The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Geology and the scientific method

The following item was originally posted in February 2007. I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries (sometimes with a little editing).

We often hear about “the scientific method.” It would be better to talk about “scientific methods,” because not all scientific problems can be approached in the same way.

Here’s a quote from geologist John D. Winter on how geologists think as they go about their scientific investigations:

Geology is often plagued by the problem of inaccessibility. Geological observers really see only a tiny fraction of the rocks that compose the Earth. Uplift and erosion exposes some deep-seated rocks, whereas others are delivered as xenoliths in magma, but their exact place of origin is vague at best. As a result, a large proportion of our information about the Earth is indirect, coming from melts of subsurface material, geophysical studies, or experiments conducted at elevated temperatures and pressures.

The problem of inaccessibility has a temporal aspect as well. Most Earth processes are exceedingly slow. As a result, we seldom are blessed with the opportunity of observing even surface processes at rates that lend themselves to ready interpretation (volcanism is a rare exception for petrologists). In most other sciences, theories can be tested by experiment. In geology, as a rule, our experiment has run to its present state and is impossible to reproduce. Our common technique is to observe the results and infer what the experiment was. Most of our work is thus inferential and deductive. Rather than being repulsed by this aspect of our work, I believe most geologists are attracted by it.

Winter, J.D., 2001, An Introduction to Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, p. xvii. (bold emphasis added)

My thoughts:

  • There is not just one “scientific method.” Even in the experimental sciences, not everything is done in the strict order of Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion. Geologists do experiments, but these are done to give insights into how the world works so we can better understand both the past and the present.
  • The scientific method as practiced by geologists is often more like the work done by a forensic detective, trial lawyer, or historian. We have pieces of evidence, and we try to put together a coherent story about what has happened in the past.
  • This does not mean that geologists aren’t scientists. It just means that there are different sets of rules when one is investigating past, non-repeatable occurrences.
  • Almost all high school science textbooks have a section about the “scientific method” in the introductory chapter, presenting the standard Observation — Hypothesis — Experiment — Conclusion outline. This might be acceptable (though not completely accurate) in a chemistry or physics book, but it is downright misleading in an earth science textbook. I have not seen a single high school earth science textbook that points out these important differences in methodology.
  • This distinction comes into play in discussions about origins. When one is talking about earth history, evolution, or the origin of life, much of the discussion revolves around questions that can only be addressed by the historical scientific method rather than the experimental scientific method. This doesn’t make origins studies less scientific.

Grace and Peace

February 28, 2011 Posted by | Blog Recycling, Geology, Science Education | , | 5 Comments

Skepchick

An atheist writer has an entry on her blog today about The GeoChristian (see Skepchick: Genesis and Geology). She obviously has more readers than I do, and she has sent them in droves to click on “Myth” on my Understanding Genesis 1 poll.

Skepchick started her blog entry by saying some nice things about me (she also encourages her readers to not post “mean comments” on my blog, which I appreciate very much):

One of the geoblogs that I have started reading- casually- is a blog called The GeoChristian. The blog is written by a liberal Christian with some science (especially geology) background. In many ways, I admire this blog and the blogger. The author tries to improve the science education of very conservative Christians, including the Young Earthers. This is a noble effort, and I really hope that the blogger is successful. The blogger accepts an old Earth, which I find comforting.

Not everything nice that people say about me is true, and this is no exception. Here are a few clarifications:

  • I am not a liberal Christian (“liberal” meaning one who denies the authority of the Bible and/or core Christian doctrines). I am quite conservative in my theological views, including my view of the Bible.
  • I have a Master of Science degree in geology, which is a bit more than “some science.”

It was good of her to start with nice things (I try to do the same), but obviously as an atheist there are things about The GeoChristian that she doesn’t like.

However, when the author of the GeoChristian blog tries to reconcile events in The Bible with geological science, my blood starts boiling. For instance, I just noticed that the GeoChristian has put up a poll titled Understanding Genesis One. This poll asks “What is your preferred interpretation of Genesis One?” and gives a number of options– including a Young Earth Creationist option (6,000 years) and several options trying to re-interpret the text in The Bible in order to make it compatible with the old age of the Earth.

I’m sorry that I got her blood boiling, but I think that once again she at least somewhat misunderstands what I am getting at on The GeoChristian. I don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to “reconcile events in The Bible with geological science.” I actually spend a lot more time trying to counter the arguments of Christians who stretch science (usually young-Earth creationists) to fit what they think the Bible requires (for example, my Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis series).

My overall approach to questions of science and Scripture is borrowed from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, who reminded Christians that “all truth is God’s truth.” As a Christian, I believe that if there is a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we don’t understand the Bible correctly, or we don’t understand science correctly (or both). In the end, if we were to correctly understand both, there would be no conflict. When Biblical scholars propose things like the “analogical days interpretation” or “framework hypothesis” (see the poll questions), they are doing one part of that effort: taking a closer look at Genesis and seeing what it really does say, and weeding out what it doesn’t say.

I do believe that there is an overlap between the Bible and Earth history. On one level, I expect that Noah’s flood, which I believe to be a localized event (click here) to have left some sort of geological record (as Skepchick alludes to at the end of her post). On another level, both the Bible and science give an explanation for the origin of the universe, the Earth, and life. Old-Earth creationists of the day-age variety seek correlations between the days of Genesis 1 and the events of Earth history, and they have come up with some interesting insights. They may be correct, but I’m not placing my money on their harmonizations. Some of the other options on the “Understanding Genesis 1” poll don’t require  attempts at harmonization between Genesis and geology.

When Christians visit my blog (which normally means about 90% of my readers), my hope is to give them sound Biblical and scientific reasoning in regards to the interface between science and Christian faith. Sometimes this is in regards to questions about origins, such as the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also put a lot of effort into writing about issues surrounding the environment.

When non-Christians visit my blog, my hope and prayer is that they will see that one doesn’t have to commit intellectual suicide in order to be (or become) a Christian. Often these non-Christian visitors have misconceptions about Christianity or the Bible, and I aim to help clear up those misconceptions (some examples: a Bible contradiction, unicorns in the Bible). I am unashamed and unapologetic about my faith in Jesus Christ and my belief that Christianity is true.

Grace and Peace

February 26, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , | 18 Comments

YEC college scores #1 in academics

A week ago I blogged about the possible link between creationism, home-schooling, and apostasy. I am the first to admit that my hypothesis that there is a link between creationism and apostasy (falling away from the faith) was anecdotal, and I am pleased that there are many home-schooled kids raised on young-Earth materials come out of that with their faith intact (as always, by the grace of God).

Patrick Henry College is a classical, Christian, liberal arts university in Virginia, with a student body that consists mostly of students who were home-schooled. The school recently scored highest in the nation on the ETS Proficiency Profile. Gene Edward Veith, provost of Patrick Henry (and author of the blog Cranach, which is one of a handful of blogs that I read on a daily basis) boasts about his school:

On the ETS Proficiency Profile, a recognized and widely-used standardized test of academic proficiency in higher education, Patrick Henry College students posted the highest average scores of all institutions that took the test. Those 261 schools taking the test included liberal arts colleges and large research, doctoral-granting universities. Among those taking that test, PHC’s academic performance is #1.

The school is unabashedly young-Earth creationist, as stated in its catalog:

Any biology, Bible, or other courses at PHC dealing with creation will teach creation from the understanding of Scripture that God’s creative work, as described in Genesis 1:1-31, was completed in six twenty-four hour days. All faculty for such courses will be chosen on the basis of their personal adherence to this view. PHC expects its faculty in these courses, as in all courses, to expose students to alternate theories and the data, if any, which support those theories. In this context, PHC in particular expects its biology faculty to provide a full exposition of the claims of the theory of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, and other major theories while, in the end, to teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data.

Of course I would disagree with most of that statement, including the conclusion. Young-Earth creationism is biblically unnecessary and a poor fit to observed data, especially in the field of geology. But that is not my main point for now.

Patrick Henry College scored first in all categories, including Natural Science. This is despite the fact that the college catalog only lists five science courses: Biology, Biology Laboratory, Physics, Physics Laboratory, and Origins.

Do you have any speculations as to how a young-Earth creationist college that places almost no emphasis on science can score #1 in Natural Science?

I’ve got a few ideas:

  • High admission standards
  • An emphasis on writing
  • An emphasis on logic and reasoning
  • The breadth provided by a liberal education (as opposed to the narrow specialization of many university degrees)
  • The test might not have a sufficiently comprehensive science section

One additional thought: PHC has the highest average score in Natural Science. That does not mean that they had an unusually high number of students who scored high on the Natural Science section.

Grace and Peace

(P.S. I write this as one who has been both a home-school parent and a science teacher in a classical Christian school)

 

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 9 Comments

Video: star size comparison

From Astronomy Picture of the Day for February 22, 2001: Star Size Comparisons

The video ends with the statement, “No, you are not the center of the universe!”

That is true, but I like what John Piper has said about this fact in his book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ:

Sometimes people stumble over this vastness in relation to the apparent insignificance of man. It does seem to make us infinitesimally small. But the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us. It’s about God… The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our maker, not us.

Grace and Peace

Video credit: morn1415

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Christianity | 1 Comment

John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution

Influential Reformed blogger Tim Challies recently interviewed the popular pastor and radio Bible teacher John MacArthur (5 More Questions with John MacArthur). One of the questions had to do with creation, evolution, and the age of the Earth:

One pressing issue in the church today is that of creation and evolution. Do you believe that a person can be genuinely saved and believe in some kind of theistic evolution? How serious a theological error is it to reject a literal 6-day creation?

In his response, MacArthur grudgingly admits that one could possibly be a real Christian and believe and in an old Earth, and perhaps even believe in evolution:

It’s a very serious error in my estimation, because it attacks the authority of Scripture at the Bible’s very starting point. It employs a special hermeneutic in order to make the Bible mean quite the opposite of what it plainly states. And once you open that door, absolutely nothing is safe from the assaults of rationalism, skepticism, and rank unbelief.

I watch the propaganda being published by organizations like Biologos, and it’s hard to resist the conclusion that many of the people who are involved in that project don’t seem to be believers at all, given the large portions of Scripture they regularly have to explain away in order to justify their convoluted worldview.

As a matter of fact, the history of modernist rationalism is littered with vivid examples of why it is unsafe and spiritually destructive to subject Scripture to naturalistic presuppositions. I wrote on this topic in detail at the very beginning of my book The Battle for the Beginning.

But in answer to your specific question: I do think it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth. (It is certainly possible for believers to be inconsistent in their beliefs—to hold all kinds of errors in varying degrees. That’s called cognitive dissonance.)

Well-meaning evangelicals have experimented with several ways to reconcile old-earth theories with Scripture. One of the more popular ideas (until Henry Morris exploded it) was that there’s a gap in the white space between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2, and (so the theory goes) that silent gap might accommodate countless ages of change and chaos in the universe. Spurgeon held to a version of the gap theory, and the original Scofield Bible embraced both the gap theory and old-earth cosmology with blithe enthusiasm. Of course we would not consign everyone who ever held such an opinion to the ranks of unbelief.

Nevertheless, as evolutionary theory has developed and devolved into untouchable dogma—a favorite weapon for the current generation of angry atheists—I don’t see how any sober-minded, well-grounded, fully-committed Christian who truly believes what the Bible teaches can long maintain faith in the various and ever-changing theories evolutionary scientists keep proposing. Biblical cosmology, the Genesis account of how the human race was created and subsequently fell, and the important parallels between Adam and Christ in the story of redemption—these are essential beliefs of Christianity; they have never changed; and they are diametrically opposed to every purely naturalistic theory about life’s origins.

Anyone who takes seriously the authority of Scripture must ultimately set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says. The earlier we do that, the better. Frankly, I have never understood why someone who believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ would balk at believing all of Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:1.

I have a lot of respect for John MacArthur (and use some of his New Testament commentaries to aid in my study of the Scriptures), but I have a number of issues, of course, with what he had to say in this interview.

  • Acceptance of an old Earth does not attack the authority of Scripture. Like many Evangelicals who accept an old Earth, I believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures, and in all of the core theological truths of the Christian faith.
  • Acceptance of an old Earth does not necessarily employ a special hermeneutic that twists the words of the Bible. It would be wrong force scripture to conform to science, but that is not necessarily what old-Earth theologians have done. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christians were confronted with scientific evidence that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Some dug in their heels, but others looked at the Scriptures more closely to see what they really said and didn’t say on the topic. There was no “special hermeneutic” required, only a more careful application of the hermeneutic tools they already possessed. Conservative Bible scholars of the past two hundred years have been forced to do the same, and many have come to the conclusion that the Bible does not put constraints on the age of the Earth. They have done this not by somehow forcing the Bible to say something it doesn’t say, but by looking closely at the Hebrew text, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and gaining a better understanding of the world the ancient Hebrews lived in.
  • It may be equally wrong to force science to fit Scripture as it is to force Scripture to fit science. The young-Earth creationists have published an incredible amount of bad science over the years, and held this forth to the church and world as an unanswerable apologetic argument.
  • Acceptance of an old Earth is not the same as subjecting the Scriptures to naturalistic presuppositions. It involves acceptance of the idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” Let the rocks speak for themselves and let the Bible speak for itself (but make sure we read them both correctly).
  • I agree that “it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth.” Most of the confusion, however, comes from the young-Earth creationist side of the debate. Whether it be the older YEC arguments about moon dust and vapor canopies, or more recent ones about accelerated nuclear decay or hyper-rapid speciation after the flood, the YEC movement has produced a steady stream of poor scientific arguments that non-scientists (such as Dr. MacArthur) readily accept.
  • Dr. MacArthur mentions Charles Spurgeon and C.I. Scofield as well-meaning Evangelicals who “experimented” with ways to reconcile the Bible with an old Earth. I guess MacArthur “interprets” while those who disagree with his interpretation only “experiment.” The other possiblity is that they (and many others) have looked closely at what the Bible actually says and have come to the conclusion that perhaps the YECs are over-reading the text.
  • The theory of evolution changes over time, but so does the “scientific” story coming out of young-Earth creationism.
  • Many forms of old-Earth creationism (e.g. the day-age theory as presented by Hugh Ross or the analogical days interpretation of C. John Collins) retain everything Dr. MacArthur is concerned about: creation from nothing, a real Adam, Adam’s fall into sin. One does not have to be a YEC to be thoroughly orthodox in their theology.
  • I’m not convinced that the Bible has much to say about biological evolution, except about the origin of humans. To reject a scientific theory because of a brief mention of kinds reproducing after their own kinds is reading a whole lot into the Bible. If there are limits on biological change, then the Bible doesn’t tell us what they are.
  • MacArthur asks those of us who take the Bible’s authority seriously to “set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says.” I do believe the Bible and take its authority seriously. I just don’t trust everything that comes out of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.

It is common for YECs to assert that if the Earth is billions of years old then the Bible isn’t true; that certainly seems to be what Dr. MacArthur is saying here. This is a false dichotomy, and it sets up believers—especially our young people—for a fall. If what the YECs say doesn’t work scientifically (and it doesn’t), and if we insist that a 6000-year old Earth is the only way to read Genesis, then many of them will walk away from the church. And whose fault will it be, the “wicked evilutionists” or well-meaning Christians who fed them a bad apologetic?

I am not asking Dr. MacArthur to abandon his belief that the young-Earth creationist interpretation is correct. What I would hope for, instead, is less of a my-way-or-the-highway approach to this divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origin of Life, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 30 Comments

An example of the difference Christianity makes in the world

From Movements.net by Steve Addison: India

Christianity made it to India during or soon after the apostolic age. There is good reason to believe it was the Apostle Thomas who brought it there. There have been followers of Jesus in India for 2,000 years. Today Christians account for less than 3% of the population, but they are directly involved in 20% of primary education; 25% of care for widows and orphans; 30% of work with the handicapped, AIDs patients and lepers.

Grace and Peace

HT: Glenn, who blogs at Be Bold, Be Gentle

February 23, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Missions | | 4 Comments

The doctrine of creation before Westminster and before Darwin

Young-Earth creationists commonly assert that until the 1700s, the almost universal interpretation of Genesis 1 was six consecutive literal 24-hour days about 6000 years ago. They say that the only reason that Christian scholars since then have suggested alternative interpretations was because they have sought to impose science on Scripture.

Justin Taylor, on his Between Two Worlds blog, summarizes an article that appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal in 1999. Taylor’s blog post is How Did the Church Interpret the Days of Creation before Darwin? and the WTJ article is “In the Space of Six Days”: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.

My summary of the main points of Taylor’s summary is

  1. There were a variety of interpretations of the text down through the centuries before modern geology.
  2. Augustine, Calvin, and Jerome all warned about the difficulty of interpreting Genesis 1.
  3. Interpreters throughout Church history have taken what they knew of science and philosophy into account when they interpreted Genesis 1.
  4. The exact meaning of the days of creation was not nearly as important to sixteenth century Reformed scholars as the fact that creation was an ex nihilo (i.e. creation from nothing) work of the Triune God.
  5. The Puritans at the time of the Westminster Assembly made no serious attempt to dig deeply into Genesis 1.

In other words, the standard YEC interpretation of Genesis 1 has not always been and should not now be considered as a standard of Christian orthodoxy.

Grace and Peace

HT: Glenn (Be Bold, Be Gentle)

February 22, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , | 5 Comments

Two quotes from H.G. Wells

I recently read two quotes by H.G. Wells, one written before World War II, and the other after.

Can we doubt that presently our race will more than realize our boldest imaginations, that it will achieve unity and peace, and that our children will live in a world made more splendid and lovely than any palace or garden that we know, going on from strength to strength in an ever-widening circle of achievement? What man has done, the little triumphs of his present state… form but the prelude to the things that man has yet to do. (from A Short History of the World, 1937)

——————————

The cold-blooded massacres of the defenseless, the return of deliberate and organized torture, mental torment, and fear to a world from which such things had seemed well nigh banished—has come near to breaking my spirit altogether… “Homo sapiens,” as he has been pleased to call himself, is played out. (from A Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1946)

A few observations:

  • H.G. Wells must have had his head stuck in the sand in 1937 in order to think that the world was on the verge of utopia. Hitler had a firm grip on Germany and clearly had an expansionist agenda, Stalin was up to his knees in blood, and war was raging between Japan and China.
  • The Second World War was especially crushing to the hopes of those who held to an optimistic view of the future of humanity. Those who believe that humans are on a path to something approaching a utopia keep on running into a wall.
  • There is something fundamentally flawed about humanity. To say otherwise is, like Wells in 1937, to bury one’s head in the sand. We Christians call this fundamental flaw sin, which is rebellion against God. The failure to recognize the human sin problem is a reason why utopian systems, such as communism, turn out to be such bitter disappointments.

A few questions:

  • What areas do we (as Christians, as a society) have our heads buried in the sand? In hind sight, it is easy to list a dozen reasons why Wells should not have been so optimistic in 1937. Are there some big, flashing, DANGER signs that ought to be obvious to us?
  • How do we best communicate the dire straits we are in to those who are overly optimistic, and the hope that we have in Christ to those who are driven to despair by the world?

Grace and Peace

Source of quotes: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Chapter 10: The Problem of Sin

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Future | , , , , , | 11 Comments

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Dinosaurs in Job?

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come.One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my fourth article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. My previous posts were:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleYoung-Earth creationists (YECs) commonly assert that dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and that they are even described in the Old Testament book of Job. If the Earth is only six to ten thousand years old, as YECs claim, and if dinosaurs were created on the same 24-hour day as Adam and Eve, and if Noah took two of each kind of animal that lived on Earth onto the Ark, and if dinosaurs came off of the Ark and survived for some time afterward, then it follows that dinosaurs could have wandered the Earth for a while after the flood, only a few thousand years ago. Of course I disagree with most of these premises, as they are Biblically unnecessary. Because of this, I don’t have to be looking for dinosaurs in the Bible or anyplace else, other than in the fossil record.

Chapter 40 of Job describes a creature called “behemoth”, and Job 41 depicts another fearsome creature called “leviathan.” It is often claimed by YECs that both of these refer to giant extinct reptiles, such as dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, or giant crocodiles. Many Christians, raised on a steady diet of YEC materials, don’t know that most Biblical scholars (including conservative Evangelicals) offer alternative understandings of the identities of both behemoth and leviathan that make more sense than the YEC interpretations.

Behemoth

In regards to behemoth, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis writes:

If the different kinds of dinosaurs survived the Flood, then they must have come off the Ark and lived in the post-Flood world.

In the Bible, in Job 40:15–24, God describes to Job (who lived after the Flood) a great beast with which Job was familiar. This great animal, called “behemoth,” is described as “the chief of the ways of God,” perhaps the biggest land animal God had created. Impressively, he moved his tail like a cedar tree! Although some Bible commentaries say this may have been an elephant or hippopotamus, the description actually fits that of a dinosaur like Brachiosaurus. Elephants and hippos certainly do not have tails like cedar trees!

Actually, very few animals are singled out in the Bible for such a detailed description. Contrary to what many may think, what we know now as dinosaurs get more mention in the Scriptures than most animals! So dinosaurs—all the different kinds—must have lived alongside of people after the Flood.

The ESV study notes on behemoth in Job 40:15-24 offer a more straight-forward interpretation of this creature:

Job 40:15 Behemoth usually refers to cattle, but in at least one other reference it most likely signifies a hippopotamus (see esv footnote). It is almost universally so interpreted in this passage, taking the description of vv. 16–18 as poetical extravagance. Some, however, suppose that the description requires some kind of mythical beast to be in view, as a parallel to Leviathan (41:1); the first option is simpler.

Job 40:17 tail stiff like a cedar. “Tail” is a common euphemism for phallus. It is to be so interpreted in this verse, considering the description of the anatomy of the animal. Potency is often associated with procreative power. In the medieval period, Behemoth was conceived as a symbol of sensuality and sin. sinews of his thighs. The word for “sinews” is otherwise unknown. Some ancient versions (see Targum, Latin) took it to mean “testicle,” in keeping with the interpretation of the first line.

There seems to be no reason to suppose that behemoth is a Brachiosaurus rather than a hippopotamus. YECs say that “tail like a cedar tree” points to a dinosaur rather than a hippo with its diminutive tail, but they may very well not even be thinking about the right piece of anatomy. “Penis” and “testicles” aren’t words you will find in any AIG/ICR childrens’ books, but the Old Testament authors weren’t squeamish about using such terminology.

Another difficulty of the “dinosaur” interpretation of behemoth, not mentioned in the ESVSB notes, is found in verse 21, which states

Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him. (ESV)

With this description, it seems much more likely that behemoth is something like a hippopotamus. Brachiosauruses wouldn’t have been able to hide among the reeds along the Jordan River (v. 23)!

Leviathan

To some young-Earth creationists, the leviathan in Job 41 is not only a giant marine reptile, but a fire-breathing one at that! CreationWiki states:

Leviathan […] is an animal that is described by God in the book of Job as a terrifying fire-breathing sea monster. The creature is described as a strong beast with a tough outer “armor”. He cannot be pulled out with a fishhook and no one dares to fight him. It is also said to have breathed fire and snorted out smoke! (Job 41) Some believe that Leviathan is a reference to an extinct animal that was alive and known to those that lived during the days of the Old Testament. Some that hold to this view suggest it was a plesiosaur, such as the Kronosaurus, others have proposes it was the giant armored crocodile Sarcosuchus.

In regards to leviathan, the ESVSB notes are somewhat brief:

Job 41:1–34 The Lord describes the power of Leviathan by focusing on the inability of man to subdue him, then applies such power analogously to himself (vv. 9–11).

Job 41:1 Leviathan. The animal described in this section may be the crocodile (see esv footnote). Interpreters sometimes suggest it is a mythical creature representing forces overcome by God’s power in creation (see 3:8 and note). However, the focus of this section is on the fact that, whatever powerful creature is being referred to, it is a part of God’s creation and is governed by his power (see note on Ps. 74:14).

Job 41:9–11 If it is futile for people to presume that they could lay their hands on Leviathan, who is a part of God’s creation (vv. 9, 11), then how much more should Job be cautious about his presumption in wanting to bring his case and stand before God.

Again, it is quite possible that this refers to a crocodile, and it is unnecessary to see any sort of dinosaur or other extinct reptile in this passage.

The description in Job 41 seems to fit a crocodile pretty well:

  • lived in the area
  • fierce and quick
  • has a tough hide
  • has fearsome teeth
  • has a strong neck
  • has strong jaws

The ESVSB doesn’t comment on the “fire-breathing” passage of verses 19-21, but given the poetic nature of most of Job, there is no reason to read “fire-breathing dragon” into the the description of this beast. Most interpreters see this as a picture of the steam coming out of the creatures nostrils on a cool morning; no flames needed.

Conclusion

There are a number of reasons to question the YEC interpretation of behemoth and leviathan being dinosaurs. First, there are perfectly plausible options. We know that hippopotamuses and crocodiles lived in the area in the second millennium B.C., and the descriptions fit them well. Second, there is absolutely no evidence that organisms such as Brachiosaurus lived in the Middle East in historical times. If such organisms the size of school buses were around back then, we would surely find their remains somewhere, such as in archeological sites. And finally, this interpretation is only necessary if young-Earth creationism is true. If young-Earth creationism isn’t true—and I believe that it isn’t necessary Biblically nor plausible scientifically—then there is no need to try to read dinosaurs into the book of Job.

What does it matter? Many Christians are not harmed by accepting questionable interpretations on secondary (or even tertiary) matters such as the identities of behemoth or leviathan. On a broader scale, however, any time we use poor arguments to defend the reliability of the Bible, we create unnecessary stumbling blocks that make it harder for people to accept the gospel of Christ.

The notes of the ESV Study Bible make it clear that one can hold firmly to the truthfulness of the Bible, to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and not be a young-Earth creationist.

Grace and Peace

February 20, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Spending priorities

What should Congress cut?

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, American Evangelicals are most likely to favor reducing funding for the following items in the federal budget:

  • Aid to the world’s poor
  • Unemployment
  • Environment
  • Health care
  • Scientific research
  • Aid to U.S. poor

In each of these cases, Evangelicals were more likely than non-Evangelicals to favor spending cuts. At the same time, Evangelicals were considerably more likely than non-Evangelicals to favor increases in military spending.

I’m all in favor of some serious cuts in the federal budget, but what does it say about American Evangelicalism when the number one item we would slash funding for is “aid to the world’s poor?”

Note: my question is not, “Should government be involved in humanitarian foreign aid?” but more along the lines of “Why do Evangelicals view governmental humanitarian foreign aid as of such a low priority?”

Article in Christianity Today: Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed

Grace and Peace

February 19, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Ethics, Polls | , | 3 Comments

Antarctic ice cores: a window to ice age climate change

American researchers have completed the second deepest Antarctic ice core ever drilled. Analysis of dust and entrapped air bubbles give a picture of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate over the past 100,000 years.

From the National Science Foundation: Ice Cores Yield Rich History of Climate Change — Research project completes drilling for the year, reaching two miles below West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

On Friday, Jan. 28 in Antarctica, a research team investigating the last 100,000 years of Earth’s climate history reached an important milestone completing the main ice core to a depth of 3,331 meters (10,928 feet) at West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide (WAIS). The project will be completed over the next two years with some additional coring and borehole logging to obtain additional information and samples of the ice for the study of the climate record contained in the core.

As part of the project, begun six years ago, the team, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been drilling deep into the ice at the WAIS Divide site and recovering and analyzing ice cores for clues about how changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have influenced the Earth’s climate over time.

Friday’s milestone was reached at a depth of 3,331 meters–about two miles deep–creating the deepest ice core ever drilled by the U.S. and the second deepest ice core ever drilled by any group, second only to the ice core drilled at Russia’s Vostok Station as part of a joint French/U.S./Russian collaboration in the 1990s.

“By improving our understanding of how natural changes in greenhouse gas influenced climate in the past, the science community will be able to do a better job of predicting future climate changes caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity,” said Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist for the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project.

The drilling site is about 966 kilometers (600 miles) from the South Pole, at an ice divide (which is analogous to a watershed divide) in West Antarctica, where the ice is flowing out to the sea in opposing directions.

“This location was selected because it is the best place on the planet to determine how greenhouse gases have changed during the last 100,000 years” said Taylor. Since it began, the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project has continuously collected ice from the surface down to a depth of 3,331 meters. The ice at this depth fell as snow about 100,000 years ago. The high annual snowfall at the site enables individual annual layers of snowfall to be identified and counted (much like counting tree rings) back to about 40,000 years. Below that, the layers become too compressed to allow annual layers to be resolved. Scientists hope for at least decadal resolution to this point, sufficient for the science goals to be achieved.

——————————

The drilling ceased 100 meters (328 feet) above the contact between the ice and the underlying rock, to avoid contaminating a possible water layer at the ice-rock contact. The basal water system may consist of water-saturated, ground-up rock, and has not been exposed to the earth’s surface for millions of years. It may harbor a unique and pristine biological environment that the U.S. Antarctic Program does not wish to contaminate.

A few thoughts:

  • We cannot understand climate change—natural or human-induced—without understanding the geologic past. Quaternary (ice age) history gives us a baseline for understanding the present.
  • It may be bitter cold on the surface of Antarctica, but much of the Antarctic ice cap is warm-based, meaning that the ice-rock boundary is wet rather than having the ice frozen to the rock substrate. Just like anywhere else in the Earth’s crust, there is a geothermal gradient within the ice. The deeper you go in the ice, the warmer the temperature, and three kilometers of ice is plenty thick to go from way below zero up to the melting point of ice.
  • Young-Earth creationists try to explain the origin of the Antarctic ice sheet as a post-flood event within the past 4500 years. A thorough rebuttal is found at the Answers in Creation site.

Grace and Peace

February 17, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Geology | , , | Leave a comment

Less oil and more oil

Two petroleum articles from Yahoo News…

The first article is about declining petroleum outputs from Saudi Arabia: WikiLeaks: Saudis running out of oil

The latest startling revelation to come via documents leaked to Julian Assange’s muckraking website and published by The Guardian should give pause to every suburban SUV-driver: U.S. officials think Saudi Arabia is overpromising on its capacity to supply oil to a fuel-thirsty world. That sets up a scenario, the documents show, whereby the Saudis could dramatically underdeliver on output by as soon as next year, sending fuel prices soaring.

The cables detail a meeting between a U.S. diplomat and Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration for Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, in November 2007. Husseini told the American official that the Saudis are unlikely to keep to their target oil output of  12.5 million barrels per day output in order to keep prices stable. Husseini also indicated that Saudi producers are likely to hit “peak oil” — the point at which global output hit its high mark — as early as 2012. That means, in essence, that it will be all downhill from there for the enormous Saudi oil industry.

The second article is about a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracing” or “fracking”) that is used to enhance production from oil and gas wells: New drilling method opens vast oil fields in US

Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.

This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.

“That’s a significant contribution to energy security,” says Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse.

The first article is bad news for the world if we just sit back and do nothing. The second article is good news for America’s economic and military security, at least in the short turn. In the long term, of course, we need to find alternatives.

Grace and Peace

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Energy, Geology | 3 Comments

Creationism, home schooling, and falling away from the Christian faith

Warning: the following statement is anecdotal and not the result of any sort of formal research: Christian kids who are home schooled all the way from pre-school through high school are only about fifty percent likely to retain their Christian faith once they finish high school.

As I said, this “statistic” is not the result of a survey. Of the dozen or so kids I know who were home schooled K-12, roughly half of them still consider themselves to be Christians.

I know, that is a very small sample size. I would be interested in seeing some real numbers based on careful research.

All of these children were raised using young-Earth creationist materials. For their science curricula they used Bob Jones, Abeka, Apologia, or other young-Earth curricula. They watched AIG, ICR, and Dr. Dino videos. And despite this heavy dose of “creation apologetics,” they wandered from the faith. This is heartbreaking for the parents, of course, who have poured their lives into their children, with very mixed results.

The publishers of young-Earth curricula present glowing testimonies from families’ success stories. Billy and Suzy used Curriculum X and Billy got a 99th percentile on the ACT science portion and Suzy has been accepted to an Ivy League medical school.

The parents who somehow “failed” in their home schooling, on the other hand, are likely to keep to themselves and wonder what they did wrong.

I know that this is a complex issue, but perhaps part of the problem is with the science curricula. If young Earth creationism doesn’t work scientifically (and it doesn’t), then we are giving our youth a poor foundation for their faith. If it isn’t necessary Biblically (and it isn’t), then we are telling them that the Bible’s trustworthiness hinges on something that isn’t required by a careful reading of the text. The results in the lives of our children, whether they get their creationism from a home school, a Christian school, or from Sunday school, is tragic.

May God in his grace draw these dear children to himself.

Grace and Peace

P.S. I write this with great respect for many, many home schoolers. We home schooled through fourth grade with some of our children, and I appreciate the dedication I see in home school families. This is not an attack on home schooling. I do question the dominance of young-Earth creationism in the Christian home school community.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Origins, Science Education, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 13 Comments

Romans 14:10-12 and the age of the Earth

Romans 14 is primarily about how Christians should handle differences over “disputable matters” (v. 1, NIV 1984). In this chapter, the apostle Paul writes about issues that were important to the church of the first century A.D., such as dietary questions and observance of special days, such as the Sabbath. Paul urged the believers to put their brothers and sisters in Christ ahead of themselves, and to neither judge nor despise those who disagreed with their convictions.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (vv. 1-4 ESV)

————————

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (vv. 10-12 ESV, emphasis added)

————————

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (v. 19 ESV)

Paul was writing about ethical matters, but I think we can extend this in our day to secondary theological matters, such as the details of our doctrine of creation, such as the age of the Earth. Some might argue that the age of the Earth is a primary matter; all I can say is that I do not agree. My acceptance of an old Earth does not compromise the integrity of Scriptures nor any essential doctrines (see, for instance, my Creation Creed).

In Romans 14, Paul doesn’t tell anyone to change their views on their dearly held positions. He does tell them to accept one another. As for me, I will voice my convictions, but I will seek earnestly to do this in a way that promotes Christian unity and neither judges nor shows contempt for those who disagree with me.

With love for all believers

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 2 Comments

Christianity Today 2011 Book Awards

Christianity Today has released its book awards for 2011 (meaning, of course, books that came out in 2010). I haven’t read a single one of them! Do you have any suggestions for one that I really ought to read? Or are there any that you really liked or disliked?

Some of the books listed here received the CT book award, and others got an honorable mention. Here they are:

Apologetics/Evangelism:

  • The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, by Alister Mcgrath
  • Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, by Francis S. Collins

Spirituality

  • Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, by Eugene H. Peterson
  • Letters from the Land of Cancer, by Walter Wangerin Jr.

Theology/Ethics

  • After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by N. T. Wright
  • Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, by Julie Canlis

Biblical Studies

  • The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized, James H. Charlesworth
  • The Historical Jesus: Five Views, by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, Editors
  • The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, by Christopher J. H. Wright

Christian Living

  • What was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage, by Elise Erikson Barrett
  • The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus, by Mark Labberton

Christianity and Culture

  • Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths from the Secular and Christian Media, by Bradley R. E. Wright
  • Everything You Know about Evangelicals is Wrong (Well, Almost Everything): An Insider’s Look at Myths and Realities, by Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen
  • What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters, by Philip Yancey

Missions/Global Affairs

  • Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China, by Lian Xi
  • To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, by James Davison Hunter

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

  • Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean
  • Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett

Fiction

  • Of Love and Evil, The Songs of the Seraphim, Book Two, by Anne Rice

History/Biography

  • Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, by Eric Miller
  • God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, by Thomas S. Kidd

Grace and Peace

February 5, 2011 Posted by | Christianity | , , | 4 Comments

Poll: Understanding Genesis 1

Welcome readers from Skepchick. I invite you to look around; a good place to start would be my Best of The GeoChristian page, which is only partially complete.There are newer posts beneath this one.

Ever since eighteenth century geologists suggested that the Earth might be older than 6000 years, Biblical scholars have attempted to reconcile the Scriptural record with the geological record. Many have taken a closer look at what the text actually says and doesn’t say about the origin of the Earth and biosphere, and come to the conclusion that there are valid alternatives to the traditional “literal” interpretation that would require a young Earth. Many other Christians have concluded that all such efforts are futile, and that the Biblical record is incompatible with modern geological thinking. They believe that modern geology somehow has the story of Earth’s history wrong. Others have used this apparent conflict between geology and the Bible as a reason to reject the Bible altogether.

What is your preferred way to understand Genesis One? I have the poll set up so you can pick up to three answers.

I am aware that some of the positions I have listed as “Old Earth,” such as the analogical days interpretation and framework hypothesis, actually make no statement on the age of the Earth. It could be young, it could be old. But it is pretty rare for a young-Earth creationist to hold to these interpretations, so I have labeled them as Old Earth.

No poll is perfect, so feel free to add your comments.

I’ll have this poll up for the entire month of February.

Grace and Peace

————————————————————————————

P.S.

If one removes, the swarm of “Genesis is a myth” votes that came from the Skepchick blog, the poll results look more like this:

19 votes (13 percent) — Young Earth
30 votes (20 percent) — Old Earth — not committed to an interpretation
22 votes (15 percent) — Old Earth — day-age
5 votes (   3 percent) — Old Earth — gap theory
21 votes (14 percent) — Old Earth — analogical days
26 votes (18 percent) — Old Earth — framework
5 votes (   3 percent) — Old Earth — revelatory day
11 votes (  7 percent) — Old Earth — cosmic temple inauguration
9 votes (   6 percent) — Christian, but Bible contains errors

Unfortunately, I don’t know what percentage of my readers were voting for “myth” before the inundation, but from previous polls and comments, it seems that around 10% of my readers are in the “skeptic” category.

It looks like a pretty broad variety of viewpoints among the readers of The GeoChristian.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origin of Life, Origins, Polls, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , | 6 Comments

What one thing bothers me most about the world?

I was recently asked, “What one thing bothers you most about the world?” Here was my reply:

The world isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Rather than being a place of beauty, peace, and abundance, it is a place of desecration, conflict, and poverty.

What bothers you most about the world?

Grace and Peace

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Christianity | 4 Comments

Snow day and snow maps

The mega-storm that has affected over 100,000,000 people in the United States turned out to be somewhat wimpy here in St. Louis. At our house we got lots of rain, then about 0.25 inches of ice, followed by two inches of sleet, topped by a few inches of snow (hard to tell exactly how much with the wind blowing it around).

I love winter, so I was a bit disappointed. But the kids don’t have school and my wife and I don’t have to go in to work, so we will be out playing in the snow sometime today.

Here are a few maps and images from around the internet, starting with a satellite image showing the size of this storm:

Credit: NOAA

The National Weather Service has a number of static and interactive maps about snow:

Interactive Snow Information map from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center -- http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/interactive/html/map.html

Scaled 24-hour Snow Precipitation (rainwater equivalent of snow) -- http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/

Non-Snow Precipitation (There was a lot more to this storm than snow) -- http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/

Current Northern Hemisphere snow cover -- http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nh_snowcover/

Stay warm. Keep Safe. Have fun.

Grace and Peace

February 2, 2011 Posted by | Maps, Meteorology | | Leave a comment

New England under water

From the ESRI Map Book Online volume 25: What if all the polar ice melted?

Credit: Paul Jordan, University of Rhode Island

The description from the ESRI Map Book:

This map is a depiction of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts/Cape Cod inundated by a 67-meter (73-yard) sea level rise resulting from a total melting of the polar ice caps. Although an unlikely scenario, the map was created as an attention grabber for display at the University of Rhode Island 2008 Honors Colloquium Lecture Series on Global Warming.

A good map can be artistic as well as informative; in fact the two often go together. The annual ESRI map books are available online or in book form (I am happy to own a couple editions).

Grace and Peace

February 1, 2011 Posted by | Art, Future, Geography, Geology, Maps | , | 7 Comments