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

 

 

Choosing and using a wide-margin Bible for spiritual growth

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“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” – Psalm 119:105 ESV

Among my most-treasured possessions are a small stack of wide-margin Bibles that I have been writing notes in for almost two decades. These Bibles contain much of what I have learned from my personal time of reading and studying God’s word, from numerous sermons and other messages I have heard, from books and articles I have read, and from interaction with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of my problems as a Christian is that I have forgotten far more than I remember. For instance, in the past forty years, I have listened to close to 2000 sermons on Sunday mornings. I still have notes for many of these, but I seldom go back through those notes. I know that the cumulative effect of all these sermons (and other inputs) has been significant, but there are things I have learned that I want to keep fresh in my heart and mind.

The solution God has led me to is to write notes in a wide-margin Bible. I do not keep these notes because I am smart but because I am forgetful, and need regular reminders of what God has taught me in the past. The advantage of using a wide-margin Bible instead of doing something such as a journal is that there is the potential that I will be reminded of the things God has taught me every time I read a passage. If something stood out to me, for example, in the second chapter of Ephesians back in 2001, I will conceivably see that note every time I read Ephesians 2 in that Bible. I am not downplaying the value of journals, but this is what works best for me.

I do not actually write down complete sermon notes in my wide-margin Bible. Usually on Sunday afternoon or evening, I will take a few minutes to transfer highlights from my sermon notebook into the margin of my Bible. That way there are key pieces of sermons that stick with me for the rest of my life.

Choosing a Wide-Margin Bible

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There are many wide-margin Bibles (sometimes called journaling Bibles) on the market. I use the two-column wide-margin Bibles from Cambridge University Press. Here are a few of the wide-margin Bible variations that are available on the market:

Translations — A quick search at a bookstore or online reveals that most major English-language translations are available as wide-margin Bibles: ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV, NKJV, NLT, CSB, and more. I alternate between using the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New International Version (NIV 1984) for my reading and study, but of course your preference may be different.

One-column or two columns — The page layout can be a make-it or break-it factor for you enjoyment of your wide-margin Bible. There are editions with two columns of text with two columns for writing, two columns of text with one column for writing, and one column of text with one column for writing. Some wide-margin enthusiasts insist on the one-column option. I really dislike the two text columns with one writing column option, as this does not allow one to write right next to the verse.

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This Bible has two columns but no room to write in the gutter, so your note won’t be next to the verse(s) you are writing about.

Width of blank space — My NIV Cambridge wide-margin Bible has 1.25 inches of blank space on both the left and right side, and about an inch on both the top and bottom of the page. This gives plenty of writing room on the right, left, top, and bottom of the page. There is additional space on the title page for each book of the Bible, which gives room for introductory comments. My ESV Cambridge wide-margin Bible has only one inch of blank space along the gutter, which makes it a little difficult to write notes. I would not purchase a wide-margin Bible that has blank space along the gutter that is less than one inch, as it would be too difficult to write notes.

Style of blank space — Some wide-margin Bibles are printed with faint (or not-so-faint) horizontal lines for you to write on. I would never purchase one of these, as the line spacing is not how I would naturally space my handwriting. Plus, I really don’t think I need lines to keep my writing straight for one inch! In addition, if you are going to include artwork in your margin notes, the lines might interfere with the aesthetics of your drawings.

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The natural spacing of my handwriting does not match the spacing of these lines.

Hard cover or leather — My wide-margin Bibles have hard covers, which are cheaper, but I’m sure less durable, than leather covers.

Red-letter or black letter — This is your preference. I choose only black-letter editions, as I think they are easier to read, and all Scripture is Scripture, not just the words of Jesus.

Paper — My Cambridge Bibles are printed with a heavier paper, which reduces bleed-through of ink.

Tools for Marking a Wide-Margin Bible

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Tools I use with my wide-margin Bible include pens, a highlighter, a ruler, correction tape, and an ink blotter. I keep these together in an old coffee mug.

I have learned by trial and error what tools I need for marking in my wide-margin Bible.

Pen (or pens) — It is best to give some thought to the type of pen you will use in your Bible. You certainly do not want to use a pen that will bleed through the page, and in general this means a ball-point pen rather than a felt-tip pen. Before using a new kind of pen in my Bible, I make some text marks in some obscure place in the concordance or map index in the back to make sure it does not bleed through. I prefer to use a fine ball-point pen, as opposed to medium. More specifically, I use a Pilot B2P blue fine ball-point pen, and have bought a whole box of them.

Highlighters — If you do highlighting in your Bible, I recommend testing the highlighters in someplace like the concordance or map index to see how much it bleeds through the paper. Some people prefer dry Bible highlighters that can be purchased at Christian bookstores or online. My experience is that the lead breaks too easily on these, but maybe you will have a better experience.

Ruler — I use a flexible 6-inch ruler so I can underline with straight lines. This, of course, is optional.

White-out tape — If you are at all like me, you will make mistakes, such as typos, as you write in your margin. I used to use white-out liquid, which was a real pain, but now I use the correction tape dispensers, which are ideal for this sort of work (unless you buy a Bible with off-white pages).

Blotter — Ball-point pens tend to get little globs of ink accumulating near the tip while underlining, and this can result in a smudge of ink on your page. After underlining a verse, I will blot the ink off the tip of the pen with a facial tissue or paper towel that I keep with my other supplies.

Wide-Margin Strategies

This is how I do my note taking, underlining and highlighting, and other things:

Notes — I write kind of small, which allows me to put a lot of notes on the page. I write a verse number to start the note, as it is not always possible to put the note right next to the verse if I have a lot of notes on the page. My notes might be from my personal meditations, copied in part from study Bibles (such as the ESV Study Bible) or from commentaries; things I have learned from books I am reading, or from sermons. I have a lot of notes in my Bible related to apologetics and the doctrine of creation, as those are two of my deeper interests.

Underlining — I am more of an underlining guy than a highlighting guy. I underline words, verses, or longer passages that are especially meaningful to me. I use blue ink, but that is entirely your preference. You may come up with some sort of color code instead.

Highlighting — In my current wide-margin Bible, I have used a yellow highlighter to mark verses I have memorized. This makes memory review easy, as I can just flip through my Bible rather than through a stack of index cards. In previous Bibles, I have used a color-code scheme, with red or pink marking the works of Christ and benefits of salvation, green marking the attributes of God, and so forth.

Topical marks — I put one- or two-letter marks in red in my Bible to mark verses for certain topics. A few of these marks include B (baptism), C (communion, or Lord’s supper), DC (deity of Christ), P (prayer), CR (creation), EV (evangelism), M (missions, God’s heart for all nations), and W (Word of God).

Additional Remarks

I am on my fourth wide-margin Bible. The first one was sort of a trial-and-error project in which I developed my wide-margin style. I do some note-copying between these four Bibles, and I’m pretty happy with how the most recent ones are going. I am hoping that these will be a blessing to my descendants somehow until Christ returns.

I am not an artsy guy, so you will not see any drawings or sketches in my margins. I have friends who love to express their insights from the Bible as illustrations. My Bible probably looks like it was produced by an engineer to them.

The purpose of taking notes in a Bible, of course, is not just to make us smarter (or make us look smarter to impress someone) but so that we would grow in our knowledge of God, and in our service to him as workers in his kingdom. My prayer is that your markings in a wide-margin Bible would accomplish these things in and through you.

Grace and Peace

Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes

The NIV 1984 Cambridge Wide-Margin Bible is out of print, but unused copies are available:

I affectionately call the 1984 NIV the Old International Version (OIV).

My ESV Cambridge Wide Margin Reference Edition:

There are, of course, many additional options for purchasing a wide-margin Bible.

Back when I was in grade school through high school, an activity the first day of class was to put book covers on our textbooks to reduce wear and tear. I have started doing the same thing on my hardcover Bibles. My NIV Bible is now covered with a “Lands of the Bible Today” map from the December 1967 National Geographic magazine, and my ESV Bible is covered with a print of “The Garden of Eden” painted by Izaak van Oosten in the 1650s or 1660s.

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Putting a cover on your hardcover Bible will greatly reduce wear on the cover and spine.

 

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

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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