Bible geology: a tale of two Missouri caves

August 21, 2007 | By | 31 Replies More

Last year, I took my kids to see Onondaga Cave located in Leasburg, Missouri. The state of Missouri runs this site.  The park rangers present visitors with detailed descriptions regarding the geology of the cave.  These descriptions often include time frames that run in the hundreds of millions of years.  Here’s a sample, from the Onondaga Cave website:

About a billion years ago, the Ozarks were a hotbed of volcanic activity centered about 45 miles to the southeast, in Iron and Reynolds counties. The igneous remains of this activity formed the surface of granites, rhyolites, felsites and basalts that are exposed there. These rocks are the basement layer here, about 1,000 to 1,500 feet below the cave. This basement layer is not flat but tilted. About 600 million years ago, this volcanic activity calmed and the region cooled, condensing great amounts of water vapor, which formed shallow (about 200 foot deep) seas. These seas were the birthplace of the Eminence and Gasconade formations of dolomite, chert, sandstone and shale in which Onondaga Cave is formed. It is believed that the Ozarks were uplifted above sea level (or the seas retreated, take your pick) four times before they fell for the last time about 280 million years ago. One final major uplift (of dry land) took place 50 million to 7 million years ago.

For those who enjoy exploring large case, Onondaga is a terrific place to visit. It is a place to see a spectacular natural wonder and to learn a lot in the process.

Missouri has a second enormous cave, Meramec Caverns.   As you can see from the Meramec Caverns website, the private owners of this second cave are absolutely unwilling to say anything about geology.  This cave is marketed as a place where Jesse James and his gang hid some of their loot. It is also a place to buy fudge and ice cream, according to much of the advertising.  The website also promotes Meramec Caverns as a place to attend church services. Meramec Caverns is marketed through the use of almost 50 billboards located between St. Louis and Stanton Missouri (site of the cave), a distance of less than 80 miles.  None of these billboards mentions anything about the geology of the cave.

As it turns out, Meramec Caverns is an incredible cave, well worth exploring. Nowhere during the tour, however, did our tour guide mentione anything about the age of the cave or the dates on which important geological events occurred.  At the end of our one-hour tour I approached the tour guide and asked her about the age of the cave.  She hesitantly responded that the cave was formed in “prehistoric” times.  I told her that “prehistoric” included a wide range of time.  “What more can you tell me about the age of this cave?”

The woman sheepishly admitted to me that she doesn’t usually mention the age of the cave because many of the visitors on these tours have become perturbed with her.  Some of these visitors heckle her in front of the other visitors.

I asked her if these hecklers were people who believed that the Bible was literally true, and she stated yes.  She said that when she has stated the true age of the cave (portions of the cave are 70 million years old), Bible thumpers call out things like “That’s not true!” or “If only!”  They sometimes call out passages from the Bible.  It can all get quite unpleasant, according to our tour guide.  Her solution is simply not to mention the age of the cave during most tours.  She has discussed this issue with the other tour guides and this is how they handle their tours too.

Meramec Caverns thinks it knows his audience well, and throws them lots of red meat. We noticed this strategy during our tour of a large room the owners named the “Theater” of the cave.  You can see a multicolor lit photo of one portion of this room here. It was toward the end of the hour-long tour that our tour guide of Meramec Caverns played two patriotic songs while she used a small console to flicker colored lights onto the cave wall. Before the beginning of the second song, the tour guide announced that the second song would be dedicated to the brave soldiers who are fighting in Iraq.  She then hit a button to play Kate Smith singing “God bless America.” She flickered red white and blue lights onto the stalactites and stalagmites.  As Kate crescendoed toward the end of the song, our tour guide hit yet another button to project a large American flag on the cave wall.

What a shame, I thought.  There was no need for such a carnival atmosphere.  Meramec Caverns is a naturally incredible cave.  I also wondered, “What do the features of Meramec Caverns have to do with Iraq, K. Smith, God or the American flag?”  For the owners of Meramec Caverns, the answer was obvious.

My recent vacation with my family took us to several other Missouri state parks.  At the state parks (unlike Meramec Caverns, which is privately owned) the ages of the geological features were candidly disclosed.  For instance, at a delightful park entitled “Elephant Rocks,” we learned that the huge granite boulders were originally formed 1.5 billion years ago.  At a small but significant State Park, Mastodon State Historic Site, the employees told us of mastodon bones that were tens of thousands of years old, much older than 6,000 years, the date during which many creationists argue that God created the earth.  The woman who worked at Mastodon State Historic Site told us that she is commonly confronted by creationists who insists that the geologists’ dates are wrong. They sometimes confront her, demanding that she discuss her own religious beliefs with them.

I went away from Mastodon State Historic Site having learned an incredible story based upon real facts.  I learned that huge elephant-like creatures and giant sloths roamed Missouri a mere 10,000 years ago. I learned that the Clovis people hunted these extraordinary creatures, at least for a brief time.  To take this incredible story to heart, all one needs to do is follow the evidence where it leads.  No Kate Smith necessary. No need to support the troops.  No flashing lights needed to drive the story home.

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Category: Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (31)

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  1. Shelley Hanna says:

    I do not understand why some people would want to ruin someones vacation over religion. I try to respect others by having an open mind about what others believe and treat all people with respect. It does not mean that I do. I would not have the nerve to push my beliefs on others. I may believe in life on other planets and that pigs fly but disrepect what others believe, NO! Is this what the Bible teaches? I do not think so. I could be wrong though so…

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    Ah, but Shelley, if you don't insist loudly and petulantly and ABSOLUTELY enough, you're obviously just not strong enough in your beliefs. If you were, you'd convince all those nonbelievers that if they just agree with you and beLIEVE, they, too, will see the aliens and those pigs will fly them straight to eternal glory.

    And if they don't, well, they're damned to hell for all eternity. But hey, you tried. Not your fault.

    As a fellow Missourian, I can concur with Erich's post – we do seem to have more than our fair share of fundie-loons (Altho' what constitutes a 'fair share' of those, I can't say). I was at the state capitol a couple of months ago, manning a table for an event aimed at informing legislators about after-school programs in the hopes that funding for same will not be cut. A pretty innocuous event, and I struck up a conversation with the woman at the next table, representing a very small town. Pleasant enough, but it took her (literally) less than two minutes to insert her religion very blatantly into the conversation. Not offensively, exactly, but it obviously never occurred to her that I might not hold those same beliefs as the basis for all I say and do in life. To her, it was a given that this fellow pro-after-school-program person was extrovertedly Christian, just like her.

    I think I channeled a close friend's Jewishness for moment and dropped a pleasantry about an upcoming Passover Seder, just to watch her become immediately perplexed. She found someone else to talk to.

    I imagine, of course, that her attitude has much to do with the lack of diversity in small town Missouri, which eliminates any chance of mixing with anyone different than yourself.

    At this same event, my tablemate and I killed some time by peering over the railing into the rotunda, where an open meeting of some sort was taking place. About 200 folding chairs faced a podium, and based on the yards of denim and sheer number of John Deere caps in the room, we guessed it had something to do with farming. Out of those 200 or so seats, only two were filled with non-males (read: wives), and none held non-Caucasians. Not one.

    Looking down on all those balding pates was a stark reminder that the wide range of colors, creeds, incomes, ages, orientations and family configurations in my urban neighborhood does not in any way reflect the rest of the state of Missouri. I was looking at the heartland, and it was a little scary.

  3. Danny says:

    Okay, last post of the night guys… dissent-sowing is taxing! Lots of good stuff here, but something that grabbed my attention was LJC's and Dan's comments…

    Dan said (in answering LJC): "Science used for the detriment of mankind? You mean like applying modern medicine to societies that were already unable to feed themselves? You mean like the creation of perfect mono-culture crops that will allow a single infection to cause widespread starvation? You mean like creating inexpensive food products that create addictions and disease, like processed sugars? You mean like medical symptom cures that save children, allowing genetic diseases to thrive?"

    The answer to all those questions is NO. However, there is an interesting thesis that C.S. Lewis had in his short work "The Abolition of Man" (you can read it here: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/a

    He says, "The final state is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man…. We shall have 'taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho' and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. … But who, precisely, will have won it? For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please."

    Basically, science is inherently neutral moralistically. However, human beings are not, and so until science can discover and cure the human condition (i.e., selfishness, evil, power plays, strife, ad infinitum), then science can be wielded as a tool of power. For instance, rather than sharing life-saving vaccines with one society, a group could willingly withhold vaccines in order to speed the decline of that society. With every scientific advancement we are "conquering" nature, but how has any of this affected us morally. These advances have beneficially served to extend our lives and save more lives, but have they produced more moral beings?

  4. Marie Stephenson says:

    where shall i start? i have waited and waited for a place to expound on my opinions of the evolutionists. for one thing, do they have a concept of just how long one million years is? and another thing, dont they have any idea how long it takes for the animal body to deteriate? as a medical examiner and he will tell you that even under the best of circumstances no bone or even stone will last that many years. it cracked me up when they found a dinosaur bone and a human bone together in one place. i tried to tell someone that one time and i have never heard from them since.

    Marie

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Marie: Of course stones can last one million years, and there are many ways of demonstrating this scientifically. Truly, you need to go read a reputable geology book, then check back with us. You are not basing your comments on any science at all.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Marie is basing her proclamations on false syllogisms (decay = fossilization) and repeating lies from trusted Earth Age deniers (human and dinosaur bones found together).

    Bury a body or tree in wet volcanic ash or aged silt, and it will be preserved indefinitely as the phosphate tissues (mostly bone) are slowly replaced with silicates (agate, jaspar).

    The bodies in Pompeii were buried in dry ash, yet the skeletons and outside shapes of the bodies survived about 1900 years before they were discovered.

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