Five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist

Genesis__1

I was a young-Earth creationist (YEC) during my first few years as an undergraduate geology major, believing that the Bible required that the universe is no older than about 10,000 years, and that geology, properly understood, supported that position. I was a student member of the Creation Research Society, and looked forward to the day that I would have my Master’s degree so I could be a full member. I knew there were problems with the YEC understandings of Earth’s geological record, but figured that these would be solved with further research, and that I might even have a role in the triumph of young-Earth creationism over old-Earth evolutionism.

There are many Christians who are fascinated by God’s good creation, and it is my experience is that it is not all that rare for there to be YECs in university geology programs. Some YEC geology majors are somehow able to hold onto their YEC beliefs all the way to graduation—or even through graduate studies—but many others have a crisis of faith and either abandon Christianity or are hobbled with deep doubts. Other YEC geology students, such as myself, end up switching to old-Earth Christianity with a vibrant faith in Christ, and with their confidence in the Bible still intact.

My conversion from YEC to old-Earth Christianity was driven primarily by the writings of theologically-conservative scholars such as Francis Schaeffer, Bernard Ramm, Arthur Custance, and Pattle Pun. These devout Christian intellectuals demonstrated that one could have a very high view of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and hold to interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis that varied from the young-Earth view. Once my mind was open to old-Earth biblical interpretations, I was able to more objectively weigh the geological arguments for a young-Earth vs old-Earth. I concluded that the YEC side was offering few credible scientific arguments for their version of Earth history.

My reasons for believing that the young-Earth interpretation is not biblically necessary have matured over the decades since then, and do not match the arguments that some other old-Earth Christians might offer. Most significantly, I reject the argument that Genesis is merely a myth with no relation to real events. I believe that Genesis 1-11 is deeply rooted in events that really happened.

Here are my top five biblical reasons I am not a young-Earth creationist.

1. Genre

Bookstores are divided into different sections, such as fiction, history, biography, science, art, religion, and self-help. If you look at a book from the poetry shelves, you will see that its contents follow very different rules than do books off of a fiction shelf. Within the fiction section, the books from the science fiction section are written with different writing conventions than those from the romantic fiction area. These broad categories, such as mystery, fantasy, and graphic novels, are what we call genres. Within a genre, there might be subgenres, each with its own styles and rules of interpretation.

The Bible contains literature written in a number of different genres, including narrative, law, wisdom, psalm, parable, genealogy, prophesy, apocalypse, and epistle. One does not read a poetic passage in the same way as one reads a narrative. As an example, consider Exodus 14-15. Chapter 14 tells the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in narrative form. Chapter 15 retells the story as a poem—the songs of Moses and Miriam. The narrative tells us that “the Lord drove the sea by a strong east wind,” (14:21), while the poem tells us “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up” (15:8). Did God send a strong wind, or did he send a blast from his nostrils? We don’t see any contradiction between these passages, because we understand the difference between prose and poetry. Individual books of the Bible may contain multiple types of genre. One cannot make a blanket statement that “Genesis is narrative,” because not all of Genesis is written as a narrative; there are stretches of genealogy, poetry, and other genres embedded in the story.

YECs commonly argue that the book of Genesis is “historical narrative” and must therefore be read “literally.” A YEC biblical scholar who has written much on this is Steven Boyd, who has done a statistical analysis on verb forms in Old Testament narrative and poetic passages, and come to the conclusion that Genesis 1 is indeed in the narrative genre. According to Boyd, old-Earth Christians who say that Genesis 1 is something other than historical narrative can be proven to be wrong by this modern computer-aided statistical analysis.

The problem is one of oversimplification, as Boyd’s analysis assumes that there are only two options: poetry and historical narrative. It is not always easy to determine the genre of a passage in the Bible, as there are subtleties, variations, and overlap between genres and subgenres. Genesis 1 is certainly not poetry in the same sense as a psalm or proverb—we didn’t need a statistical analysis to tell us this—but the chapter also has literary features that distinguish it from ordinary Hebrew historical narrative passages. Boyd’s analysis missed these nuances. One of these distinctions is the overall structure of the chapter, with the repetition of phrases such as “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day,” and “God saw that it was good.” There is really no other chapter in the Old Testament—or other ancient Hebrew literature—that has a structure quite like this. Furthermore, the vocabulary is at a higher level than in most of the Old Testament, such as using “lights” instead of sun and moon, and the naming of animals with broad categories rather than using specific names. The passage is still a narrative, but has poetry-like elements, and is in a subgenre of its own. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins describes the genre of Genesis 1 as “exalted prose narrative.”

A further problem for the YEC interpretation is that just because a passage is a narrative doesn’t mean that everything in that passage has to be taken literally in the way YECs mean literally. For example, Jesus stated that he is “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) in a narrative passage, but no one takes this as a literal statement. Likewise, in the long Joseph narrative (Genesis 37, 39-50), we are told that “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Gen 41:57). Few biblical scholars take this as a literal statement which requires us to believe that people came from places as far away as Japan and Mesoamerica to purchase grain.

If one gets the genre of a passage in Scripture incorrect—and YECs get the genre of Genesis 1 at least partially incorrect—then it is likely that one will get the interpretation of that passage at least partially incorrect as well.

2. The meaning of “yom” (day) in Genesis

Genesis 1 begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and then goes on to describe six days of creation, each ending with “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” Most YECs insist that the only way to interpret this passage is that verse 1 must be included as part of the first day, and that the six days must be literal, consecutive 24-hour days.

There are at least four ways to answer this claim, each of which is sufficient by itself as a rebuttal to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation. To start with, Old Testament scholars are divided as to whether Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” —is (1) a summary of the entire creation week, (2) an event that occurred during day 1, or (3) an event that occurred before day 1. If the initial creation of the heavens and the earth occurred prior to the events of day 1 of Genesis 1, this opens up a variety of interpretive options that do not require a young Earth.

A second consideration that may be a problem for the literal-days interpretation is that there is no sun in the sky until day four (Genesis 1:14-18). According to Genesis 1:14, one purpose of the sun and moon is to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (NIV). As far back as the third and fourth century, Origin and Augustine—and others—argued that one cannot have a day, in the sense that we understand day, if we do not have a sun as a time marker. We are not, therefore, required to believe that the days of creation are literal 24-hour days in the sense that modern YECs believe is required by the text. This did not lead church fathers to an old-Earth reading of Genesis 1, but it did lead them to question the literal 24-hour day interpretation.

A third observation about the days of Genesis 1 is that “there was evening and there was morning” is not literally a 24-hour day in Hebrew thinking. In our system of reckoning days, a literal day runs from midnight to midnight. To the ancient Hebrews, a complete day ran from sunset to sunset, not “evening and morning.” In fact, “there was evening and there was morning” is literally a night, not a day. The use of the phrase “there was evening and there was morning” could mark a pause in the action rather than the passage of a literal day, or there could even be a figurative meaning to the expression.

Finally, most conservative biblical scholars believe that Moses was involved in the writing of Genesis, perhaps by gathering written or oral materials from earlier times. Moses was also the author of Psalm 90, which includes

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (verse 4)

The immediate context of Psalm 90:4 is creation, with mentions in verses 2-3 of the creation of the earth, and humans being created from dust. One observation we can make about verse 4 is that time is not the same to God as it is to us. God is not restricted by time the way we are. Applying this back to Genesis 1, we are not required to believe that God’s days must be the same as our days. This is especially true for days 1-3, with no sun to mark days, but could also apply to the days in the entire creation week. It seems that modern young-Earth creationists may be more concerned about the “literal” meaning of the days of creation than Moses himself was!

3. Animal death and the fall

Young-Earth believers often argue that Earth cannot possibly be millions of years old because death did not occur until after Adam sinned. They will refer to verses such as Romans 5:12, which states, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The YEC reasoning is that if all death came into the world through Adam’s sin, then there could not have been millions of years of death prior to Adam. Sedimentary rocks in Earth’s crust contain many quintillions of fossils, which are the remains of dead creatures, ranging from single-celled organisms and plants, to vertebrates, such as dinosaurs and mammals. The YEC interpretation requires all of these fossils to have died sometime after Adam sinned. Adam did not live millions of years ago, therefore Earth could not be millions of years old.

The problem with this YEC argument is that it is an over-reading of what the Bible actually teaches about death in our world. The Bible does indeed teach that human death is tied to Adam’s sin. Adam and Eve did not literally physically die on the literal day they ate the forbidden fruit, but they did literally physically die at some point after access to the Tree of Life was denied to them. But the Bible never ties animal death to Adams sin. The relevant passages are Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 5:12-17, Romans 8:19-22, and 1 Corinthians 15:21-28;35-57. None of these verses, nor any other passage of the Bible, teach that animal death began with Adam’s sin. In fact, the Bible never even teaches that animals were created to live forever.

4. Genealogies

Most young-Earth advocates will say that we know how old Earth is by adding up the years in all of the genealogies of the Bible. The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 contain chronological information, such as “When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh… When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan… (Genesis 5:6,9).” Adding these together, along with chronological information in the rest of the Old Testament, and then tying these genealogies into certain dates for late-Old Testament events, results in a timeline that points back to Adam being created about 6000 years ago (or 4004 BC, as Archbishop Ussher famously calculated). Earth is, according to the YEC interpretation, only six days older than Adam, so Earth itself also is only 6000 years old as well.

There are several problems with this line of reasoning. Some YECs recognize these, and are willing to push Adam back a few thousand years, such as to 10,000 BC. I would like to focus on just one problem. As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in a real Adam and Eve. If we take these genealogies and chronologies in the YEC sense, then Adam lived in the Neolithic, about 6-10 thousand years ago (some old-Earth Christians push this date back further). The genealogies may point to this time frame, but they do not help us to address the interpretive questions we have with Genesis 1. In other words, Adam may have lived 10,000 years ago, and the Earth and universe could still be billions of years old. We can believe in a real Adam, Eve, Garden of Eden, and first sin, and hold to one of the various old-Earth understandings of Genesis 1, such as the day-age, analogical-days, historical creation, or framework interpretations.

In other words, the genealogies are largely irrelevant to the question of the age of the Earth.

5. The New Testament does not teach a young Earth

Finally, YECs often say that the New Testament, including Jesus himself, teaches a young Earth. They will point to verses such as Mark 10:6, where Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female,’” or Luke 11:50-51, which states, “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” YECs will emphasize the “from the beginning of creation” part of Mark 10:6, because it seems to place the first humans at the very beginning of time, not billions of years after the initial creation.

We need to think a little more carefully, however, about the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” and ask the question, “Creation of what?” Note that Jesus does not say “from the beginning of creation of the universe.” The context in Mark 10 is a discussion of divorce, not the origin of the sun, moon, stars, and Earth itself. Jesus specifically refers to God making humans male and female, whom he brought together in marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8; Gen 2:24). It is possible that Jesus had in mind “from the beginning of the creation of the universe,” but given the marriage context, it is also possible that Jesus was referring to “the beginning of the creation of humans and marriage.” The YEC interpretation of Mark 10:6 is possible, but there are other valid understandings of this verse, so it is a stretch to say that Jesus was a young-Earth creationist.

Conclusion

The young-Earth, calendar-day interpretation is one of several possible interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. Other interpretations that are within biblical orthodoxy include the day-age, framework, and analogical-days interpretations, as outlined in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative Presbyterian Church in America. The age of the Earth is not used as part of a theological argument anywhere in the Bible, and has no bearing on any core doctrine, so it should not be a topic Christians divide over. Some YECs insist that the age of the Earth is a gospel issue, but this is clearly not the case. Most old-Earth Christians, including myself, affirm the core doctrines of the Christian faith that are involved in the opening chapters of Genesis, such as creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible, a real Adam and Eve, a real Garden of Eden, a real fall into sin, and a real promise of a coming savior (Genesis 3:15).

I adopt an old-Earth view for both biblical and scientific reasons, but I fully accept and respect those who, for biblical reasons, accept the young-Earth view. To insist that Genesis only allows for the young-Earth interpretation is not supportable biblically, as I have briefly outlined here. Being that there is overwhelming geological evidence that Earth is much older than 10,000 years, it is harmful for evangelism and discipleship to present the young-Earth view as the only infallible interpretation of Genesis.

Grace and Peace

——————-

Notes:

©2019 Kevin Nelstead

A printer-friendly PDF of this article may be downloaded here: Five biblical reasons I am not a young earth creationist.pdf

Unless stated otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV). The quote marked as NIV comes from the 1984 edition of the New International Version.

YEC is an abbreviation for young-Earth creationist/creationism that is accepted by many within the YEC community. Other common abbreviations in this discussion are OEC (old-Earth creationist) and TE or EC (theistic evolutionist or evolutionary creationist).

I gave links to books by Schaeffer, Ramm, Custance, and Pun, which greatly influenced my thinking back in the 1980s. A few books I would recommend now are here.

The Facebook discussion for this post is here.

Review – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

Bishop, R.C., Funck, L.L., Lewis, R.J., Moshier, S.O., and Walton, J.H, 2018, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 659 p.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins is authored by five professors from Wheaton College. Wheaton is an Evangelical institution with rigorous admissions standards, and therefore has a smarter-than-usual student body. These professors have been jointly teaching a class on origins (SCI 311) at Wheaton for a number of years, giving students an overview of both biblical and scientific aspects of origins.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  1. Getting Started on the Journey – Four chapters on biblical interpretation and the interaction between science and Christian faith. These chapters lay a foundation for the rest of the book, and introduce themes which permeate many of the scientific concepts that follow, such as the functional integrity and ministerial action of the creation.
  2. Cosmic Origins – Six chapters covering Genesis 1, the big bang model and fine tuning in the universe. The unit ends with a chapter on “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on the Origins of the Universe” (units 3–6 end with a similar chapter).
  3. Origin and Geologic History of Earth – Eight chapters covering the origin of the solar system, catastrophism and uniformitarianism; the interpretation of the flood account in Genesis, geologic time, and Earth history.
  4. Origin of Life on Earth – Five chapters covering abiogenesis (the origin of life), as well as theological perspectives on the topic.
  5. Origin of Species and the Diversity of Life – Five chapters on biological evolution.
  6. Human Origins – Four chapters on biblical and evolutionary perspectives on the origin of humanity.
  7. Concluding Postscript – One chapter: “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on New Creation, Creation Care, and Science Education.”

This book is not written as an unbiased overview of all the Christian perspectives on origins. In other words, it is not like the Four Views on ________ books (some of which are excellent) that are already available at Christian bookstores. Instead, the book is written from a perspective that accepts big-bang cosmology, standard old-Earth geology, and biological evolution as scientifically-valid ways of understanding God’s creation. In terms of biblical interpretation, the book is written from a perspective that views the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, but which also places a strong interpretive emphasis on the worldviews present in the ancient world. If you have read any of John Walton’s Lost World books (Such as The Lost World of Genesis One), you will have an idea what to expect in the sections on biblical interpretation (though written more for a general audience than the Lost World books). The authors, therefore, fall within the broad credal orthodoxy of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The authors accept Adam and Eve as historical persons, as well as Noah’s flood as a historical event, but interprets these less literally than either young-Earth creationists, or old-Earth creationists such as Hugh Ross.

The chapters which examine what the Bible says about origins topics (e.g. Chapter 13, The Genesis Flood, and Chapter 29, Human Origins: Genesis 2–3) are excellent. In fact, the examination of why Noah’s flood does not, according to Genesis 6–9, have to be what we would picture as a global deluge, is one of the best I have read. This book will provide its readers with a solid foundation not only for understanding the biblical and theological side of origins topics, but will give them greater confidence in the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.

The section on geology is the longest part of the book, and consists of the following chapters:

  • Chapter 11 – Origin of the Earth and Solar System
  • Chapter 12 – Historical Roots of Geology: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism
  • Chapter 13 – The Genesis Flood
  • Chapter 14 – The Rock Cycle and Timescales of Geologic Processes
  • Chapter 15 – Rocks of Ages: Measuring Geologic Time
  • Chapter 16 – Plate Tectonics: A Theory for How the Earth Works
  • Chapter 17 – Reading Earth’s History in Rocks and Fossils
  • Chapter 18 – Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Earth History

In this unit, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins does not cover the same breadth of material as a complete introductory textbook on physical or historical geology would, but what it does cover, it covers in some depth. For instance, Chapter 15 not only discusses radiometric dating in a general way, but introduces more advanced topics such as concordia and isochron dating that are not found in most introductory geology textbooks. Knowledge of these techniques provides readers with greater confidence that radiometric dating works, and usually works well.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins offers an excellent overview of the biblical and scientific issues surrounding the origins of the universe, Earth, life, biological diversity, and human beings. It is well-written and accessible to non-scientists as well as scientists. It will be a reference work that I go to often for science topics I’m a little weaker on, as well as for biblical and theological arguments regarding origins. I recommend the book for:

  • Educators in Christian schools. This book would be a great teacher’s supplement to my Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
  • Home-school parents.
  • Pastors and youth-group workers.
  • Anyone who is serious about Bible-science issues: young-Earth creationists (so they have a better understanding of the “other side”), old-Earth creationists, and evolutionary creationists
  • Christians in the sciences

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank IVP Academic for giving me a review copy of this book.

 

Book Review – Two young-Earth creationist books about Yellowstone expose how YECs cannot explain Yellowstone geology

Your Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks: A Different Perspective, by John Hergenrather, Tom Vail, Mike Oard, and Dennis Bokovoy

The Geology of Yellowstone: A Biblical Guide, by Patrick Nurre

Young-Earth creationists (YECs) believe that the Bible requires that almost all features of Earth’s crust are the result of Noah’s Flood about 4300 years ago. These books are, in the words of Nurre, “an attempt to present the geology of Yellowstone from a Biblical perspective,”, as opposed to the standard geological timeframe in which the history of Yellowstone goes back a few billion years to the Archean Eon. This “biblical geology” effort is misguided, however, as the Bible does not say anything about processes such as igneous intrusion, volcanism, erosion, sedimentation, metamorphism, and glaciation. This results in a serious over-reading of the biblical text, leading to erroneous conclusions about the origin of geological features in places such as Yellowstone.

As a Christian, I believe that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1), and I believe Noah’s flood was a real, historical event, though I believe it was local, not global, in extent and effect. The biblical account of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) tells us nothing about how the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks of Earth’s crust came to be, especially in places as far from biblical lands as Yellowstone. There is, therefore, no need to come up with a “biblical” explanation for Yellowstone.

Your Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton by Hergenrather et al.

yourguidetoyellowstoneThis is a well-written, nicely-illustrated book. Of the four authors, Dennis Bokovoy has a MS degree in geology, which helps to ensure that the book at least uses geological terms correctly. Michael Oard is a prolific writer on a wide range of topics in the YEC movement. The other two authors are John Hergenrather and Tom Vail.

Much of the book consists of typical tourist guidebook information: what to see at Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon Village, and so forth. The overall premise of the book, however, is that the geologic features of Yellowstone can be better explained in a so-called biblical model, which actually goes far beyond anything the Bible says.

As in most YEC literature, the book presents the alternatives as either evolution over millions of years, or creation less than 10,000 years ago. Many who read this book, either Christian or non-Christian, will not be aware that these are not the only options. There are many highly-qualified theologians, pastors, and scientists who accept the Bible as inerrant and authoritative who reject the overly-literal young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

The book is fairly shallow in terms of its presentation of the case for a young-Earth interpretation of Yellowstone. It is admittedly written for a general audience, but it fails to develop a convincing case that the geologic features of Yellowstone are better explained by Noah’s flood, acting just a few thousand years ago.

The Geology of Yellowstone by Nurre

geology of yellowstoneThe biography at the back of the book states that Patrick Nurre “has been a rock hound since childhood.” I found one site that said he was “trained in secular geology,” but it seems he does not have a degree in geology.

Early in the book, Nurre states: “Secular geology claims that the universe is 15 billion years old and the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. If this is true, then the entire Bible is a lie!” [emphasis added]. This false dichotomy of “either young-Earth creationism is true or the Bible is false” has driven countless young people out of the church, and has set up an unfortunate barrier to faith for many scientifically-literate people. When people see the only options as young-Earth creationism or rejection of Christianity, many opt for a rejection of Christianity, especially in light of the steady stream of bad science that has come out of the young-Earth movement over the past century. I believe the Bible is inerrant and trustworthy, and that all truth is God’s truth, whether revealed in Scripture or in creation. An alternative way to look at Earth history, then, is that if there seems to be a conflict between science and the Bible, then either our interpretation of science is wrong, or our interpretation of the Bible is wrong. In this case, if Earth is old, it is not that “the entire Bible is a lie,” but that it could be that the young-Earth interpretation is what is at fault. Being that there are alternative interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis held by Bible-believing Old Testament scholars, and that young-Earth geology does not work, I side with old-Earth biblical interpretations.

The errors in the book are numerous:

  • p. 19. Radioactive half-life is described as “the time it takes for ½ of a Carbon-14 atom to decay.” – There is no such thing as the decay of half of an atom.
  • p. 22. “The column in its entirety has not been found anywhere on the Earth.” – Complete geologic columns, containing rocks from all periods from the Cambrian through Quaternary, are found in a number of places on Earth, such as in the Williston Basin of northwestern North Dakota.
  • p. 23. In regards to uranium-lead dating methods: “We assume that the initial state of the rock started with a certain amount of uranium and no lead.” – I’m not sure that the author understands uranium-lead dating, as methods such as isochron dating and concordia methods, are based on the assumption that there was initial lead in the system.
  • p. 89. “Igneous Rocks – rocks geologists think were formed by fire or heat.” – This is a really bad definition of igneous rocks. They certainly were not formed by fire, which is the result of combustion reactions. Heat is also involved in the formation of metamorphic rocks, and even in the sub-metamorphic alteration of many sedimentary rocks at a few hundred degrees Celsius.
  • 94. “Obsidian is volcanic glass: pure quartz.” – Pure quartz has a composition of crystalline SiO2 and nothing else. Obsidian is not crystalline, so it is not quartz, and obsidian contains many other elements, such as iron, magnesium, aluminum, sodium, and potassium, which pure quartz does not contain. This mistake is repeated a number of times in the book.

I could list many more, but you get the idea. Even if I were still a YEC, I would not endorse this book.

Analysis

Both books give typical young-Earth creationist explanations for the rocks and other geologic features of Yellowstone. I will take a closer look at two of these, showing why it is not credible to squeeze the history of Yellowstone into the short time frame required by YECs.

Fossil Forests

The fossil forests of Yellowstone are found in the Eocene Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup, which covers an extensive area north, east, and southeast of Yellowstone National Park. These rocks were formed as the result of the eruptions of a series of large stratovolcanoes, similar to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range. Many of the rocks are interpreted to be volcanic mudflow deposits (lahars) rather than as lava flows.

The authors of both books point to the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens in Washington for an explanation for the petrified forests of the Absaroka Supergroup. Spirit Lake at Mt St Helens contains many thousands of trees that could eventually be incorporated into sedimentary rocks as a fossil forest. The young-Earth thinking is that if a single local catastrophe like Mt St Helens could create a local fossilized forest, then a much larger catastrophe (Noah’s flood) could create much larger fossilized forests such as found at Yellowstone.

It is valid to consider the deposits from contemporary volcanic eruptions, such as the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens, when seeking to interpret the formation of ancient rocks such as in the Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup. What we learn from modern eruptions is that volcanoes can produce lahars, which may contain logs and tree fragments, which will lead to layers of rock with petrified wood. It is legitimate, therefore, to conclude that the petrified forests of Yellowstone very well may have been formed in an analogous way.

The problems with the YEC interpretation of fossil forests at Yellowstone are numerous, and are not addressed in these two books:

  • How did a series of large stratovolcanoes form and then completely erode away in a matter of weeks, which is what would have been required in the most-common young-Earth catastrophism scenario?
  • All that remains of the stratovolcanoes themselves are igneous intrusions that represent the magma chambers. How did these magma chambers crystallize in a matter of days or weeks before they were exposed by floodwater erosion?
  • All of the sediments in these lahars (volcanic mudflow deposits) seem to be locally-derived, from the adjacent stratovolcanoes. If this happened during a global flood, why are there not non-local sediments mixed in with the local sediments?
  • Likewise, all of the trees seem to be part of an ecological package, ranging from subtropical species in the lowlands to colder-climate conifers higher up on the volcanic slopes. This makes perfect sense in the standard geological explanation, as lahars would originate at higher elevations and wash down to lower areas, creating a mixture of trees from different ecological zones. In the young-Earth scenario, however, there would be no time for trees to grow on the slopes of the ephemeral volcanoes, so there is no explanation of how these trees, and not some other mix of trees, ended up being preserved in the Absaroka volcanic rocks of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Caldera and Quaternary Glaciation

The Yellowstone Caldera is the result of the most recent “supervolcano” eruption at Yellowstone. The Yellowstone area has actually been the home to two supervolcano eruptions (volume > 1000 km3), several smaller caldera eruptions, and numerous smaller, though often still enormous, rhyolitic and basaltic lava flows. The present Yellowstone caldera is largely filled by these later flows. All of these eruptions occurred in what geologists refer to as the Quaternary period, which covers the past 2.6 million years of Earth history. YECs believe that this volcanism occurred at the end of Noah’s flood, or during a few centuries after the flood.

Both books refer often to the volcanism associated with the Yellowstone Caldera, without explaining how this is better explained by YEC, or acknowledging the numerous problems with trying to squeeze more than sixty distinct volcanic eruptions into a short period of time. There is abundant evidence for unconformities (erosional surfaces) between lava flows. This requires that lavas had time to completely cool between eruptions, something which takes time.

A fatal complication for the YEC explanations regarding Quaternary volcanism at Yellowstone is the evidence for alternation between volcanism and glaciation on the Yellowstone Plateau. Young-Earth creationists insist that there was only one ice age following Noah’s flood (though of course the Bible says nothing about when or how many ice ages occurred), yet at Yellowstone it is clear that a massive ice cap formed over the higher elevations more than once. For instance, volcanic ash from the final large caldera eruption (Lava Creek Tuff) is found on the Great Plains in Saskatchewan sandwiched between glacial deposits, which means there was glaciation both before and after this caldera eruption. Furthermore, a lobe of one of the final large rhyolite flows overlies glacial moraines near West Yellowstone, indicating that an ice cap had had time to form between emplacement of these later lava flows.

Here is what the Quaternary history of Yellowstone would have to look like in the young-Earth model:

  • Numerous smaller basalt or rhyolite lava flows, with time for erosion and deposition of sediments between at least some of the flows.
  • Supervolcano eruption – Huckleberry Ridge Tuff (2500 km3).
  • More smaller basalt and rhyolite flows, with time for erosion and sedimentation between flows.
  • Caldera eruption – Mesa Falls Tuff (280 km3, not large enough to be a supervolcano).
  • More smaller basalt and rhyolite flows, with erosion and sedimentation.
  • Formation of an ice cap over the Yellowstone Plateau.
  • Supervolcano eruption – Lava Creek Tuff (1000 km3).
  • More smaller basalt and rhyolite flows, with time for erosion and sedimentation between flows.
  • Formation of another ice cap over the Yellowstone Plateau.
  • At least one more massive rhyolite flow.
  • Formation of a final ice cap over the Yellowstone Plateau, and melting of that ice cap.

The whole thing can be summarized as “too many events, too little time.”

I would not recommend either of these books for use by Christians seeking to gain understanding of the geologic history of Yellowstone National Park. The Bible does not say anything about geologic events such as volcanism and glaciation, so YEC efforts to explain the geology of places such as Yellowstone is biblically unwarranted. Furthermore, YECs have been unsuccessful in explaining the complexity of geological features at places such as Yellowstone.

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes:

One can be a Bible-believing Christian and not hold to belief in a young Earth or global flood. A few of these alternative interpretations are presented in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the inerrancy-affirming Presbyterian Church in America.

Review – A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture

AReformedApproachToScienceAndScriptureA Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture is largely a summary of the insights of the late theologian R.C. Sproul on the topic of the relationship between science and Christian faith. The author is Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Florida, and the book is available as a free Kindle book. Don’t let the zero-dollar price tag fool you; this is a great little e-book.

It is common for young-Earth creationists to ask something like, “Are you going to believe God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science?” There are many ways that an old-Earth Christian could respond to this false distinction between science and Christian faith. I usually respond by saying that I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that if there appears to be a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we misunderstand God’s Word, God’s world, or both.

R.C. Sproul basically said the same thing, and much more, as Mathison outlines in this book. Much of the book focuses on the topic of the age of the Earth, but it touches on other science and faith issues as well. The book has seven chapters, which I will summarize:

Chapter 1 – All Truth is God’s Truth

It is common for postmodernists to question the concept of truth, but unfortunately, it is also common for Bible-believing Christians to do the same.  These otherwise theologically-orthodox Christians fear that if we consider God’s revelation in creation to be infallible or authoritative, that this will somehow detract from the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Mathison points to the teachings not only of Sproul, but of Augustine, Calvin, and Bavinck to show that “all truth is God’s truth” is an idea that is consistent both with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Reformed theology in general.

Chapter 2 – General and Special Revelation

Mathison distinguishes general revelation, which is available to all, and special revelation, such as the Bible, which points us to God’s work of salvation. Because God is truthful in everything he does, Mathison reminds us that “God’s revelation in creation is equally as infallible as His revelation in Scripture, because in both cases, it is God who is doing the revealing, and God is always infallible.”

Chapter 3 – Interpreting General and Special Revelation

We should not approach perceived conflicts between science and the Bible as “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science,” but in light of fallible human interpretations of both God’s infallible Word and God’s infallible creation. It is clear that fallible humans have misinterpreted both. Mathison explores this by reviewing the geocentrism vs. heliocentrism controversy of the 1500s and 1600s.

Chapter 4 – Luther, Calvin, and Copernicus

Both Luther and Calvin viewed Copernicus’s heliocentrism as heretical. This chapter takes a closer look at the Copernican Revolution, and what we now recognize to be faulty biblical hermeneutics by the reformers.

Chapter 5 – Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

In this chapter, the author takes a closer look at how the fall into sin affected human reasoning. Human reasoning is affected by sin, but it is not totally ruined. This is especially true in regards to general revelation. Unbelievers will get some things wrong in their understanding of the creation, but this is true for believers as well, and is also true of believers when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Chapter 6 – When Science and Scripture Conflict

Sproul stated that if he is sure he correctly understands the Scripture, and if Scripture and science seem to conflict, that he would “stand with the Word of God a hundred times out of a hundred.” I agree with this statement. In most situations, we must be willing to take a closer look at both our scientific and Biblical interpretations. One key is to discern what Scripture actually teaches, and the failure to do this is where many science-faith conflicts come from. Mathison states that “Christians have absolutely nothing to fear ultimately from scientific research.”

Chapter 7 – The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1

Sproul, who leaned towards a young-Earth, stated that “the Bible does not give us a date of creation.” In light of this, Mathison warns us against creating false dilemmas in discussions about origins. As an example, Mathison writes, “I have also encountered Christians who have argued that any believer who is convinced that the universe is billions of years old should abandon Christianity because it would mean that the Bible is not true.” This false dichotomy is, unfortunately, common in the young-Earth movement, and it is very harmful both for discipleship and evangelism. When we teach our youth that if the Earth is millions of years old the Bible is a lie, we set them up for a fall. If we present this false dichotomy in evangelism to scientists or the scientifically-literate public, we place an unnecessary obstacle to Christian faith.

It is significant that R.C. Sproul leaned towards the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis, yet was able ultimately to say “I don’t know.” Sproul maintained a charitable relationship with those he disagreed with, which is a loving, Christ-following example for those on all sides of the origins debates within the Church.

The book is available in Kindle format from Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2018 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

 

Yellowstone National Park — Another bad answer from Answers in Genesis

1280px-Grand_Prismatic_Spring_and_Midway_Geyser_Basin_from_above

This brief article on Yellowstone National Park from Answers in Genesis is exceptionally bad.

https://answersingenesis.org/creation-vacations/yellowstone-national-park/

Answers in Genesis — “The volcano that left the enormous crater at Yellowstone was far greater than anything we observe today. While modern craters measure barely 20 square miles (52 km2), the crater at Yellowstone covers about 1,500 square miles (3885 km2). You can still see the massive volcanic lava and ash beds at Specimen Ridge and other places north of the park.”

Response — The 3885 km2 caldera must refer to the 640,000 year-old Yellowstone Caldera, which produced the Lava Creek Tuff. This was the third of the three major Quaternary calderas formed at Yellowstone. The volcanic and volcaniclastic deposits at Specimen Ridge, however, are related to entirely different set of volcanoes, and have nothing to do with the Yellowstone Caldera eruptions. The rocks at Specimen ridge are part of the Eocene Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup, which was created by a series of stratovolcanoes similar to those in the Cascade Range.

Answers in Genesis — “The fact that molten rock remains hot near the earth’s surface is evidence that Yellowstone’s volcanic activity was recent—fewer than 4,500 years ago, according to the Bible´s timescale. So every one of the park’s 100,000 geysers, hot springs, and mud pots is a testimony to the recent Flood.”

Response — In other articles, Answers in Genesis admits that Yellowstone sits over a hot spot, so there is a very credible explanation for why rocks beneath Yellowstone are still hot even after hundreds of thousands of years. Heat is continually supplied from Earth’s mantle, which explains why magma exists at relatively shallow depths. The presence of heat in no way points to the young-Earth creationist timescale, and there is nothing in these volcanic rocks that points to the young-Earth creationist’s global flood.

Answers in Genesis — “If you look along the western shore of Jackson Lake, you can see the Teton Fault, which marks the boundary between where the mountains rose and the nearby land fell. The evidence indicates that most of the world’s mountain ranges rose very recently because their dazzling heights and ruggedness have not had time to erode away.”

Response — Here, Answers in Genesis seems to be assuming that Earth is a rather static world, rather than dynamic planet. If the Grand Tetons had been sitting there static for tens of millions of years, then the mountain range would now be leveled down to low hills at best. But if the Grand Tetons and other mountain ranges are actively rising (and there is abundant evidence that this is still the case) then there is no reason why they would not be majestic and rugged mountain ranges at present.

Answers in Genesis — “The fact that magma is still hot enough to drive the geysers indicates that the magma moved to this chamber very recently (at the end of the Flood, not millions of years ago).”

Response — Once again, Answers in Genesis is ignoring how Earth works. Heat from Earth’s mantle is continually supplied beneath Yellowstone, keeping the rocks hot enough to be partially molten. There is no reason to suppose that the magma moved into this chamber only 4500 years ago.

Answers in Genesis — “Notice that the stumps are stripped bare, without any signs of roots or soil.”

Response — The fact that petrified tree stumps are “stripped bare” is evidence that they were moved in debris flows (lahars), rather than being petrified in the place where they grew. There is abundant sedimentological evidence that these petrified trees are in localized debris flows. There are also tree stumps that do have roots, and some may be in their original positions.

Answers in Genesis — “If the Flood stripped the earth’s forests and then the trees floated on the ocean and jostled about, rubbing together before sinking, it could more easily cause many layers of stumps.”

Response — The evidence in the rocks is that these fossil forests were buried in local debris flows: gravelly muds with the consistency of liquid concrete that solidified to form conglomerates. The rocks containing these trees are all local volcanic rocks, derived from volcanoes which were a few tens of kilometers away at the most. If the trees were floating on an ocean, how did they get mixed in with the debris flows? Additionally, if the trees were floating on an ocean, why did they all deposit in one layer on top of another in the same place, rather than some being deposited in northwestern Wyoming, and some in central Nebraska, some in northern Idaho, and so forth? A global flood would have scattered the trees, not deposited them in layers one on top of another.

Answers in Genesis — “Scientists observed something similar to this happening at Spirit Lake after Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.”

Response — Young-Earth creationists love to point to Mt. St. Helens. Yes, the log deposits of Spirit lake at Mt. St. Helens can tell us some things about how petrified forests might be preserved in volcanic deposits, but that is about all they can tell us. The trees at Spirit Lake, however, will end up being preserved in a lake deposit, not in a debris flow deposit, and almost all of the Yellowstone petrified forests are found in coarse conglomerates, not in fine-grained lake deposits.

Answers in Genesis — [in a section on Grand Prismatic Spring] “What makes the dazzling colors at the park’s largest hot spring?”

Response — The picture in this section of the article is not Grand Prismatic Spring.

Answers in Genesis — [in a section on Old Faithful Geyser] “The fact that magma is still hot enough to drive the geysers indicates that the magma moved to this chamber very recently (at the end of the Flood, not millions of years ago)”

Response — The picture in this section of the article is not Old Faithful Geyser. I don’t think the author of this article is all that familiar with Yellowstone National Park. In addition, geologists do not say that the magma beneath Yellowstone National Park was intruded into Earth’s crust millions of years ago, as the most recent caldera eruption has been dated at 640,000 years, and the most recent large lava flow at Yellowstone (the Pitchstone Plateau flow) occurred about 75,000 years ago.

Answers in Genesis — “Look at those pretty colors in the pool, Daddy. But what´s that smoke? Is it hot?”
“Yes, honey. It´s very hot. In fact, springs like this are hot because super-hot, molten rocks, called magma, rose from deep in the earth during Noah´s Flood—just a few thousand years ago. The heat hasn´t had time to cool off.”

Response — Answers in Genesis managed to squeeze a lot of bad science in such a short article. For Daddy to give his child the Answers in Genesis explanation for the features in Yellowstone National Park could eventually lead to shipwrecking that child’s faith. If this child grows up and studies geology, he or she will discover that almost everything Answers in Genesis taught them about the Earth is wrong. If this bad science is coupled with the false dichotomy of “If young-Earth creationism isn’t true, then the Bible isn’t true and Jesus didn’t die for your sins,” they could easily throw out their Christianity along with their young-Earth guidebook to Yellowstone National Park.

My hope instead is that this child will grow up with foundations for their faith that are built on God’s Word, but not on the bad science of young-Earth creationism.

Grace and Peace

Copyright 2018, Kevin Nelstead, The GeoChristian


Notes:

I have barely touched the surface on what I could write about why Yellowstone National Park and young-Earth creationism do not go together. Of course, the Bible is not about Yellowstone National Park.

The photograph of the real Grand Prismatic Spring at the top of this article is from Wikipedia (author: Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons)

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

6books

The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Earth Day 2018 — My guest editorial

There is a perception among conservative Reformation and Evangelical Christians that placing a high priority on Earth care is for theological and political liberals, new age pantheists, and “tree huggers,” and has little to do with Christian discipleship. In response, environmentalists often view Evangelicals as being opposed to many environmental causes, and therefore as enemies. In response to all of this, I wrote a guest editorial (Good News for Earth Day) that was printed in today’s Billings Gazette:

On this Earth Day, I would like to make a case that caring for the Earth ought to be considered a normal part of the Christian life. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote that the creation is groaning, that it is not what it should be, and that it is waiting for a right relationship with God’s children to be restored. Even in Roman times, scholars bemoaned deforestation, and were concerned about whether or not the land could support a growing population. The creation still groans today.

I would like to briefly outline just a few of the ways in which the Bible lays a firm foundation for caring for the Earth. In the creation account in Genesis 1, one of the phrases that is repeated multiple times is “God saw that it was good.” Before humans entered the scene, Earth’s land, sea and air were teeming with life, and it was good in God’s eyes. If God had stopped before the arrival of the first humans, the creation still would have been good in and of itself. The world does not have value only because of the resources it provides to humans, but because God has declared it to be good.

God went on to create humanity, and then he commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). Much ink has been spilt over this verse in the environmental literature, with some claiming that this mandate for humans to subdue and rule has led to wholesale exploitation of our planet. There have been a number of excellent rebuttals to this accusation, but I will sum it up by saying that throughout the Bible, to rule is to serve for the benefit of others. Selfish exploitation was never the intention.

At the heart of Christian theology is the idea that the second person of the Trinity has become human in the person of Jesus Christ. This speaks loudly not only about God’s love for sinners, but of the value of the physical world. The idea that God became flesh stands in stark contrast to any philosophy that says that the spiritual world is more important than the physical.

We believe that human sin has broken four sets of relationships: our relationship with God, with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. Jesus did not just come to “save souls,” but to ultimately restore all of creation and all of these types of relationships for his people. In the meantime, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God, but also for the flourishing of the other relationships as well, which includes our relationship with nature.

One of the challenges facing environmental ethicists is answering the question of how we can find intrinsic value in nature. Do the things in nature — plants, animals, ecosystems — have value in and of themselves? If so, where does that value come from, and how should we then live? I believe that as Christians, we have excellent answers to these questions. We learned from Genesis that nature has value because God values it. In addition, rather than being a cancer or disease on the Earth, humans are embedded within the creation as God’s representatives, not just so we can be fruitful and multiply, but so that the rest of creation can flourish as well.

If you are a Christian, you ought to be concerned about the Earth. “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If you are not a Christian, I invite you to consider the Biblical foundation I have presented for Earth care. If the Earth indeed belongs to God, you can best care for it by doing so as a disciple of Jesus.

I had three reasons for writing this guest editorial. My first motive was to increase awareness among Evangelicals that caring for the Earth is not only consistent with our Christian faith, but mandated by the Scriptures. As I mentioned, Adam’s fall into sin affected four relationships for all humanity: our relationships to God, to our fellow humans, to ourselves, and to the creation. We teach that people can be restored to God here and now through faith in Christ. We also emphasize that there can be a partial, yet substantial, healing of our relationships with each other through Christ, as well as healing of our inner emotional and psychological turmoil. There should not be a “here and now” healing to only three out of four aspects of our broken relationships, but across the board, including working towards healing in the created world.

My second reason for writing this article was targeted at non-Christians. Many people who care deeply about the ecological burdens that humanity has placed on our planet believe that Christianity is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I believe that Christian theology presents a solid foundation for caring for our planet, with its plants, animals, ecosystems, and landscapes, even if most Christians are not aware of that foundation. I also sincerely believe that the Christian answer provides a stronger basis for Earth care than competing alternatives such as pantheism and secularism. Part of the argument for this, as I briefly discussed, is that Christianity provides a basis for finding intrinsic value in the creatures and features of the Earth. If you care about the Earth, you really ought to consider Christianity.

My third motivation for writing this editorial was political in nature. Many theologically conservative Christians are also political conservatives, and vote for candidates who place a low priority on Earth care. This is expressed politically by cutbacks on environmental regulations regarding things like clean air, clean water, mining waste, and protections for endangered species. Even more extreme are the calls to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. Perhaps there are better ways of dealing with these very real problems than regulations, but these better methods are not part of the so-called conservative agenda. I sometimes ask what it is that these conservatives want to conserve.

Grace and Peace.