Creationism and Fossil Fuels

Although it has become increasingly difficult to define “conservatism,” given the many political and social positions contained by that term, one position that has been consistent is the view that Americans should be able to consume oil and the other fossil fuels as we have done for the last century, and that we should exploit every possible source of those fuels regardless of the damage such exploitation may inflict on people and the environment.  A corollary of this belief is that warnings of peak oil and global warming can either be safely ignored (technology will save us) or are massive hoaxes perpetrated by a conspiracy of socialists.  While conservatives delight in pointing to the demise of Solyndra as an example of the inevitable failure of alternative energy, they neglect to mention the continuing costs of the Gulf oil spill.  The people who subscribe to the conservative position on energy and global warming include a vast array of Americans:  middle-class suburbanites who feel that their way of life is threatened; Wall Street types who profit from investing in oil and gas futures; workers and owners within the fossil fuels industries whose paychecks and profits are threatened; and the general consumer, who may recycle shopping bags but wants to continue to fill those bags with consumer products.  These are largely people motivated by understandable, if nonetheless misguided, material self interest.

However, to be counted among the conservatives who share these views on energy and environment are a particularly politically powerful group, the fundamentalist Christians, who, in addition to the material self-interest motive, have an ideological or myth-based motive for denying peak oil and global warming.  They also believe that dire warnings of “peak oil” and global warming are hoaxes, perpetrated by evolutionists and atheists.

As I discussed in an earlier post, there is nothing about either peak oil or environmental disaster that is contrary to the Bible’s moral and prophetic verses and no reason to believe that God would not use manmade global warming as a means of punishing sinful man (or, for that matter, as a means of igniting Armageddon).  There should therefore be no logical conflict between being a Christian and being an environmentalist of the most extreme sort.  Yet such a conflict does exist, and the hostility of fundamentalists (as well as other political conservatives) is well-documented and deep.  If you want to get a fundamentalist Christian bug-eyed, just mention Al Gore.

What, then, accounts for fundamentalists’ hostility to peak oil, energy conservation and alternatives, and global warming?  These politically conservative fundamentalist Christians believe in the young-earth version of creationism, that the earth is only 6000 years old, and reject evolution.  Their hostility towards Darwinism is as intense as their hostility towards global warming.  And because they do not accept evolution and do not accept that the earth is millions of years old, they cannot accept the fossil record as evidence for evolution nor can they accept that fossil fuels are indeed “fossil.”  Nothing is old enough to support either evolution or the current accepted theories of evolution or the formation of oil, natural gas, and coal.

How, then, did fossils come to be?  How did the vast deposits of fossil fuels come to be?

In the case of fossils, they are the evidence of Noah’s flood, not evidence of millions of years of evolution.  The flood was such a great cataclysm that it unleashed forces capable of creating fossils, which creationist say can only be formed quickly, before bodies decay, and not by the slow processes they believe mainstream scientists espouse.  They also believe that the scientific procedures that lead mainstream scientists to believe that the fossil record is indeed a record of evolution are engaged in an intellectual shell game, as typified by this quotation from an article posted on the Institute for Creation Research website:  “Evolutionary ‘history’ continuously morphs to accommodate fossil data, showing that evolution is primarily conceptual—not scientific.”  In other words, when scientists discover a new fossil of a previously unknown species and, after careful analysis and discussion, adjust their picture of the evolutionary tree of, say, dinosaurs or birds, they are not modifying their hypotheses to conform to the additional data.  No, they are “morphing” their theory to “accommodate fossil data.” Apparently, theory must come first and foremost, and data must conform to the theory or be forced into a shape that will confirm the theory.  This is an intriguing thing to say, and explains why there is never any point in discussing any issue, philosophical, political, scientific, or otherwise, with a fundamentalist; you will always run into the solid lead wall of this inside-out reasoning.

It is not only fossils that the creationists say were formed by the Flood; coal and oil deposits were also.  The accepted theory holds that oil was formed some 350 million years ago during the carboniferous era, when the earth was considerably warmer and there were many more plants and swamps.  As these plants died, they decomposed in the swamps, building up layers of peat-like materials which eventually, under geological pressures, formed deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas.  Obviously, this took a while, but more importantly, the carboniferous era eventually ended, the earth cooled, living things changed, and the process that formed the fossil fuels came to an end; that means that however much of this stuff there is, the supply is nonetheless limited—it is possible for human beings to burn it all up.  This latter possibility goes by the term “peak oil,” i.e., that we humans will have or already have passed the point at which the amounts we can extract from the earth have peaked or reached their maximum and will begin to decline.  Interestingly, it is the oil industry itself that is most concerned by this likelihood, as are defense departments in both the United States and Germany (among others).  These are not crazy hippie commie environmentalist kooks.

However, according to some creationists, oil was not formed in this manner.  Ever hear of abiotic oil?  Not many people in the United States have, but some creationists have, and they love the theory (originally developed in the Soviet Union).  According to the abiotic theory, oil was formed by chemical and geological processes deep in the earth’s mantle; the stuff we see and pump closer to the surface are bits of that deeper oil that over time have oozed upward.  But most of the abiotic oil is still there, deep in the ground, so there is no diminution of oil deposits.  All we have to do is wait for more of it to ooze up to within harvestable range or develop the ability to drill deeper, much much deeper, to get at it.  Problem solved!  God wants us to “drill, baby, drill” and “burn, baby, burn.”

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that abiotic oil exists.  It is a “theory” in the vernacular sense, that is a speculation, supported only by some clever calculations and a few lab experiments.  There were no labs millions of years ago, and most products of laboratories are artificial rather than natural.  No evidence exists that the processes modeled by computer programs or lab experiments have ever in fact occurred at any point in the earth’s history.  One wonders how one would ever prove it, given the practical impossibility of ever drilling down that deeply into the planet.  There are limitations, after all, and if we can’t get at it, for all practical or feasible purposes, it does not exist.  Abiotic oil is a red herring.

On the other hand, there are tantalizing hints that at least some fundamentalists have an altogether different, and one might say more sinister, agenda, that keeping up our oil consumption will hasten the repeatedly postponed arrival of the End Times, in all its apocalyptic glories.  After all, Armageddon is supposed to take place in the Middle East, with Israel as its epicenter.  With so much oil in the region, what better place to situate the lake of fire and brimstone.  So the following quotation, which at first puzzled me, makes sense:  “Without the energy stored in these dwindling fossils, man’s rush toward greater sin and judgment in these latter days would almost certainly be hindered.”  Rushing towards sin and judgment will have the much desired effect of hastening the glorious end.  Imagine the grim pleasure the saved will derive from viewing this spectacle!  Hindering the rush through wise stewardship of our limited resources in a world of increasing demand postpones the fun.

For an interesting article on climate change and geopolitics, by Thomas Friedman, click here.

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