Trudging Through Fossil Hunter


True to my word I have been reading John Olson's creationism-infused novel Fossil Hunter. I am at approximately the halfway point, but I can't say I have been enjoying it very much (though it is much better than Frank Peretti's Monster). This is not so much because of the book's creationist themes, which have yet to fully manifest themselves, but because I do not care for Olson's writing style.

Olson is not very good when it comes to description. It takes a lot of effort to imagine where his characters are and what their surroundings look like during any given scene. Even worse, though, are the subtle touches of racism and cultural superiority that run through the story; a Pakistani guide always relates everything to goats and whenever anyone speaks in Arabic they are said to be "jabbering." Olson depicts Iraq as a hellish place full of deceitful people.

I did skip to the end of the book to read the "Author's Note", though. Evangelical novels often contain sections towards the back of the book which summarize the take-home lessons that are meant to be learned, and Fossil Hunter follows suit. It is unintentionally amusing. In trying to distinguish intelligent design (which the author says is science) from creationism Olson says;

More than a century ago, Christian creationists began to engage in a pitched battle against the theory of evolution. The majority of these Christians, however, weren't trained as research scientists. No matter how earnest and well-meaning their intentions may have been, many of their techniques and assertions were seriously flawed. Because they were already convinced of the rightness of their conclusions, they tended to cherry-pick the data, including only the snippets that seemed to support their view and rejecting as propaganda everything that argued against it. It's little wonder that in most scientists' minds both creationism and intelligent design have come to be almost synonymous with bad science.

Seriously flawed assertions? Cherry-picked data? Religious convictions trumping science? Yup, that sounds like intelligent design to me. Olson toes the party line by insisting that ID is not hampered by religious convictions, but anyone familiar with the movement's history knows that the flaws in creationism that Olson points out also mar the arguments of those who promote intelligent design. (See Creationism's Trojan Horse if you need to get up to speed.) ID is not rejected because scientists are unfamiliar with it; it is discarded as useless because scientists are all too familiar with the way it tries to make science submit to religious dogma.

Then, in the last paragraph, Olson tries hard to make some room for intelligent design.He concludes;

When it comes to the details of creation, we could all take a lesson from Job. Sometimes the best, most profound answer is to say we don't know and put our hands over our mouths. Some things really are too wonderful for us to understand.

In other words, all those uppity scientists should shush up and cede the floor to the faithful when the history of the world is brought up. What utter tosh. This is not a move to "reconcile" science and religion, as Olson proposes, but a mealy-mouthed attempt to get us scientists to stop upsetting people with transitional fossils, genetic evidence for evolution, &c.

I have no intention of putting my hand over my mouth. Do we know everything about the history of life on earth? Certainly not, but we have learned quite a bit. I would rather scientists continue to formulate and test hypotheses than fall to their knees and say "Oh, it is just so wonderful that I cannot hope to understand it!"

If I were to pitch my foot against a fossil while crossing a field I would not be content with passing it by as something I could never hope to understand. Instead my mind would be whirring with questions. What kind of creature did the fossil represent? How old was it? What else lived in the same environment? What sort of ancestral form had it evolved from? It is possible to at least approach answers to all of these questions, and it would be a tragedy if scientists stopped their research because people like Olson are offended that nature does not offer the conclusive proof of a Creator that they hope for.

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I wonder how many people who buy this garbage don't know they're being propagandized until it's too late. Olson's being disingenuous when he says there's a difference between creationism and intelligent design, the latter was just a new lable the creationists came up with because they kept losing in court. I hope people catch on to the agenda that Olson and authors of his ilk have before they waste good money on their books.

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Raymond; The book has a big, fat Expelled endorsement on the back and it is probably most popular among people who already agree with it's message. There appears to be a niche market for this kind of book (i.e. Christian suspense/science fiction/&c.) and from what I can tell from the reviews I have been able to find is that the people most likely to read it will just have their own beliefs confirmed. From what I have heard there have been hopes that this book will be adapted into a movie, but I have not heard anything more about it than that.

When it comes to the details of creation, we could all take a lesson from Job. Sometimes the best, most profound answer is to say we don't know and put our hands over our mouths. Some things really are too wonderful for us to understand.

Too wonderful. . . or too horrifying? Ia, Ia! Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

(And can you believe the Firefox spelling dictionary has neither Cthulhu nor R'lyeh? Shameful, I tell you.)

You're right about there being a niche market for this kind of nonsense. Fred Clark over at slacktivist has noted in several posts that "Christian" niche markets exist for books, movies, etc, and generally consist of far lower quality than books, movies, etc for the general marketplace, due to people's willingness to buy it and praise it merely because it's explicitly identified as "Christian."

In a bizarre example from my own life, I once would up discussing toothpaste with an evangelical Christian, and mentioned how much I liked Colgate's Baking Soda & Peroxide toothpaste. Her response was "Yes, you should buy Colgate, I've heard that it's owned by a Christian."


By Moderately Unb… (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

On further reflection, I rather like the idea of taking lessons from Job on "the details of creation". I mean, who on this flat Earth fixed on its pillars (9:6) or under the strong metal dome of the sky (37:18) doesn't admire the grace and power of the wild unicorn (39:9)?


I have no intention of putting my hand over my mouth.

Sometimes it's quite prudent to do so, particularly during a mad rush to the bathroom. We can only pray Olson's opus does not bring you to that extremity...

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 12 Aug 2009 #permalink

Of course! It all makes sense now! When Mr. T was telling people to cut their "jibber-jabber", he was simply asking them to stop speaking Arabic!

So creationism isn't a religion, its a science that just happens to limit itself to Abrahamic evidence?

No comtradiction there.

I thought "Fossil Hunter" was a biography of Earnest Hemingway....