Lovely diary!

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Sun Oct 07, 2012 at 10:08:29 AM PDT

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