The Earth. Christianity. They go together.
Welcome to The GeoChristian, a blog primarily about the relationship between the Earth sciences and Christianity. My name is Kevin Nelstead, and I have been writing at geochristian.com since 2006. The most important thing about me is that I am a Christian. The passage of Scripture that opened up my eyes to the Good News about Jesus Christ was Ephesians 2:8,9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I often write about young-Earth creationism (YEC), which I believe to Biblically unnecessary and scientifically unworkable. Because of these things, I believe that YEC is an unfortunate obstacle to both evangelism and effective discipleship, especially of our youth. But I do not want The GeoChristian to be known primarily as a blog about origins issues, as there are many other areas in which Christian faith and the Earth sciences interact, such as environmental issues, energy policy, aesthetics, and natural resources.
I have an M.S. degree in Geology from Washington State University, and a B.S. degree in Earth Sciences from Montana State University. I have worked as a senior cartographer, geospatial analyst, natural resources specialist, high school and middle school science teacher in Christian schools; and missionary. You can read more about my background at https://geochristian.com/more-about-the-author/.
I am the author of Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, a new middle school textbook for Christian students from Novare Science and Math. This book fills a critical niche in the Christian school market, providing a curriculum that is faithful to God’s Word yet doesn’t promote the young-Earth creationism and anti-environmentalism that is prevalent in materials from Christian school publishers.
Whether you are a Christian or non-Christian, scientist or non-scientist, creationist or evolutionist (or somewhere in between), I hope you find something that blesses you and points you to Christ through The GeoChristian.
I am creating a series of Google Earth labs to use with my middle school Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home. For the most part, these labs could be used with other textbooks as well, though I do occasionally refer to figures or pages in my textbook.
At this stage, I would love feedback on the labs. The feedback could be in regard to the simple Google Earth interface I am using, which involves navigating from placemark to placemark, or it could be in regard to the actual content of the lab.
The first three labs (alpine glaciers, streams, volcanoes) can be downloaded from here:
This is a .zip folder, which can be extracted (on a PC) by downloading it then right-clicking on it and selecting “Extract All…” The extracted file will be named earthscience_googleearthlabs.kmz. Double-click on this file to open Google Earth (if you have Google Earth installed on your computer).
Most of these exercises have three parts:
- I take the students on a tour, which they do by double clicking on links in the Places pane of Google Earth. In this part, students will be reviewing what they have read in the textbook about various landforms.
- In the second part of the lab, I will again take students from placemark to placemark, but this time they will name the landform and sometimes answer a question.
- In the third part, I will take the students to a location, and have them create placemarks for various landforms.
Most of the labs are designed to be completed in about an hour.
How things have changed. My first exposure to the science of climatology was in 1980, when I took an upper-division Physical Climatology course at the University of Utah. I still have the textbook: Smith, 1975, Principles of Applied Climatology.
The picture is a scan showing just about everything the book said about CO2 and climate change.
A few thoughts:
1. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted that atmospheric CO2 would increase to 418–450 ppm by 2010 [the atmosphere just hit 400 ppm this past few months], and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 by sometime in the 21st century.
2. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted global warming of 2° to 3°C in the 21st century because of this increase of atmospheric CO2.
3. There was no discussion in the textbook about the implications of a global 2° to 3°C temperature increase.
4. I didn’t make any marks or notes in the section, so it didn’t make too much of an impression on me at the time.
Grace and Peace
©Kevin Nelstead/The GeoChristian
Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”
“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”
Grace and Peace
Facebook comment thread: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=679429282226469&id=224603031042432
Reasons to Believe (old-Earth Christian apologetics organization of Hugh Ross et al.) has a nice review of my new textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
“Overall, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is an outstanding textbook to add to an old-earth science curriculum. Compared to a few years ago, we now have a rich well of resources to draw from for teaching science to young students, whether it is in formal classrooms at a Christian school or in homeschooling environments. As a matter of fact, this particular book, while excellent at teaching concepts for its intended middle school audience, could even be used at the community college level. Anyone looking for an earth science textbook for junior high or high schoolers should definitely consider this book. The straightforward writing keeps the focus on the science. Yet, as students might discover, science (as a study of God’s creation) should engender the soul and the mind to worship the Creator.”
Thank you to Dan Bakken for taking the time to review the book, and to Reasons to Believe for publishing the review.
Grace and Peace
The folks at Biologos.org have interviewed me regarding Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, my new middle school textbook published by Novare Science and Math.
I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.
One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.
Much of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:
- Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
- Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
- Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
- Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
- Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
- Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
- Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.
If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.
In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.
Grace and Peace
I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.
- High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
- Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
- Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
- Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.
Expectations of disagreement
- Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
- Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.
A Geology Presentation
I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.
What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?
Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:
Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”
The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”
I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.
I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.
Grace and Peace
Many highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others. The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.
Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:
“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”
A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,
“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,
Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.
While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”
Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.
Grace and Peace
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (2016), edited and written by a number of highly-qualified, predominately Christian authors, is a devastating critique of the geological arguments of young-Earth creationism (YEC). The subtitle of this new book asks the question, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” which is an appropriate question, being that YECs often showcase the Grand Canyon as a place that defies standard, old-Earth geological explanations and can only be explained by a global catastrophic flood event. The authors present an overwhelming case that neither the rock units exposed in the canyon nor the carving of the canyon itself are in any way related to Noah’s flood.
YEC geological arguments for a 6000-year old Earth and the formation of most of Earth’s geological record by a global flood have already been thoroughly examined and rejected by Christian geologists and many others (I recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time by Young and Stearley), but this new book is unique and fills an important niche. I highly recommend this book for several reasons:
- This book is authoritative – written by experts in the topics at hand and in the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon.
- This book is well written and skillfully edited. Each of the twenty chapters clearly explains the topic (such as the formation of sedimentary rocks, folding and faulting of rocks, and fossils) and how these features may be used to interpret the origin and history of a given rock layer. The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth was written by eleven talented authors, and the editors have weaved their chapters together seamlessly.
- This book is written at an appropriate level for a general, scientifically-interested audience, taking complex geological ideas and explaining them in a way most readers will understand, without any compromise in accuracy.
- This book is fair to our YEC brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been reading YEC materials for close to four decades, and am familiar enough with YEC arguments to be able to say with confidence that the YEC side has been explained accurately.
- This book is a work of art, with wonderful pictures and graphics and a professional layout. It will look good on any coffee table.
- This book is affordable: only $21.05 on Amazon. That means you will have no problem buying copies for your church library, pastor, and youth workers.
- This book is God-honoring, proclaiming the marvelous works of our wonderful Creator.
The name of the book is a play on the 1995 YEC book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research.
Summary of the book: What YECs get wrong about the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is fairly comprehensive, covering all of the key concepts involved in the interpretation of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. Rather than giving a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, I’ll focus on some items where YECs get it all wrong:
- YECs get the Bible wrong. In Chapter 2 (What is Flood Geology?), the authors briefly outline instances where YECs wrongfully apply an overly-literalistic reading to the Old Testament rather than reading the text in a natural way. One example of this is taking the universal language (“all the world”) of the account of Noah’s flood to mean literally the entire globe (something ancient Hebrews may not have comprehended) when almost all other instances of universal language in the Old Testament (e.g. all nations coming to buy grain from Joseph in Genesis 41) are not to be taken literally.
- YECs get rapid deposition wrong. YECs will claim that modern coral reefs, some of which are thousands of feet thick, could have formed since the flood through normal coral growth, which can occur at several inches per year. But they leave out the fact that while narrow extensions of corals can grow rapidly, entire reef surfaces grow upwards at substantially slower rates.
- YECs get sedimentary structures wrong. Sedimentary structures include things like ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and cross bedding. These features are abundant in sedimentary rocks, and are very useful for determining the environment in which the rocks formed. Mud cracks form when clay-rich sediments are exposed to the atmosphere and dry out. Mud cracks are very abundant in some rock layers, and extremely difficult to fit into the flood geology model.
- YECs get unconformities wrong. Unconformities are breaks in the sequence of rocks, such as the one billion year gap between the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone. YECs describe these unconformities as if there was no evidence of weathering and erosion at the gap, while in reality the evidence for erosion at the unconformities is sometimes rather blatant, such as in the case of the channels filled in by the Temple Butte and Surprise Canyon Formations. The Surprise Canyon Formation fills what appear to be stream channels that cut up to 400 feet into the underlying Redwall Limestone.
- YECs get radiometric dating wrong. If decay rates were much faster during Noah’s flood than they are at present, enough heat would have been released to vaporize Earth’s oceans, which clearly didn’t happen. YEC attempts to discredit radiometric dating of Grand Canyon rocks are flawed.
- YECs get rock deformation wrong. YECs insist that the rock layers of the Grand Canyon were soft when the canyon was carved, and point to tight folding of certain layers as evidence. Upon close examination by geologists, however, these folded layers show an abundance of fractures that are consistent with folding of solid rocks and inconsistent with folding of soft sediments. Soft-sediment deformation is well-understood by modern geologists, and there is no evidence for large-scale soft-sediment deformation in the Grand Canyon.
- YECs get erosion wrong. In the Grand Canyon, sandstone layers form cliffs, and shale layers form slopes. Have you ever tried to build a sand castle with water-saturated sand? It doesn’t work, as the sand flows as a liquefied mass. But YECs want you to believe that recently-deposited (and therefore water-saturated) sand layers would have formed cliffs when eroded. If the sediment layers in the Grand Canyon were soft when eroded, the most resistant layers would be clay (which forms shale). Differential erosion of layers in the Grand Canyon is the opposite of what it should be if YEC flood geology were correct.
- YECs get fossils wrong. The order of fossils in the Grand Canyon is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology. Any explanation for the fossil record must explain the preservation of intact communities of organisms, not just individual fossil organisms. The absence of whole groups of fossils in Grand Canyon sediments (mammals, birds, dinosaurs, flowering plants) is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology.
- YECs get pollen wrong. If YEC were true, there should be pollen from flowering plants in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. There isn’t any.
- YECs get trace fossils wrong. Examples of trace fossils include footprints and burrows. Terrestrial footprints of organisms such as amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are virtually impossible to explain in the YEC flood geology scenario, but they are abundant in the Coconino Sandstone.
- YECs get the carving of the Grand Canyon wrong. The YEC breached dam hypothesis doesn’t provide nearly enough water to do the work. Other examples of catastrophic canyon-carving (Channeled Scablands, Mt. St. Helens) produced features that are quite different from what is found at the Grand Canyon.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems with YEC geology that are presented by the authors.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has received endorsements from prominent geologists and theologians. Here are two endorsements from well-known, Bible-believing Evangelical scholars:
“Can Bible-believing Christians also believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the Grand Canyon could not have been formed by Noah’s Flood? Yes, insist the eleven authors of this fascinating book. On page after page, professional geologists explain that “flood geology” omits essential facts and fails to explain massive amounts of evidence in the Grand Canyon itself. This important book must be carefully considered by everyone involved in the debate about the age of the earth.” – Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary
“The various authors of this book have done us all a tremendous service in their patient and clear exposition of geological thinking about the Grand Canyon (a magnificent place in its own right!). They are all clear that the “conflict” we’ve all heard about is not between “the Bible” and “Science,” but rather between interpretations of the Bible and the sciences. Those of us who study and respect the Bible will appreciated this calm laying out of the sciences, and of their discovery of the processes that appear to have been at work. These are God’s processes after all! I urge everyone to read this, believer or not—you will enjoy it.” – C. John (“Jack”) Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.
An excellent book like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is unlikely to “convert” a die-hard YEC follower all by itself. I was once a YEC, and held on rather stubbornly to my YEC beliefs as a geology undergraduate student even as I increasingly saw scientific problems with YEC geology. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Biblical arguments for an old Earth (or better, arguments that a young Earth is not Biblically necessary) that I became open to an old Earth.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth does not contain an extensive Biblical argument for allowing an old Earth or for a local flood. I don’t criticize the editors of the book for their decision to focus mostly on geology rather than Biblical interpretation (my own textbook, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home does not contain extensive Biblical arguments either; that wasn’t the purpose of the book). My suggestion is that if one is giving The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth as a gift to a YEC or a young-Earth/old-Earth fence rider, that one also give them a book that presents a solid Biblical case. The three books I most often recommend are:
Anticipating the YEC response
So far, the YEC response to The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has been a deafening silence. There have been no mentions of this book on the web sites of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International. When I have mentioned the book on the Facebook pages of AiG and ICR, my comments have been quickly deleted (at least one other Christian geologist has made the same observation).
I anticipate that YECs will eventually write reviews of the book, but might put these reviews in the back corners of their web sites so as to give the book as little publicity as possible. YECs will say that the book is not based on the Bible (but of course, neither is YEC flood geology when you think about it), that the book was written by compromisers as evidenced by the inclusion of some non-Christian contributors (should we reject much of other sciences for the same reason?), and that there is always more than one way to interpret the facts (but not all interpretations have equal validity).
In the end, YECs will ignore this fantastic book and continue to present really bad science as Christian apologetics. The result will be a continued exodus of scientifically-minded youth from the church and the reinforcement of the wall YECs have put up that keeps scientists from considering Christianity as a viable alternative. People reject Christ because of bad YEC science every day, and this is a great tragedy.
But my hope and prayer is that The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth will have a tremendous impact on those who read it, and it sounds like sales are going well. I pray that God would use this book to build up the body of Christ, educate both young and old, and break down barriers to Christian faith.
Grace and Peace
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the third in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. This article – What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
The second presentation at the April 2016 Bozeman young-Earth creation conference was “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radioisotope Dating” by Dr. Jake Hebert of the Institute for Creation Research. I could write a rather lengthy article in response, but I will try to keep things brief. I will start my review by quoting Dr. Hebert’s closing declaration:
“No Christian should be intimidated by radiometric dating.”
This is a true statement. All truth is God’s truth, including the truths revealed in the creation. If radiometric dating works—and I believe it reveals accurate dates most of the time—Christians should not be intimidated. Geologists have known for a long time that the isotope geochemistry of Earth is complex, and that radiometric dating does not always return what is considered to be a geologically-valid result, but there is no reason for old-Earth Christians to be intimidated by discrepant dates. It turns out that “wrong” radiometric dates are often helpful, and provide additional insights into geologic history.
Before going into Dr. Hebert’s arguments, it is important to emphasize that geologists do not believe that our planet is many millions of year old because of radiometric dating. Young-Earth creationists regularly attack radiometric dating techniques, thinking that if they discredit these methods they will undermine the idea of an ancient Earth, but this is not the case. Most scientists who investigated Earth history in the late 1700s and early 1800s came to the conclusion that Earth must be far older than just a few thousand years. This was long before the discovery of radioactivity in the 1890s or the development of radiometric dating techniques in the 1900s. Most of these early geologists were Christians of one sort or another, and a number of them were quite orthodox in their theology. These early geologists—along with modern geologists—observed a rock record that tells a story. That story includes chapters that speak of processes that require lengthy periods of time, such as the cooling and crystallization of magma to form igneous rocks, weathering of rocks to produce ancient soils (paleosols) and unconformities; growth of fossil reef organisms (as well as other complete fossilized ecosystems), and transformation of rocks by metamorphic processes. Volcanoes are complex features representing numerous eruptions, coral reefs do not grow in just a few days (especially in muddy floodwaters), and many metamorphic processes involve the extremely slow diffusion of ions through solid crystalline structures. Geologists assemble the details of Earth history by the application of principles that are rooted in Christian thought: the universe is real and not an illusion, the universe is understandable, and the universe is governed by laws. Without the various radiometric dating methods, geologists would still believe Earth is ancient. What radiometric dating does is give geologists discrete ages to assign to many events in Earth’s long history, something that would be impossible to do using other techniques.
A SHORT REPLY TO DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS
For those of you who do not want to wade through this entire article, here’s a summary:
- YECs like to point to instances where radiometric dating doesn’t work. Geologists know that radiometric dating sometimes gives unexpected or conflicting results, so this is nothing new. What YECs don’t tell you is that radiometric dating usually does work, and that it usually gives results that are consistent with standard geological interpretations of Earth history.
- Non-radioisotopic YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, or the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, are generally based on distortions or misapplications of the principle of uniformitarianism. Why use processes that have variable rates rather than a process (radioactivity) that has been observed to occur at a highly regular rate? In addition, most of YECs arguments for the age of the Earth still yield dates that are in millions of years, not just a few thousands of years.
- The results of the largest YEC investigation into radiometric dating—the RATE project (for Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth)—actually confirm that radiometric dating is built on a firm scientific foundation. The YECs still like to point to oddities such as carbon-14 in coal (which is explainable in an old-Earth framework), but overall they acknowledge that a vast amount of radioactive decay has occurred in Earth history, that radiometric dates are usually consistent with standard interpretations of Earth history, and that geoscientists have valid means of determining whether or not parent or daughter isotopes have been added or removed from samples. The only thing left to YECs, in many cases, is the idea that the rate of radioactive decay was greatly accelerated at one or more times in Earth’s history, such as during Noah’s flood. There are a number of problems with this hypothesis, such as the amount of heat that would have been released by this million-fold increase in decay.
A LONGER ANALYSIS OF DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS
Dr. Hebert had four main “reasons to be confident that radiometric dating does not prove millions of years.”
Radiometric dating contradicts common sense
Dr. Hebert mentioned a few commonly-used YEC examples of radiometric dates which do not conform to reasonable old-Earth interpretations. One of these was the study done in the 1990s by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research, in which ICR submitted samples from the 1986 dacite lava dome eruption of Mt. St. Helens to a laboratory for potassium-argon dating. The resultant dates for mineral and whole-rock samples ranged from 0.34 to 2.8 million years old, even though the dacite was a product of an eruption that occurred in 1986. The YEC reasoning on this is that if radiometric dating cannot yield a “common sense” date on a sample of known age, how can scientists trust it for dating any rocks?
There are several good critiques available of this YEC argument about the 1986 Mt St Helens samples (such as this article by Kevin Henke) , so I will only summarize:
- This experiment by ICR was set up to fail from the beginning. K-Ar dating is not expected to work on samples that formed only a few years ago. The half-life of potassium-40 is 1.25 billion years. The amount of radiogenic argon-40 produced from potassium-40 in only a few years is miniscule, and so in general, standard K-Ar dating is not recommended for samples believed to be less than 2 million years old, as there is a risk of contamination from residual argon from previous samples. This problem in itself is sufficient to lead one to be skeptical of this YEC claim.
- Additional problems abound, such as the presence of xenocrysts (crystals that appear to be derived from the walls of the magma chamber or other sub-volcanic conduits rather than crystallizing from the magma itself), zoned crystals (which indicate that mineral grains crystallized in stages in the magma chamber), and presence of volcanic glass in the samples (which would have trapped much of any argon-40 that was dissolved in the magma).
Radiometric dating ages disagree with ages determined by other methods
Dr. Hebert stated that most other means of determining the age of the Earth, such as the rates of accumulation of various salts in Earth’s oceans and the decay of the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, give ages much younger than billions of years.
There are several obvious problems with this argument:
- Why would one think that processes with highly variable rates, such as erosion of continents or addition of various salts to seawater, would be more reliable geochronometers than a process with known rates, such as radiometric dating (I will address the issue of constant decay rates later)?
- Dr. Hebert used a distorted definition of uniformitarianism in his presentation. I know of no modern geologists who would say that either erosion or sedimentation occurs at a constant rate. This goes for a large number of geological processes.
- Many have critiqued YEC seawater arguments. I have written about seawater as well: Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans and The YEC “salty seawater” argument — not worth a grain of salt. There is also no clear evidence that I know of that the oceans are becoming more saline over time.
- The old YEC argument about Earth’s “decaying” magnetic field has no merit. YECs will point to the decreasing strength of Earth’s magnetic field over the past few hundred years and claim that if this trend were extrapolated back tens of thousands of years, the magnetic field would be so strong that Earth would be uninhabitable. But they have no compelling reason (other than their YEC beliefs) to plot their magnetic field strength points on an exponential decay curve. Given the fact that we know that the polarity of Earth’s magnetic field is highly variable, it is also likely that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field is also variable, and that what we have seen over the past few centuries is just variations of a cycle. We cannot go back in time and directly measure the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, but proxies (substitutes) which are measurable indicate that the intensity of the field varies rather than decays over time (see Earth’s Magnetic Field Strength – Past 800,000 Years).
I cannot think of a single geological process that unambiguously points to an Earth that is only 6000 years old. I also cannot think of a single geological process that is inconsistent with an Earth that is many millions of years old.
Radiometric ages disagree with other radiometric ages
This is the “problem” of discordant ages. Dr. Hebert emphasized two examples of discordancy: helium diffusion from zircon and radiocarbon dating of materials believed to be millions of years old.
Helium leakage from zircon
ICR’s Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth (RATE) program studied zircon mineral grains from a geothermal well in New Mexico. The rocks have been dated at around 1.5 billion years, while the RATE team determined a helium diffusion (outgassing) age of only 6,000 years. A good critique of the RATE helium diffusion dates is given at Helium Diffusion in Zircon: Flaws in a Young-Earth Argument, Part 1 (of 2). To summarize, the YEC team used the present high rate of heat flow in this geothermal field and applied this to the entire thermal history of the area, rather than a thermal history model that takes into account the fact that these rocks have been much cooler for most of their history. Warm mineral grains lose helium much more rapidly than cool grains do. This is another example of YECs using a distorted version of uniformitarianism (by extending the present blindly into the past) as the foundation for their young-Earth arguments. In addition, the RATE team used an overly-simple model for helium diffusion from zircons rather than a more realistic model that takes into account defects in the crystal structure. All of this biased the results in favor of a younger Earth.
Dr. Hebert stated that radiocarbon dating assumes the same ratio of carbon-14 (radiocarbon) in the atmosphere for thousands of years. I was really surprised that he said this; perhaps my notes are wrong. Geochronologists have known for a number of years that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is somewhat variable, so radiocarbon dates are calibrated based on radiocarbon dates from archeological or biological samples (such as tree rings) of known age.
Dr. Hebert stated that there should be no carbon-14 in samples over 100,000 years old. He then stated that carbon-14 has been found in coal, dinosaur bones, diamonds, and petroleum, all of which are believed to be millions of years old. It is true that any traces of original carbon-14 in a sample should be gone after 100,000 years. But there are a number of perfectly reasonable ways for more recently-formed carbon-14 to be present in ancient deposits. One is by groundwater contamination, which brings atmospheric carbon-14 into underground systems. This would be particularly effective at bringing carbon-14 into coal. Another mechanism is naturally-induced nuclear reactions, in which neutrons (mostly from uranium and thorium) react with nitrogen-14 already in the samples to produce carbon-14. But the most likely source for carbon-14 in these samples is laboratory contamination. Most of the carbon-14 detected in YEC experiments has been at levels that push the limits of detection. It is impossible to completely clear mass spectrometers and other laboratory equipment of residues from previous analyses, and so chances are, virtually any sample analyzed will register at least some miniscule trace of carbon-14 whether or not there was any actual carbon-14 in the sample.
Radiometric Dating Assumptions
Dr. Hebert listed three conditions (he called them assumptions) that must be true in order for radiometric dating to work:
- No starting daughter isotope present.
- Neither parent nor daughter isotope can be added or taken away.
- Decay rate must be constant.
The first of these is true for some radiometric techniques, but not for all. In many cases, we know that there was some of the daughter isotope present in the sample when it formed. This is not a problem for either isochron dating (commonly used with Rb-Sr dating) or U-Th-Pb dating, which uses concordia diagrams. In both of these cases, the mathematics of the technique reveals the amount of daughter element that was present when the sample formed. If you disagree, then your problem is with math, not with geology.
The second condition must be fulfilled in order to determine an accurate radiometric date. Geochronologists will generally avoid samples that have obviously been altered since formation, as these are likely to have experienced gain or loss of either the parent or daughter nuclide. Instead, they know that it is best to analyze samples that appear fresh, unaltered, and unweathered. For isochron techniques, the graphs produced by the analyses will usually reveal whether any parent or daughter elements have been added or removed. Hyperphysics gives a good summary of isochron dating techniques.
The third condition—constant decay rates—must also be true in order for radiometric dating to work. YECs have spent much effort trying to demonstrate that radioactive decay has greatly accelerated in the past, and have thus far been unsuccessful. They also tend to dismiss the critique that their million-fold increase in radioactive decay during Noah’s flood would have irradiated all life on Earth, including everything on Noah’s Ark, and would have released enough heat to vaporize Earth’s oceans, and then some.
Other discordant dates, such as where K-Ar dates do not agree with Rb-Sr dates, are not uncommon in geological research, but they are also the exception in radiometric dating rather than the rule. When discordant dates do occur, geologists actually often get excited, as this may mean that more information can be learned about the history of a sample than just how old it is. For instance, when an igneous rock forms from magma, both the K-Ar and Rb-Sr clocks are set to zero. If the rock is re-heated (but not melted) millions of years later, such as by contact metamorphism, the Rb-Sr clock may keep on running, but argon may be driven out of the rock, resetting the K-Ar clock. This will result in two discordant, but highly useful, dates: one (Rb-Sr) for the initial rock crystallization, and one (K-
Ar) for the subsequent heating event. The scientist just has to be smarter than the rocks.
Evolutionists don’t trust radiometric dates either
The YEC criticism here is that geologists will throw out radiometric dates that do not meet their preconceived notions about how old a rock is. Dr. Hebert gave several examples of this. My response is that it is valid to weigh or prioritize various contradictory evidences, rather than throwing out what you know from a long list of reasons just because of one discrepant result. If geoscientists consistently got inconsistent results from radiometric dating, they would never use it. But radiometric dating usually gives results that are consistent with the order of events in Earth history that geologists have reconstructed over the past 200 years. Precambrian rocks usually have Precambrian radiometric dates, Paleozoic rocks usually have Paleozoic radiometric dates, and Pleistocene materials usually have Pleistocene radiometric dates. When “goofy” results come back from the radioisotope lab, geologists do not just throw up their arms and give up on the techniques. Nor do they throw out the geologic history of an area that is based on multiple investigations. Sometimes the discrepant result will lead to a better understanding of geologic history. At other times the discrepant result will remain a mystery, perhaps to be solved by the next generation of geoscientists. That is how science often works in a complex world.
Dr. Hebert entitled his presentation “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.” What his audience needed to hear, however, was a talk entitled “What YECs Haven’t Told You About Radiometric Dating.” What Dr. Hebert did not tell his audience was that the findings of the RATE study were an implicit admission that radiometric dating works most of the time. The RATE team determined that
- A tremendous amount of radioactive decay has occurred in rocks during Earth history.
- The first two assumptions of radiometric dating are usually satisfied in geologic settings, and that it is often possible to recognize when this is not the case.
- Most radiometric dates are consistent with the order of events that both YEC scientists and old-Earth geologists agree on. Radiometric dates of Precambrian rocks are usually older than radiometric dates of Paleozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Mesozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Cenozoic rocks. Despite YECs continuing to point to discordant or discrepant dates, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
RATE is an admission that radiometric dating works. The only thing left for YECs to cling to is accelerated nuclear decay. And their only remaining argument for the actual occurrence of accelerated nuclear decay in Earth history is that it is the only way for them to compress the clear evidence for past nuclear decay into their young-Earth timespan.
Radiometric dating is based on chemistry and physics, not evolution, naturalism, or even belief in an old Earth. There are no reasons for Christians to be intimidated by radiometric dating.
Grace and Peace
I interacted a little bit with Dr. Hebert between sessions. He is a bright, articulate individual, and was respectful of me as an old-Earth Christian.
My analysis is based on handwritten notes I took during the meetings. There is always the chance that I mis-heard or misunderstood the speaker, or mis-wrote my notes. If this is the case, I apologize in advance to the speakers.
For a much more thorough presentation of radiometric dating, see Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, by Roger Wiens.
Dr. Hebert usually used the term “radioisotope dating” rather than “radiometric dating.” They are synonymous terms.
YECs are very hesitant to state that “All truth is God’s truth.” This YEC denial that all truth is God’s truth, whether revealed in Scripture or in the creation, is a denial that creation is real rather than an illusion, and has much in common with both Gnosticism and postmodernism.
Dacite (e.g. from Mt. St. Helens) is a volcanic rock intermediate in composition between rhyolite and andesite.
Dr. Hebert illustrated the conditions necessary for radiometric dating to work by describing someone peeling potatoes. If you walked in on someone peeling potatoes, could you determine how long ago they started peeling potatoes based on the amount of potatoes peeled and the rate at which they were presently being peeled?
“And God saw that it was good.” — Genesis 1:25.
Genesis 1 records the unfolding of God’s creative activity, and one thing that is clear from the text is that God was pleased with what he had made. Genesis states that the world was good even before the creation of humans, which is recorded starting in verse 26. This means that the creation has intrinsic value, even apart from the presence of humans.
God, however, did not stop there. God went on to create the first humans, male and female, commissioned them to rule the Earth, and then upped his assessment to “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That goodness has since been marred by human sin, and it seems to some that we humans are a cancer on the Earth rather than a blessing. There is an element of truth in this, though it would be better to say that it is human sin that is the cancer.
I have written several articles over the years on the relationship between Christianity and the environment. Here are a few of my favorites:
Earth Day 2014 — Conservative environmentalism — seeking balance — The attitude of some free market conservatives towards the environment is not all that different than the perspective that was held by leadership of 20th century communist states.
GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — The living world was also created to be fruitful and multiply. How are we to live in response to this?
Young-Earth creationism, paganism, Earth Day, and 20 questions — Also posted on Earth Day 2013. My twenty questions included:
- Is Earth Day an opportunity for Christians to serve and witness, or a pagan and secular holiday that is inherently anti-Christian?
- What are ways that a Christian could participate in a community Earth Day fair?
- Is wilderness a good thing, or something to be brought actively under human dominion?
- Will the Earth be destroyed or renewed when Christ returns?
Earth Day 2008 — Stewardship of the Environment — A very brief look at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Application, produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. I wrote, “Many in the environmentalist movement deny or minimize the value of humans. May we in the Christian community not go to the other extreme, only giving lip service to the value of the creation.”
Crunchy Con Environmentalism — A few quotes from the book Crunchy Cons, written by Rod Dreher. It seems that no one in what passes for conservatism in America pays much attention any longer to what Dreher had to say.
This is true about the environment as well. Technology and wealth have given mankind dominion over nature unparalleled in human history. Everything in the tradition of conservatism—especially in traditional religious thought—warns against misusing that authority. Yet the conservative movement has become so infatuated with the free market and human potential that we lose sight of what Matthew [Scully] described as our conservative belief “in man as a fundamentally moral and not merely economic actor, a creature accountable to reason and conscience and not driven by whim or appetite.” If we lose our ability to see nature with moral vision, we become less human, and more like beasts.
Pollution and the Death of Man — Quotes from a great little book from theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer. Unfortunately, this book, too, has been largely ignored by most in the conservative movement.
Much orthodoxy, much evangelical Christianity, is rooted in a Platonic concept. In this kind of Christianity there is only interest in the “upper story,” in the heavenly things—only in “saving the soul” and getting it to Heaven…. There is little or no interest in the proper pleasure of the body or the proper uses of the intellect…. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself.
“I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness” — A powerful little story from Francis Schaeffer. I quoted Schaeffer, and then asked, “What do ‘pagans’ see when they look at us? Do they see people who place value on the creation and its creatures because God places value on them? Do they see people who use the Earth’s resources wisely because God has called them to be good stewards? Do they see people who create or people who destroy? Do they see people who live in contentment or people who are caught up in the destructive consumerism of our society?”
Grace and Peace
My first experience teaching Earth Science was at a small Classical Christian school in Missouri for the 2001-2002 school year. The headmaster was a young-Earth creationist. She knew that I was an old-Earth Christian, but perhaps being desperate for a science teacher she went ahead and hired me as a part-time teacher for a year, teaching middle school Earth Science and high school Chemistry. I had (if I remember correctly) eight seventh-grade students, almost no laboratory materials, and a pile of Bob Jones University Press Space and Earth Science textbooks. The students were great, I could make do with the limited resources, but the young-Earth textbook? That was hard to work with. I taught the students that there was a range of beliefs among Bible-believing Christians in regards to the age of the Earth and the formation of the rock and fossil records.
My second experience teaching Earth Science was at an International Christian School in Bucharest, Romania, where I taught Earth Science at the high school level (along with all of the other sciences in grades 7-12) from 2003 to 2008. The students, from a number of different countries, were once again wonderful. The supplies were once again limited, though I had brought a number of minerals, rocks and maps with me. One big improvement was that I was able to choose my own textbook. I would have loved to have had a Christian Earth Science textbook, but the only Christian titles on the market were from young-Earth publishers. I had learned by this point that it would be better to take a secular textbook and add Christian content than to take a young-Earth textbook and try to undo both the questionable Biblical interpretation and bad science that these books inevitably contain. At my recommendation, the school purchased Earth Science textbooks published by Glencoe, and I went ahead and produced supplementary materials on the relationship between Earth Science and Christianity.
At some point I got the idea that perhaps I should be the one to write a Christian Earth Science textbook. I even wrote a few complete chapters, and used some of them with my students. I shared the textbook idea with several friends, who all encouraged me to move forward. But the dream sat on the shelf for the most part from 2008 until 2014. I still had the idea in the back of my mind, but had no idea how to move forward with the project in terms of the business side of things, such as publishing, printing, and marketing. I knew that even if I were to write the best Christian Earth Science textbook in the world, it would be a failure if I didn’t get the business aspects right.
On Novare’s web site, they listed that they would be producing an Earth Science textbook in the future. I figured that someone else had beaten me to it, which was acceptable to me. I went ahead and sent an email to the publisher, John Mays, explained who I was, and offered my services to review the book and help in any other way I could. My desire was to do what I could to make their upcoming book the best it could be, as I saw this as a critical need in the Christian educational system. John wrote back and said he didn’t actually have an author lined up. I sent him a chapter I had written several years previously, and before long, John asked me if I would be willing to write the book.
I agreed, we worked out an agreement and timetable, and I started working on the book. I began writing in September of 2014, and we initially set an aggressive schedule to complete the book by the summer of 2015. We soon realized that this timetable was unrealistic, but by that point, a handful of schools were committed to using the book for the 2015-2016 school year. We managed to put together a preprint of the first half of the book to get the students started, provided a second preprint with a handful of additional chapters a few months later, and I finished the writing in February of 2016, which was seventeen months after starting.
Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is now complete, printed, and in the hands of students. I am thankful to God for what has been accomplished, and pray that this book would be used to help students love and worship their Creator, love and serve their neighbors, and better know and care for the creation, which is God’s world and our home.
It is common in book prefaces for authors to give their thanks to those who sacrificed alongside the author as the book was being produced. I and my family now know from experience what this is all about, and I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Shirley, and wonderful adult children for their sacrifice of time while I worked on the book, a project that took over twelve hundred hours while I was working full time at my natural resources job. When I was done with my book, my wife commented how good it was to have me “back.”
I would also like to thank John Mays and the Novare team for their leadership and patience as the book slowly came together. I know there times when John wondered when in the world the next chapter was going to show up. Novare has been a delight to work with, and many of the things that make this book good—the educational philosophy, page layout, and even the title of the book—are thanks to John.
Novare had an excellent team of reviewers for the textbook: Steven Mittwede, Ronald DeHaas, and Chris Mack. They caught a number of errors in my writing and made numerous other suggestions that greatly improved the textbook. There were a few of their suggestions that I chose not to implement, and hopefully I made the right choice in those rare circumstances. I am sure there are some things in the book that are not exactly the way they should be, and any errors that exist are certainly my responsibility.
The best endorsements as far as I am concerned have been from my wife, who proofread each chapter and let me know it was interesting, and from a group of middle school students somewhere out there who read portions of a chapter and liked it.
I am most of all thankful to my Creator and Redeemer. As we stand in awe of his many works—thunderstorms, mountains, forests, waterfalls, and much more—may we be moved to worship him for all that he has done and is doing.
Grace and Peace
Note: Order the textbook directly from Novare Science and Math. If you order from Amazon, you will get one of the paperback preprints rather than the hard cover final version.
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:
- An M.S. in Biotechnology
- A PhD in Physics
- An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.
Where is the geologist?
If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.
Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.
So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.
Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.
Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments
Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”
2 and the earth was without form and void…
3 and God said, “Let there be light.”
I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.
Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.
Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.
Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.
The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.
I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.
- The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
- The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
- Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
- Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
- Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
- Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.
Grace and Peace
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the first in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
1. This article – Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations
2. Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
On April 1-3, 2016, Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, Montana will be hosting a Creation Conference featuring three prominent young-Earth advocates. I plan on attending this conference, and posting reviews and critiques here on The GeoChristian. My goal is not to be provocative or argumentative, but to listen, think, and write. I am usually pretty quiet when I attend events like this, though I will ask a question or two at the appropriate times, and interact with speakers and people sitting around me. I plan on writing summaries similar to those I wrote when Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research spoke in Billings in 2012.
Young-Earth creationists are first and foremost my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love and respect them, and appreciate their zeal for the Bible, for Christ, for evangelism, and for discipleship. In these things they and I are on the same page (for the most part). I do, however, believe that young-Earth creationism is not required by the Bible, and that it is not credible scientifically. Because of this, YEC apologetics (defense of the faith) sometimes does far more damage than good, especially among the scientifically literate.
It is important to add that I was a member of Grace Bible Church when I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University in the early 1980s. The church was (and I assume still is) an excellent, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, people-loving church, and the teaching I received there laid a strong foundation for my life as a Christian. I am deeply thankful for the influence Grace Bible Church has had on my life.
I plan to attend the following Friday evening and all-day Saturday sessions. The biographies of the speakers can be found here.
- Brian Thomas (Institute for Creation Research) – Why Genesis Matters.
From my experiences at previous YEC seminars, I expect that I will be in substantial agreement with the speaker on this one. Genesis lays the foundation for many key themes that run throughout the Scriptures: The one and only true God, humans created in the image of God, human sin, redemption, marriage, grace, forgiveness, covenants, and so forth. One thing on which I will disagree with Mr. Thomas will be his insistence that if Earth is millions of years old, then these foundations crumble. There is nothing in the Scriptures that ties any of these doctrines to the age of the universe.
- Dr. Jake Hebert (Institute for Creation Research) – What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.
My expectation is that Dr. Hebert will talk about discordant dates, accelerated nuclear decay, and carbon-14 found in coal and diamonds. What Dr. Hebert will not tell the audience is that radiometric dating usually works, which was the major unspoken finding of ICR’s RATE study. Because radiometric dating usually works, the main thing YECs have fallen back on is the idea of vastly accelerated nuclear decay rates, a hypothesis that has a number of serious problems.
- Michael Oard (the “Mr. Ice Age” of the YEC world) – The Ice Age: Only the Bible Can Explain It!
I expect that Mr. Oard will state that the ice age is “impossible with evolution, easy with creation.” I, on the other hand, find YEC post-flood ice age scenarios even less credible than their whole flood geology schemes.
- Hebert – Ice Cores and Deep Seafloor Sediments: Do They Really Prove Millions of Years?
I suppose that means what one means by “prove.” Does the signature of John Hancock on the U.S. constitution prove that John Hancock existed? I’m sure we could come up with some conspiracy theory to cast doubt on Hancock’s existence. I haven’t read much YEC material on this topic, so I am not really sure what to expect. I have been conditioned by YEC writings, however, to expect problems.
- Oard — What Does the Lake Missoula Flood Teach Us?
Mr. Oard will tell us that there was only one Lake Missoula flood. The driver for Oard’s conviction is that the YEC timeline is already squeezed to the limits, so any evidence for multiple Lake Missoula floods must be disregarded. One thing the Lake Missoula floods teach us that Mr. Oard is unlikely to mention is that if Earth’s surface was shaped by catastrophic global flooding only 4300 years ago, then the dominant erosional geomorphic features on Earth’s surface ought to be extensive channeled scablands such as found on the Columbia Plateau. And this is not at all what we see.
- Hebert – Exciting New Research at ICR.
The ICR Research page lists several projects, including:
- Column Project: analyzing rock layers globally to reconstruct the stages of the Genesis Flood and explain why certain fossils are found only in certain areas, and to determine the approximate topography of the pre-Flood world.
- Refuting Milankovitch Project: exposing circular and inconsistent reasoning in secular methodologies
The fact that YECs have to have a research project about the geologic column reminds us that the geologic column is a valid concept, and that YECs haven’t figured out how to explain it yet. And of course Milankovitch cycles are clearly anti-Biblical and must be exposed!
- Thomas – The Beginning of Life.
I will probably agree with much of what Mr. Thomas has to say. The simplest conceivable, metabolizing, reproducing cell is an incredibly complex thing, and sixty years of origin-of-life studies have only accented the gap between non-life and life. But this is a tentative position on my part, and is based on my understanding of the science of abiogenesis. I don’t think the Bible precludes the possibility of God creating a universe that is so wonderfully designed that life could spring from non-life.
- Hebert – Science or Science Fiction? Why the Laws of Physics Could Not Have Created the Universe.
I am not sure whether this will be a presentation of the cosmological argument, which I would be in agreement with, or an attack on Big Bang cosmology. I will probably be getting rather sleepy by this point on Saturday afternoon.
- Thomas – Soft Tissues in Solid Rock.
YECs believe that the discovery of soft tissues in dinosaur fossils (a discovery made by a Christian paleontologist!) was a nail in the coffin of old-Earthism. The finding of protein fragments and pliable tissues in Cretaceous fossils was certainly unexpected, but for several reasons is not a death blow to the concept of millions of years.
In addition to these grown-up sessions, there will be a number of meetings for young people, with topics such as “Why the World is Only Thousands of Years Old,” “‘Global Warming’ and the Christian,” and “Dinosaurs & Dragons.” Those teaching the children are certainly well-intentioned, but are also setting some of the kids up for a fall.
As I often say: Young-Earth creationism is neither required by the Bible nor credible scientifically. Bad science is bad apologetics that turns people away from the gospel.
Please pray for me, the speakers, the audience, and most of all, the youth who will be attending this conference.
Grace and Peace
In the early 2000s, a new movement of vocal atheists arose, committed with religious fervor to the propagation of their faith that there is no God, and imagining that the world would be a much better place if religion would just go away. One event that vitalized this crusade of “New Atheists” was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, undertaken by Islamic radicals. After 911, many secularists lumped all religious believers together as part of the problem of violence throughout the world.
There were four leading New Atheists, sometimes named the Four Horseman of the Non-
Apocalypse. These were Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authored books attacking religious belief as nonsensical and dangerous, including the best-selling The God Delusion by Dawkins.
Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling book attacking religious belief was God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens, like the other New Atheist evangelists, was involved in a number of debates with defenders of religion. What many people do not know is that Hitchens developed close relationships with some of the Christians with whom he debated. One of these Christians was a man by the name of Larry Alex Taunton, a Christian apologist (defender of the faith) with an organization called Fixed Point Foundation. In 2010, as Hitchens was suffering from terminal cancer, Hitchens and Taunton held their one-and-only debate in my home town of Billings, Montana. Why Billings? Apparently Hitchens had never been to Montana, and the debate gave him an excuse to travel there.
Hitchens passed away on December 15, 2011, one year after his debate with Larry Taunton. Last week on March 24, 2016, Taunton returned to the Babcock Theater in Billings, the same stage where he and Hitchens had previously debated, to promote his new book about his relationship with Hitchens, called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. This book has earned praise from both Christians and skeptics, with back-cover endorsements from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer.
Taunton spoke last week for about an hour and a half, highlighting how he and Hitchens formed a friendship, and how that relationship grew to the point of taking long road trips together. I would like to highlight four key points that stood out to me.
1. Christopher Hitchens was a complex person. Taunton pointed out that while Hitchens was famous as a proponent of atheism and an adversary of religion, Hitchens was not defined by his atheism. Hitchens believed in truth and integrity, and was embarrassed at times by what he heard from fellow atheists. Taunton related a time when Hitchens appeared on a program hosted by atheist Bill Maher (of the documentary Religulous), and ripped into both Maher and Maher’s audience for their shallowness.
Christopher Hitchens’ complexity as a person is not unusual; I would say that most—perhaps all—people are complex. When we are conversing with a person, we should not assume that the persona they present is the complete package, and we should not assume that the person even fully understands all of their own motives and reasons for believing as they do. A person might say they believe there is no God because of some set of logical arguments, but in reality, their reasons for rejecting theism are something totally different, such as a desire to live without certain moral restrains, or that they have not really understood the other side. Likewise, a person might be a theist because they are convinced by the cosmological, moral, or design arguments for the existence of God, but deeper reasons come into play as well. Of course, as a Christian, I would add that there are spiritual influences at work beneath and above all of the human reasons.
2. The logical and moral implications of atheism are frightening. Many consider Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, to be a consistent atheist. People, in Singer’s thinking, don’t have any more inherent value than animals, and in some cases have even less. The implications of Singer’s ethical system include infanticide and euthanasia. Hitchens was appalled by this line of reasoning, and was personally opposed to abortion and capital punishment. Hitchens was more concerned about discovering what was morally right and then working out the logical basis for his beliefs at another time, than he was about following the implications of atheism to their logical conclusions.
3. The importance of relationships. The key to pointing people to Christ is usually not having a better argument, but exemplifying what is written in 1 Peter 3:15, which states,
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV)
Even though Hitchens had written a best-selling book with the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens was able to respect, honor, and be drawn to a Christian who displayed love, gentleness, and respect along with intellectual rigor. We cannot develop a deep relationship with everyone, but we can pray that God would put us in at least one key relationship with an unbeliever in which we can be a powerful witness for Christ.
We all have interests or backgrounds that overlap with those of unbelievers. I have a friend who is on staff at the headquarters of a major Christian ministry. In his role, he interacts with Christians all day, and did not have significant relationships with unbelievers. So my friend joined an African violet club. I had no idea such clubs existed, but it was a way for him to rub shoulders with those outside of his Christian world.
Christopher Hitchens also developed a friendship with theologian Douglas Wilson. One realm of common interest between these two men was their appreciation of the writings of British humorous author P.G. Wodehouse. Hitchens and Wilson could sit and give one quote after another from characters in Wodehouse’s fiction. This small area of overlap was a bridge that enabled the two men to have much more serious conversations and debates, sometimes while drinking beer together in a bar.
4. The importance of taking people into the Scriptures and pointing them to Christ. As Hitchens and Taunton developed a relationship, it became clear to Taunton that Hitchens had a somewhat superficial understanding of the Bible and Christianity. Eventually, Taunton challenged Hitchens to a Bible study. The two men went on a road trip and studied the Gospel of John together, which brought in topics from throughout the Bible as they conversed. This study occurred after Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hitchens was not converted to Christianity—he said if he converted it would be because the cancer had gotten into his brain—but through his relationship with Taunton and others, Hitchens learned that Christians and Christianity were not entirely who and what he thought they were.
Taunton did not hold back when talking about the seriousness of these topics. Christianity is not just a philosophy to affirm or deny, but a call to faith in Christ. We are all moving towards judgment, and Taunton was blunt with Hitchens about his need to turn to Christ. Taunton let Hitchens know that he was praying for him, which Hitchens genuinely appreciated—not because Hitchens thought it would matter but he appreciated the gesture of friendship. Hitchens asked Taunton what he prayed, and Taunton told him that it wasn’t so much for physical healing but that Hitchens would come to faith in Christ. Some would be offended by this, but Hitchens by this point had a good enough understanding of Christianity to know that this prayer was a greater expression of Taunton’s love than a prayer for healing would have been.
I have not yet read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, but there is reason to believe that by the end Hitchens no longer believed that “religion poisons everything.” Hitchens was able to say about Larry Taunton that “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” Hitchens stated this knowing full well that it was Taunton’s faith in Christ that made him into the sort of person who would bring healing rather than poison to this hurting world.
May we as Christians all be this same sort of witness for Christ.
Grace and Peace
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens will be available from Amazon starting April 12th.
The debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens were featured on the documentary Collision.
The video of the clash between Hitchens and Maher can be found here: Christopher Hitchens gives Bill Maher’s crowd of leftist automatons a well-deserved finger.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17
Happy New Year from the GeoChristian!
All Scripture from New International Version 1984.
It is time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. My basic life priorities have not changed for over ten years:
- To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
- To love my wife as Christ loves the church.
- To raise my children as followers of Christ.
- To be used to build and expand the church.
- To be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
- To maintain professional excellence in my work.
Rather than making New Years resolutions, I have created a document that that I keep in my Bible that expands on each of these six life priorities. Here are a few of my more specific goals:
1. Read in the Scriptures daily – Use a one-year reading schedule for NT and read at least one chapter each day on OT.
2. Daily prayer – At least ten minutes of focused prayer time following time in Word.
3. Memorization – one new verse per week, with regular review of other verses.
These goals change a bit from year to year. Of these first three, I am consistent on my Bible reading, need to grow in my prayer life, and have not been working on memorization. But having the document with me gives me a plan for where I want to be, and I can start working on my weaknesses.
Here are some more:
Loving my wife
5. Be available on an almost daily basis for prayer, reading, and conversation.
7. Have fun together, including monthly dates.
Raising my children (my children are aged 19-26)
9. Provide them with good books and resources.
11. Weekly communication – in person, phone, Skype, emails.
Building and expanding the church
13. Writing on The GeoChristian to build up the body and point nonbelievers to Christ:
• Two significant blog posts per month.
• More evangelistic content
14. Be faithful in evangelism in ways that work for me: blog, book ministry
Physical, mental, emotional, financial health
16. A better diet – low sugar, more vegetables and fruit. Less beef, more fish and chicken.
18. Exercise five times per week for at least 30 minutes – elliptical, hiking, biking, walking. Work on upper body strength.
19. Money: buy little, live simply, save, give, reduce debt. Budget.
20. Regular reading for growth in the areas of theology, apologetics, origins, environment, geology, and history. Goal: Finish three books per month.
21. Language study — Review a language I already know to bring me up to proficiency (French, German, or Romanian) or learn a new language.
•Planner, calendar, filing system, project lists
•Daily and weekly filing and evaluation
•Watch for time wasters, such as internet and idleness.
25. Monthly planning and evaluation time with my wife
I don’t call these New Year’s resolutions because this is a living document that can be pulled out at any time for review or modification. The “Life Priorities” do not change much or at all from year to year, but the details do change. Some of these goals (e.g. reading, language study) are mostly on hold until the book I am writing is complete.
Grace and Peace
I haven’t been blogging much in 2015. That may change in early 2016 once I am done writing Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, a Christian middle school Earth Science textbook from Novare Science and Math.
I do, however, still make time for daily reading in the Bible. In fact, there was not a single day in 2015 in which I did not spend time in God’s Word. I do not say that to boast, but as a statement of my imperfect love for God, and my (also imperfect) dependence on him for sustenance.
I love the Bible, but realize that one can love the Bible and still be an unsaved Pharisee. There are days in which I can be in the Word, but the Word hardly gets in me. God have mercy on me, a sinner. But my imperfections are all part of the glory of the gospel. I am not a child of God because I am faithful to be in the Word, or faithful to do anything else, but because God, in his mercy, has given his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be my savior, and by God’s grace I have placed my (still imperfect) faith in Christ.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16
For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. — Ephesians 2:8,9
I read the entire New Testament at least once every year using a daily schedule. For the past several years, I have used a schedule I created that alternates between reading a gospel and reading elsewhere in the New Testament. This schedule can be downloaded from here.
My goal for Old Testament reading is to read the entire Old Testament every two years. There are some books, such as Genesis and Isaiah, that I aim to read every year. This is easily done by reading one or two chapters in the Old Testament per day. I do not use a fixed schedule for my Old Testament reading, as I inevitably get behind. Instead, I use a checklist that gives me greater flexibility. My Bible reading checklist can be found here.
What works for me likely will not work for you, but I offer these resources hoping they will be a blessing for some of my readers. Whether you use these reading plans or something else, I encourage you to be in God’s Word on a regular basis.
Grace and Peace