November 11, 2009

next time, we do this alexander-style

Brian Switek of Laelaps writes a typically great post on the strange geological theory of P.H. Gosse, a 19th c. British naturalist and creationist. Gosse's theory was simple (and not without repetition, today): The earth had been created with all the appearance of time and age, but this was all just an appearance.

If the God of Gosse's theory had some of the bombastic nature of a G.K. Chesterton–Behold! the God who worketh superfluous wonder, enraptured with the joy of creating!–he may have met some more success. Even with my patience for 19th c. scientific prose (one of my favorite activities at the undergrad lab was to read old texts, rather than make any progress on my current project), this is really bad. Nothing livens it up.

I have to admit some fondness for the attempt as such; as a new Christian I once dreamed that as the Fall and time progressed, creation was shaped anew to how man needed it to be, history came into being from the front-end, plowing backwards into the millennia, a Fallen man needed a world that did not need God. (Already you can see a certain distaste for "intelligent design".) I quickly dropped such speculation as poetic fancy, but I see a mad version of part of myself in Gosse's unpoetic theory.

I am not sure, however, that it can be so easily dismissed as simply making a "trickster" of God. It would be one thing if the intent of God was to fool men–as it is in the "God put the bones in the ground as a stumbling-block to wicked men" version of this theory. Given Gosse's real concern with geology, it is evident he does not see a vindictive God warring with the atheist man of science. Rather, you could paint this as a work that God gave for human imagination and ingenuity: Genius sub-creators painting a picture of possible pasts based on the dim spyglass of the geomythos. Historical geology, perhaps more than any other scientific discipline, lends itself to story-telling: A road-cut can provide enough material for an epic.

Rather, a theological rejection of Gosse's theory relies more on attacking the assumptions of the necessity for such a theory at all. While I genuinely believe that evolution and geological history provide for challenges to certain views of the Fall, there is no particular need to protect positivist views of the first chapter of Genesis. Furthermore, our God is a God who works in history, through history and past it; the wish to make the past into a glorious illusion has more of the air of the monist than the monotheist.

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