Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's a pretty sweet gig, if you can stomach it

I've been thinking - it must be nice to be a young-earth creationist. You never have to worry about data, because the geological record is going to be a testament to the bible. No matter how contradictory the fossil record, isotopic dating, geologic structures and processes may seem, they will always testify to the literal truth of the bible. One hundred percent. Although which specific passages written by which particular tribe and translated by which particular white guy over fifteen hundred years later may sometimes be in doubt.

That got me thinking about how a creationist would go about writing grants and papers. Clearly, the hard part about science (the figuring-out-what-it-means part) is already done for you. The whole system is simple Kabuki Theater - it's just a matter of going through the motions. There is no science - but there is a pretty sweet meal ticket. You get paid some amount of money to walk around, looking at rocks. Take some pictures, half-heartedly mimic some geologist's methodology - you may already have the report written up, save for the blank spaces in the document waiting to refer to some specific roadcut you haven't picked out yet.

I was looking at some YEC posters at the Geological Society of America meeting a few years ago. I couldn't figure out why they chose the places they did. There wasn't any geological hypothesis that dictated a "dig here" approach. Instead, the sample locations followed major highways. It had the appearance that they just took a road trip, hopping out of the vans long enough to stretch their legs and walk over to an outcrop near the highway. Maybe they'd grab a sample (there wasn't any stratigraphic meaning to where the rock came from - it could just as easily been some landscape decoration near a truck stop) or snap a photo. Then back into the van.

In the end, it becomes simply a paid vacation. It's not much different than a family camping trip - aside from the fact that you're not allowed to actually find anything new. Or think about stuff. If I didn't respect myself and my profession so much, it would be a pretty sweet fall-back gig. If I can't hack it among real scientists, at least I could dupe these folks...

To be honest - it's the not knowing I find exciting. It's the mystery. The chance to create one's own synthesis of the physical world, independent of anyone else. It may or may not be correct. It may or may not work. But, if you're lucky, you might get to change the way people think (about something small, or about something big). That's true power. That's true learning. That's science.

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