Sermons in Stones

In geologic time, what Stephen J. Gould calls “deep time,” the evidence gathered by Neumann and Hearty on Eleuthera reveals catastrophic fluctuations of the sea level during the last 125,000 years. By week's end, they would push the record back perhaps 400,000 years with the discovery of a fossil beach 70 feet above the present sea level.

The first morning we worked in the northern interior of the island mapping what Hearty calls chevrons, ancient ridges of concretized sand deposited by violent storms when the sea level was much higher. This took us into very rough country, through orange and banana plantations lined with guava and mango trees.

At mid-day we stopped on a remote paved road cut into the summit of a hill where engineers had left standing a stone tower 15 feet high as a pedestal for a utility pole. For geologists such ridges provide a mother lode of information, exposing rock features deposited over many thousands of years.

They were like children at Christmas; I was more interested in the smashed carcass of Bahamian boa by the roadside. Here Neumann and Hearty sampled rock strata that contained microscopic fenestrations, tiny bubbles indicating that the hill had been formed by wet sand along the wave break of an ancient shore. When the moisture evaporated the sand became a porous, bleached limestone composed of fenestrae and oolite -- rock made up of tiny mineral grains precipitated out of the ancient ocean. The presence of fenestra and oolite in the interior of the island provides telling evidence of storms that pushed these sand ridges up while the ocean gradually receded more than 100,000 years ago.

A brown and white van pulled to a stop behind Bahama Mama and a half-dozen men and women emerged. Conrad, who never met a stranger, greeted them warmly.

“We are witnessing,” said a handsome Bahamian in his Sunday suit, precisely in a slightly British accent. “Oh, yes?” said Conrad, apparently confused. “We're looking at the rocks. Bubbles in the rocks.” “Yes. Yes. That's interesting.” The Bahamian nodded his head, curious but equally mystified. The women in their fine print dresses nodded and smiled. “We are visiting lost brethren in the area.” They were Christians.

“Ah, well,” Conrad ventured, “perhaps I shouldn't tell you that we're geologists.”

Here on this obscure road in the Eleutheran bush Faith met Inquiry at high noon under a blazing sun, with embarrassingly few souls in sight. Conrad launched a brief account of essential geology heavy on the concept of deep time, but Chief Witness wasn't fazed.

“We have no problem with rocks being 3 billion years old,” he said. “Genesis 1.1. tells us only how the earth was created for man's habitation. No, I do not wish to deny the record,” he said. “What matters is that God created everything.” He swept his arm toward the bush and addressed his flock: “Even some Christians miss the point of Genesis 1.1., which tells us that the continents rose up out of the seas at God's command. At one time the whole world was underwater. Is that not right, Mr. Geologist?”

“Well,” said Conrad deftly equivocating, “knowing how all this was formed, what it is, only increases the mystery, doesn't it?”

“Praise the Lord,” said one of the women. The others nodded and smiled. For the next few minutes Chief Witness addressed us on matters of doctrine. It was our turn to nod and smile. Then the Believers wished us farewell, got back into their van and drove off, leaving behind pamphlets titled “Will This World Survive” and “Why You Can Trust the Bible.”

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