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All Rocks Are The Same Age
I am not a crank
“All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called “facts.” They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Who does not know fellows that always have an ill-conditioned fact or two which they lead after them into decent company like so many bull-dogs, ready to let them slip at every ingenious suggestion, or convenient generalization, or pleasant fancy? I allow no “facts” at this table. What! Because bread is good and wholesome and necessary and nourishing, shall you thrust a crumb into my windpipe while I am talking? Do not these muscles of mine represent a hundred loaves of bread? and is not my thought the abstract of ten thousand of these crumbs of truth with which you would choke off my speech?”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
It is a cherished belief of long standing with me that all rocks, whether on this Earth or out of it, are the same age. How could it be otherwise, when the facts of our experience and common sense tell us so? Indeed it amazes me to hear this truth so often contradicted, but hardly a day goes by without some geologist or other, some national park which attempts to pass off some outrageous claim upon public credulity like “This particular rock is 20 million years old” while “that particular rock is a mere babe in the woods at 14 million.”
I’m a broad-minded sort of person. If geologists wants to call some rocks “igneous” and other rocks “skarn,” I say, let them. It’s no skin off my nose, and if it brings a little joy into their lives to say “Calcflinta is a type of hornfels found in the Scottish Highlands,” it will not be me who tries to stop them. Let them name as many rocks as they can think of, if it pleases them.
And certainly I don’t dispute that some rocks are different from others. Some rocks are marble, I know that, and some are chalk, and still others are meteors. Anyone can see that.
But what I won’t stand for is any more of this business about some of these rocks being older than any of the other ones. And what’s more, I’m disappointed in the American public for letting geologists trying to get this one over on us. I had thought a little more highly of our national ingenuity. More fool me!
When was the last time you heard of a fresh batch of brand-new rocks calving off of a mountain in Greenland somewhere? And when have you ever had to turn your car around on the I-95 because all of a sudden you discovered a big heap of lapis lazuli that hadn’t been there the day before? Did you ever turn on the radio and hear the weather report calling for new sources of limestone tomorrow? Have you ever spent a day at the beach, only to find at the end of the day the sand had multiplied and added sixteen inches to the coastline?
Trees grow from seeds; baby marmots come from adult marmots; shrimp lay eggs and mushrooms produce spores. Everybody knows that life can produce more life. But I’d like to see someone try to tell me with a straight face that every so often a mother rock and a father rock get together to make gneiss. It’s time to face up to the facts of the matter: We’ve already got all the rocks that we’re ever going to get, so we might as well make the best of it.
Think about it: Just because a person turns thirty doesn’t mean the world suddenly got a brand-new number. You might have aged another year, but the number thirty was around long before you, and will still be with us long after you’re gone.
The simple truth is that all the rocks there ever were must have all been created at the same time, likely during the Big Bang, and they’ve just been moving the same quantities around ever since. It’s a lot of flashy patter and show, like in a shell game, but when you get right down to it, rock isn’t new just because it’s new to you. All rocks are exactly as old as the universe.
Now, a brief word about basalt, since I can already hear a lot of you fellows asking me about that. I am perfectly willing to concede that lava makes basalt, and so every once in a while we do get a new batch of it when volcanos go off. But any further than that I’m simply not willing to go. You’re not going to make a fool out of me. You can make a lot of smaller rocks by crumbling up a big one, or make a big rock out of a lot of small ones by compressing them tightly together, but it’s still the same amount of rock, no matter how you slice it. That goes double for coal supposedly turning into diamonds. I’m not saying I don’t believe it, merely that I’ve never seen it myself. But even if they do turn into diamonds, they’re not multiplying. No one says one lump of coal can make twelve diamonds. People simply wouldn’t stand for it. It’s like saying Mary Trask turned into a different woman when she get married, took her husband’s name, and got a lot of new business cards reading “Mary Fitzhusband.” You might think it was an old-fashioned thing to do, but you wouldn’t argue that there were suddenly three of her, or anything like that. Mary Trask or Mary Fitzhusband, she’s still only just the one Mary.
And what’s this I hear about fossils not being skeletons? Of course fossils are skeletons. You only have to look at them to see that. The skeleton’s right there. I can’t tell you how many natural history museums I’ve walked into with a big old dinosaur skeleton dangling from the ceiling as plain as the nose on your face, and I invite anyone who thinks I’m just looking at a bunch of rocks in the shape of what used to be a skeleton to come and say that to my face.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]