In a recent piece titled “Nine Year Old Challenges Nasa,” [Answers in Genesis president Ken] Ham blogged proudly about “Emma B” who, when told that a NASA moon rock was 3.75 billion years old, asked “Were you there?”
The suggestion that scientists cannot speak about the past unless “they were there” is a strange claim. The implication is that we cannot do something as simple as count tree rings and confidently declare “This great pine was standing here 2,000 years ago.” As a philosophy of science, such a restriction would completely rule out the scientific study of the past. This, of course, is precisely what the creationists want.
Many bright evangelical young people are, fortunately, not impressed with the suggestion that only “eyewitnesses” can speak about the past. Just this past spring I taught an honors seminar on science and religion at an evangelical college. The class included a couple of bright students who had grown up in fundamentalist churches that showed Ken Ham videos in their Sunday School class. Both of them recalled the encouragement to ask their teachers “Were you there?” And both of them, a few years older and wiser than “Emma B,” thought this suggestion was ridiculous and wondered what kind of ideas required the embrace of such nonsense on their behalf. These students — in fact, most of the students I have had over the years — will graduate from college accepting contemporary science and its various explanations for what has happened in the past. But unless the leadership in their churches does a better job with its teaching ministry, such students will have a hard time returning to their home churches.
The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.
Giberson refers to a Barna survey: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. I’ve been wanting to blog about this, but just haven’t had the time. Reason #3 is “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”
I have been involved in an online discussion regarding whether or not the geologic column (Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…) is real, or some sort of figment of geologists’ imaginations. Dr. Jay Wile, on his Proslogion blog, has written a post entitled Yet Another Failure of “Geological Column” Reasoning. Please note that I consider Dr. Wile (author of the Apologia series of home school science textbooks) to be one of the better young-Earth creationists; one who is willing to point out the scientific and theological shortfalls of the overall YEC movement when he sees them.
Dr. Wile argues that the discovery of fragments of grass phytolyths (tiny glass particles in grass leaves) in Cretaceous dinosaur dung (coprolites) is evidence that the whole concept of the geologic time scale is in trouble. After all, we had been told rather authoritatively that there were no grasses in the Cretaceous; that grasses did not appear until a few million years after the demise of the dinosaurs. He draws a parallel between this and another “failure” of the the geologic column: living fossils such as Coelacanths. If the geologic column is built on fossils, and if we discover that some fossils occur later or earlier than we realized, then perhaps the geologic column itself is suspect.
In the comments on Dr. Wile’s blog post, I have argued that the geologic column is more of an observation than an inference. I realize from philosophy of science that observations can be highly biased; that we often find just exactly what we are looking for. The young-Earth creationists claim that this is exactly what has happened; that geologists, imbibed with evolution, were expecting to find some sort of evolutionary order in the fossil record, and therefore they went out and found it. When one points out that the geologic column was largely deciphered before Darwin, they respond by saying that there was plenty of evolutionary thinking before Darwin (e.g. Lamarck), and that this is what influenced the early stratigraphers.
But is this what happened? Were the early 19th century geologists more influenced by evolutionary thinking, or by what they observed in sedimentary rocks?
In the early 1800s, William Smith compiled the first geologic maps of Great Britain. At first he focused on types of rocks, but he soon recognized that there were distinct fossil assemblages in the layers as well, and that these too could be traced across Britain .
Within the upcoming decades, scientists across Europe, and then in North America and elsewhere, began to make similar geological surveys. They discovered that not only were many fossils restricted to narrow bands of rock, but that there were many types that no longer could be found on Earth, and that there were consistent patterns in the order in which these fossils appeared in the geological record. This led to the construction (or discovery) of the geologic column. They eventually put labels on parts of the geologic column, such as Ordovician and Triassic.
Some of these early geologists were Christians, some were deists. Many were catastrophists, believing that the sedimentary rocks were the product of worldwide deluges, and many believed in the fixity of species. Few had the molecules-to-man picture that emerged after 1859.
That is a very brief summary of the development of the idea of the geologic (or stratigraphic) column, which is closely tied to the concept of geologic time. I want to make the case that the geologic column exists, that it is in need of an explanation, and that the standard geological explanation of deposition over millions of years works well, while that of the YEC Flood geologists falls far short.
The basic concept of the geologic column is that sedimentary rocks occur in the crust of the Earth in a specific sequence, and that this sequence has a global, rather than regional, basis.
Let’s start with the stratigraphic section that might be found at one location. This section would be a slice through the Earth. It might be exposed in a canyon or on a mountain side, or detailed by examining cores and cuttings as a well is extended deeper into the crust. My initial column (A) has five layers, which I will label 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
I am not all that concerned at this point whether those layers are sandstone, shale, or limestone. Instead, I wish to focus on the fossils. Layer 1 might contain marine fossils, such as trilobites and brachiopods. Layer 2 might also contain bryozoans and brachiopods, but of different genera than those found in layer 1. Layer 3 might contain corals. And so on for layers 4 and 5.
Now lets move down the road fifty miles and examine another section (B) of the sedimentary record.
Some of the layers clearly connect from A to B. This could be in terms of the rock types, the fossils, or both. But B has six layers, with B4 appearing between what was A3 and A4. Note that the correlation lines do not cross. This is not because of some evolutionary presupposition, but because the fossils in A1 match the fossils in B1, the fossils in A4 match the fossils in B5, and so forth.
Let’s move over one or two counties, and examine a third series of layers, section C.
We can see that A1 correlates with B1 and C1. B2, however has disappeared somewhere between B and C, and a new layer, C6, has appeared at the top of the section. Note again that there is no crossing of the lines.
For a final look, I’ll add two more sections, D and E.
It is apparent that some layers correlate all the way across from A to E, others pinch out, and still others appear. Once again, there is no crossing of lines.
These are all hypothetical columns of rock. In the real world, the same types of patterns occur, and geologists have given names to sets of rocks, based on the fossils that they contain. The lowermost layers contain distinct assemblages of fossils that have been given the label “Cambrian.” Higher in the column, another distinct assemblage of fossils has been named “Ordovician.” This continues upward for the entire geologic column.
Don’t get distracted by the numbers at this point. I am not defending so much the age of the Earth right now, but the reality of the geologic column, and I have this diagram here as an illustration.
The well-read young-Earth creationist, at this point, will say that this entire column does not exist in any one place; that it is all an inference. Look at the Grand Canyon, for example. It only contains fossil-bearing rocks from the Cambrian, and Devonian through Permian (no Silurian, Ordovician, or anything younger than the Permian).
That objection is pretty easy to answer. First of all, if one looks at the broader context, the Cambrian through Permian rocks of the Grand Canyon can be traced laterally to where they are beneath rocks in Utah that have Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary fossils.
So in a distance of roughly one hundred miles, we can trace most of the periods of the geologic column. All that is missing is the Ordovician and Silurian. There are Quaternary deposits in this area, they just are not shown on the diagram. This sort of situation—correlation of layers—is the rule rather than the exception.
Second, there are a number of persistent sedimentary basins—areas that for one reason or another have continued to collect sedimentary deposits through much of geologic history—that do indeed contain layers from each of the geologic periods. If one drills into the Williston Basin (North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan), they will find the layers in the proper order. Starting from the bottom, there are layers from the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Tertiary, and Quaternary. There is nothing out of order. This can be seen on the following stratigraphic correlation chart.
This really is a nice looking correlation chart; I encourage you to look at the full-scale version at the Core Lab web site. This chart (and others like it) show the same thing that I was doing with sections A-B-C-D-E earlier. Note that in the Montana and North Dakota columns at the far right of the chart, there are rocks from the Cambrian all the way up through the Quaternary. This chart only covers a corner of North America (British Columbia to Manitiba and down into parts of the United States). It could easily be extended to the whole of North America, and even to Europe and the rest of the world.
Note that the fossilized rocks express the same order no matter where you go. You simply do not find Cambrian rocks lying on top of Jurassic rocks. There is no crossing of the correlation lines. (Side note: YECs will often point to areas where older rocks are above younger rocks in areas that have been deformed by folding and faulting. If you undo the deformation, everything always slides back into place).
One can go to a number of basins throughout the world—in Libya, Bulgaria, China, Australia, Colombia, and elsewhere—and find exactly the same thing. It is not Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian in North America, and Permian-Cambrian-Devonian-Ordovician in Europe.
Many of the better young-Earth creationists acknowledge that there is some sort of order to the fossil record. They know that there are only invertebrates in the lower parts of the column, that land vertebrates (amphibians and then reptiles) don’t show up until the middle, and that mammals don’t show up until the top part.
At the simplest level, there was the proposal that marine organisms got buried first, and then the slow moving amphibians and reptiles, and the mammals and birds, who were quicker, were able to run faster (or fly) and so escape the earlier Flood waters. But this verges on being nonsense, as there are terrestrial sediments deposited throughout the column. And there are lake deposits, and shallow marine deposits, and deeper marine deposits also scattered throughout the column. And am I supposed to accept that all mice were able to outrun the advancing Flood, but pterodactyls couldn’t?
More sophisticated models have come along, such as various horizontal and vertical ecological zonation models. These models run into some of the same problems, as well as some additional ones. First is the problem of sorting. I would expect a worldwide Flood to at least sometimes have some turbulence, and to either mix groups of fossils together, or to put them out of order. Maybe even a little tiny bit. But it doesn’t seem to have happened. The order is Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… It isn’t Cambrian-Ordovician-Mixture-Mixture-Mixture-Silurian, and it isn’t Cretaceous-Devonian-Permian-Cambrian. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, likes to say, “If there really was a global Flood, you would expect to find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth … which is exactly what you do find!” No, if the sedimentary rock record were a product of a single giant flood, I would expect to find a giant mess. I would not expect to find Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian…
A further problem with the ecological zonation models is that there would have had to have been plenty of critters still alive (and thriving) most of the way through the Flood. For example, think about all of the organisms of the Mesozoic Era (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous). This includes not only the dinosaurs, but a host of mammals, birds, plants, and marine organisms, such as ammonites. Many of these organisms are unique to the Mesozoic, and even unique to subdivisions of the individual periods. Where were they all during the massive catastrophe that deposited the rocks of the Paleozoic? Vast areas of Mesozoic rocks are underlain by Paleozoic rocks. Were they huddled together on islands that had escaped earlier flooding? Were they floating around on mats of vegetation? Both of these proposals have very serious problems, but they are what the Flood geologists seem to be clinging to.
I’m barely getting started, and just scratching the surface. But I need to get back to Dr. Wile’s objection: that grass in the Cretaceous and Coelacanths in the Holocene are enough to discredit the whole thing. Do they? If anything, they discredit geologists and paleontologists who should have been a little more cautious in their statements.
The discovery of grass in dinosaur dung isn’t that big of a change. Paleobotanists had been saying that grass appeared sometime in the Paleocene or early Eocene (perhaps around 55 million years ago), and now we know that there was at least some grass around in the very late Cretaceous (a little over 65 million years ago). In any case, it appears that grasses were probably a minor constituent of the Mesozoic fauna. Perhaps I’m wrong on this. I don’t think any actual fossils of Cretaceous grass leaves have been found. In regards to the Coelacanth, which was once thought to have gone extinct in the Cretaceous but then discovered alive in the Indian Ocean, I think we should expect this sort of thing from time to time. There are fossils that, as far as we know, only lived in the Tithonian age of the Jurassic. Do we know everything? We should expect that for at least some of our index fossils (those fossils that are supposed to tell us the age of the rock in a very narrow range) that some survived somewhere and could even still be alive today.
These are little things. Grass appeared a bit earlier than we knew. Coelacanths survived throughout the Tertiary without leaving any fossils, but they are alive today. The plain and simple fact is that the geologic column exists. What the young-Earth creationists would need to find in order to overturn the well-established and well-justified concept of the geologic column is something like a mastodon in Devonian sediments, or an ostrich in the Ordovician. Until then, I’ll accept Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian… as an observation that is in need of an explanation.
Grace and Peace
As an old-Earth creationist I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place I believe in a real Adam in a real garden
The science team that oversees the imaging system on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has released the highest resolution near-global topographic map of the moon ever created.
This new topographic map, from Arizona State University in Tempe, shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire moon with a pixel scale close to 100 meters (328 feet). A single measure of elevation (one pixel) is about the size of two football fields placed side-by-side.
Although the moon is our closest neighbor, knowledge of its morphology is still limited. Due to instrumental limitations of previous missions, a global map of the moon’s topography at high resolution has not existed until now. With the LRO Wide Angle Camera and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument, scientists can now accurately portray the shape of the entire moon at high resolution.
“Our new topographic view of the moon provides the dataset that lunar scientists have waited for since the Apollo era,” says Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) from Arizona State University in Tempe. “We can now determine slopes of all major geologic terrains on the moon at 100 meter scale. Determine how the crust has deformed, better understand impact crater mechanics, investigate the nature of volcanic features, and better plan future robotic and human missions to the moon.”
Called the Global Lunar DTM 100 m topographic model (GLD100), this map was created based on data acquired by LRO’s WAC, which is part of the LROC imaging system. The LROC imaging system consists of two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) to provide high-resolution images, and the WAC to provide 100-meter resolution images in seven color bands over a 57-kilometer (35-mile) swath.
The WAC is a relatively small instrument, easily fitting into the palm of one’s hand; however, despite its diminutive size it maps nearly the entire moon every month. Each month the moon’s lighting has changed so the WAC is continuously building up a record of how different rocks reflect light under different conditions, and adding to the LROC library of stereo observations.
I went trap shooting for the first time this weekend, at a church men’s retreat near Nye, Montana:
For those who are interested, I’m standing on a terminal moraine, with the Beartooth Mountains behind me. I looked for erratics from the Stillwater Complex, and may have found a boulder of anorthosite. The valley in front of me is carved into an anticline that parallels the mountain front, and the hills in the mid distance are Upper Cretaceous sandstones. The hills in the further background on the right are volcanic rocks (andesitic breccias/lahars) of the Upper Cretaceous Livingston Group, with the vent being a few miles to the west.
The theme of the retreat was “Renewing Our Minds,” and was based on Romans 12, which begins with
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom 12:1-2 NIV)
The highlights of the teaching for me weren’t necessarily the main points that our speakers were emphasizing, but here they are:
The starting point in the Christian life is always what Paul starts with in Romans 12: the mercy of God. Everything we do flows out of God’s mercy expressed in Christ. Because of this we need to be constantly reminded of the Gospel.
One way that we conform to the world is in the effort we put into making ourselves look good to others. I don’t mind that others know about how good our kids are doing, that I was a missionary in Romania, or about my achievements at work, but I don’t want them to see my failures and hurts.
If we really understood God and ourselves, we would be humble. Our tendency is to think we are better than we really are.
When we see God as he really is, ourselves as we really are, and the people around us as they really are, we will move from being centered on ourselves toward ministering in the lives of others.
The latest image released from Mars Express reveals a large extinct volcano that has been battered and deformed over the aeons.
By Earthly standards, Tharsis Tholus is a giant, towering 8 km above the surrounding terrain, with a base stretching over 155 x 125 km. Yet on Mars, it is just an average-sized volcano. What marks it out as unusual is its battered condition.
Shown here in images taken by the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, the volcanic edifice has been marked by dramatic events.
At least two large sections have collapsed around its eastern and western flanks during its four-billion-year history and these catastrophes are now visible as scarps up to several kilometres high.
The main feature of Tharsis Tholus is, however, the caldera in its centre.
It has an almost circular outline, about 32 x 34 km, and is ringed by faults that have allowed the caldera floor to subside by as much as 2.7 km.
It is thought that the volcano emptied its magma chamber during eruptions and, as the lava ran out onto the surface, the chamber roof was no longer able to support its own weight.
So, the volcano collapsed, forming the large caldera.