Perhaps you know that the Appalachian mountains are among the oldest on the planet, but did you know their formation coincided with significant milestones in the evolution of life? Our mountains rose from the seas as terrestrial life emerged from ancient waters.
Flowering plants evolved in Tennessee soil, and the first forests grew along our river as it etched its channel into the land. When the first surface-skittering insect swarm lifted into flight, it might have been a Tennessee breeze it rode on. When hardwoods overtook conifers, surrender was signed on Tennessee pulp.
The relatively flat land atop the Cumberland Plateau was once the bed of an inland sea bordering the young Appalachians. Coal seams are the residue of ancient swamps, and sandstones formed as ancient river sediments piled on top of each other year after millions of years.
The shallow sea drained during a slow-motion collision between Africa and North America hundreds of millions of years ago. Over eons, the impact lifted and buckled the North American plate, putting the folds in our ridge-and-valley geology. The earthquakes associated with that collision surely put the worst modern temblors to shame.
Earth is more than five billion years old, but only in the last half-billion years did it become a lively place. The first cells evolved about four billion years ago, but the nucleus took a couple billion years to evolve, and only then could multicellular life get started. For most of history, Earth was a rocky, sandy, dusty place puddled with briny oceans. Molds and algae were about all that could make use of dry land, and aquatic life was a smattering of crud and several flavors of muck. Then Tennessee rose from the seas.
Plant life diversified from mosses and ferns into seed-bearing plants: grasses, conifers, trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The biomass from proliferating plant life served as food for worms, mites, millipedes and primitive, flightless insects, and soils accumulated that would eventually nourish the most diverse temperate forests on Earth. Tennessee was the crucible for all this creation.
Her ancient rivers, swamps and streams nurtured the evolution of freshwater fish, amphibians and aquatic insects. All that richness had to be in place before grand creatures like dinosaurs and mammals could evolve, and Tennessee was no longer young by the time those beasts appeared.
One type of creature that did not evolve here was the primate. If any sort of monkey lived here during a tropical era, it did not survive glaciation. Only after they invented boats were such creatures able to colonize the Appalachians.
Here we are now, stewards of abundance. Dayton, in the heart of Sequatchie Valley, the most prominent scar of the continental collision that started it all, was the site of the Scopes trial, which sought to deny any of this history ever happened. We trample the glory of our own land’s history beneath religious myths like we trample bugs or blades of grass, but what is sacred about ignoring the history written into creation itself?
The rocks themselves have more to say than any runes ever inscribed on them, and our forests, complex and diverse, can reveal more about the glory of life than could ever fit in a book. Our seas knew how to multiply long before anything with a backbone and a big brain ever got into the business of being fruitful.
The Bible helps us sort through the intricacies of the human soul, but we are newcomers on this old rock. Before parchments and pencils, the intricacies of life were written into creation itself. We glorify ourselves and our creator by soaking it all in.
Science is the method great Christian thinkers devised for ciphering truths from nature. We can find true purpose and meaning by soaking up science and religion like an oak soaks up sun and rain.