The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Answers in Genesis conference — day 2

I wasn’t really happy with the first iteration of my “Answers in Genesis conference — day 2″ post” so I have rewritten it. Here it is again, hopefully somewhat improved.

On Sunday night, I attended part of day two of the Answers in Genesis “special outreach” with Dr. Terry Mortenson (PhD in the History of Geology). Here are a few thoughts:

  • Mortenson stated that the geological column (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian… with associated fossils) doesn’t actually exist all together in any one location. It is true that it doesn’t exist at the Grand Canyon (where the rocks are Precambrian through Triassic, with the Silurian and Ordovician missing). There are other locations, as documented by Christian geophysicist Glenn Morton, where layers of each period of geologic history are present (see The Geologic Column and its Implications for the Flood; Morton was once a young-Earth creationist who published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly). Morton describes a location in the Williston Basin of North Dakota that has layers from each major time unit from the Precambrian and Cambrian all the way up to the Quaternary, and lists 25 other major sedimentary basins around the world which have similar complete geologic columns. The geologic column is an observation of nature, not a construct of evolutionists.
  • Mortenson used erosion in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington as an example of what a catastrophic flood can do in a short time. These channels were formed when a glacial dam broke during the Ice Ages, releasing up to 2000 cubic kilometers of water which was impounded behind the dam, forming Lake Missoula. These flood waters spread out over the Columbia Plateau creating the Channeled Scablands. He showed a picture of the Palouse River Canyon, which is cut hundreds of feet down into the Columbia River Basalts, and stated that evolutionary geologists believe this was cut in just a couple of days during the Scabland flood. This was a misstatement of what geologists teach. There is ample evidence that there were numerous catastrophic floods that carved the Channeled Scablands, not just one. Geologists believe that the ice dam formed dozens of times, and broke dozens of times. The Palouse River Canyon may have existed in some form before flooding, with the flood waters enhancing the canyon rather than creating it from scratch.
The Palouse River Canyon below Palouse Falls, Washington. This canyon (less than ten miles from my M.S. research area) likely predates catastrophic flooding in the Channeled Scablands. Credit: sss

The Palouse River Canyon below Palouse Falls, Washington. This canyon (less than ten miles from my M.S. research area) may have been enhanced by the catastrophic Scabland floods which occurred during the Ice Ages. Credit: Williamborg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palouse-Canyon-Washington-State.jpg

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The Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. The channels (grayish blue) are apparent where the flooding stripped unconsolidated loess (windblown silt) off of the Columbia Plateau. Credit: NASA/Landsat

  • Mortenson, like other young-Earth creationists, posits hyper-rapid evolution after the animals left the Ark. For example, Noah did not have to take horses, donkeys, and zebras all onto the Ark; he only had to take a pair of the “horse kind.” The idea is that this pair had sufficient genetic variation in their genes to produce horses, donkeys, and zebras, and anything else that would fall into the “horse kind.” The problem is that it is not individuals that have genetic diversity. It is populations that have diversity, and the larger the population, the greater the potential for variation. If the pair on the Ark were both Clydesdales, then their offspring would be Clydesdales. If the pair were an Arabian and a Clydesdale, then there could be a greater variation in the offspring, but not zebras, donkeys, or even Shetlands apart from many generations of selective breeding.
  • Much of what Mortenson said about the origin of life, the origin of information, gaps in the fossil record, and the nature of natural selection is consistent with what is being said by the progressive creationists (e.g. Hugh Ross) and the intelligent design movement. I am in general agreement with this position.
  • Like in the previous night’s presentation, Mortenson presented this as a battle between two opposing world views. One is either wearing Biblical glasses or Evolutionized glasses, and this determines how one views Earth history. Again, I don’t think these are the only options. My approach—which I believe is thoroughly Biblical—is that all truth is God’s truth. If there is a conflict between what God has revealed in his Word and what we see in nature, then we either misunderstand nature, or we misunderstand Scripture (or both). In the end, when we perfectly understand both, there will be no conflict. What I believe the young-Earth creationists often do is force nature to fit their understanding of the Bible, often resulting in a distortion of what God has sovereignly allowed to happen in Earth history.
  • Mortenson also stated that young-Earth creationism has been the position of the church for almost its entire history. This is true, and I place a high value on the Church fathers and church history in general. But this is a dangerous argument to use in a Baptist church. I could have used the same argument to say that believer’s baptism was virtually unheard of in the church for 3/4 of church history, and is therefore invalid. That might not have gone over too well.
  • Mortenson showed a video on sedimentary layers featuring Andrew Snelling that contained many the problems that I pointed out in my Six Bad Arguments from Answers in Genesis series. This stuff doesn’t work scientifically, and should not be used as Christian apologetics.

Without a doubt, most in the audience thought that Mortenson had presented a convincing case for young-Earth creationism. Unfortunately, few in an audience like this have the geological background to critically analyze the arguments presented.

With love for the body of Christ, and for scientists who are turned away from the Gospel by bad arguments in defense of the Bible.

Grace and Peace

October 14, 2009 - Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Richard gave this comment in my first version of this post:

    I really get weary of the argument that one side is the “biblical” argument while the other side views the Bible through “evolutionized” glasses. I have heard this assertion before in my church (even through my pastor, who is a godly and well-read guy); all I can do is shake my head in disagreement.

    Comment by geochristian | October 14, 2009

  2. I am seeking an informed response to the following assertion, thank you. The Amazon river is pro-ported to produce twenty percent of the sediment transferred to the oceans annually; 6,300 km3/yr (Milliman and Meade, 1983.) If multiply this by 5 and then dived the total into the total volume of the Oceans; 1.37 billion km3 you arrive at a total of 42,761.904…years for total displacement. If you take into account the that most of worlds dry land would be inundated well before a total displacement takes place you would arrive at a much lower number for sediment saturation. If the earth is millions of years old how is this apparent rate of saturation explained?

    Comment by Ormonde | February 13, 2010

  3. Ormonde:

    Thanks for your comment.

    I see two main problems with the argument you have presented.

    First, I question that sediment discharge to the oceans is 6300 km3/yr (whether this is the global number or just for the Amazon). I looked in several places (sedimentary petrology textbooks, internet) and found annual sedimentation rates from all of the world’s rivers to be in the 10 to 20 gigaton range. The number you used in your calculations seems to be on the order of the annual global rate of river discharge of water, not sediment.

    The density of recently-deposited clayey sand is around two tons per cubic meter, so the volume of this sediment can be calculated:

    (20 GT)(10^9 T/GT)(1 m3/2T)(1 km3/10^9 m3) = 10 km3

    Where
    10^9 T/GT = conversion from gigatons to tons
    1 m3/2T = one cubic meter of fresh clay-rich sediment has a mass of about 2 tons
    1 km3/10^9 m3 = conversion from cubic meters to cubic kilometers

    At ten cubic kilometers per year, it would take 130 million years to fill up the ocean basins with sediment, not 42762 years.

    The second problem is one that is common to young-Earth creationist arguments which use influx rates to determine the age of the Earth, whether it be the old moon dust argument that most (though not all) creationists have abandoned, or rates at which various elements are entering the oceans (which I discussed here).

    The problem is that the Earth’s ocean basins, as well as the continents, are dynamic places rather than being static. In order to think through this issue of sedimentation and the age of the oceans, one has to look at all of the processes that add or remove material, such as input from rivers, subduction at plate boundaries, and uplift of sediments to form mountains.

    Sediment doesn’t just pile up at the continental margins and eventually fill the oceans. Likewise, the continents don’t just erode down to featureless, flat plains. Due to the processes of plate tectonics, oceanic crust gets subducted down into the mantle, and continental margins experience periods of uplift.

    Many things happen to sediments that are deposited at the edges of continents over time:

    –One of the first things that happens to sediment when it is deposited is that it begins to compact. Freshly deposited sediments contain a lot of pore space. This is especially true for clay, which is the most abundant material deposited by rivers in the ocean. Microscopic clay mineral grains are plate-shaped, and tend to pile up in random orientations, which leaves lots of room between grains. As pressure builds from the weight of overlying sediments, the grains re-orient to be parallel to each other, greatly reducing the amount of pore space between them.

    –Much of this sediment ends up in deltas, which typically subside (sink) at a few millimeters per year. Over time, sediment that was once at the surface will end up being buried by hundreds or thousands of meters of additional sediment. The sediments along the Gulf coast of the southeastern United States, for example, are over 10,000 meters thick.

    –Very little sediment gets carried out to the deeper ocean basins. Most sediments end up along the margins of continents.

    –Some of this sediment eventually gets subducted down into the mantle through plate tectonics. Even more gets scraped off, metamorphosed, and plastered onto the edges of continents.

    The volume of sedimentary rocks on the continents is somewhere in the 600 to 1000 million cubic kilometer range. Because of this, much of the 10 km3 of sediment that gets transported to the oceans each year is actually recycled sedimentary rocks!

    Many well-meaning Christians use these sorts of arguments to “defend” the Bible. But when the arguments are faulty, the unintended result can be driving people away from Christ rather than pointing them to him.

    Comment by geochristian | February 14, 2010

  4. Thank you for your diligent, thoughtful and genuinely expert response to my assertion. I believe your first argument is correct and that the data I was working from was inaccurate. I’m new to this “new earth vs. old earth” discussion. I do believe semantics play a strong role in this very emotionally charged and sometimes polarizing debate. Genesis 1-3 states; 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

    Their has not yet been a mention of “day’s” yet, for that comes later in the progression and the earth with it’s waters was there, to be further formed. The time before hand could stretch, for lack of a better word “indefinitely.” Now to jump into the realm of theoretical cosmology, maybe up to the point of “Let there be light” photons did not operate as we understand them, just a thought.
    There is definitely “the devils in the details” problem in all of science and in theological issues as well but the devil of the issue for Christians and the world as a whole is that a spirit of Love comes before knowledge “1st Corinthians 13.”

    Comment by Ormonde | March 3, 2010

  5. There’s also the “Devil” in how a person uses scripture, not just in the science aspects.

    Do we take the poetry of Psalms to extract scientific details?
    Do we take Job to say there are really stores of snow in heaven?
    Do we take the poetry of Genesis to extract scientific details?
    Are there really four-legged winged insects such as in Leviticus?
    Was the entire earth really completely dry like Genesis 8:14 says?

    On all of these, it is possible to interpret the Bible way outside what it intends to say. (look at the bizarre “10 reasons why the Bible is nonsense” sort of lists that various atheists write up if you want more examples of how to twist the Bible wildly out of context)

    There’s the devil in the scientific details and there’s the devil in how a person approaches the Bible – does it intend to give scientifically precise statements everywhere, or does it use poetry, common language, writers’ points of view, parables, historical accounts, generalities, and many other literary types?

    Comment by WebMonk | March 4, 2010


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