A catastrophic video

This five-minute “Noah’s Flood and Catastrophic Plate Tectonics” video was recently released by Genesis Apologetics. It has as shown up in my Facebook feed several times this week, so I decided to watch it.

I have no doubt that the producer(s) of this video mean well. They believe the Bible, and want to provide evidence that supports the truthfulness of the Bible. I suppose many people watch this sort of thing and have their faith somehow strengthened. However, the video goes far beyond what the Bible actually says in regards to Noah’s flood, and for many people, the video will provide not evidence for the truthfulness of Genesis, but a stumbling block that hinders faith.

Analysis

0:14 “Over a million square miles are filled with the remnants of most known dinosaur species.” — This is not true. Many species are known only from other locations around the world.

0:17 “And they’re all mixed with other land animals, fish, birds, and all sorts of sea life.” — This is a ‘generalization from an exceptional case’ fallacy. Some dinosaur fossils are found mixed with marine fossils, but most are not. Dinosaur fossils are generally found as part of coherent terrestrial ecological systems, not a willy-nilly mix of different environments such as implied in this statement from the video. If the fossils were deposited on land near a shoreline, there could be mixtures from different environments as sea level rose and fell. There are also places where dinosaur bones could have washed out to sea at the mouth of a stream.

0:22 “The leading theory asserted by evolutionists is that an asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula… [which] is why millions of dinosaurs are buried in mud and ash.” — This is completely wrong. No geologist says that all these dinosaurs in western North America were buried by the Yucatan impact. Dinosaur fossils are found not in catastrophic impact-related sediments, but in rocks that preserve ordinary environments such as river floodplains and coastal plains. Actual impact deposits are extraordinarily rare.

0:44 “There’s also vast areas of crumpled and buckled geology from land masses that were laid down wet and then folded.” — This statement is quite simply false: sedimentary layers do not need to be soft in order to folded due to mountain-building processes. There are significant differences in how sedimentary layers fold when wet and unconsolidated (leading to soft-sediment deformation) and when they are lithified. Most folded rock layers in mountainous regions have features that indicate the rocks were solid when folded, such as faulting within the folds, or microfractures that are visible under a microscope.

0:51 “And this action was obviously driven by rapidly subducting plates.” This is only “obviously” to young-Earth creationists. The history of mountain-building in the American West was complex and episodic. There were periods of uplift, and periods of erosion. Mountain building went through different phases in different areas, with periods of igneous intrusion and volcanism; thrust faulting, deep-seated block faulting, and basin-and-range extension. It is very difficult to see how all of this could have been squeezed into a portion of a one-year event.

1:25 “The dinosaurs somehow just kept on peacefully thriving in this area while [subduction of the Farallon plate] was happening.” — Ecosystems thrive in volcanic arcs associated with subduction zones today, such as around the Ring of Fire. There is no reason to believe ecosystems did not also thrive as subduction-related volcanism occurred while dinosaurs were alive. From what we see in the rock record, volcanism was episodic then just as it is now, and did not destroy all life over large parts of the the continent.

1:46 “This happened just thousands of years ago during Noah’s flood when the fountains of the great deep were broken apart.” The video goes on to describe “catastrophic plate tectonics.” This is quite an extrapolation from the text of Genesis 6-8, which says nothing about plate tectonics or the formation of the Rocky Mountains and other mountain ranges.

2:00 “[Tectonic-generated tsunamis] explain the multiple layers these creatures are found in” — Most dinosaur-bone deposits are in layers that have sedimentary structures (beds, ripples, dunes, etc.) and fossils associated with ordinary environments such as flood plains and coastal plains, not with tsunamis.

2:17 “These dinosaurs were buried furiously, with over ninety percent of them found disarticulated.” — It makes more sense that this was a minor, local catastrophe, such as a flood on a stream. A global catastrophe would have scattered the bones, whereas a stream flood would have concentrated bones at specific places, such as on the point bar of meanders. Young-Earth flood geology has no mechanism for keeping dead organisms together in cohesive ecological packages, and would not produce concentrated fossil graveyards.

2:25 “Widespread volcanism that occurred during this process also shows this happened quickly over a year, and not millions of years.” — A lot of volcanism occurred during the time of dinosaurs, but it was episodic, just as it is today. Marine sediments from the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, downwind from the subduction zone volcanoes, record thick, distinct volcanic ash layers (altered to bentonite). The thickness of clay far exceeds the thickness of volcanic ash, showing that most of the time volcanoes were not actively erupting.

3:06 “How else can we explain… a recently-discovered massive dinosaur graveyard where ten thousand adult Maiasaura were found buried in mud… It sounds like the adult dinosaurs were stampeding away from the imminent danger of raging floodwaters.” — In the young-Earth scenario, how had these dinosaurs survived most of the flood up to this point? There are thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks beneath this site that YECs claim were deposited earlier in the flood.

3:39 “Soft tissue found in dinosaur bones.” — Preservation of “soft tissues” certainly came as a surprise to paleontologists, such as Mary Schweitzer, who is an Evangelical Christian. As often happens, YECs jumped on a mystery in science (long-term preservation of biomolecules), while scientific research has taken over a decade to get a handle on what is going on. After fifteen years of investigation, we now know of plausible chemical pathways for how certain biomolecules could be preserved for millions of years. The biomolecules and structures preserved in dinosaur bones have been altered in significant ways, allowing for longer-term presentation. YECs will say things like “proteins cannot be preserved for millions of years,” and perhaps this is correct. But these are no longer ordinary proteins, and one cannot simply extend laboratory experiments done on normal proteins (or collagen) to the altered biochemicals we actually find in dinosaur bones.

4:48 “Doesn’t it look like the catastrophic worldwide flood described in the Bible that happened just thousands of years ago make better sense of this evidence?” — Most Christian geologists reject the sorts of evidence presented in this short video. This rejection of YEC is not a rejection of the Bible, nor is it the result of a defective worldview. Instead, YEC science fails to explain the origin of a wide range of geological features even when attempting to explain these features withing a YEC framework.

Conclusion

Like the producer(s) of this video, I affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, including Genesis. I believe in a real creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I believe in a real Adam and Eve, a real first sin, and in a real, historical Noah’s flood. I don’t believe the Bible requires a 6000-year old Earth, nor do I believe it requires a global flood (here, here).

My concerns about YEC materials like this video have to do with evangelism and discipleship. The video makes statements that misrepresent what scientists say (e.g. the Yucatan impact caused the burial of the dinosaurs), and provides explanations for dinosaur-bearing layers that are neither biblically necessary nor scientifically credible. When presenting these bad arguments to scientists, they are often driven away from Christianity rather than attracted. This is not because of the foolishness of the cross, but because of the weakness of the apologetic arguments.

In terms of discipleship, I am thinking mainly of the youth in our churches. Many of these kids get a steady diet of young-Earth materials in their churches, schools, and home schools. For many of them, this does little harm. Others, however, have their faith shipwrecked when they find out that much of what they were taught doesn’t work as scientific explanations. When they discard their Dr Dino and Answers in Genesis videos, they discard their faith as well.

I get emails from young people, often undergraduate students in the sciences, who have had a crisis of faith, or who are going through faith struggles now, because of YEC teachings. Many of these have been taught, “If Earth is millions of years old, then the Bible is a lie and Jesus didn’t die for your sins.” This false dichotomy, combined with bad science such as in this video, has caused much damage.

The Bible is true, no matter how old the Earth is, and no matter how dinosaur fossils came to be. This is because the Bible is silent on these matters. For an introduction to various views on Genesis held by inerrancy-affirming scholars and pastors, try the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America

Grace and Peace


©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

Bold and Gentle – book review

BoldAndGentleGeoChristian.com exists due to the encouragement of my friend Glenn Brooke. Glenn, who has a PhD in biochemistry, is one of the smartest people I know. He is also one of the wisest. A wise person lives their life well, knows the right thing to do in various situations and actually does it; and helps others to do the same. On top of being smart and wise, Glenn is a good communicator. Glenn’s latest book is Bold and Gentle: Thriving Wisely in an Age of Exponential Change.

Glenn got started as a blog writer before I did, with a successful blog called “Be Bold, Be Gentle.” In 2006, we were visiting about science and Christianity, and Glenn suggested I give blogging a try. Fourteen years later, GeoChristian.com has had over a million page views, the accompanying Facebook page gets over 100,000 views per year, and I’ve written an Earth Science textbook that has been used by several thousand Christian middle school students. I thank Glenn for getting me started. Glenn’s vision of being simultaneously bold and gentle in our interactions at home, church, work, and in the community resonated with me from the beginning, and I have sought to always write the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) just as Glenn has modeled.

Glenn has written a number of books, many of which have been on leadership. Glenn’s Bold and Gentle points back to his initial blogging days. Glenn wrote this book for his adult children out of a desire to pass on the wisdom of living a bold and gentle life in a rapidly changing world. Glenn writes that technology and the economy are changing at an increasing pace, but people don’t change very much at all from generation to generation. Most of the chapters are just a few pages long, but give wisdom and insight on topics such as why wisdom matters, planning, developing skills that transcend the changing workplace, self-care, relationships, money, and long-term personal growth. At the end of the book, Glenn addresses special topics that will be challenging in the years ahead as his children go through their adulthood.

Glenn is much more of a talker than I am, and there are things I am sure he verbalized to his children as they were growing up that I kept inside with my own children, who are also now adults. Glenn has now passed on wisdom in writing to his own children with this book, and has given all of us a resource we can pass on to the next generations. May we and our children live boldly and gently in all our efforts and relationships.

Grace and Peace

Six Geological Reasons Why I am Not a Young-Earth Creationist Part 1 — Igneous Rocks

This is the first in a planned six-part series of Six Geological Reasons Why I am Not a Young-Earth Creationist. I am a Christian who holds to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, and who also has a master’s degree in geology. I have previously given my biblical and theological reasons why I believe the Bible does not require a young Earth. This present series will have six parts:

  1. Igneous rocks
  2. Sedimentary rocks
  3. Metamorphic rocks
  4. The fossil record
  5. Ice ages
  6. Radiometric dating

Each of these broad geological arguments against young-Earth creationism can be summarized as: Too many events, too little time.

Introduction

Since the 1700s, most scientists, Christian or otherwise, who have studied the Earth have concluded that there is overwhelming evidence that Earth is many millions of years old. The evidence for an ancient Earth has come from many subdisciplines of geology, including the study of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks; fossils, and surficial layers formed by processes such as glaciation. Radioactivity was not discovered until well after widespread acceptance that Earth is many millions of years old, and radiometric dating has confirmed what other evidence already pointed to.

Modern young-Earth creationists (YECs), on the other hand, claim that geological evidence can be re-interpreted to allow for—or even require—a young Earth. Often these YEC understandings of Earth history focus on single events that can happen relatively quickly, such as the deposition of a single layer of sediment or crystallization of a single lava flow. They say that if certain individual geological events can happen quickly, then it didn’t have to take millions of years to form the entire geologic column. Often YECs ignore the context of these single events and underestimate the complexity and necessary timelines of all the features that surround that individual rock unit. The truth of the matter is that Earth’s crust presents a record that has too many events to fit the abbreviated YEC time scale, which posits that most features in Earth’s crust formed in the short one-year timeframe of Noah’s flood.

From my perspective as a Christian who accepts the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, scriptural arguments allowing for an old Earth are of utmost importance. I was once a YEC myself and did not switch to being an old-Earth Christian until I became convinced that the Bible does not require us to believe in a young Earth or a global flood. As you read this article, please remember that the Bible does not tell us how igneous rock bodies came to exist in Earth’s crust. YECs insist that most of these rocks were formed during Noah’s flood, but that is merely an unjustifiable extrapolation from Scripture rather than being something that the Bible itself teaches.

Intrusive (Plutonic) Igneous Rocks

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Half Dome, Sierra Nevada Batholith, Yosemite National Park

Igneous rocks are formed by the cooling and crystallization of molten rock. Intrusive igneous rocks are those that crystallize underground, sometimes at great depth beneath Earth’s surface. Extrusive igneous rocks, on the other hand, are those that crystallize on Earth’s surface by volcanic processes. Molten rock on Earth’s surface is called lava, while molten rock beneath Earth’s surface is called magma.

When magma crystallizes into solid rock beneath Earth’s surface, it forms masses of course-grained igneous rock such as granite, granodiorite, and gabbro. The largest of these masses are called batholiths, which may cover tens of thousands of square kilometers on Earth’s surface when exposed by erosion, and which may have volumes in some cases of over one million cubic kilometers. An example of a large batholith is the Sierra Nevada Batholith in California, which forms the core of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Batholiths a few kilometers deep in the crust are surrounded by hot rocks, are insulated from Earth’s surface by overlying rocks, and therefore crystallize and cool slowly, typically taking many thousands of years to crystallize.

Large batholiths are composite features, made up of dozens, or even hundreds, of smaller bodies (plutons), each of which represents a separate intrusion of magma from deeper in Earth’s crust. There is abundant field evidence that earlier plutons in batholiths substantially or completely crystallized before subsequent plutons were intruded. If each individual pluton takes thousands of years to crystallize, and a large batholith is made up of many plutons, there is no credible way to squeeze the formation of a batholith into the few weeks required by the YEC timeframe without invoking a miracle, which YEC flood geologists are hesitant to do.

Extrusive (Volcanic) Igneous Rocks

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Layers of the Columbia River Basalt Group, Palouse Falls, Washington

Extrusive igneous rocks are formed when lava is extruded onto Earth’s surface by volcanic processes. When most people think of volcanoes, they picture stratovolcanoes such as Mt Fuji in Japan, Mt Vesuvius in Italy, or the Cascade Range volcanoes such as Mt Rainier in the United States. There are larger volcanoes (shield volcanoes) on Earth, such as Mauna Loa on Hawaii, and there are smaller volcanoes, such as the single-eruption cinder cones of Parícutin in Mexico or Sunset Crater in Arizona. Most large volcanoes on Earth are formed from dozens, or even hundreds, of individual eruptions. Furthermore, there is evidence for the passage of time between eruptions, with evidence for erosion, sedimentation, and soil formation between volcanic events. Earth’s crust contains records of numerous past volcanoes similar to today’s volcanoes. In the YEC scenario, many of these now-eroded volcanoes would have had to completely form and then completely erode within a few days or weeks during Noah’s flood. These volcanoes, like modern volcanoes, show evidence of a complex history, and the YEC flood scenario does not allow time for complex history.

An example of this ancient volcanism is the eroded cores of volcanoes in the Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup in northern Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka volcanic rocks are completely unrelated to the more recent rocks of the Yellowstone Caldera. These stratovolcanoes are completely eroded down, but we can see everything from the now-solid magma chambers beneath the volcanoes, to dikes radiating out from volcanic centers, to the distal volcanic mudflow (lahar) beds dipping away from the volcanoes. These volcanic mudflow rocks now contain vast quantities of petrified wood. Trying to squeeze the formation then erosion of entire stratovolcanoes in the timespan of a few weeks during a global flood is not credible geologically, and not necessary biblically, which is silent on the topic ancient volcanoes.

Even more difficult, for our present purposes, are large igneous provinces (LIPs), which dwarf any volcanoes we see erupting on Earth today. An example of a LIP is the Columbia River Basalts (CRB) of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The CRB consists of about 300 individual lava flows. Typical flows had volumes of a few hundred cubic kilometers, but the largest flows had volumes greater than 2000 cubic kilometers. The basaltic lava in the CRB was very fluid and spread out in extensive sheets covering thousands of square kilometers rather than piling up to form a cone like a stratovolcano. The result is a series of roughly-horizontal layers of basalt, stacked up to depths up to 1800 m (almost 6000 feet) in the central part of the CRBs. There are numerous lines of evidence that older flows completely crystallized before subsequent flows, and that time passed between eruptions. The dikes that fed later flows cut through the layers of earlier flows, indicating that the earlier flows were completely solidified by then. In addition, there are soil layers (paleosols) and fossil-bearing sediments between lava flows. The CRB could not have formed in just a few weeks while submerged beneath a global flood, nor could it have formed in just a few short years after the flood, as some YECs propose. The CRB is smaller than many other LIPs, such as the end-of-Permian Siberian Traps in Russia, or the end-of-Cretaceous Deccan Traps in India.

Context of Igneous Rocks

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The Berkeley Pit in Butte, MT, is an open pit copper mine in the Boulder Batholith. The toxic lake in the pit is now much deeper.

Igneous rock features such as batholiths, volcanoes, and LIPS exist within a broader geologic context, which includes events that occurred both before and after the crystallization of magma or lava. Batholiths, for example, intrude into previously-formed rocks. The batholith closest to my home is the Boulder Batholith, a relatively small batholith in western Montana, exposed over an area of about 5000 square kilometers. This Cretaceous-age batholith intruded into and altered previously-existing Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. The batholith consists of 7-14 discrete plutons. The Boulder Batholith is overlain by the Elkhorn Mountains Volcanics, which are closely associated both by geochemistry and position to the underlying batholith. The Boulder Batholith most likely represents the magmatic roots of the volcanoes that formed the volcanic rocks making up the Elkhorn Mountains. The Boulder Batholith was exposed by erosion by at least early Cenozoic, or even late Cretaceous time, shedding sediments into the surrounding area.

This is the sequence of events regarding the Boulder Batholith that would have had to occur in the YEC flood geology scenario:

  1. Deposition and lithification of underlying Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, which include numerous formations of sandstone, shale, and limestone.
  2. Intrusion of the first pluton into overlying rocks. Cooling and crystallization of this pluton. In the YEC flood geology story, this would have been quite late in the flood year.
  3. Repeat #2 up to thirteen more times.
  4. At the same time as #2-3, emplacement of the overlying Elkhorn Volcanics.
  5. Erosion down into the Boulder Batholith and Elkhorn Volcanics. Debris from these is found in late Cretaceous and Paleocene rocks. This means that #2-4 all had to happen in a matter of weeks.

As just about always in YEC flood geology, there simply is not enough time for all of these events in such a short amount of time. It took time for the formation and lithification of pre-batholith sedimentary rocks. It took time for the emplacement, crystallization, and cooling of the individual plutons. It took time between intrusion of the plutons. It took time for the Elkhorn volcanoes to erupt. It took time for erosion to cut down into the batholith and volcanic rocks. I have actually simplified the picture; we could add mineralization, faulting, and other geological events. Added together, this all took a substantial amount of time, and that sort of time does not exist in YEC flood geology.

Conclusion

I often summarize my critique of YEC arguments for the age of the Earth and flood geology as “too many events, too little time.” The complexity and size of igneous rock bodies, whether extrusive or intrusive, illustrates this well. I could add a third element, and that is “too much heat.” The injection of all that magma into Earth’s upper crust in such a short time would have melted the surrounding rocks. There is too much heat involved in these igneous processes, and therefore too much cooling, to fit into the YEC story.

None of the problems I have listed here are a problem for the Bible itself. As I said, the creation and flood accounts in Genesis 1-9 do not go into details about the origin of igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks; or any geologic features of Earth’s crust. As a scientist, there is nothing in standard explanations for Earth history that set up obstacles to my Christian faith or confidence in the Bible.

Grace and Peace

©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes:

A printer-friendly PDF of this article may be downloaded here: Top six geological reasons I am not a young earth creationist.

For further reading on the topic of igneous rocks, I recommend a couple chapters from Young and Stearley, 2008, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, IVP Academic, 510 p.

  • Chapter 11 – Of Time, Temperature and Turkeys: Clues from the Depths
  • Chapter 13 – Illumination from the Range of Light: The Sierra Nevada

Dr Andrew Snelling of the YEC organization Answers in Genesis has attempted to answer some of the old-Earth objections such as what I have outlined here. One of his articles is The Cooling of Thick Igneous Bodies on a Young Earth (Snelling and Woodmorappe, 2009). In this article, Snelling and Woodmorappe argue that the emplacement of one of the world’s largest batholiths, the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, could have occurred in as little as 350 years. They then argue that batholiths could crystallize and cool in just a few hundred more years. None of this matters. Whether emplacement, crystallization, and cooling of a batholith takes millions of years, hundreds of years, or just a few years, it does not fit into the YEC timeframe. In order to fit in a YEC flood geology scenario, all of this has to happen in a few weeks at most, as many batholiths have emplaced, crystallized, cooled, and then eroded within single periods of geologic history. Dr Snelling needs to come up with a mechanism that produces large batholiths or LIPS in days or weeks, and he is nowhere close to doing this.

Image sources:

Book review — Friend of Science, Friend of Faith

41Yck3NoXOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Davidson, Gregg, 2019, Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word, Kregel Academic, 297 p.

Gregg Davidson, a Christian, is Chair of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith opens with the story of Riley, a Christian college student working toward a degree in science. Riley had been raised under the teachings of young-Earth creationism, and thought she was well-prepared to face any challenge to her young-Earth, anti-evolutionary beliefs. The soundness of the reasoning she encountered in her science classes, however, put her faith into a crisis. She discovered that her young-Earth arguments did not stand up well compared to arguments in favor of an ancient Earth. In desperation, she talked to a campus ministry staff member, who, unfortunately, only pointed her back to young-Earth materials. If Earth is millions of years old, she was told once again, the Bible isn’t true. The story ends with Riley throwing her Bible in the trash can.

This type of story has tragically been repeated thousands of times in the lives of young people raised in Bible-believing churches. Christian Geology professor Gregg Davidson wrote Friend of Science, Friend of Faith to point Bible-believing Christians to an alternative way of looking at Earth history that is faithful to both science and the Bible. Davidson writes from a perspective that God has revealed himself truthfully in both Scripture and in God’s creation, and that conflicts between the two are man-made rather than real. Davidson advocates for both the inerrancy of Scripture and for the overall truthfulness of old-Earth geology and evolutionary theory. In doing so, he also argues against those on the old-Earth side who needlessly dismiss Genesis as a myth. Davidson advocates for a real Adam and Eve—without committing firmly to a single model of who they were in history—and a real, non-universal, Noah’s flood.

Davidson seeks to answer three questions in his book:

  1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
  2. Does the science conflict with the intended message of Scripture?
  3. Is the science credible?

Very briefly, Davidson’s answers to these questions are:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible does not depend on the “literal” young-Earth interpretation being correct. The Bible is inerrant; the young-Earth interpretation is not.
  2. God’s works in creation, understood through science, do not conflict with the explicit claims of God’s words in Scripture.
  3. Old-Earth, evolutionary science makes credible claims about God’s creation, and most claims by young-Earth creationists are not consistent with what we observe in God’s creation.

Of course, Davidson has much more to say in answer to each of these three questions.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith gets a number of things right. First of all, the author has a high respect for the authority and truthfulness of the Bible. He makes a strong case against the “literal” young-Earth view, and for what is known as the framework interpretation. This argument is not based on “reading science into the Bible,” but on reading the Bible more carefully than young-Earth literalists do. Second, Davidson handles the science well. He clearly explains why so much of young-Earth geological and biological science is bad, and why standard old-Earth explanations are superior. Finally—and this is just as important as my other commendations—Davidson gets the tone right. He treats opponents with respect, and presents young-Earth biblical and scientific arguments with fairness.

In the end, Davidson returns to students like Riley, whose fragile faith was crushed, not by science, but by the false dichotomy of “if Earth is millions of years old, then the Bible is a lie.” Davidson has seen the opposite outcome, as he has guided similar students through their crisis of faith, into a renewed and deeper faith in Christ. This book will prove to be an excellent tool for equipping pastors, campus workers, scientists, and students to navigate through the complexities of science-faith issues.

Grace and Peace

©2019, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank Kregel Academic for sending me a review copy of the book. I was under no obligation to review the book, or to give it a positive review.

GeoScriptures – Matthew 13:1-23 – Pedogenesis and the parable of the sower

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9 (ESV)

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A rocky desert soil (aridisol).

Some people are more receptive to the Word of God and the Gospel than others. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23: The seed is the Word of God, the hard path represents those with no receptivity to the gospel, and the rocky and weedy ground represents those who have only a passing or shallow interest in the gospel. The good soil represents those who receive the gospel gladly and let it put down deep, lasting roots, resulting in varying degrees of crop-bearing.

We may be discouraged when those we know and love have hearts that are hard like a well-worn path, or who turn away because of peer pressure or worldly pleasures. In these situations, be encouraged that just as God has designed the physical world so that fertile soil can develop from solid rock, so also God works in hard hearts to bring people to saving knowledge of his Son.

inzeptisol
A poorly developed soil (inceptisol) that could develop into a better soil over time.

Pedogenesis (from the Greek pedon, meaning soil or earth, and genesis, meaning origin) is the process of forming a soil. A soil is a surface layer of unconsolidated mineral and organic matter that has been modified over time from its parent material. The concept of pedogenesis tells us that soils are dynamic features which change over time. Every soil on Earth has developed from pre-existing rocks or sediments. Some soils develop from solid rock, such as granite or limestone, and other soils develop from unconsolidated material like floodplain sand and gravel or windblown silt.

There are a wide range of types of soils on Earth, which can be broadly classified as tropical, desert, temperate grassland, temperate forest, and polar soils. Within a given region, or even within a 40-acre field, the properties of a soil change from place to place.  Each distinct soil has a history, and came to be what it is now by the influence of five soil-forming factors:

  1. Parent material – A soil formed from granite will be different than a soil formed from fine volcanic ash.
  2. Climate – Temperature and moisture strongly influence what kind of soil will form in any given place. A tropical soil is very different from a polar soil, and a desert soil is very different from a temperate forest soil.
  3. Relief – Soil formed on a shady slope will be different than a soil on a sunny slope, and both will be different than a soil formed in an adjacent plain.
  4. Organisms – The development of a soil is also affected by the community of organisms that live in or on the soil: plants, animals (such as earthworms), bacteria, and fungi.
  5. Time – Given enough time, solid rock may be weathered down to form a rich agricultural or forest soil.
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A fertile grasslands soil (mollisol) with an organic-rich topsoil (A horizon).

I like to think of the parable of the sower in terms of the soil-forming factors of pedogenesis. Just as bare rock can develop into an agricultural soil over time, so also hearts that are hard can be transformed into receptive and crop-bearing hearts through a process of spiritual pedogenesis. I propose five spiritual soil-forming factors which can transform a person from being barren rock or weedy soil into a fruit-bearing follower of Christ:

  1. Listening – We want to tell people about Jesus, but at the beginning we may simply need to be better listeners than talkers. Just as the starting point for a soil might be solid rock, we might need to be better at understanding the starting point of the people we are seeking to point to Christ.
  2. Love – Love is the climate that can take a heart of granite and modify it to be a fertile mix of sand, silt, clay, and organic material that allows the seeds of the Word to germinate and grow.
  3. Apologetics – Soils develop differently on different sides of a ridge. Apologetics is the branch of theology that provides evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity. In the physical world, soils do not move from one side of a hill to the other, but with spiritual soil development, we can help people move to a sunnier side of the hill where they may see things from a new perspective.
  4. Community – Just as a diverse biological community of worms, roots, and soil bacteria can shape and enrich a soil, so a loving and serving Christian community can draw people in where their hearts and minds can become receptive to Jesus.
  5. Time – Whether it takes hours or decades, God can change hearts and minds about the gospel.

Ultimately, the softening of hearts and the conversion of souls to Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be doing a work of spiritual pedogenesis in the unbelieving hearts of those around you.

Grace and Peace


Notes

This GeoScriptures essay is not meant to be an exegesis of the parable of the sower, but my own personal meditation on the text. No analogy is perfect, and I am certain that this once could be improved on.

I gave five broad categories of soils, which is what I presented in my middle-school textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home. Soil scientists in the United States use a more advanced classification called Soil Taxonomy, which has twelve soil orders, with names like mollisols, ultisols, aridisols, and spodosols. These soil orders may be divided into suborders, great groups, subgroups, families, and series.

Aridisol picture — public domain, USDA, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=nrcs142p2_053594

Inceptisol picture — public domain, USDA, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Inzeptisol.jpg

Mollisol picture — public domain, USDA, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=nrcs142p2_053603

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

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.

 

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