The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Natural Bridge Falls


My favorite waterfall in Montana is Natural Bridge Falls, located on the Boulder River, south of Big Timber. At high water—such as in this photo taken this spring—some of the water flows over the top of the cliff, while a considerable part of the flow comes out of caves in the side of the cliff. Later in a dry summer and into the fall and winter, the flow is restricted to the caves. On the right side of the photo, you can see where the river flows into what appears to be a rather large room of a collapsed cave. The Boulder River likely flowed through this cavern before it collapsed. Shortly around the corner to the right, the river disappears into a rubble of limestone boulders, also partly the product of cavern collapse.

The caverns, waterfall, and downstream canyon are all in limestones of the Mississippian Madison Group.

The waterfall is about thirty minutes south of Big Timber, and has a paved trail with interpretive signs. There are also dirt paths that go along the river and down to the plunge pool. Also of geological interest in the area are some excellent exposures of the Stillwater Complex, one of the world’s most famous layered intrusions. I brought home a beautiful piece of anorthosite for my rock garden.

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Geology, Montana | , | Leave a comment

Around the web 2/18/2014 — Christian scientists (that is, scientists who are Christians) refute some YEC arguments

TURNING A YEC ARGUMENT ON ITS HEAD — Young-Earth creationists like to tout soft tissues preserved in the fossil record as one of their prime evidences for a young Earth. A closely related issue is the preservation of ancient complex biomolecules, such as DNA, in the fossil record. The Natural Historian blog brilliantly turns this argument around as an evidence against young-Earth creationism: Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA. If Noah’s flood was global and created the fossil record (something the Bible nowhere states), and if it occurred only 4300 years ago, then preserved DNA ought to be fairly easy to find throughout the geologic column, from Cambrian through Neogene. It isn’t.

TURN IT ON ITS HEAD AGAIN! — The Natural Historian does it again: Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb.

Rather, what struck me about this rooster-like comb on this hadrosaur is that its existence is more of curse than a blessing for YEC apologists.  How can that be? Well, where I convinced that a global flood 4 to 6 thousand years ago were responsible for all the dinosaur fossils, then I should EXPECT to find soft tissues preserved to some extent as the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Why? Because the special conditions that are required for preservation of soft tissues like those found in this hadrosaur are just the kind that should have been produced by a global flood.  Combine those conditions with its having happened only a few thousand years ago and you have to ask, why don’t we find skin impressions, remains of feathers, and other impressions of large organs (like these combs) and gobs of biomolecules throughout the dinosaur fossil record?

What I am saying is that if you asked a priori what you would expect to see in the fossil record had a flood destroyed all living flesh from the face of the earth in a short period of time and deposited all those organisms in what we call the geological record?  I would expect to find a majority or at least a significant number of dinosaurs to be represented as complete skeletons. I would not expect to find rampant evidence of scavenging and given the fast burial I would expect to find the impressions of many parts of their bodies not just their bones since they would have been covered with their flesh intact.  Since this happened not long ago I would expect to find very abundant biomolecules, possibly even intact DNA in the material around the bones, and especially in the bones, even if cells themselves were no longer present.

As I pointed out before this is not what we find in the fossil record. We find some but not much evidence of biomolecules and few cases of soft tissue preservation even if be only the impression of where soft tissues once laid.   Just look at mammoths and mastodons from the fossil record. Some of these have abundant cells, DNA, hair and sometimes cellular tissues preserved. If these biomolecules could survive for 4000 years then why shouldn’t animals killed in Noah’s flood just a few hundred years earlier not also be expected to be preserved in a similar fashion?

HOW BILL NYE WOULD HAVE RESPONDED TO HAM IF NYE WERE A GEOCHRONOLOGIST — “45 thousand-year-old fossil wood encased in 45 million-year-old basalt”: Conflict Revisited, from Questioning Answers in Genesis.

Ken Ham’s appeal to young fossil wood within old basalt may have caught Bill Nye off guard, but his claim remains unsubstantiated. The actual radiocarbon ages of this fossil wood were not reproducible by independent labs within analytical uncertainty, suggesting that contamination and/or background interference was responsible for much of the detected radiocarbon. Recent advances in AMS radiocarbon dating have focused on how to account for the fact that contamination is always introduced during sample preparation and how to correct for various kinds of background interference. Regardless, radiocarbon ages close to the practical limit of the method are always treated with some suspicion.

THE SAD STATE OF SCIENCE LITERACY — 1 in 4 Americans Apparently Unaware the Earth Orbits the Sun. I would guess that it is even worse than this, as many of those who answered correctly just flipped a  coin.

Grace and Peace

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Around the Web, Christianity, Geology, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 11 Comments

Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”

Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistBaker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.

Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”

Here are a few excerpts:

In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.


So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?


Consider the following:

(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).

(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”

(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).


As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)


If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?


There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.


[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.


[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.


If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.


Some Concluding Comments

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:

(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.

(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.

(3) It is not a condition of salvation.

(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.

(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.

(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.

(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.

(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).

Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.

Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?

I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.


And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals [1910]) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.


[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.


I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.

The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).

It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.

And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.

Grace and Peace

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 8 Comments

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Since the inception of this blog in 2006, its subtitle has been, “A blog about science, Christianity, and other topics.” Although this is an accurate description of what one will find here on The GeoChristian, it isn’t very catchy. So today I am introducing a new subtitle:

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Here’s what I hope to communicate with the new caption:

  1. The Earth and Christianity go together because God made the entire universe. This idea is completely compatible with science; it is only incompatible with atheistic naturalism, a philosophical position that is not based on science.
  2. The Earth and Christianity go together because, in Christian theology, the physical world is important. As some have stated it, matter matters. In many eastern religions matter is something to escape from (this viewpoint creeps into Christianity at times, such as in the ancient gnostic heresies). To an atheist, matter and energy have no purpose or inherent reason for existence. Within Christian thought, God created the universe and embedded humanity within it, and then proclaimed that it was all “very good.” The ultimate expression of the importance of the material world to God is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God became flesh, entering into the physical world to redeem not just our “souls,” but our bodies as well.
  3. The Earth and Christianity go together because Christ’s redeeming work will one day extend to the entire cosmos. Our eternal existence as God’s people, according to the book of Revelation, is not in some spiritual “heaven,” but in a physical place that is a re-created or renovated New Earth.
  4. The Earth and Christianity go together because Christianity provides both a reason and a purpose for the Earth. The universe is not a random, inexplicable object; nor is our planet. God may have used processes to get us to this point—the big bang, protoplanet nucleation, speciation, and so forth—but that does not negate “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” or “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” (Gen 1:1Ps 24:1 ESV)
  5. The Earth and Christianity go together because—despite the vocal proclamations of both young-Earth creationists and evangelists for atheism such as Richard Dawkins—there is no real contradiction between what the Bible tells us about the creation of Earth and the findings of modern science (e.g. the big bang or antiquity of the Earth).
  6. The Earth and Christianity go together because humans have been given a command to care for the Earth. In Genesis, God commanded Adam to have dominion over the Earth. This “dominion mandate” does not mean that we should dominate and exploit, but rule and serve with love and wisdom.
  7. Because the Earth and Christianity go together, Christianity is for geoscientists. We are all in the same boat, created in the image of God but sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus is for geologists! (and geophysicists, meteorologists, hydrologists, oceanographers, and all who study and care for the Earth).

Grace and Peace

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Geology | 3 Comments

A few additional thoughts on Ham vs. Nye

I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:

  1. I’m struck by how little evidence Ken Ham presented in his main presentation or in his rebuttals. He briefly mentioned a few standard YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as woody material dated at 40,000 years by carbon-14 dating contained in a 45 million year old basalt flow. But he didn’t spend much time developing this or any other young Earth argument.
  2. Ham spent most of his time talking about world view, and propounding his postmodern-ish insistence that no one can really know anything about the past through scientific investigation. This world view talk was good for preaching to the YEC choir, but was not very useful for convincing skeptics or fence-riders.
  3. Ken Ham, as he has often done in the past, gave a false choice between believing in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, and believing in man’s fallible and changing science. Ham doesn’t see that both Scripture and the creation contain truth, and that the processes of understanding either Scripture or creation is done by fallible people. In other words, Ken Ham might have the Word of God in his hands, but Ken Ham can be wrong about the best way to understand certain passages. I have many reasons for believing that Ham (and YECs in general) over-read the text of the opening chapters of Genesis. Here are a few.
  4. I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
  5. As a Christian, I wanted Ken Ham to win the debate, which I believe he could have done if he had taken a “mere creation” approach rather than having a narrow YEC focus. Despite my training in science (and perhaps because of my training in science), I have much more in common with Ken Ham’s Christian world view than I do with Bill Nye’s naturalistic, atheistic world view.

I had heard that 500,000 people watched the debate live. Now I’ve read that the number was closer to 3,000,000 viewers.

There are a number of excellent reviews of the debate on the internet. Here are a few that I have found helpful:

J.W. Wartick — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate.

“[Ham] continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism.”

Faithful Thinkers — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath.

“Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”

Jay Wile — Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate.

“While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another.”

Al Mohler — Bill Nye’s Reasonable Man—The Central Worldview Clash of the Ham-Nye Debate.

“In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

“That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?”

Evolution News and Views (an I.D. site) — The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity.

“For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.”

“People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.” Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye’s arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won’t budge an inch. Why? Because Ham’s main argument was “Because the Bible says so,” and skeptics don’t take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.”

Grace and Peace


February 5, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 36 Comments

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis

On February 4, 2014, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham debated Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I cannot say that I was disappointed with the debate, because I had very low expectations for it in the first place, and it was about what I anticipated.

I had hoped that Ken Ham would take a “mere creation” approach, which would focus on the sorts of things most Christians agree upon when talking about origins. He could have focused on topics that are especially vexing for non-theists, such as the origin of the universe (or multi-verse, if you prefer), or the origin of life. Instead, he chose to focus on typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the universe and Noah’s flood. Bill Nye was also a disappointment (and again, I had low expectations). His background is in engineering and physics, not in the more pertinent subjects of geology and biology, and it showed. His knowledge of the Bible was downright at the middle school level, as I’ll discuss later.

My main complaint about the debate is that, for the most part, it presented the audience with a false dichotomy: young-Earth creationism or naturalistic, atheistic (or at least agnostic) science. Ken Ham acknowledged that there are old-Earth Christians, and that salvation is based on one’s relationship to Christ rather than what one thinks about the age of the Earth. But he also made it clear that he views the old-Earth position as a compromise, as opposed to his pure “biblical” creation interpretation. Bill Nye actually did a better job of acknowledging that there are billions of people in the world who are religious and yet do not accept young-Earth creationism, but it was also clear that he viewed this religiosity as “belief” as opposed to scientific knowledge.

I’ll start with some positive aspects of both men’s presentations. The debate was very cordial, respectful, and orderly.

I think that the best point that Ken Ham made was that non-Christian scientists have no good explanation for why we have laws of logic, laws of nature, or uniformity of nature (the laws that work here also work the same way over there, and worked the same way in the past). Ham said that non-believers have had to borrow these concepts from Christianity, and to a large extent, this is true. It is not that Christians, or theists, are the only ones who believe in logic, laws, or uniformity, but that they are the only ones who can give a rational explanation for the existence of these properties of the universe.

Bill Nye made a number of good scientific points related to the topic at hand.

  • He described the concept of fossil succession: fossils occur in a specific order in the geologic record wherever one goes (he focused on the Grand Canyon), and correctly pointed out that there is not a single location where fossils are out of place. I wish he had elaborated on this for the sake of his audience. One does not find dinosaurs in the Permian (they belong in the Mesozoic), and one does not find elephants in the Cambrian (mixed in with trilobites). If young-Earth geology were correct, we would expect to see a considerable amount of “turbulence,” as Nye put it, in the fossil record, with a number of fossils being found in the wrong layers. It does not happen.
  • He also described cores taken from ice caps. For example, there are ice cores drilled from Antarctica that contain a 680,000-year record of ice deposition. Nye calculated one would have to have 170 annual layers created per year to form these since Noah’s flood 4000 years ago, and that this is a preposterous idea.
  • Nye used the local (Kentucky) geology to point out another problem with YEC flood geology. The thick layers of limestone in the area are built in places of billions of coral organisms, which are entombed in their life positions in complete ecosystems. One would not expect a global flood to pick up coral organisms and plant them all in such a way to look like they grew there in place.
  • Nye also drew attention to the problem of modern biogeographic distribution of species: How did Australian mammals, for instance, such as the kangaroo, all migrate to Australia over a now-missing land bridge without leaving any straggler populations or a trace of their passage (such as fossils) between Ararat and Australia?

Unfortunately, both men made serious blunders as well:

Ken Ham got his science wrong – Of course, there are many things wrong with the young-Earth creationist arguments about the age of the Earth and the geological work of Noah’s flood. I’ll highlight a few from the debate:

  • Though I agree with Ham that historical science is done with somewhat different methodology than experimental, laboratory science, I think he stretched this point too far. Ham’s presentation of the historical scientific method almost makes it sound like some sort of postmodern guessing game, where opinion A is just as good as opinion B. No, something really happened in the past, such as the ice ages. Explanation A (the conventional geological explanation) might explain most known observations very well, while explanation B (the YEC explanation) fails miserably. It is not “one answer is just as good as another; you cannot prove anything,” as Ken Ham would have us believe. There are explanations that work, and explanations that do not work.
  • Ham gave one of his favorite statements, which I’ll paraphrase as, “From reading Genesis, we would expect the flood to produce billions of dead things laid down by water, and when we look at the geological record, we find billions of dead things laid down by water.” The main scientific problem with this is that one would expect a global, catastrophic flood to produce disorder, with a chaotic mixture of sediments and organisms. Instead, we find distinct layers, sometimes very pure, of various sediment types, preserving what appear to be ancient sedimentary environments and ecosystems, some of which obviously formed in fairly quiet settings, with a very distinct order of fossils from oldest to youngest.
  • Ham discussed radiometric dating, both in terms of the assumptions that go into the dating procedures, and in terms of conflicting radiometric dates. This could merit a whole series of articles in response, but I’ll just say that in most cases we can have a pretty good idea what the initial parent-to-daughter isotope ratios were, whether or not there has been gain or loss of isotopes from the sample, and that all reports of variable decay rates in the scientific literature indicate that this variability is minor. There are discordant (i.e. conflicting) radiometric dates out there, but overall the methods give highly consistent results. I would say that the whole YEC RATE research program had to happen because of the overwhelming evidence (even to YECs) that in most cases the first two assumptions about radiometric dating are valid and that most dates are indeed concordant, which has left YECs with nothing to work with but variable decay rates.
  • Ken Ham also mentioned the planes that crashed in Greenland in 1942, and have subsequently been buried by over 200 feet of snow and ice, showing (to YECs) that thick ice caps could form quickly. What Ham didn’t tell the audience was that these planes were found near the edge of the ice sheet, where precipitation is much higher than in the dry interior where ice cores are taken. If the planes had crashed in the interior, their remains would still be at or near the surface of the ice cap.

Bill Nye got his science wrong – This is where Nye’s lack of geological training showed through.

  • As he was discussing layers in the Grand Canyon, Nye showed a slide where a channel of the Devonian Temple Butte Formation is cut down into the Cambrian Muav Limestone. He described it as being “intruded” into the underlying formation, which makes it sound like an igneous rather than a sedimentary process. Still, his point was valid, that fossils of the Devonian are not found in Cambrian rocks, and vice versa.
  • He also gave a shoot-from-the-hip explanation for something Ken Ham brought up. Ham described a situation where a basalt flow enclosed some woody material, and the basalt gave a potassium-argon age of something like 45 million years, while the organic material gave a carbon-14 age of something like 40,000 years. Nye suggested that this could be explained by thrust faulting, where one layer slid horizontally over another. I kind of groaned when he said this, as one would not invoke thrust faulting without good field evidence. There are better explanations for such situations. I shoot from the hip sometimes, and often it does not go well.

Bill Nye got his theology wrong – I did not expect him to have much knowledge about the Bible or theology, and he demonstrated deep ignorance about how we got the Bible.

  • Nye stated several times that he does not understand how one could believe a book that was written 3000 years ago, then translated, and re-translated, and re-translated, and eventually translated from one of these latter re-translations to make our English Bibles (the telephone game). In reality, how the Bible was formed and where our modern-language translations came from looked nothing like this.

Ken Ham got his theology wrong – One would hope that one of the most influential Christians in America (and Ham does have a tremendous amount of influence in some circles) would get his theology right, but many theologically conservative Bible scholars would disagree with Ham’s interpretation of Scripture.

  • Ham likes to use the phrase “biblical creationist” to describe his position, implying that any Christian who is not a young-Earth creationist is somehow an “unbiblical” creationist. I have many reasons for believing that the Bible is neutral or silent on the question of the age of the universe. Being that these are biblical reasons, I would say that makes me a “biblical creationist” as well.
  • One example that Ham brought up was the use of genre (literary type or category) in biblical interpretation. He stated that biblical interpretation involves a “natural” reading of the passages, and I agree. In general, historical narratives are meant to be read as real history, and poetic passages (such as the Psalms) are meant to be read in a much more figurative way. However, Ham lumps the entire book of Genesis together as “historical narrative” when it is clear that the literary structure of chapter one is different than the rest of the book, and actually quite distinct in ancient Hebrew literature.

Overall, I did not find the debate to be at all helpful. I did think that Nye’s scientific arguments were stronger than Ham’s (as YEC is rather indefensible scientifically), but they could have been stronger, and Nye demonstrated deep misunderstandings of Christianity that are, unfortunately, much too common among skeptics. Young-Earth creationists who watched the debate probably thought that Ham crushed Nye. Atheists who watched it probably thought that Nye demolished the silly arguments of the young-Earthers. For the rest of us, the debate was a lose-lose affair. There was little in Ham’s presentation that would cause a non-believer (especially a non-believing scientist) to consider Christianity, and Nye’s weakness on geological issues hampered his effectiveness.

I would have much rather seen a debate between a Christian old-Earth geologist and a YEC geologist, or a debate between a YEC biblical scholar and a old-Earth biblical scholar. But then only 500 people would have watched it nationwide rather than 500,000.

The debate is archived at

Grace and Peace

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 19 Comments

Debate pre-game prognosis: What Ken Ham could learn from Duane Gish in order to “win” his debate against Bill Nye

In March of 1987, young-Earth creationist Dr. Duane Gish came to Washington State University to have a creation-evolution debate with Dr. Grover Krantz, an anthropology professor at WSU. Gish’s style in his frequent debates was a rapid-fire overload of facts from a wide variety of fields, most of which were outside of his opponent’s area of expertise. Unless his rival was especially well-prepared, Gish knew that there was no way that all of his young-Earth, anti-evolutionist “evidences” could be answered. Young-Earth creationists would attend these debates in droves, and would conclude that Gish had won the debate.

I don’t remember much about the debate that night (beyond Krantz having a bunch of hominid skull replicas with him for his rebuttal), but what I do remember is Gish’s trip to the WSU Geology department earlier in the day. Someone had invited Gish to speak at our weekly departmental seminar. I was a graduate student in the department at the time, and I remember being nervous about what he would say. Having “converted” from young-Earth creationism to old-Earth Christianity as an undergraduate student just a few years previously, I was concerned that all Gish would accomplish would be to make Christianity look foolish, and solidify the antipathy that some in the department had against the faith.

Duane Gish surprised me. In his presentation before the Geology department, he took a “mere creation” approach rather than making an effort to defend his belief in a young Earth or flood geology. When asked questions about things like the age of the Earth, he answered that some Christians go one way, and other Christians the other. This was akin to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, where Lewis discussed and promoted Christianity in general, rather than making an attempt to make everyone Anglicans. Gish talked about things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and gaps between phyla in the fossil record. Though there was still hostility against Gish among some in the audience, there was also receptivity. I remember one PhD candidate remarking after the presentation that if this was the sort of material the creationists were promoting, he would not be opposed to it.

Tonight (2/4/2014) Ken Ham (president of Answers in Genesis) will debate Bill Nye (the science guy) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins.” I can see this debate going one of two ways, depending on whether or not Ham takes a “mere creation” approach, as opposed to defending the more radical young-Earth creationist positions he normally propounds.

If the debate circles around typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the Earth, the geological effects of Noah’s flood, or whether or not dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark, Nye should be able to show the numerous faults and contradictions of the young-Earth position. That is, if Nye has done his homework (Nye’s university degree was in Engineering, and his strengths on “Bill Nye the Science Guy” were always in physics and chemistry, not geology or biology).

If, on the other hand, Ham steers the debate towards broader “mere creation” topics such as the origin of the universe or the origin of life, then I think Ham could show the world that Christianity has a better answer for the questions of origins than atheistic naturalism does.

In summary, if the debate is about “mere creation” Ham (and Christianity) should “win” the debate. If the debate becomes about young-Earth vs. old-Earth or the extent to which evolution can occur, I think we all will lose, no matter who “wins” the debate.

The debate is streaming live at

and at

Grace and Peace

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 1 Comment

GeoChristian most-read posts in 2013

Things have been rather quiet here on The GeoChristian lately, but people from around the world have still been finding things to read. Here are the most-read posts in 2013 (a number of which were written before 2013):

#10 — A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites — This is my preliminary analysis of a YEC hypothesis that evaporite layers, such as halite and gypsum, were formed by crystallization from igneous melts rather than by precipitation from aqueous solutions. I’m working on a longer refutation.

#9 — PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn — There are people in the Presbyterian Church in America (my current denomination) who would be very happy if us old-Earthers would just go away.

#8 — The stratigraphic column — not a figment of geologists’ imaginations — Fossils appear in the stratigraphic column in a specific order, which is the basis for designating rocks as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. Some YECs call this an invention of God-hating geologists, while other YECs come up with all sorts of mechanisms for explaining how Noah’s flood could have produced such an orderly arrangement.

#7 — John Piper and the age of the Earth — What? John Piper is an old-Earther? He must not really believe the Bible. Just kidding. Dr. Piper is firmly committed to the truthfulness of God’s Word, and accepts an old Earth.

#6 — Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? — The answer, of course, is no.

#5 — Did Ann Coulter really say “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours”? — Why do people listen to this woman?

#4 — Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — There are more than six bad answers from Answers in Genesis, but this series examined “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.”

#3 — John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution — I really like John MacArthur, but he sometimes makes things black and white that are not black and white.

#2 — Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis — 1600 years ago, Augustine recognized that perhaps the best way to read Genesis 1 is not the “literal” way as 21st century YECs would see it.

#1 — Dr. Dino still in prison — Ever since I wrote this in 2009, it has been the most-read post on The GeoChristian. Popular YEC speaker “Dr.” Kent Hovind is still in prison on income tax-related charges, and is scheduled for release in 2015.

Grace and Peace

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Geology, Misc, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | Leave a comment

Stuck in a tar pit

The June 2013  issue of Acts & Facts magazine from the Institute for Creation Research has a two-page article on the fossils of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. “The La Brea Tar Pits Mystery” was written by Dr. John Morris, president of ICR, and Dr. Timothy Clarey, ICR’s new staff geologist.

The article correctly states that some paleontologists have moved away from the simple “animals got stuck in the tar when they stopped for a drink of water” interpretation of the La Brea tar pits. It appears that at least some of the fossils were washed downstream from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and became trapped in the tar. Morris and Clarey make an unjustified extrapolation from this, and claim that all of the fossils must have been transported to the La Brea site from elsewhere.

Morris and Clarey believe that the La Brea Tar Pits and their enclosing sediments were formed after Noah’s flood. In their flood geology model, Noah’s flood deposited the bulk of Earth’s rock record, but most deposits that geologists would consider to be of Quaternary age (i.e. the Ice Ages) were deposited in a period of a few hundred years after Noah’s flood. This is sometimes referred to as “residual catastrophism.” Morris and Clarey describe the formation of the La Brea fossil deposits as follows:

Large flooding events (sometime after the Great Flood) could have swept the animals into the tar pit openings and deposited the bones in tight, jumbled masses. Biblical scientists have reinterpreted the fossil deposits as a consequence of closely spaced, catastrophic flood events that likely occurred in the waning of the post-Flood Ice Age. The immediate post-Flood years were likely chaotic and more geologically active than today as the earth’s surface recovered from the catastrophic activity of the Flood.

There are a number of problems with the residual catastrophism model as it relates to La Brea. Here are just a few:

  • Soil formation — Soils do not form overnight, and plants need soil. The La Brea flora comes from mature forest ecosystems, and the large herbivores were dependent on abundant vegetation. In the YEC residual catastrophism scenario, soil would have had to form very rapidly, but this process would have been impeded either by high rates of erosion or high rates of deposition.
  • Ecological succession — This is related to the problem of soil formation. Ecological succession is the process of development of an ecosystem over time. If one started with bare rock or sediment after the flood, there would have had to have been a succession of communities that inhabited the area over time, starting with pioneer species that could live on the barren surface, such as lichens, mosses, and insects. Over time there might have been communities dominated by grasses, brush, and eventually a variety of forest types. In the YEC scenario, this would have had to occur very quickly, leading up to mature flora capable of supporting the animal community. Post-flood residual catastrophism suffers from the same problem as the rest of YEC geology: too many events, too little time.
  • Migration — The mammal and bird fossils of La Brea would have had to migrate from Ararat (in modern-day Turkey) and become well-established in the Los Angeles area in a very short time. This is part of the broader biogeographical problem of YEC — kangaroos all migrated to Australia (exactly where kangaroo fossils were deposited by the flood) and didn’t leave any stragglers behind, African animals all migrated to Africa, western North American animals (again, as evidenced in the fossil record) all knew to migrate to western North America, and so forth.
  • Sedimentation — All of this migration and fossilization happened while residual catastrophism was occurring, which in many places meant the deposition of many hundreds of meters of sediments!

In the second-to-last paragraph, the YEC explanation for the La Brea fossils goes from bad to worse:

Uplift of the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and associated earthquakes could have instantly changed river directions and the levels of the land surface, setting local floods in motion. Rapid melting of the glaciers at the end of the Ice Age could have also contributed catastrophic outpourings of floodwaters from the mountains, depositing animal remains in the process. Close-spaced catastrophic events likely continued until Earth reached the relatively stable balance we now experience.

I was quite surprised to see the authors propose that melting of glaciers could have contributed to the formation of the sediments of La Brea. The sediments of these deposits were clearly derived from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, which in that area presently do not exceed 1500 feet (460 m) in elevation. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Santa Monica Mountains were ever glaciated. A few small glaciers may have existed above 10,000 feet (3050 m) in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains during the Pleistocene, but it needs to be emphasized that these were small glaciers, and that the sediments of La Brea did not come from these ranges.

The authors conclude with a typical YEC overstatement:

The better explanation for the fossils in the La Brea tar pits matches perfectly with the biblical perspective of recent creation.

The authors have certainly not demonstrated that their residual catastrophism model can explain the La Brea fossil assemblages or their enclosing sediments. Like much of what is presented by the YECs, it is not necessary biblically, nor valid scientifically.

Grace and Peace



In 2012, I reviewed a previous Acts & Facts article by Morris: Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism. Morris tried to show that the intensity of volcanism has been decreasing ever since the flood, but he did so through choosing eruptions that matched his premise, and then ignoring many thousands of other eruptions.

Also in 2012, I got involved in a discussion about the La Brea Tar Pits with young-Earth creationist Jay Wile on his Proslogion blog. Dr. Wile was advocating for the La Brea Tar Pits being formed during Noah’s flood rather than after the deluge, while I gave a number of reasons why neither the flood explanation nor the post-flood explanation worked. See A Large, Detailed Study Confirms Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 12 Comments

PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn

In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.

In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.

However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.

I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:

Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.

It appears that there are no old-Earth seminars or exhibitors.

I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.

Grace and Peace



If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.

Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.

I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:

“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Astronomy, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , | 18 Comments

Dinosaur quiz — part 3

Yesterday on the Answers in Genesis website, Ken Ham encouraged people to take “the dinosaur quiz” and to let him know on his Facebook page how we have used this quiz to help “rescue our kids.” I guess I took him seriously, so I posted a comment on his Facebook page:


This morning, my comment was gone.

I am sure Answers in Genesis has to delete many comments from their Facebook page — obscenity, mocking, false accusations, and so forth. My comment was certainly in none of those categories. Nor was it self-promotion; there are plenty of other comments pointing people to YEC websites.

I guess AiG does not want respectful dialog. Perhaps they do not want their flock to see alternative biblical answers in Genesis from someone else who believes the Bible from the very first verse.

Grace and Peace (especially to all my young-Earth creationist brothers and sisters in Christ)


P.S. I previously wrote about the dinosaur quiz here: More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz.

May 24, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 17 Comments

More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz

Last week I wrote about A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on. A Christian school in South Carolina had used an Answers in Genesis quiz entitled “Dinosaurs, Genesis and the Gospel,” and the atheist and skeptic blogs were abuzz about how goofy this quiz was in their eyes.

I posted my answers to the quiz in last week’s post, and tried to grade it as a young-Earth creationist would have graded it. My grade was an “F.”

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, wrote about this quiz today, and posted the entire quiz (the copy that was circulating around the internet was missing a few questions).

Ken Ham’s blog — The Science Quiz the Atheists Hate — Let’s Take it Ourselves!

AiG website — Families: Let’s Use the Recent Atheist Attack to Teach More Kids the Truth!

The full quiz — 4th Grade Science Quiz

Here are my answers for #8-10 (I gave my answers to the rest of the questions on the previous post). Again, I have place a red X next to the answers a YEC teacher would mark wrong.


X  Yes — The Bible simply does not say whether or not non-human animals died before Adam sinned. If one looks at the most frequently cited passages which are given in support of “no death before Adam’s sin” position, none of them say anything whatsoever about animal death (See Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15). External evidence tells us that animals have been dying for a long time, so their death is not part of the curse given in Genesis 3.


False — Humans are animals, but we are more than “just an animal.” According to Genesis, we are made of dust, that is, the same stuff as the rest of creation, and were created at roughly the same time as the rest of land animals in the Genesis outline of events. But we are special animals, in that we are created in the image of God, bearing his resemblance, rationality, and ability to have relationships. As animals we are embedded in the creation, but God has also placed us in a position of dominion over the creation (and dominion is a very different concept than domination).


1/2 X — No. Scientists sometimes get things wrong. For example, some Christian scientists twist science in order to come up with a “Biblical” interpretation about dinosaurs or ice ages, even though neither are mentioned in the Bible.


Adding these three answers to my previous total makes my new grade (from a YEC perspective) 6/18 = 33%. That is a bit of an improvement, but still quite solidly an F.

A few additional thoughts:

  • My answers for the questions were largely based on the Bible, not on science. I am not reading science into the Bible.
  • It is amazing how Answers in Genesis pushes their speculations as absolute truth, when so much of what they say is not found in the Bible.
  • It should not be surprising that the atheists and skeptics (many of them are anything but “freethinkers”) are mocking the quiz. It is also not surprising that AiG is painting this as another atheist attack against Christianity. But the YECs have, as a result of a decades-long history of bad science and Scripture stretching, given the skeptics a very easy target. As I have said numerous times, let it be the “foolishness” of the the crucified and risen Jesus that confronts the world, not our own human foolishness.
  • Bad apologetics is harmful to our youth, adults, and witness to the world.
  • The small Christian school in this controversy was struggling financially and has received numerous donations in the past few weeks. Despite teaching YEC sciences, many of these small Christian schools are doing a fantastic job of providing a Christian education for our youth, and so I am thankful they have received these gifts.

Grace and Peace



I have previously written briefly about Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective.

I have also written about supposed references to dinosaurs in the book of Job.

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on

Here is a quiz on “Dinosaurs: Genesis and the Gospel” given to fourth graders at a South Carolina Christian school:



The quiz was based on material from Answers in Genesis.

Atheists and skeptics, of course, have made much of this quiz since it was first posted on the internet a few weeks ago. Christians are obviously a bunch of morons, liars, brainwashers, idiots, and so forth. For a couple of examples, read Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School by PZ Meyers or South Carolina creationist science quiz is real on Daily Kos.

And predictably, Answers in Genesis has replied with a “Christianity under attack” response (here and here).

The atheists are wrong; Christians are not idiots. But Answers in Genesis is wrong as well, in that young-Earth creationism gives the skeptics a tragically easy reason to reject Christian truth.

Here’s how I would answer the 4th grade quiz, with red X‘s on the answers the teacher would have marked as incorrect:


X — True. The opening statement of the Bible — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” — is not necessarily included in the six days of creation, so the earth could have been created in 4000 B.C., 4,000,000 B.C., or 4,000,000,000 B.C.


X — True. Dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous Period.


1/2 X — The 6th day. But is God’s day the same as our day? Moses himself indicates flexibility on this question in Psalm 90.


X — False. The Bible does not say that dinosaurs lived with people, and there is plenty of geological evidence that they did not.


X — The Bible says that animals and humans in the Garden of Eden ate plants, but states that the world outside of the garden was a wild place in need of subduing. Carnivores outside of the garden ate meat.


X — None of the above. Maybe a hippopotamus. A brachiosaurus wouldn’t have fed on grass like an ox, and could not have hidden in the lotus plants and reeds in the marshes along the Jordan River.



I don’t know what happened to #8-10. I probably would have gotten them wrong.




X — There are multiple history books of the universe. The Bible tells us about the origin of the universe, but it doesn’t give us much in the way of details. What it tells us is true, but what it tells us and what the young-Earth creationists tell us that it tells us are two different things. For example, Genesis 1 tells us that God made the stars, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the processes he used to accomplish this act. For that, I would turn to books about astronomy and nuclear chemistry. Genesis 1 also tells us that God said “Let the land produce living creatures,” which implies some sort of process without stating what that process was. I would turn to books about biology and geology to learn about the history of those living creatures and the processes by which they came about. (I apologize, Teacher, that this answer did not fit on the little line).


An ark.


False. I think just about everyone would agree that Noah’s ark didn’t look like that.


X — I took Vertebrate Paleontology a long time ago at Montana State, but I would really have had to guess on this one. I would have had guessed b. rhino.


X — None of the above. The Bible does not say that Noah’s Flood deposited the sedimentary rock record along with its fossils. None of the other answers are things that in themselves would produce fossils.


X — Fossils are the remains or traces of organisms from the past that are preserved in Earth’s crust. There are patterns in how they are preserved that indicate that they were not produced by one, brief, cataclysmic process.


X — I agree that Earth is billions of years old. To say that it is only 6000 years old is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible.


My grade from a YEC’s perspective: 4.5/15 = 30%. F

Conclusion: With a Biblical and scientific foundation like this, no doubt some of these kids are “Already Gone.”

Grace and peace

For an update, including my answers to the missing quiz questions, see More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 6 Comments

An Answers in Genesis chat about the ice age(s)

Answers in Genesis had its first ever live chat on Facebook today, where people could discuss the article When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History with one of the authors. Unfortunately, the author who chatted was the editor of Answers magazine, Mike Matthews, not Andrew Snelling, AiG’s geologist. The basic idea of the article is that the entire Pleistocene Epoch can be compressed into a 250-year period between 2250 and 2000 B.C.

In case you missed it, I reviewed this article last week: The Pleistocene is not in the Bible.

The chat is on Facebook at


Here are a few excerpts from the chat. I was the first person to ask a question.


I commented on some other people’s questions:


Sara is a geology student somewhere, and is a young-Earth creationist. I pray that her faith will remain intact through the process of getting a geological education:



One GeoChristian reader was also at the chat, and asked a couple good questions:


The chat was mostly respectful, though there were a few skeptics who dropped by:


My question on Yellowstone volcanism and glaciation hadn’t been answered and the chat time was almost over, so I prompted for a response:



I never did really get an answer beyond, “this is a matter of ongoing research.”

Dialog is good. The people at Answers in Genesis are my brothers and Sisters in Christ, and I love them. I just think they are wrong.

Grace and Peace

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , | 16 Comments

J.P. Moreland’s advice to young-Earth creationists

Many leading Christian apologists—an apologist is one who makes a reasoned defense for the faith—are old-Earth Christians. They hold firmly to the truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures, but reject the hyperliteralism of the young-Earth creationist movement. One such scholar is J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution (edited by Moreland and John Mark Reynolds), Moreland offered the following advice to young-Earth creationists:

Suppose we are interpreting some biblical text and we have hermeneutical option A and option B. Suppose further, that on exegetical grounds alone, we compare the text with other portions of Scripture and find that (1) A and B are both plausible, that is, within the bounds of reason exegetically speaking; and (2) A is superior to B. Now suppose further that B harmonizes Scripture with what we have pretty good reason to believe is true outside the Bible, but A flies in the face of these extrabiblical factors. In short, B solves external conceptual problems. Then, in my view, it is hermeneutically permissible to adopt B as the correct interpretation of a text.

In this scenario, we can let the young-Earth “literal” 24-hour calendar day interpretation be option A and various old-Earth interpretations be option B. Some young-Earth creationists acknowledge that old-Earth interpretations are possible, but they think the young-Earth interpretation is better. If the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture were superior and the scientific evidence pointed to a young Earth, then I would be a young-Earth creationist. As it is, however, there are old-Earth interpretations that work well (I like the analogical days interpretation, perhaps with elements of the day-age interpretation tacked on) and are well within the bounds of good hermeneutics and Christian orthodoxy; and young-Earth science fails miserably. I am quite comfortable, therefore, with being an old-Earth Christian.

Elsewhere, Moreland has stated,

Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis…I’m of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible– that is, an old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.

To believe that the Bible allows for millions of years is not something forced on the text from the outside. One can make a strong case for biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth without any references to geology or astronomy. We can add J.P. Moreland to the long list of old-Earth biblical scholars.

Grace and Peace



One group of biblical scholars who recognized that there is more than one way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis was the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. They wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which gives a standard definition of what is and isn’t meant by “inerrancy.”  Many of the scholars who wrote this document were themselves young-Earth creationists, but they recognized that there are other valid options, and that YEC is not an essential part of the Christian doctrine of Scripture. The vote to leave young-Earth language out of the document was almost unanimous.

Another group of theologically conservative scholars who recognized that old-Earth interpretations are possible, even though many of them are themselves YECs, are those who served on the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) Creation Study Committee. Their report gives an excellent overview of the young-Earth and various old-Earth interpretations.

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 7 Comments

The Pleistocene is not in the Bible — A critique of “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?”

Answers_ice_age_largeYoung-Earth creationists (YECs) attempt to squeeze most of the geological record into the brief span of Noah’s flood, even though the Bible does not state that the flood was responsible for Earth’s sedimentary rocks, and does not even require that the flood covered the entire Earth (read more here and here). There is an important exception to this, however. Glacial sediments and other deposits of the Pleistocene Epoch—the “ice age” —are usually considered to be post-flood deposits by YECs.

Answers in Genesis recently published an article by Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews entitled “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?” It begins with a true statement:

“The Bible doesn’t say, ‘And then there was an Ice Age.'”

If the authors had stopped right there, they would have written a great article. The Bible does not teach us about ice ages any more than it teaches us about genetics or chemistry. But they did continue, and the result is another bad answer from Answers in Genesis. As blogger James McGrath noted in regards to this article:

I continue to wonder whether the folks at AiG are working to make Christianity look as foolish as possible, even while claiming their aim is to promote it.

Like much else in YEC geological thinking, there are many problems with this article. The geological, paleontological, and archeological records left by Pleistocene Epoch events and organisms are both detailed and complex; and difficult—or impossible—to compress into the suggested YEC timetable. A simpler solution would be to stick to what the Bible actually says about ice ages, which is nothing at all. The whole idea that the ice ages can be tucked into a 250-year period following Noah’s flood is an unnecessary imposition on the text of Scripture, and scientifically indefensible.


ice-age-posterA good way to summarize the paper by Snelling and Matthews is by presenting the timeline given in the article and accompanying poster:

  • 2350 B.C. – Noah’s flood
  • 2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
  • 2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
  • approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
  • 2250 B.C. — First human tools in archeological record. Tower of Babel.
  • approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
  • approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
  • approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
  • approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
  • 2000 B.C. — End of the Ice age. Abram born.

The authors give a variety of “Bible facts,” “geological facts,” and “archeological facts” to support the timeline.


Here is a brief summary of events one would have to squeeze into a 250-year long ice age:

Extent of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Credit - Wikipedia

Extent of Northern Hemisphere glaciation.

Formation and melting of ice caps. According to the YECs, the ice ages would have begun with the accumulation of ice several kilometers thick over much of North America and Northern Europe, as well as ice caps over many mountain ranges elsewhere in the world. YECs propose that there was extreme snowfall in polar areas during the first part of the ice age. In order to form a 3000 meter thick ice cap over North America, as much as 30 kilometers of dry powdery snow would need to accumulate and compact (powder snow has a density about 1/10 that of glacial ice). Less snow would be required if it were not powder snow, but powder snow is a good assumption based on modern precipitation over ice caps. If the continental glaciers took 100 years to form, this would be 300 meters of snowfall per year. Not only would the ice need to accumulate in a short amount of time, it would need to do a tremendous amount of erosion and deposition to create Earth’s diverse glacial landscapes, and then entirely melt away, perhaps in a few decades. YECs have a hot-ocean proposal for causing the intense precipitation; I have not read their proposal for melting the ice in only a few decades.

Multiple glaciations. Geologists believe that there have been multiple periods of glaciation during the Pleistocene (such as the Wisconsinan, Illinoian, and various pre-Illinoian glaciations), separated by warm interglacial periods. YECs advocate that there was just one ice age, perhaps with some fluctuations along the margins of the ice sheets. If there were only one glaciation, something had to happen that would make geologists think that there were multiple periods of continental and alpine glaciation. The evidence for multiple advances and retreats of the continental ice sheets includes deposition of non-glacial sediments such as wind-blown loess in between glacial till layers, presence of volcanic ash layers and well-developed soils between glacial deposits, and temperate forest fossils deposited between layers of glacial sediments. YECs either ignore this evidence, or state that there must be some alternative explanation, but the evidence is clear: there was not just one ice age.

Ancient soils. There are many places where soil layers formed during the Pleistocene, including instances where there are multiple, stacked paleosols, like in the Palouse Loess of Eastern Washington. Some exposures of the silty, wind-borne Palouse deposits have as many as nineteen well-developed ancient soils stacked on top of each other, implying alternating periods of silt accumulation and soil development, each of which would take time. The soil horizons include animal burrows and root casts, which indicate the passage of time. The paleosols in areas of dryer climate in the Palouse contain typical semiarid soil features such as petrocalcic horizons (a calcite-cemented layer at depth within the soil), which form in the advanced stages of the soil forming process.

Extent of the Lava Creek B ash from Yellowstone Caldera, 0.62 million years.

Extent of the Lava Creek B ash from Yellowstone Caldera, 0.62 million years ago.

Supervolcanoes. Some of the “supervolcano” eruptions that occurred during the Pleistocene of the western United States were one to two thousand times greater in volume than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The distal volcanic ash deposits from the Yellowstone Caldera, which had three separate massive eruptions, covered much of the United States, and undoubtedly had global effects. These ash deposits are interbedded with glacial deposits in the central United States and southern Canada, so at least some of the eruptions had to occur between periods of maximum glaciation. But there’s more:

  • There were less dramatic, but sometimes still enormous, lava flow eruptions before, between, and after the three caldera eruptions. For example, long after the third supervolcano eruption, the caldera filled in stages with approximately 1000 cubic kilometers of rhyolitic lava.
  • After all of these caldera eruptions, as well as after the massive rhyolite eruptions that occurred after them, the Yellowstone Plateau became covered by an ice cap of its own. When did this happen in the YEC calendar?
  • Not only was there an ice cap that formed after the final volcanic activity in Yellowstone, there are glacial deposits that are older than some of the volcanic rocks. Therefore, the YECs somehow have to explain a sequence of smaller eruptions–supervolcano–smaller eruptions–supervolcano–smaller eruptions–supervolcano–glaciation–smaller eruptions–glaciation, all in 250 years.
  • It wasn’t just Yellowstone. Other Pleistocene supervolcanoes include Long Valley Caldera in California, Valles Caldera in New Mexico, Taupo in New Zealand, and Toba in Indonesia. According to this YEC ice age model, all of these had to erupt between 2250 and 2000 B.C.!

Hyperevolution. According to the YECs, there was very rapid diversification of life forms after the flood. There may have been a few thousand “kinds” of animals on Noah’s Ark, but these evolved into the tens of thousands of species that were on Earth during the Pleistocene (I’m just thinking of vertebrates). An example mentioned in the article is the diversification of the “elephant kind” into elephants, mastodons, and woolly mammoths. How many generations would this have taken?  This all happened between 2350 and 2200 B.C., an evolutionary explosion that would make your average punctuated equilibrium advocate blush. This is especially true for mastodons, who have a very different tooth structure from that of elephants and mammoths.

LifeInTheGreatIceAgeHuman prehistory. The YEC ice age model compresses all of human prehistory—Neanderthals, paleolithic, neolithic, and all ancient history before 2000 B.C—into the time from the flood (2350 B.C according to their time chart) to Abraham (2000 B.C.).  It looks on their poster like the Neanderthals were around for roughly 100 years. The YECs have to completely ignore archeological sites with multiple levels of habitation.

Human expansion. Humans had to multiply, differentiate into races, and migrate from Ararat and Mesopotamia to the entire world in 250 years. The poster’s timeline has humans entering Australia around 2150 B.C. and North America around 2100 B.C. This happened while supervolcanoes were erupting and either snow was accumulating by tens to hundreds of meters per year over parts of North America, or the landscape was being flooded by rapidly melting ice sheets. No wonder the boy to the right is running!


1. “As a massive ice sheet expanded over Canada, it drove out most living things, and then it continued to push south into the Ohio valley.”

According to this YEC ice age scenario, Northern Hemisphere glaciation started about one hundred years after Noah’s flood. At the beginning of the YEC ice age, the surface of Canada and the Ohio Valley would have been mostly barren, with little vegetation and even fewer animals, as they would have had to multiply and migrate from Noah’s Ark. However, there is an abundant and complex fossil record—of both animals and plants—from the time before continental glaciers appeared on North America. There is a continuity in the fossil record from Pliocene to Pleistocene flora and fauna that is completely inconsistent with the YEC story.

2. “During the Ice Age the earth’s landscapes, forests, and grasslands bore little resemblance to our own.”

As a matter of fact, the types of landscapes and biomes in the ice ages were very similar to those present on Earth today, they were just all compressed toward the equator. Moving from northern Canada to Central America during the Pleistocene, one would have transited ice caps, tundra, boreal forests, temperate forests or grasslands, subtropical forests or deserts, and tropical forests, just like today. The locations of these would have been different—further south in general—but the plants and animals would have been very similar, minus a few well-known species that have gone extinct, such as mastodons and sabre-toothed cats.

3. “The Bible gives us an inerrant chronology for marking historical events. It tells exactly how many human generations passed from the Flood to Abraham’s birth: eight.”

I agree that Genesis is describing real historical events, such as Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel, and the life of Abraham. I disagree with the interpretation that the flood was global, as well as the idea that it had anything to do with the formation of the geological record. The Bible is completely silent on the topic of glaciation or ice ages.

The issue of whether or not the genealogies in Genesis were meant to be complete is a matter for debate. At the most, the chronologies in Genesis might give us a timetable for Noah’s flood, which I believe was a local flood, though one that seemed universal to Noah. Many conservative Bible scholars (and even prominent YECs such as the late Henry Morris) believe that the biblical chronologies are more flexible. It is a huge and unjustifiable leap to go from this timetable to inserting a massive ice age into a 250-year period.

4. “Apart from Antarctica and a few high mountain chains, sediments deposited before the Ice Age do not show signs of cold-weather environments or ice sheet activity. Indeed, the world appears to have been a pretty balmy place until the Ice Age.”

This paragraph refers to a period of 100 years. That is one hundred years for Earth’s surface to recover from the flood, soils to form, plants to disperse (somehow temperate North American plant seeds all end up in temperate parts of North America, Asian plants ended up in Asia, etc.), ecological succession to occur at various locations, animals to multiply and migrate to their appropriate biomes and continents from their starting point in Turkey (kangaroos somehow knew to hop to Australia, where pre-ice age kangaroo fossils are found), all while volcanoes were erupting, hyper-hurricanes were brewing, and hundreds of meters (in some cases) of Pleistocene sediments were depositing.

5. So it is reasonable to conclude that the start of the Ice Age in the Northern Hemisphere (the Pleistocene) roughly coincides with the Babel judgment, around a century or so after the Flood (perhaps 2250 BC).

No it isn’t. Look again at the serious geological problems I outlined above. The Bible is not about the Pleistocene.

6. “The Bible mentions that some very important cities were established by Abraham’s day and continued to thrive throughout Old Testament times.”


“In no case do these settlements, including Ur, date as early as the end of the Ice Age. At the time of Ur’s settlement it was a port city on the Persian Gulf, but this gulf did not even exist during the Ice Age.”

When Abraham was born in Ur, migrated to Haran, and then to Canaan—with a side trip to Egypt—these were all homes to well-established civilizations with long histories and sizable populations. Nothing in the Bible or archeology hints otherwise. The city states of Mesopotamia were not just getting settled after a few hundred years of geological chaos. The Mesopotamian plain was pretty much the way it had been described back in Genesis 2, without a catastrophic makeover. Abraham was firmly planted in the flow of human history, which had been going on for a few millenia before him.

7. “Archaeologists have found thousands of campsites and small settlements where Noah’s descendants lived after the Babel dispersion during the Ice Age. These early pioneers were daring explorers and settlers, quickly reaching as far as Australia and the Americas.”

These settlements and campsites have a complex history, with many signs of long-term use, often with multiple levels of occupation that cannot be crunched down to the YEC time scale.

8. “The Bible does not reveal much about the biology and geology of the Ice Age,”

I’ll say an “Amen” to that…

“but it does tell us about the languages, culture, and migrations of the people of that time.”

The Bible says a good amount about the languages, culture, and migrations of people in the ancient Near East—the nations listed in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10—but it does not go beyond that.

9. “Various species of the saber-tooth cat (such as Smilodon fatalis) began appearing as the Ice Age got underway, though not in the areas first settled by humans. The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) did not appear until later, but as the cold increased and grasslands spread across northern Asia and North America, its numbers quickly filled the grassy plains.”

This is YEC hyperevolution in action. Again, how many generations did it take to get from “cat kind” to lions, tigers, jaguars, cougars, sabre-toothed cats, and house cats?

10. “Another interesting development during the Ice Age was the appearance of Neanderthal people, whose range was restricted to Europe and the Near East. Like all other humans, they were descendants of the people who scattered from Babel. Their remains do not appear until the middle of the Ice Age, and they disappeared as the glaciers reached their maximum and the cold, dry weather reached its worst.”

As I already mentioned, the Neanderthals would have lasted for about 100 years. In this time frame the YECs have to compress the various Neanderthal morphologies, as well as signs that various tool technologies developed in one area and spread to other areas. Many Neanderthal archeological sites have multiple levels of occupancy, which is difficult to cram into 100 years.

11. “Sometime after the demise of Neanderthal people, the first “stone age” villages begin appearing all over the Old World. We find them by the thousands, in some instances spread over several acres, and apparently predating any “cities” we know of.”

Again, the YECs are compressing thousands of years of history into a century. If the demise of the Neanderthals was in 2100 B.C., then the entire Neolithic, with its “stone age villages,” lasted from 2100 to 2000 B.C. At the end of this brief stone age, there were full-blown city states in Mesopotamia.

12. “We also know from the fossil record that they faced constant flooding, dust storms, supervolcanoes, massive earthquakes, meteorites, and downpours of snow or rain on a scale never before seen.”

We know from the geological record (not the fossil record as much) that the Pleistocene had times of flooding but also times of dryness, times of dust storms (loess deposits) but also times of landscape stability (soil formation), and supervolcanoes, but also soil development and other geological processes between eruptions.

But we do not know any of this from the Biblical record! Perhaps that is a sign that the Bible is not about the Pleistocene after all.


Whatever the relationship is between the Bible and the ice ages, this is not it. Fortunately there are better ways to think about the Pleistocene Epoch in relation to the Bible.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Bible says nothing about ice ages.

If one is convinced from the Bible that Earth must be young there are some good alternatives:

  • One could possibly say, “I don’t know when the ice age occurred.” That would be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
  • One could allow there to be a tension between “I believe the Bible teaches a young Earth” and “Science seems to tell a story of an old Earth.” That might not be intellectually satisfying to many of us, but it would also be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
  • One could say that there is only an appearance of age; that this is all part of what God created in the beginning. That raises interesting theological questions, but this too would be better than presenting bad science as Christian apologetics.
  • At a minimum, I would hope that YECs would be willing to budge a bit on the chronological certainty proclaimed by some leading YEC writers and speakers. Henry Morris was willing to do this. This would help YECs to avoid what appears to the rest of us as chronological absurdities, such as Neanderthals existing for only a century between 2200 and 2100 B.C.

There are good old-Earth alternatives that I hope young-Earth creationists would consider:

  • There is the old-Earth creationism of Hugh Ross. The science of the Pleistocene and earlier ages stays intact, and he advocates the unity of the human race including the Tower of Babel. This would be far better than presenting the bad science of YEC as Christian apologetics.
  • There are those who advocate non-concordism, the idea that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between Genesis and geology. Many of these scholars hold to Biblical inerrancy. Some of them don’t (C.S. Lewis for example) but are still well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. This would also be far better than the hyperliteralism that leads to hyperevolutionary YEC being presented as Christian apologetics.


The geological problems that confront the YEC ice age scenarios are the same as those that plague all of YEC flood geology: Too many events, too little time. In the span of a few centuries, soils develop, forests grow, animals migrate from Ararat to the entire Earth, animals evolve at a very fast rate, the Antarctic ice cap forms, Earth is plunged into an ice age, supervolcanoes erupt, supervolcanoes erupt again, and again, an ice cap forms over Yellowstone (I guess it cooled down rather quickly), humans migrate everywhere in a time of geological chaos, all the ice melts, and Abraham arrives on the scene in a setting where it seems like none of this happened!

It simply isn’t in the Bible, and it doesn’t work scientifically


My fear in writing a critique like this is that someone who has been steeped in YEC ideology will have their faith crushed when they see that an important aspect of YEC does not work. They have been taught that if YEC isn’t true, then neither the Bible nor Christianity is true. This is a false dichotomy. Christianity does not need to be propped up by faulty apologetics. Christianity—and the truthfulness of the Bible—is not dependent on the YEC chronology. There are and have been many Christians who reject YEC and who are thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs, such as Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and J.I. Packer. Many of Christianity’s leading defenders, such as C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Norman Geisler, and William Lane Craig accept an old Earth.

My other fear is that no one would write a critique like this. Bad apologetics—and there is little doubt that YEC is bad apologetics—can cause believers to abandon their faith (hence many of our youth are “already gone”), and put an unnecessary stumbling block before non-Christians who might otherwise be open to the gospel.

My wish is that nothing I have written be taken as an attack against the authors or any other YEC.

With love for the church,

Grace and Peace



I quoted blogger James McGrath (“I continue to wonder whether the folks at AiG are working to make Christianity look as foolish as possible…”). McGrath is right on this, but in another case I sided with Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham against McGrath:

I would rather get the gospel right and geology wrong than get geology right and the gospel wrong!

According to Collins and Collins, Snelling believes the ice over North America was only 700 meters thick rather than up to 3000 meters thick as glaciologists believe. This thinner ice sheet would not have had the same dynamics as a thicker ice sheet, meaning that it would not have spread as rapidly (and YECs like things to move along quickly), and would have had different patterns of erosion and deposition than what is observed in the landforms and deposits of the glaciated areas. They also report that other papers by Vardiman, Snelling, and Oard suggest that the ice age lasted between 500 and 700 years. That doesn’t help the YEC cause much. There are still too many events, too little time.

I have critiqued work by Dr. Andrew Snelling before:

Since I spent some time discussing Yellowstone volcanism, I’ll mention that some YECs argue that volcanism hit a peak during the flood, and has been tapering off since then. The Institute for Creation Research published an article entitled Volcanoes of the Past, which I critiqued last year in Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism.

The excellent blog Naturalis Historia has a post on the Toba supervolcano, which erupted a volume of 2800 km3 of tephra about 74,000 years ago. Ash deposits from this eruption lie on top of human artifacts in India. In the YEC ice age chronology, that means that the Toba eruption had to occur after the Tower of Babel, so some time after 2250 B.C.

Neanderthals or Neandertals? I used the spelling used by Snelling and Matthews.

The Northern Hemisphere glaciation map is from Wikipedia, and is based on a USGS map.

The reference to 19 paleosols in the Palouse Loess is from Busacca, 1989, Long quaternary record in eastern Washington, U.S.A., interpreted from multiple buried paleosols in loess, Geoderma 45, pp. 105-122.  Dr. Busacca was on my M.S. committee in graduate school, and I worked on volcanic ash layers in the paleosols in the Palouse Loess for my research project.

The reference to older glaciation in Yellowstone can be found at

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A young-Earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporites

On my most recent “Around the web” post, I stated that I would be writing a longer response to the young-Earth creationist (YEC) proposal that salt deposits (usually referred to as evaporites) were actually formed through igneous processes rather than being precipitated from seawater. This may not be that longer response. Instead, it is a quick review of Stef Heerema’s article published in the Journal of Creation  in 2009 (A magmatic model for the origin of large salt formations) and his more recent You Tube video defending and expanding on this hypothesis. What is really needed is a comprehensive overview of the formation of evaporites in the context of the young-Earth/old-Earth debate, and as I said, this is not it.

This proposal was brought to my attention when I read an endorsement of it from YEC geologist Tas Walker. On his BiblicalGeology blog, Walker wrote:

[Heerema's] research shows that the salt pillars around the world are elegantly explained by the interaction of a melted salt magma with the waters of the worldwide Flood.


I like Stef’s model, and think it is far superior to the uniformitarian attempt to explain the evidence, which I was taught at university in my geology course. That model hypothesizes that hundreds of kilometres of seawater evaporated slowly in an enormous, shallow, secluded area of the coast, over millions of years.

Before I go through the article, I need to comment about what drives Heerema’s igneous model, which is the perceived necessity to fit the geological record into what he calls “the biblical timescale.” It would be much better to refer to this as “the YEC timescale,” because that is what it is; it is not the biblical timescale. The Bible nowhere says that the geological record—virtually all the sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks dated Late Precambrian and later—was formed by Noah’s flood. The “necessity” to squeeze a billion years of Earth history into Noah’s flood is something YECs impose on the text of Genesis, and there are plenty of theologically conservative biblical scholars who disagree with this.

Evaporite minerals include halite (NaCl, rock salt), gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O), anhydrite (CaSO4), sylvite (KCl), and a host of other minerals. The term “evaporite” is not neutral; it implies that the rock was formed by a process that involved evaporation of water. In standard geological models, seawater is isolated from the main body of the ocean in a basin where evaporation leads to precipitation of these minerals. I will stick with the term because it is the common name for these rocks, and because I believe it is an accurate term in most cases.

Heerema’s paper is divided into four sections: Salt formations worldwide, Igneous origin of salt formations, Diagenesis of salt after original deposition, and a conclusion. The entire paper is three pages long.

First section: Salt formations worldwide

In the first section, Heerema describes the worldwide distribution and origin of salt formations. He then attempts to explain why old-Earth models are inadequate for explaining the existence of evaporites. He gives a very brief and incomplete summary of evaporite models used by geologists, then gives what he thinks are four reasons to reject these models:

  1. “To form a deposit only 1 km thick would require seawater 60 km deep to be evaporated.” — Seawater evaporation rates in tropical areas are on the order of one meter per year. One meter of seawater, if evaporated completely, would leave behind 1.5 cm of evaporite minerals, mainly halite (NaCl). At a rate of 1.5 cm per year, it would take 67,000 years to accumulate 1000 meters of salt, which is a short amount of time geologically speaking.  That does not mean that evaporite minerals actually accumulated that quickly; there would have been many other factors involved, including the rate of subsidence of the depositional basin. 
  2. “The salt formations show negligible contamination with sand, contradicting the evaporation model which requires a sandbank in combination with consistently dry weather over a long period of time.” — This is a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of geological models for evaporite formation in marine environments. A common feature of these models is the need for a barrier (often referred to as a “sill”) that restricts movement of seawater into an enclosed basin where evaporation of the seawater can occur, leading to precipitation of various evaporite minerals. Complete evaporation is not necessary. The barrier could be sandy, but that sort of sill would be susceptible to erosion. More likely the barrier would be consolidated or semi-consolidated. Reefs or other biological mounds would work very well for this, and some ancient evaporite deposits grade laterally into reef deposits.
  3. “The salt formations exhibit negligible contamination with  marine fossils” — Most marine organisms do not thrive in hypersaline  environments—think of the Dead Sea or Great Salt Lake—so it is unclear why Heerema would expect us to find abundant fossils. One type of fossil that is found in some evaporite deposits is pollen. It makes a lot more sense to posit that pollen was carried to the basin by the wind, than to suppose that a salt lava flow under Noah’s flood somehow absorbed pollen grains from flood waters without metamorphosing them.
  4. “The evaporation areas need to be in regions of high sunlight and low rainfall if the seawater is to evaporate. However, the distribution of salt deposits globally contradicts the idea that all of these areas were once near the equator for the required time to achieve such a result.” —  First, Heerema assumes that deposits that are now far from tropical areas were far from tropical areas when they formed. Contrary to this, there is good evidence that the equator ran through North America during the middle of the Paleozoic. Other parts of the world that are now polar or temperate were also once much closer to the equator. Second, Heerema assumes that climate patterns have been similar throughout Earth history. He is applying a Quaternary (ice age) picture of the world to times in the past that were probably much warmer, even at high latitudes.

Second section: Igneous origin of salt formations

This section began with a quote from James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth back in 1788:

“It is in vain to look, in the operations of solution and evaporation, for that which nothing but perfect fluidity of fusion can explain.”

Hutton may not have been able to envision how contorted layers could form in evaporites, but in the two hundred years since we have made a little bit of progress in the Earth sciences. There is plenty of laboratory and field evidence that salt can flow—in the solid state!—in amazing ways, whether in the subsurface or on the surface as salt glaciers in places like Iran.

Heerema lists six evidences for the igneous origin of evaporites:

  1. “The temperature required to melt salt and create a salt “magma” are well within the range of magmatic temperatures for silica [sic] magmas.” — However, there is no evidence that something like a salt magma has ever existed in the Earth. Contacts between evaporite formations and other rocks show no signs of contact metamorphism (alterations to minerals caused by heat and hot fluids). Some evaporite minerals, such as carnallite and bischofite, can form by precipitation from seawater, but cannot form from a salt melt.
  2. “Molten NaCl flows easily like water.” — What Heerema does not demonstrate is that an NaCl lava flow could spread out underwater over many tens of thousands of square kilometers, which is what he is proposing. Heerema claims that calcite and anhydrite could form when water boils in contact with a salt magma, but does not state how this would happen or give any references.
  3. “It is well known that silica [sic] magmas can produce layered igneous intrusions. Likewise, the crystallization and cooling of the salt “magma” after emplacement will cause segregation of the different salts into layers within the core of the deposit, as found in the formations.” — This paragraph was very confusing. It is not clear whether he was advocating a salt lava flow extruding onto the ocean floor beneath the waters of Noah’s flood, or a salt magma intruding into already existing sediments. In addition, layering of different evaporite minerals generally follows the order of precipitation from solution rather than the order of crystallization from a melt, though there are many exceptions.
  4. “The Great Rift Valley is a 6,000-km-long geographic trough formed as the result of a parting of the continental crust from northern Syria in southwest Asia through the Dead Sea and the Red Sea into central Mozambique in East Africa… Given the location of these massifs it seems obvious that these have a volcanic origin.” — No. What is common about evaporites along the rifts of of Southwest Asia and East Africa is that they are in basins caused when blocks of Earth’s crust sink as the crust is being pulled apart. Thick evaporite layers occur in locations where there is rifting, a hot, dry climate, and restricted connection to the sea, like the Dead Sea and Danakil Depression. This is precisely what old-Earth geological models for evaporite formation propose. There is no direct association between evaporites and volcanic areas. Many evaporite deposits occur in areas with no volcanic rocks at all.
  5. “For a modern analogy of magmatic salt formation we can look at the Ol Doinyo Lengay volcano in the north of Tanzania within the Great Rift Valley.” — The only analogies between carbonatite volcanism and Heerema’s proposed salt magma are that carbonatite lavas have a low viscosity and some carbonatite rocks are rich in sodium (Carbonatites are rare igneous rocks based on the carbonate ion, CO32-, rather than on SiO2). Oldoinyo Lengai (Earth’s only known active carbonatite volcano) is in no more a modern analogy for salt magmas than the fluids in a vinegar and baking soda “volcano” would be.
  6. “Organisms and vegetation deposited in the valleys (or under the water) that are overrun by the flow of salt magma will, in the absence of oxygen, be transformed into coal, oil and gas…. The magmatic origin  of these salt formations explains the connection between the salt deposits found around the globe and  the associated coal, oil and gas reserves.” — There is no association between the occurrence of evaporites and coal. Coal deposits are usually terrestrial, and most large evaporite deposits are in shallow marine sequences. Hydrocarbon reservoirs are more often associated with evaporite deposits, but the presence of evaporites are not required for the transformation of organic material into oil and gas. The association is more of a coincidence; oil and gas form in marine sedimentary basins, and evaporites also form in marine sedimentary basins.

Third section: Diagenesis of salt after original deposition

In this brief section, Heerema writes about post-depositional changes (diagenesis) affecting salt. These changes include intense deformation that is present in most rock salt formations. However, he did not relate this to his igneous evaporite model.

He also mentioned the existence of salt hot springs in the Danakil Depression of Eritrea. Again, I am not sure how this related to his model. One would expect hot water percolating from the ground after transiting thousands of meters of salt to be salty. This brine is not coming from the mantle or deep in Earth’s crust; it is coming from within the basin itself, so is completely irrelevant to the model.

A few additional observations

Most large evaporite deposits are associated with shallow marine sedimentary rocks—limestones, sandstones, and shales that contain marine fossils—which is further evidence that these precipitated from seawater rather than having been formed by igneous processes.

If salt magmas were rising from Earth’s crust beneath a sedimentary basin, one would expect there to be hydrothermal alteration of the country rocks (the rocks the magma was moving through). Hydrothermal solutions are mineral-rich hot water solutions associated with igneous and metamorphic processes, and are the source of veins in rocks, such as the quartz veins that can contain gold deposits. I would not expect gold-containing solutions, but I would expect some sort of hydrothermal activity.

Heerema provided no evidence for feeder dikes—the conduits through which the supposed salt magma erupted.

Fluid inclusion studies indicate that evaporites formed from seawater. Fluid inclusions are tiny bubbles that contain remnants of the original fluid. Young and Stearley, in their discussion of evaporites, refer to a paper in which the composition of the brine in Silurian salt in the Midwest was consistent with a marine origin, and the researchers determined that the fluid inclusion must have formed at a temperature between 2° and 25°C, which is far below the melting point of NaCl.

Heerema focused on halite (NaCl), but made only passing references to anhydrite (CaSO4), and did not mention gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O) at all. In some evaporite deposits, anhydrite and gypsum dominate over halite. He also did not mention terrestrial evaporites, such as those found in the lake deposits of the Green River Formation.

Peer Review in the YEC technical journals

The home page of the Journal of Creation states that the journal is peer reviewed. Peer review is an essential component of the process of publication of research results, and has many benefits both for the author(s) and the scientific community as a whole. A paper can, in some cases, be submitted to a journal, reviewed, and be sent back to the author several times before it is published, a process that can take over a year. Not only does this process lead to a much better report, but it weeds out some papers that are not suitable for publication.

The publication of a paper such as this demonstrates that the Journal of Creation does not do an adequate job of putting geological papers through the peer review process. In saying this, I am not referring to the implausibility of Heerema’s igneous origin for evaporites, but the little things in the article that a good geological editor or peer reviewer should have noticed:

  • Minerals do not evaporate from seawater, they precipitate.
  • One of the substances listed as an evaporite mineral is magnesium chloride (MgCl2). Magnesium chloride does not exist as MgCl2 in evaporites, though its hydrated form (bischofite, MgCl2•6H2O) does occur.
  • Evaporation leading to evaporite mineral formation is not greatest at the equator, but in the desert belts 10° to 40° north and south of the equator.
  • Heerema does not properly distinguish between a magma, which would be within the crust, and a lava, which is extruded onto the surface. For example, he states that “a salt magma will flood into the lowest areas.” For this reason, the first time through the article I was not sure whether he was proposing instrusion of salt magma—a salt batholith—or salt lava flows, especially since in one place he refers to layered igneous intrusions.
  • There are two references to silica magma when he meant silicate magma. A silica magma implies molten SiO2 (a magma that does not exist in nature), whereas a silicate magma contains many ions (iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, aluminum, and many others) and dissolved gases in a silicate ion (SiO44-) melt.

I do not primarily blame the author for these errors but the Journal of Creation for letting them slip through. A valid peer review and editing process would have eliminated these sorts of errors.

This has always been a problem in YEC technical literature. Back in my YEC days, when I was a student member of the Creation Research Society, I remember cringing at some of the stuff that got printed in what was then considered to be the premier YEC scientific journal, the CRS Quarterly.

The YouTube video

I will not present a detailed analysis of this video, but do want to make a few comments:

  • 4:15 — A hydrothermal origin for salt formations was briefly discussed, but this would only deposit evaporite minerals within pre-existing rocks, not in large, separate evaporite layers.
  • 8:20 — “Carbonatite” was listed as an evaporite mineral. Carbonatite rocks are formed from carbonate magmas, and have a very distinctive mix of minerals. There is little overlap between the lists of minerals found in evaporites and carbonatites. One exception is calcite (CaCO3), which is formed in a very wide range of geological settings.
  • 10:30 — There was a presentation of a NaCl-CaSOphase diagram, which he got basically correct in terms of which mineral would crystallize first. But the final crystallization would produce an interlocking mesh of halite and anhydrite, not segregated layers of the two.
  • 12:45 — Here the discussion of salt pillars (salt domes, diapirs) begins. Heerema proposes that these salt pillars, which can rise through thousands of meters of sediments, formed while the salt was molten beneath flood waters. The salt developed a crust, but this crust would crack at times, creating upward convection currents of steam. The molten salt would rise up in the steam and water column to form a salt pillar thousands of meters tall. He showed a video of a transparent tank containing a layer of molten NaCl beneath water. The two were separated by a barrier simulating the solid salt crust. Then he exposed the water to the molten salt, which led to the formation of steam. What would have been really impressive would have been a time-lapse movie of a solid salt pillar forming in his tank, but he did not do that.
  • 19:20 — Heerema discussed how the upturned sediments around these “salt pillars” could easily have been formed by deposition from fast moving water currents circulating around the salt pillars, but are impossible to explain by standard geological theories. This was the typical YEC “only explainable by catastrophe” tactic. What he missed is that upturned sedimentary layers next to salt domes show every indication of having been deposited horizontally, and then punctured by rising solid but moldable masses of salt. These layers show the typical signs of strain associated with deformation, including folding, fracturing and faulting.


The proposal that evaporite formations were formed by primary igneous processes is not a step forward for YEC flood geology. The hypothesis has little evidence to support it in terms of global distribution, relationship of evaporites to surrounding rocks, or known geological processes. The publication of this paper demonstrates that there are serious problems with the YEC peer review process.

I want to state again that none of this is biblically necessary. The Bible is not a book about the origin of evaporites, or any other sedimentary rock. This sort of “research” discredits the Bible and Christianity, which is both tragic and unnecessary.


Any upper-division undergraduate textbook on sedimentary petrology will have a good discussion of the characteristics, distribution, and origin of evaporites. This week, I read the section in Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy by Boggs, which I am reading this spring just for fun. The fifth edition is listed on Amazon for $146. I bought it new in South Korea two years ago for only $42. College textbooks are such a scam.

Carbonatites are fascinating igneous rocks. Again, any good upper-level undergraduate or graduate textbook on igneous petrology will have a discussion about these. For some good pictures of Oldoinyo Lengai in action, click here (National Geographic) or here.

I am not saying that salt magmas are impossible. I am saying that there is no good support to Heerema’s hypothesis.

The PaleoMap Project has good maps of Earth throughout its history. I mentioned that the equator ran through North America back in the Paleozoic; here’s the PaleoMap for the Mississippian.

The fluid inclusion study on Silurian evaporites was discussed in Young and Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time, pp.303-304.

I got a few of the ideas presented here from a comment by steve660 (the comment on Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:13 pm) on the British Centre for Science Education web site. He recognized problems with the stability of magnesium salts at high temperatures that I did not catch.


Grace and Peace

In a way, I really do not enjoy writing something like this. Young-Earth creationists are my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Eagle Formation, Billings Montana

One of my favorite places to hike in the Billings area is Zimmerman Park, which is mostly atop the Rimrocks, a cliff formed by sandstone of the Cretaceous Eagle Formation. The Eagle Formation is usually interpreted to be either a barrier island deposit, similar to Padre Island in Texas, or a shallow marine sand bar that ran parallel to the shoreline. The sand was deposited in the Western Interior Seaway, a shallow body of water which stretched across North America from the Arctic to Gulf of Mexico. From Billings, sedimentary rocks become increasingly marine-dominated to the east, and terrestrial to the west.

Here are a few pictures from today’s late afternoon hike:


Sacrifice Cliff (Eagle Formation), east of downtown Billings. The top of the cliff is about 500 feet above the base of the talus slope. Crow Indian legends state that men (the number varies depending on the version of the legend) jumped off the cliff during a smallpox outbreak.


Eagle Formation from above Zimmerman Trail.

Ponderosa pine saplings growing out of a fracture on top of a bedding plane.

Ponderosa pine saplings growing out of a fracture.

Concretions (iron-

Concretions weathering out of the sandstone.  Concretions are post-depositional features formed when cement (in this case iron oxides) accumulates around some sort of nucleus. The concretions are then more resistant to erosion than the surrounding sandstone. The Earth Science Picture of the Day has featured concretions from the Eagle Formation.

Me standing next to a concretion.

Me standing next to a concretion.

Concretions and weathering.

Concretions and weathering.

Sunset over the Yellowstone River valley.

Sunset over the Yellowstone River valley.


March 24, 2013 Posted by | Billings Geology, Geology, Montana, Montana Geology | , , , | Leave a comment

Around the web 3/22/2013 — The ice age only lasted 250 years, evaporites formed from magma, environmentalism is bad for us, and more

answers-ice-ageThere have been a number of articles on the web the past few weeks that deserve a long analysis, but some short notes will have to do.

THE ICE AGE (SINGULAR) OCCURRED BETWEEN 2250 AND 2000 B.C. — Answers in Genesis posted an article in February by Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews entitled When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History? As usual, none of this is necessary Biblically, or workable scientifically.

Here is everything they want to squeeze into 250 years after their date for Noah’s flood (2350 B.C. on the accompanying map with timeline):

  • 2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
  • 2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
  • approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
  • 2250 B.C. — first human tools in archeological record.
  • approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
  • approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
  • approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
  • approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
  • 2000 B.C. — End of Ice age. Abram born.

Again, the Bible says none of this! When Abram is born, he is born into a stable civilization on a stable Mesopotamian plain that isn’t much different than how it is described in Genesis 2. There has been no massive transformation of the Tigris-Euphrates valley!

But the geological problems with the YEC picture dwarf the biblical problems. Not only do they have to squeeze Antarctic glaciation, Neanderthals, the ice ages (there is plenty of evidence that glaciation happened multiple times), and human migration into Australia and the Americas into 250 years, one would have to throw in things like multiple eruptions of a number of “supervolcanoes” (e.g. Yellowstone, Toba, Long Valley), growth of other volcanoes (e.g. Cascade Range), growth of modern coral reefs, and deposition of in some cases many hundreds of meters of ice age sediments around the world. Add in a few biological marvels as well — hyperevolutionary adaptive radiation going from “elephant kind” to mastodons, woolly mammoths, and modern elephants; as well as dispersion of animals and humans throughout the globe.

Don’t teach this to the church or our youth as biblical truth or scientific apologetics!!!!

EVAPORITES (SUCH AS SALT) FORMED FROM MAGMA — YEC geologist Tas Walker has endorsed Stef Heerema’s magmatic model for for the origin of large salt formations. Heerema’s Journal of Creation article is here, and a more recent YouTube video is here. I am writing a longer response to this one, but for now I’ll say that this all shows that, despite YEC claims to the contrary, the Journal of Creation cannot possibly be a peer-reviewed journal.

ENVIRONMENTALISM IS A THREAT TO CIVILIZATION — So says Evangelical writer Cal Beisner, a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance. There are some good things in the Cornwall Alliance’s Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, but…

Here’s what Beisner recently said about why humans could not be doing any catastrophic harm to the Earth by adding excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as reported at Huff Post Green:

“That doesn’t fit well with the biblical teaching that the earth is the result of the omniscient design, the omnipotent creation and the faithful sustaining of the God of the Bible. So it really is an insult to God,” Beisner said.

Isn’t that sort of like saying that it doesn’t matter what we do to our bodies—smoking, excess alcohol and drug use, etc.—because God has designed us in such a way that the things we do could not possible cause us catastrophic harm?

THE DOCTRINE OF CREATION — The biblical doctrine of creation isn’t primarily about how old the Earth is. See Bigger Than We Think by David Wilkinson.

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANITY CONTINUES — Iran puts five Christians on trial for their faithChristian protesters decry Muslim mob’s arson spree following blasphemy chargeChristians, churches dwindling in Iraq since start of war 10 years ago.

I want to write, write, write, but can’t keep up with it all.

Grace and Peace

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Around the Web, Christianity, Climate Change, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Geology, Nature, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism

And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Genesis 3:17-18 (ESV)

Suppose I were to tell you, “Sometimes it rains cats and dogs in St. Louis.” How would you interpret my statement? If you didn’t know English idioms very well, you might be quite confused by what I said, or come to the conclusion that I was—intentionally or unintentionally—speaking nonsense. Because you know it does not really ever rain cats and dogs, you probably would not take me as actually believing that cats and dogs fall from the sky.

Now suppose that the biblical account of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) contained a verse that said, “And Noah looked out of the window of the ark and saw that it was raining cats and dogs.” How would we interpret this statement? The most natural way to interpret it would be to assume there was some sort of idiom or metaphor in use, and to interpret it as “it was raining very hard.” Unfortunately, we would not be able to look up “raining cats and dogs”  in the 1400 BC edition of Hebrew Idioms for Dummies, so we might have to do some educated guesswork.

On the other hand, if we had little stomach for idioms or other literary devices as we read the Old Testament, we might come to the conclusion that the deluge was so cataclysmic that, in this instance, cats and dogs must have been sucked up from the watery surface by strong updrafts, and then hurled down upon the deep, as witnessed by Noah. This would be a reading that goes far beyond seeking the literal, or intended, meaning of the passage. This would be an example of what some call hyperliteralism; a reading of the text that allows for no figures of speech whatsoever.

Now Genesis does not contain the phrase “raining cats and dogs,” but it does contain examples of non-literal writing. Take for example the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” in Genesis 3:18. This is part of the curse God pronounced on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned. After humanity’s fall into sin, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, Satan; and spoke words of discipline and judgement (and promise) to Adam and Eve. Rather than experiencing the blessings of Eden, Eve would experience, among other things, pain in childbirth, and Adam would experience “thorns and thistles.”

What is the meaning of the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you?” One common interpretation of this passage is that it teaches that there were no thorns or thistles on the Earth until God made this pronouncement. In Eden, so the interpretation goes, there could not possibly have been things like thorns and thistles; not only do they cause pain and draw blood when they prick our skin, they are specifically mentioned as part of the curse on the ground here in Genesis 3. In other words, thorns and thistles did not exist until they became part of God’s curse on the ground.

Following this line of reasoning further, we have to consider the fact that the fossil record contains plants that have thorns and thistles. If one holds to the “literal” interpretation, then it is clear that these plant fossils could only have formed after Adam sinned. Therefore, the fossil record—and by correlation this would mean just about any rock of Phanerozoic (Cambrian and more recent) age—had to have formed after Adam. This is one of the supposed Biblical foundations for young-Earth creationist “flood geology.”

But is this the best way to understand God’s “thorns and thistles” curse? A better interpretation is that there is a figurative aspect to “thorns and thistles.” If so, the young-Earth interpretation is an example of hyperliteralism, an over-reading of the text caused by focusing on the literal words on the page rather than the main thrust of the section. A broader view of the text is that God was removing his blessing on mankind’s work. The intention at creation was that Adam and his descendants would be fruitful; not just in reproduction, but in their stewardship and dominion over the rest of creation. There would be shalom between man and his Creator, within each person, between man and wife, between individuals, and between humans and nature. This was all frustrated by Adam’s rebellion, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Thorns and thistles may have existed before, but with the advent of sin they could now have dominion over humanity rather than humanity having dominion over them. All of our work is now frustrated to one degree or another by figurative thorns and thistles, whether it be the weeds in our garden, the broken relationships with coworkers and clients, mistakes we make in our work, or bugs in the latest software on our computers.

Genesis 3:18 is not about thorns and thistles any more than Genesis 3:14-15 is about how snakes lost their legs. Genesis 3:18 is about how our work in general is frustrated because of sin, and Genesis 3:14-15 is about the humiliation of Satan, grovelling in the dust just as defeated enemies of some Mesopotamian ruler would be forced to do. It is much better, in terms of the literary imagery of the passage, to take thorns and thistles as having a broader meaning in terms of our work and relationships rather than narrowing the meaning down to the appearance of weeds in Adam’s garden.

The undoing of the curse on our work is found in the work of Christ, who bore a crown of thorns as he suffered on our behalf. We live in confident hope that all of creation will one day come under the healing rule of Christ, and that our broken bodies will be resurrected whole. In the new (or renewed) Earth there will be gardens, and I won’t be at all surprised if we find roses growing there.

Grace and Peace



The Phrase Finder has an article about the origin of “raining cats and dogs.”

The ESV Study Bible comments:

Gen. 3:17–19 God’s punishment of the man involves his relationship with the very ground from which he was formed (see note on 2:5–7). Because he has eaten that which was prohibited to him, he will have to struggle to eat in the future. Given the abundance of food that God provided in the garden, this judgment reflects God’s disfavor. Adam will no longer enjoy the garden’s abundance but will have to work the ground from which he was taken (3:23; see note on 2:8–9). The punishment is not work itself (cf. 2:15), but rather the hardship and frustration (i.e., “pain,” itstsabon; cf. 3:16) that will accompany the man’s labor. To say that the ground is cursed (Hb. ’arar, v. 17) and will bring forth thorns and thistles (v. 18) indicates that the abundant productivity that was seen in Eden will no longer be the case. Underlying this judgment is a disruption of the harmonious relationship that originally existed between humans and nature.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis (p. 72 of 1967 printing), writes,

Thorns… and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching; in the Old Testament they mark the scenes of man’s self-defeat and God’s judgment, e.g. in the sluggard’s field (Pr. 24:31) and the ruined city (Is. 34:13). They need not be envisaged here as newly created, but as henceforth a perennial threat (as the unconquered Canaanites would be to Israel, Nu. 33:55); for man in his own disorder would never now ‘subdue’ the earth.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Geology, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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