Reading — March 2009

Here are the books I finished in March:

  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll. Noll examines Evangelical thinking (or the lack thereof), and comes down really hard on two specific realms of Evangelical intellectual activity: politics and science.
  • The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Would the world really be better off without us? I don’t think so—we are part of the biosphere, not a cancer on the biosphere—but this book certainly opens one’s eyes to the increasing impact of human activities.
  • 2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke. This is the science fiction sequel to 2001: A Space Odessey. In 2010 a joint Soviet-American expedition brings HAL back to life, we find out more about what happened to astronaut Dave Bowman, and something very interesting happens to Jupiter.

Here are some additional books I’ve been working on this month:

  • A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson. This one might take me a couple more months to get through.
  • Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, by Christian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. A famous statement by Stephen Jay Gould was that if one were to rewind the tape of evolution and play it over again, chance events would result in a very different world, probably without humans. Conway Morris argues the opposite, that convergence (e.g. multiple evolutionary pathways that lead over and over to similar structures) dictates that once evolution gets going in multicellular animals, something like human beings will inevitably occur.
  • Economic Mineral Deposits, by Jensen and Bateman. Right now I’m in the chapter on hydrothermal alteration. I’ve done a lot of re-reading in my geology textbooks in the past six months. Depending on the employment prospects that looked most promising at the time, I have re-read substantial portions of textbooks on sedimentary petrology, geochemistry, igneous petrology, petroleum geology, and groundwater hydrology. This hasn’t led to a job yet, but I’ve had fun, as well as learned (re-learned) a lot.

Grace and Peace

Snow — finally

Denver has had a warm, dry winter. This past week, we finally got our first good snowfall of the year (up to 17 inches or 43 cm). Most of the snow came on Thursday, with sub-zero wind chill factors. Friday was bright and sunny, and NASA’s Terra satellite was kind enough to take this picture of the Denver area:

Credit: NASA/
Credit: NASA/Terra/MODIS

If the resolution were a lot better, you would be able to see the Nelstead family sledding, cross-country skiing, building a snow thing (can’t really call it a snow man), and having a snow ball fight.

I love snow.

Image from NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Grace and Peace

Spurgeon distorted

Apparently, the young-Earth organization Answers in Genesis doesn’t want its readers to know that 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon had no problem with an Earth that is millions of years old. AiG is posting Spurgeon sermons on its web site, but has edited at least one sermon to remove references to an old Earth. A few weeks ago I had a post on Spurgeon’s old Earth beliefs, and included the following quote from his June 17, 1855 sermon “The Power of the Holy Ghost.”

In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath, and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder. [emphasis added]

The AiG version of this sermon removed the part I have in bold, and changed other parts to match their young-Earth system. When others pointed out this omission, AiG added the sentence as a footnote, but did not revise its other editing of the message.

The truth is that one can have a very high view of Scripture, as Charles Spurgeon did (and as I do), and accept an old age for the Earth. It seems AiG wishes to shield its readers from this truth.

To non-Christians reading this: don’t reject Christianity because of what organizations like AiG say.


Grace and Peace

What is a day?

The blog Tough Questions Answered has a good five-part series addressing the question “What is the meaning of the word ‘day’ in Genesis?”  The posts take a look at reasons why the six days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily six literal consecutive 24-hours days.

Young-Earth creationists have much of the Evangelical world convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth, and that to allow for an old Earth is a compromise of some sort. In reality, it is often the old-Earth Christians who have taken the closest look at what the text actually says and how this fits into the cultural setting of second century BC Israel. There are many instances where it is the young-Earth creationists who are reading more into the text than what it actually says.

Grace and Peace

Eruption of underwater volcano, Tonga

Here’s a video of an eruption of an underwater volcano near the South Pacific island of Tonga on March 19, 2009:

News articles:

London Times: Underwater volcano sends huge columns of ash into Pacific sky

Honolulu Advertiser: 7.9 quake off Tonga could intensify volcano’s eruption

From NASA’s Earth Observatory: Submarine Eruption in the Tonga Islands:

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

Grace and Peace

Fundamentalism and creationism

Young-Earth creationism isn’t a necessary part of Christianity, even to those of us who have a very high view of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible.

Here’s another quote from The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll:

Despite widespread impressions to the contrary, [young-Earth] creationism was not a traditional belief of nineteenth-century conservative Protestants or even of early twentieth-century fundamentalists. The mentality of fundamentalism lives on in modern creation science, even if some of the early fundamentalists themselves were by no means as radical in their scientific conclusions as evangelicals have become in the last forty years. For instance, during the century before the 1930s, most conservative Protestants believed that the “days” of Genesis 1 stood for long ages of geological development or that a lengthy gap existed between the initial creation of the world (Gen. 1:1) and a series of more recent creative acts (Gen. 1:2ff) during which the fossils were deposited. As we have seen, some conservative Protestants early in the century — like James Orr of Scotland and B. B. Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary, both of whom wrote for The Fundamentals (1910-1915) — allowed for large-scale evolution in order to explain God’s way of creating plants, animals, and even the human body. (As it happens, their position closely resembled official Roman Catholic teachings on the subject.) Popular opponents of evoution in the 1920s, like William Jennings Bryan, had no difficulty accepting an ancient earth. [pp. 188-189]

Some observations:

  • Once again, this demonstrates that one can accept an old age for the Earth, and even evolution, and still hold to the truthfulness of Scriptures. B. B. Warfield, for example, was an earnest advocate for the truthfulness of Scriptures and a founder of the fundamentalist movement.
  • The present domination of young-Earth creationism in our churches and Christian schools hasn’t been around forever.
  • The original meaning of “fundamentalist” was someone who held to the five fundamentals of Christianity taught in the series of books The Fundamentals. The five fundamentals were 1) The deity of Christ, 2) The virgin birth, 3) The substitutionary atonement of Christ, 4) The bodily resurrection, 5) The inerrancy of Scriptures. These points describe my core beliefs, though I would add a couple more from the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.
  • The word “fundamentalist” is almost useless now. I don’t consider myself to be a fundamentalist because now the word means something like “ignorant, anti-scientific, narrow, religious extremist.” The stereotype, often true, is that fundamentalists are separatistic (don’t have much to do with non-Fundamentalists), don’t drink alcohol, and hate gays. None of these describe me.

Grace and Peace