The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Christians and the environment

For an Earth Day post—Christians and the Environment—Christian blogger Tim Challies drew from Francis Schaeffer’s foundational book on the environment, Pollution and the Death of Man:

Schaeffer begins with the reassurance that as Christians we are able to acknowledge what today’s secular humanists cannot: That mankind has been called by God to exercise dominion over the earth. We are not here by chance and we are not here by mistake. We were placed here by God to care for this planet and have been called to be faithful stewards of it. But like everything else in this world, our ability to exercise this kind of stewardship has been affected by our sinful state. “By creation man has dominion, but as a fallen creature he has used that dominion wrongly. Because he is fallen, he exploits created things as thought they were nothing in themselves, and as though he has an autonomous right to them.” We no longer consistently tend the world in love, but instead ravage and pillage it. Though we may not believe in all of the dire claims being made about the state of our planet and its perilous future, we must at least acknowledge that we have not cared for the world as God has called us to.

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The Bible offers us a far better and far higher view of ourselves, our planet, and our responsibility toward it. Schaeffer affirms that our understanding must begin with God’s act of creation through which he created things that have an objective existence in themselves. Despite the claims of pantheism, creation is not an extension of God’s essence. It is only the biblical view that gives worth to man and to all that God has created. How? Because we understand both ourselves and nature when we see that, though we are separate from nature, we are related to it as something God has created. “So the Christian treats ‘things’ with integrity because we do not believe they are autonomous. Modern man has fallen into a dilemma because he has made things autonomous from God.” Because we love the Creator, we love the creation. As we love the creation, we express love to the Creator.

Even in the 1970’s Schaeffer was saying “We must confess that we missed our opportunity. We have spoken loudly against materialistic science, but we have done little to show that in practice we ourselves as Christians are not dominated by a technological orientation in regard either to man or nature.” He warned that “if we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished.” Ultimately, he calls upon us to treat nature well because we are all products of the loving Creator; we are all creatures together.

While acknowledging that sin and its effects will not be eradicated until the Lord returns, Schaeffer believed there can and should be “a substantial healing,” of the planet and its environment. He says, “we should be looking now, on the basis of the work of Christ, for substantial healing in every area affected by the Fall.” As Christians we of all people are the ones who ought to be treating creation now as it will be treated in eternity. And this, I think, is our challenge: to treat the planet today as we will treat the new earth, exercising dominion without pillaging, exploiting without destroying, faithfully stewarding God’s great gift.

Schaeffer acknowledged that we face an ecological crisis, that human sin has a big part to do with it, and that Christians in particular are often part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This is a far cry from the anti-environmental rhetoric that comes out of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

Read Challies’ entire blog post: Christians and the Environment.

Or even better, read Pollution and the Death of Man.

Grace and Peace

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HT: Glenn Brooke

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Environment | , | 3 Comments

Young-Earth creationism, paganism, Earth Day, and 20 questions

Is Earth Day an opportunity for Christians to serve and witness, or a pagan and secular holiday that is inherently anti-Christian?

Many Evangelical Christians are highly suspicious of the environmental movement. Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham wrote about Earth Day on his blog today, calling it “Eliminating All References To Him Day.” To many Christians such as Ham, Earth Day is a pagan, anti-Christian holiday, and an example of humans putting the creation over the Creator.

On the other hand, there is a growing “creation care” movement within Evangelicalism, with groups such as the Evangelical Environmental Network advocating for various environmental issues.

Here are some questions:

  1. Is Earth Day an opportunity for Christians to serve and witness, or a pagan and secular holiday that is inherently anti-Christian?
  2. Is the creation out there just for our good, or are we here for the creation’s good as well?
  3. A central YEC teaching is that Adam’s fall into sin brought radical changes to the Earth. How does this influence YEC perspectives on environmental issues?
  4. How can Christians advocate creation care without putting the creation over the creator?
  5. What are ways that a Christian could participate in a community Earth Day fair?
  6. Can a Christian be a member of the Sierra Club?
  7. Is it a sin to pollute?
  8. Is wilderness a good thing, or something to be brought actively under human dominion?
  9. Is the only good animal a tamed animal?
  10. Is the only good resource an exploited resource?
  11. Can humans really harm the Earth, or is it resilient enough to take whatever we can do to it?
  12. What is our responsibility to our children in regards to natural resources?
  13. What is our responsibility to people who might live 1000 years from now in regards to natural resources?
  14. Will the Earth be destroyed or renewed when Christ returns?
  15. What would Jesus drive?
  16. Is consumerism and materialism consistent with Jesus’ teachings on wealth?
  17. Are there limits to economic growth? Is more always better?
  18. Is it true that only wealthy societies have the resources and leisure to be concerned about the environment?
  19. If a sparrow falls to the ground, does God care?
  20. If the global temperature were to rise by 2°C by 2100, and sea level were to rise by a couple meters, displacing millions, how would this impact Evangelical Christianity?

Grace and Peace

 

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Creation Care, Environment | , | 5 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” — Genesis 1:20-22 NIV 1984

Today (April 22nd) is Earth Day. For a variety of reasons, I believe that Christianity offers both the best foundation for proper care of the world’s ecosystems and the only hope for the future of our planet. Those are topics for another time; for now, I want to draw our attention to three things from this passage in Genesis.

The first of these is the inherent goodness of the creation. Here in the opening chapter of the Bible, we see God creating the universe and preparing the Earth—land, sea, and sky—for the vast variety of life that would soon inhabit it. He then commanded the Earth to bring forth vegetation, sea life, birds, and land animals. With all of this in place, God pronounced that the creation was “good.” Being good, the creation is not something to escape from, nor is it something that is somehow less important than the “spiritual.” The biblical teaching is that the creation—rocks, water, plants, and animals—has inherent value, apart from its usefulness to humanity.

The second thing we can learn from this passage is that the living world was created to be fruitful. On the fifth day, starting with Genesis 1:20, God created the sea life and birds, and the earth “teemed” with them. To teem is  “to become filled to overflowing,” to “abound,” and “to be present in large quantity.” When reading this, I think of the abundance of bison that populated the American Great Plains before the 1800s, or the diversity of life that is found in tropical rainforests. We sometimes forget that it wasn’t just to humans that God issued the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He also gave this command to sea life and birds, and it is later stated (Gen 8:17) that God created the land animals to be fruitful and increase in number as well.

Thirdly, the goodness and teemingness of creation should guide how we think about our responsibility towards nature. God placed Adam and Eve over the creation to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air…” (v. 26). It has been pointed out that this dominion is not meant to be domination, but rather a stewardship or vice-regency over the creation, with the responsibility to tend it as God’s representatives on Earth. If the creation has inherent goodness apart from the resources it supplies to us, and if God created the living world to be abundant and fruitful, then it follows that an important part of our responsibility is to act in such a way as to preserve, protect, and enhance that fruitfulness. This means that the world is not here just for us. It is also here for sea urchins, red-winged blackbirds, polar bears, and giant Palouse earthworms. I believe that the thriving of humans and the thriving of the rest of the living world must go hand in hand. Our challenge is to figure out how to make this work.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

For some reasons why Christianity offers the best foundation for environmentalism, see my summaries of For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. These books have shaped how I think about our responsibility towards the creation.

The definitions of “teem” are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/. “Teemingness” is indeed a word.

In saying that the material world is just as important in Christianity as the spiritual, I am saying that all of our good works—acts of love to our neighbors—are done in the physical realm. Even much of what we consider to be “spiritual,” has physical components: prayer, communion, baptism, evangelism. At times Christians have had an unbiblical picture of a future life of escaping from the material world and floating in the clouds, but the biblical affirmation of the goodness of creation is really one of the strengths of Christianity. In many Eastern philosophies and religions, the material is an illusion or something to escape from. An example of this is the moksha or nirvana of Indian religions. In atheistic naturalism there is no absolute reason outside of ourselves to value plants and animals. In other words, there is no reason to judge Eden as a better place than Coruscant, the completely urbanized capital of the Star Wars galaxy. Ultimately, we can choose which type of world—Eden or Coruscant—that we think is best for our purposes. I am not saying that Buddhists and atheists do not care about the creation; many of them do care very much, and are active in what I would call creation care. It is just that they do not have an adequate philosophical foundation for doing so.

I first thought seriously about the teeming of the living world in Genesis 1 while reading The Creation by biologist E.O. Wilson. Wilson is not a Christian, but the book is written to Christians as “an appeal to save life on Earth.”

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, GeoScriptures, Nature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Around the web 4/21/2013 — Evolutionary evangelism, pink unicorns, and the man who sang before 200 million people

I’D RATHER TALK ABOUT JESUS — Theologian and apologist C. Michael Patton made an important discovery about the “what about evolution?” question back when he was still a young-Earth creationist. Rather than trying to convince an atheist that the earth was only a few thousand years old or that evolution was a big lie, he decided (a work of the Holy Spirit, I would say) that the whole creation/evolution debate was a distraction to effective evangelism:

The first thing she said was “What about evolution?” I immediately responded, “What about it?” She then proceeded to explain to me how evolution disproves Christianity. She expressed a desire to hear the “Christian side” of the issue. I told her that, while interesting and important, it did not make any difference right now. “It does not make any difference? What do you mean? It discredits your faith,” she said. “No, it does not. There are a lot of Christians who are evolutionists. I am not one, but there is no need for me to talk you out of evolution. I want to talk to you about Jesus.”

Read about it here: Forget about Evolution and Inerrancy (For a Minute).

WHO HAS THE INVISIBLE PINK UNICORN PROBLEM? — The website godandscience.org has re-posted my The Pleistocene is not in the bible post.  Some of the categories at godandscience.org include “Answers for atheists,” “Design vs. Evolution,” and “Biblical Creation.” The site promotes a day-age interpretation of Genesis 1. I just read through one of the articles, Invisible Pink Unicorn, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Santa Claus and God, and enjoyed the following section:

The multiverse is commonly given by atheists as a reason why the universe appears to be designed for human life. Accordingly, there are an infinite number of universes that have been created by the magical multiverse. We just happen to live in the one that has the right laws of physics so that human beings are possible. However, according to this belief, an infinite number of universe would allow anything to exist. So, although there may be no invisible pink unicorns in this universe, if there were an infinite number of universes, one would expect at least one of them to produce exactly the right conditions under which invisible pink unicorns would be the dominant life form.

HORSE HYPEREVOLUTION — Naturalis Historia continues its series on YECs and the fossil record and evolution of horses. The problem this time is genetic bottlenecks. See Horsing Around with Genetic Sorting: Horse Series Part IV.

HE’S SINGING EVEN BETTER NOW — Singer George Beverly Shea died this week at the age of 104. In his lifetime, he sang live before an estimated 200 million people—more than anyone else in history—through his 60-year role in Billy Graham evangelistic campaigns. Hear him sing “How Great Thou Art” at the age of 103:

Grace and Peace

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Around the Web | , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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

The chat is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AnswersMagazine

chat01

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

chat02

I commented on some other people’s questions:

chat03

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

chat04a

chat04b

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

chat07

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

chat05

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

chat06a

chat06b

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere, Moreland has stated,

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

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

Grace and Peace

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Notes

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

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

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 8 Comments

Around the web 4/14/2013 — Death of a sinner, fornication, horsing around, and more

DEATH OF A SAVED SINNER — From Christianity Today: Died: Brennan Manning, Author of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning was a sinner, having gone through alcoholism and  divorce, among other things. Manning was very open about his failures, which is part of what made his books so worthwhile.

“Don’t think I’m a saint. I’m a ragamuffin, you’re a ragamuffin, and God loves us anyway.” In his bestseller The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah, 1990), he writes that “justification by grace through faith means that I know myself accepted by God as I am.” He explains, “Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God alone.”

Some quotes from his writings:

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” — The Ragamuffin Gospel

“Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself. ” — The Wisdom of Tenderness

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation.” — The Furious Longing of God

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” — Abba’s Child

I’m a sinner too, so I can relate. Saved by grace alone:

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 NIV

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

SEXUAL SIN INHIBITS REVIVAL — In Who Are You Sleeping With? My Conversation With Timothy Keller, Christ and Pop Culture quotes pastor and author Timothy Keller, who puts his finger on a significant obstacle to revival in our churches:

Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

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 Keller says we need to present an alternative view, a view of sex that is beautiful, but different than the one offered in the dominant cultural narratives; affirming of the goodness of sex, but presenting it within a God-intended framework that imbues it with meaning and value.

I suspect the problem is much broader than fornication; it is the entire package of anything-goes sexuality that pervades our culture—pornography, easy divorce, living together, promiscuity, outside-of-marriage childbearing, abortion, homosexuality, polygamy, incest, sexualized entertainment—much of which also infects the church.

HT: The Aquila Report

JUST HORSING AROUND — Naturalis Historia has a series on the evolving views of young-Earth creationists regarding horse evolution:

A Horse is a Horse, Unless of Course it Isn’t a Horse

When is a Horse a Horse? The Species Definition Problem

In Search of the Equine Common Ancestor – Horse Series Part III

It seems maybe horses evolved after all. Very quickly, according to some YECs.

WHO’S KIDS ARE ALREADY GONE? — Genesis and Geology has a review of Ken Ham’s book Already Gone, in which the Answers in Genesis president (along with coauthor Britt Beemer) gives reasons why many of our kids leave the church (evolution and millions of years) and his solution (more young-Earth creationism).

From the review:

The book’s most serious flaw is methodological: common sense tells us that it is difficult for people who have already made up their minds about an issue to carry out objective surveys (Beemer is anything but impartial). Evangelicals have been complaining for years about how easy it is for the media to distort data. Perhaps we should practice what we preach? Furthermore, researchers should publish all of their survey data (that’s standard practice). Ham & Beemer have not done this, and unfortunately much of the data they did publish seems to contradict some their conclusions (e.g., most of the dropouts seem to agree with AiG on most Creation/evolution issues, but they dropped out anyway; when respondents said they were turned off by hypocrisy in the church, Ham conveniently interprets that to mean they were offended by pastors and teachers who “compromised” on Genesis.

CHATTING ABOUT THE CHILL — Answers in Genesis will be having a live chat on Facebook on Tuesday regarding their latest Answers Magazine ice age article, which I critiqued last week. I’ll drop in on the chat if I have the chance.

Answers-ice-age-facebook

ABIOTIC OIL — I’ve made a few comments on Jay Wile’s blog about the origin of hydrocarbons in Earth’s crust. While some methane does come from the mantle or deep crust, and there are a few oil and gas deposits in basement rocks, I take the position that most oil and gas is indeed derived from organic material in sedimentary basins.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | Around the Web, Christianity | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE

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

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

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

A SHORT LIST OF WHAT WOULD NEED TO BE FORCED INTO 250 YEARS (THE LIST COULD BE MUCH LONGER)

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

Extent of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Credit - Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_icesheet_hg.png

Extent of Northern Hemisphere glaciation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS WITH THE ARTICLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll say an “Amen” to that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BETTER SOLUTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

MY FEAR

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

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

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

With love for the church,

Grace and Peace

—————————————————————————————————

NOTES

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

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

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

I have critiqued work by Dr. Andrew Snelling before:

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

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

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

The Northern Hemisphere glaciation map is from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_icesheet_hg.png, and is based on a USGS map.

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

The reference to older glaciation in Yellowstone can be found at http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/Yellowstone/description_yellowstone.html
or http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/files/norock/products/RockiesGlaciationQuatUS.pdf.

April 9, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Around the web — 4/7/2013 — Archean jellyfish? Homeschool uncritical thinking? An atheist’s journey!

joc_april2013Jellied jellyfish — The cover of the April 2013 Journal of Creation has a picture of a jellyfish, with a caption that states “Fossil Jellyfish from Western Australia: Challenging Geological Chronology.” The article is “Fossil jellyfish from the Pilbara, Western Australia” by Philip Worts. The article is not available online yet, but I assume there is a claim that the Archean rocks of the Pilbara Craton—which contain what many believe to be Earth’s oldest known bacteria fossils—contain jellyfish fossils as well. I haven’t read the article so I cannot comment on that aspect.

What is harder to believe, that jellyfish got preserved in quiet, oxygen-poor sedimentary environments, or that somehow the carcasses of these fragile creatures stayed intact in the abrasive sediment-rich slurry that the YECs propose for Noah’s flood?

More unsalty salt — Last week I wrote a critique of a young-Earth creationist proposal that evaporites (rock salt, gypsum, etc.) were formed during Noah’s flood by crystallization from “salt magma.” Now there is a homeschool study guide to go along with the salt magma YouTube video. Most homeschooled kids won’t be harmed by this, but those who do any critical thinking or investigation about the video could be at risk of being “already gone.” This is especially true when they are presented with the false dichotomy of “if YEC isn’t true, then Christianity isn’t true.”

Atheist to deist to Christian — Christianity Today has the story of Jordan Monge: The Atheist’s Dilemma: I tried to face down an overwhelming body of evidence, as well as the living God.

But never once did I have to sacrifice my intellect for my faith.

It was the only rational course of action.

Persecution of Christians continues — Secular Sweden Sees No Problem in Sending Christian Converts Back to Iran?

What is worse, a toy or a bloody conquest?Lego drops Jabba toy after Muslims complain — So, it’s bad that this Lego set has a building that sort of looks like a mosque in Istanbul, but it is just fine that the Turks invaded the Christian Byzantine Empire, and converted its greatest church, the Hagia Sophia, into that mosque?

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Around the Web, Christianity, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments