Late Sunday afternoon I was finally able to close Philip Henry Gosse’s pretentious creationist work Omphalos and relieve the pain I had been putting my brain through. I must admit that I did not read every single page, however, as Gosse makes a point of taking the reader on a walk through the Creation just after it had been “called into being”, picking various examples from the plant & animal kingdoms and explaining how the age of an individual is determined. After a long discussion of how old the elephant, palm tree, or beetle in front of the hypothetical tourist is, Gosse triumphantly exclaims that any such assertion would be wrong being that we know that all life is not even an hour old.
Gosse does try very hard to reconcile geology with church doctrine, but alas, unless one already accepts a 6 day creation event (although Gosse makes a point of not saying whether this event happend 6,000 years ago or 6,000,000,000) Gosse’s entire premise falls flat. To save you the trouble of reading the work yourself, Gosse accepts that God “called into being” all life on the planet as well as creating Earth itself. He also (obviously) rejects “transmutation of species” and so all elephants were always born to elephants, and at the moment of creation only a just-sexually-mature adult would have appeared being that such a stage of life is the most perfect (the same goes for the rest of life, including us). What about fossils? Well, just as God would have created all adult beings with the vestiges of age, so too would God have created the world as if it were really ancient, as if there was no other way to do it (dinosaurs and other fossils being the equivalent to a tree’s growth rings). Gosse does cover his bases, however, and explains that species too have a life cycle, and the elephants of ancient times were just another stage in the continuous and unbroken lifecycle of elephants altogether. Screwy, ain’t he?
Obviously Gosse’s work did not have the impact he was wishing for, giving the faithful the impression that God was a deceiver while asking geologists to accept that they are finding the vestiges of creation in fossils rather than animals that once lived on earth. The whole book could have been written in about 25-50 pages, but Gosse goes to great length to lay out the arguments of others and then to use example after example after example in an attempt at straw man arguments. Gosse’s folly, however, is that he really sets up “stone man” arguments; he wants to make those who don’t accept Creation look like fools, only ending up looking foolish himself. Even beyond this silliness, Gosse’s writing style while walking the reader through the Garden of Eden is laughably pretentious. Here’s an example during an encounter with the ideal horse;
See this Horse, a newly created, really wild Horse,
“Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,
With spur and bridle undefiled,”-
his sleek coat a dun-mouse colour, with a black stripe running down his back, and with a full black mane and tail. He has a wild spiteful glance; and his eye, and his lips now and then drawn back displaying his teeth, indicate no very amiable temper. Still, we want to look at those teeth of his. Please to moderate your rancour, generous Dobbin, and let us make an inspection of their condition!
Luckily for me, I just received George Gaylord Simpson’s Horses so I can undo the brain damage such passages caused me. In all, Gosse’s book is more of a curiosity and a failed attempt to reconcile science and scripture. I do wonder, however, why more creationists have not tried his approach to fit geology into a Biblical context; most likely because it comes out being inconsistant with their beliefs. Then again, I wouldn’t say having a Tyrannosaurus rex in Eden, chomping on coconuts, lends much more credibility to the modern creationist movement.
Post Script: After reading Omphalos I turned to Errol Fuller’s Extinct Birds: Revised Edition. While beautifully illustrated and informative, it was very dry and not the sort of book easily read cover to cover, being that I only got to page 118 before having to give up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful book, but not one that makes for riveting reading. Thus, in the wee hours of the night, I opened up a copy of Carl Zimmer’s At the Water’s Edge I had purchased the day before on campus for $2 and thus far it’s proven to be rewarding. So much to learn, so little time…