The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Norm Geisler: “The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. It is not a test for orthodoxy.”

Norm Geisler has been a prominent defender of the Christian faith for a number of years. He is the author or coauthor of several important books on apologetics (the defense of the faith), including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an AtheistBaker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and Christian Apologetics.

Dr. Geisler recently contributed an article to The Christian Post: Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism? The answer, of course, is “No, one can hold to the trustworthiness of the Bible and believe it does not require a young Earth.”

Here are a few excerpts:

In order to establish the Young Earth view, one must demonstrate that there are (1) no time gaps in the biblical record and that (2) the “days” of Genesis are six successive 24-hour days of creation. Unfortunately for Young Earthers, these two premises are difficult to establish for many reasons.

———————————–

So with both possible and actual demonstrable gaps in Genesis and in the genealogies, the “Closed-Chronology” view needed to support the strict Young Earth view is not there. This would mean that a Young Earth view of creation around 4000 B.C. would not be feasible. And once more gaps are admitted, then when does it cease to be a Young Earth view?

———————————–

Consider the following:

(1) First, the word “day” (Hb. <em>yom</em>) is not limited to a 24-hour day in the creation record. For instance, it is used of 12 hours of light or daytime (in Gen.1:4-5a).

(2) The word “day” is also used of a whole 24-hour day in Genesis 1:5b where it speaks day and night together as a “day.”

(3) Further, in Genesis 2:4 the word “day” is used of all six days of creation when it looks back over all six days of creation and affirms: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day [yom] that the LORD God made them” (Gen. 2:4).

———————————–

As for death before Adam, the Bible does not say that death of all life was a result of Adam’s sin. It only asserts that “death passed upon all men” because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12, emphasis added), not on all plants and animals. It only indicates that the whole creation was “subjected to futility” (i.e., to frustration-Rom. 8:20-21)

———————————–

If there is evidence for Gaps in Genesis and a longer period of time involved in the six day of Genesis, then the Young Earth view fails to convincingly support its two pillars. At a minimum it leaves room for reasonable doubt. In view of this, one can ask why is it that many still cling to the Young Earth view with such tenacity as to make it a virtual test for orthodoxy?

———————————–

There is no air-tight case for a Young Earth view from a biblical point of view. So while a Young Earth may be compatible with inerrancy, nonetheless, inerrancy does not necessitate a belief in a Young Earth.

———————————–

[Young-Earth creationism] was not even granted an important doctrinal status by the historic Fundamentalists (c. 1900) who stressed the inerrancy of Scripture. That is, it was not accepted or embraced by the Old Princetonians like B. B.Warfield, Charles Hodge, or J. Gresham Machen who also held strongly to inerrancy.

———————————–

[The] founders and framers of the contemporary inerrancy movement (ICBI) of the 1970s and 80s explicitly rejected the Young Earth view as being essential to belief in inerrancy. They discussed it and voted against making it a part of what they believed inerrancy entailed, even though they believed in creation, the “literal” historical-grammatical view of interpreting the Bible, a literal Adam, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Given this history of the Young Earth view, one is surprised at the zeal by which some Young Earthers are making their position a virtual test for evangelical orthodoxy.

———————————–

If the Young Earth view is true, then so be it. Let us not forbid the biblical and scientific evidence be offered to support it. Meanwhile, to make it a tacit test for orthodoxy will serve to undermine the faith of many who so closely tie it to orthodoxy that they will have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, should they ever become convinced the earth is old. One should never tie his faith to how old the earth is.

———————————–

Some Concluding Comments

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are:

(1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith.

(2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.

(3) It is not a condition of salvation.

(4) It is not a test of Christian fellowship.

(5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide.

(6) It is not a hill on which we should die.

(7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation.

(8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus than the age of the earth (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming).

Geisler does not claim in this article that everything he presents is correct, only that they are real possibilities.

Of course, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has been quick to respond: The Ultimate Motivation of this Prominent Theologian?

I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.

———————————–

And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals [1910]) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.

———————————–

[Geisler] is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years.

———————————–

I assert that many great men of God today world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.

The gist of what Ham says is that “young-Earth creationists read the Bible, and everyone else reads into the Bible.” I would respond by saying that to take outside evidence (whether it be evidence that the Earth goes around the sun, or that Earth is older than 6000 years) and going back to the Scriptures to make sure we have really read it correctly is not eisigesis (reading into the text), it is good hermeneutics (interpreting the text).

It is highly debatable whether or not the “massive exodus of young people from the church” is due to churches teaching that the Bible does not require a 6000-year old Earth. For many young people, it is because they have been raised on Answers in Genesis or Dr. Dino materials, and figured out that much of it simply isn’t true. When these young people leave the church, it is often because they have been authoritatively taught that if young-Earth creationism isn’t true, the Bible isn’t true.

And that is the tragedy of creationism that many Christian apologists, such as Norm Geisler, want to avoid. For old-Earth Christians to assert that young-Earth teachings are false, both biblically and scientifically, is not the equivalent of denying the truthfulness of Scripture.

Grace and Peace

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 8 Comments

A more detailed survey indicates that most Christians are somewhere in the middle on the topic of origins, and that most don’t hold to their position all that strongly

Simplistic surveys can be very frustrating. For instance:

Of all the colors of the rainbow, which is your favorite, Blue or Yellow?

If your favorite color is green, and that is not an option in the survey, then there is no way for the survey to accurately assess your opinion. Nor does this simple survey assess how strongly you feel about the color green, or how consistently you would answer. On most days I might answer “green,” but it is not something I feel rather strongly about, and it really isn’t all that important to me.

The same goes for many polls we see in the media: Are you for or against gay rights? Obamacare? Evolution? For many of us, the answer is not as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down.

Christianity Today has a brief summary of a survey taken regarding origins that goes beyond a simple “Do you believe God created humans or that they evolved?”

Here are a few excerpts from Rethinking the Origins Debate: Most Americans—and most Christians—do not fall neatly into creationist or evolutionist camps, by Jonathan Hill.

In 2012, a Gallup poll found that 46 percent of U.S. adults believed “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Thirty-two percent believed humans evolved with God’s guidance, and 15 percent believed humans evolved with no divine guidance at all.

—————————————-

These surveys portray a deeply divided and polarized public. Even among the majority who believe that God created humans, the chasm separating creationist and evolutionist views appears to be gargantuan. Are Americans really this divided over human origins?

As a social scientist, I am skeptical about these findings for two reasons. First, the way in which these questions about human origins are written restricts complex or conflicted responses. Surveys like the Gallup poll tend to represent the various views we might label Atheistic Evolution, Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design, or Young Earth Creationism with position statements that force respondents to select the one that comes closest to their beliefs.

The trouble is that these various views contain multiple beliefs about common descent, natural selection, divine involvement, and historical timeframe. The survey questions conflate these underlying beliefs in particular ways and force individuals to select from prepackaged sets of ideas. This is simply a practical necessity given the limited amount of space on general public surveys.

Second, these polls give us no description of the manner in which people hold to these beliefs. Are respondents confident that their position is correct? Is it important to them personally to have the right beliefs about human origins? If large segments of the public are uncertain about their position, or if their beliefs are unimportant to them, then the idea of an intensely polarized public is misleading.

—————————————-

Let’s look at the creationist position. It contains, at a minimum, the following beliefs:

  1. Humans did not evolve from other species.
  2. God was involved in the creation of humans.
  3. Humans were created within the last 10,000 years.

The most recent Gallup poll found that 46 percent of adults claimed creationism best reflected their views of human origins. But Gallup didn’t ask participants about each of the above beliefs.

Our survey, however, asks about each individual belief, allowing respondents to report that they are unsure about what they believe. Only 14 percent affirmed each of these beliefs, and only 10 percent were certain of their beliefs. Furthermore, only 8 percent claimed it was important to them to have the right beliefs about human origins.

—————————————-

If only eight percent of respondents are classified as convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and if only four percent are classified as atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them, then perhaps Americans are not as deeply divided over human origins as polls have indicated. In fact, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding their beliefs with varying levels of certainty. Most Americans do not fall neatly into any of the existing camps, and only a quarter claimed their beliefs were important to them personally.

So what does this mean for the church? I think it shows that most people, even regular church-going evangelicals, are not deeply entrenched on one side of a supposed two-sided battle. Certainly, the issue divides Christians. But Christian beliefs about human origins are complex. There’s no major single chasm after all.

Advocates of various positions have often perpetuated the idea of a battle precisely because drawing clear lines is an effective way to mobilize one view against the other. Perhaps it is time to recognize the complexity of beliefs and worship together despite our differences. This doesn’t mean that hard questions and honest conversations about human origins should be ignored. There are lots of important questions that need to be wrestled with. But as we wrestle, we should recognize that our shared identity in Christ puts us all on the same team.

Grace and Peace

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | 2 Comments

John Walton, Evangelical Old Testament scholar: Neither Ham nor Nye got the Bible right

Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis.  Here are some excerpts:

In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.

———————————–

I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.

One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.

———————————–

Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.

———————————–

[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.

———————————–

When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.

There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.

Grace and Peace

HT: Internet Monk

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A few additional thoughts on Ham vs. Nye

I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:

  1. I’m struck by how little evidence Ken Ham presented in his main presentation or in his rebuttals. He briefly mentioned a few standard YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as woody material dated at 40,000 years by carbon-14 dating contained in a 45 million year old basalt flow. But he didn’t spend much time developing this or any other young Earth argument.
  2. Ham spent most of his time talking about world view, and propounding his postmodern-ish insistence that no one can really know anything about the past through scientific investigation. This world view talk was good for preaching to the YEC choir, but was not very useful for convincing skeptics or fence-riders.
  3. Ken Ham, as he has often done in the past, gave a false choice between believing in God’s infallible and unchanging Word, and believing in man’s fallible and changing science. Ham doesn’t see that both Scripture and the creation contain truth, and that the processes of understanding either Scripture or creation is done by fallible people. In other words, Ken Ham might have the Word of God in his hands, but Ken Ham can be wrong about the best way to understand certain passages. I have many reasons for believing that Ham (and YECs in general) over-read the text of the opening chapters of Genesis. Here are a few.
  4. I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
  5. As a Christian, I wanted Ken Ham to win the debate, which I believe he could have done if he had taken a “mere creation” approach rather than having a narrow YEC focus. Despite my training in science (and perhaps because of my training in science), I have much more in common with Ken Ham’s Christian world view than I do with Bill Nye’s naturalistic, atheistic world view.

I had heard that 500,000 people watched the debate live. Now I’ve read that the number was closer to 3,000,000 viewers.

There are a number of excellent reviews of the debate on the internet. Here are a few that I have found helpful:

J.W. Wartick — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate.

“[Ham] continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism.”

Faithful Thinkers — Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath.

“Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”

Jay Wile — Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate.

“While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another.”

Al Mohler — Bill Nye’s Reasonable Man—The Central Worldview Clash of the Ham-Nye Debate.

“In this light, the debate proved both sides right on one central point: If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.

“That’s because the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?”

Evolution News and Views (an I.D. site) — The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity.

“For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.”

“People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.” Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, an inflexible debate strategy, lack of knowledge, inadequate debate skills, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye’s arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won’t budge an inch. Why? Because Ham’s main argument was “Because the Bible says so,” and skeptics don’t take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.”

Grace and Peace

 

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 36 Comments

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis

On February 4, 2014, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham debated Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I cannot say that I was disappointed with the debate, because I had very low expectations for it in the first place, and it was about what I anticipated.

I had hoped that Ken Ham would take a “mere creation” approach, which would focus on the sorts of things most Christians agree upon when talking about origins. He could have focused on topics that are especially vexing for non-theists, such as the origin of the universe (or multi-verse, if you prefer), or the origin of life. Instead, he chose to focus on typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the universe and Noah’s flood. Bill Nye was also a disappointment (and again, I had low expectations). His background is in engineering and physics, not in the more pertinent subjects of geology and biology, and it showed. His knowledge of the Bible was downright at the middle school level, as I’ll discuss later.

My main complaint about the debate is that, for the most part, it presented the audience with a false dichotomy: young-Earth creationism or naturalistic, atheistic (or at least agnostic) science. Ken Ham acknowledged that there are old-Earth Christians, and that salvation is based on one’s relationship to Christ rather than what one thinks about the age of the Earth. But he also made it clear that he views the old-Earth position as a compromise, as opposed to his pure “biblical” creation interpretation. Bill Nye actually did a better job of acknowledging that there are billions of people in the world who are religious and yet do not accept young-Earth creationism, but it was also clear that he viewed this religiosity as “belief” as opposed to scientific knowledge.

I’ll start with some positive aspects of both men’s presentations. The debate was very cordial, respectful, and orderly.

I think that the best point that Ken Ham made was that non-Christian scientists have no good explanation for why we have laws of logic, laws of nature, or uniformity of nature (the laws that work here also work the same way over there, and worked the same way in the past). Ham said that non-believers have had to borrow these concepts from Christianity, and to a large extent, this is true. It is not that Christians, or theists, are the only ones who believe in logic, laws, or uniformity, but that they are the only ones who can give a rational explanation for the existence of these properties of the universe.

Bill Nye made a number of good scientific points related to the topic at hand.

  • He described the concept of fossil succession: fossils occur in a specific order in the geologic record wherever one goes (he focused on the Grand Canyon), and correctly pointed out that there is not a single location where fossils are out of place. I wish he had elaborated on this for the sake of his audience. One does not find dinosaurs in the Permian (they belong in the Mesozoic), and one does not find elephants in the Cambrian (mixed in with trilobites). If young-Earth geology were correct, we would expect to see a considerable amount of “turbulence,” as Nye put it, in the fossil record, with a number of fossils being found in the wrong layers. It does not happen.
  • He also described cores taken from ice caps. For example, there are ice cores drilled from Antarctica that contain a 680,000-year record of ice deposition. Nye calculated one would have to have 170 annual layers created per year to form these since Noah’s flood 4000 years ago, and that this is a preposterous idea.
  • Nye used the local (Kentucky) geology to point out another problem with YEC flood geology. The thick layers of limestone in the area are built in places of billions of coral organisms, which are entombed in their life positions in complete ecosystems. One would not expect a global flood to pick up coral organisms and plant them all in such a way to look like they grew there in place.
  • Nye also drew attention to the problem of modern biogeographic distribution of species: How did Australian mammals, for instance, such as the kangaroo, all migrate to Australia over a now-missing land bridge without leaving any straggler populations or a trace of their passage (such as fossils) between Ararat and Australia?

Unfortunately, both men made serious blunders as well:

Ken Ham got his science wrong – Of course, there are many things wrong with the young-Earth creationist arguments about the age of the Earth and the geological work of Noah’s flood. I’ll highlight a few from the debate:

  • Though I agree with Ham that historical science is done with somewhat different methodology than experimental, laboratory science, I think he stretched this point too far. Ham’s presentation of the historical scientific method almost makes it sound like some sort of postmodern guessing game, where opinion A is just as good as opinion B. No, something really happened in the past, such as the ice ages. Explanation A (the conventional geological explanation) might explain most known observations very well, while explanation B (the YEC explanation) fails miserably. It is not “one answer is just as good as another; you cannot prove anything,” as Ken Ham would have us believe. There are explanations that work, and explanations that do not work.
  • Ham gave one of his favorite statements, which I’ll paraphrase as, “From reading Genesis, we would expect the flood to produce billions of dead things laid down by water, and when we look at the geological record, we find billions of dead things laid down by water.” The main scientific problem with this is that one would expect a global, catastrophic flood to produce disorder, with a chaotic mixture of sediments and organisms. Instead, we find distinct layers, sometimes very pure, of various sediment types, preserving what appear to be ancient sedimentary environments and ecosystems, some of which obviously formed in fairly quiet settings, with a very distinct order of fossils from oldest to youngest.
  • Ham discussed radiometric dating, both in terms of the assumptions that go into the dating procedures, and in terms of conflicting radiometric dates. This could merit a whole series of articles in response, but I’ll just say that in most cases we can have a pretty good idea what the initial parent-to-daughter isotope ratios were, whether or not there has been gain or loss of isotopes from the sample, and that all reports of variable decay rates in the scientific literature indicate that this variability is minor. There are discordant (i.e. conflicting) radiometric dates out there, but overall the methods give highly consistent results. I would say that the whole YEC RATE research program had to happen because of the overwhelming evidence (even to YECs) that in most cases the first two assumptions about radiometric dating are valid and that most dates are indeed concordant, which has left YECs with nothing to work with but variable decay rates.
  • Ken Ham also mentioned the planes that crashed in Greenland in 1942, and have subsequently been buried by over 200 feet of snow and ice, showing (to YECs) that thick ice caps could form quickly. What Ham didn’t tell the audience was that these planes were found near the edge of the ice sheet, where precipitation is much higher than in the dry interior where ice cores are taken. If the planes had crashed in the interior, their remains would still be at or near the surface of the ice cap.

Bill Nye got his science wrong – This is where Nye’s lack of geological training showed through.

  • As he was discussing layers in the Grand Canyon, Nye showed a slide where a channel of the Devonian Temple Butte Formation is cut down into the Cambrian Muav Limestone. He described it as being “intruded” into the underlying formation, which makes it sound like an igneous rather than a sedimentary process. Still, his point was valid, that fossils of the Devonian are not found in Cambrian rocks, and vice versa.
  • He also gave a shoot-from-the-hip explanation for something Ken Ham brought up. Ham described a situation where a basalt flow enclosed some woody material, and the basalt gave a potassium-argon age of something like 45 million years, while the organic material gave a carbon-14 age of something like 40,000 years. Nye suggested that this could be explained by thrust faulting, where one layer slid horizontally over another. I kind of groaned when he said this, as one would not invoke thrust faulting without good field evidence. There are better explanations for such situations. I shoot from the hip sometimes, and often it does not go well.

Bill Nye got his theology wrong – I did not expect him to have much knowledge about the Bible or theology, and he demonstrated deep ignorance about how we got the Bible.

  • Nye stated several times that he does not understand how one could believe a book that was written 3000 years ago, then translated, and re-translated, and re-translated, and eventually translated from one of these latter re-translations to make our English Bibles (the telephone game). In reality, how the Bible was formed and where our modern-language translations came from looked nothing like this.

Ken Ham got his theology wrong – One would hope that one of the most influential Christians in America (and Ham does have a tremendous amount of influence in some circles) would get his theology right, but many theologically conservative Bible scholars would disagree with Ham’s interpretation of Scripture.

  • Ham likes to use the phrase “biblical creationist” to describe his position, implying that any Christian who is not a young-Earth creationist is somehow an “unbiblical” creationist. I have many reasons for believing that the Bible is neutral or silent on the question of the age of the universe. Being that these are biblical reasons, I would say that makes me a “biblical creationist” as well.
  • One example that Ham brought up was the use of genre (literary type or category) in biblical interpretation. He stated that biblical interpretation involves a “natural” reading of the passages, and I agree. In general, historical narratives are meant to be read as real history, and poetic passages (such as the Psalms) are meant to be read in a much more figurative way. However, Ham lumps the entire book of Genesis together as “historical narrative” when it is clear that the literary structure of chapter one is different than the rest of the book, and actually quite distinct in ancient Hebrew literature.

Overall, I did not find the debate to be at all helpful. I did think that Nye’s scientific arguments were stronger than Ham’s (as YEC is rather indefensible scientifically), but they could have been stronger, and Nye demonstrated deep misunderstandings of Christianity that are, unfortunately, much too common among skeptics. Young-Earth creationists who watched the debate probably thought that Ham crushed Nye. Atheists who watched it probably thought that Nye demolished the silly arguments of the young-Earthers. For the rest of us, the debate was a lose-lose affair. There was little in Ham’s presentation that would cause a non-believer (especially a non-believing scientist) to consider Christianity, and Nye’s weakness on geological issues hampered his effectiveness.

I would have much rather seen a debate between a Christian old-Earth geologist and a YEC geologist, or a debate between a YEC biblical scholar and a old-Earth biblical scholar. But then only 500 people would have watched it nationwide rather than 500,000.

The debate is archived at http://debatelive.org/.

Grace and Peace

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 20 Comments

Debate pre-game prognosis: What Ken Ham could learn from Duane Gish in order to “win” his debate against Bill Nye

In March of 1987, young-Earth creationist Dr. Duane Gish came to Washington State University to have a creation-evolution debate with Dr. Grover Krantz, an anthropology professor at WSU. Gish’s style in his frequent debates was a rapid-fire overload of facts from a wide variety of fields, most of which were outside of his opponent’s area of expertise. Unless his rival was especially well-prepared, Gish knew that there was no way that all of his young-Earth, anti-evolutionist “evidences” could be answered. Young-Earth creationists would attend these debates in droves, and would conclude that Gish had won the debate.

I don’t remember much about the debate that night (beyond Krantz having a bunch of hominid skull replicas with him for his rebuttal), but what I do remember is Gish’s trip to the WSU Geology department earlier in the day. Someone had invited Gish to speak at our weekly departmental seminar. I was a graduate student in the department at the time, and I remember being nervous about what he would say. Having “converted” from young-Earth creationism to old-Earth Christianity as an undergraduate student just a few years previously, I was concerned that all Gish would accomplish would be to make Christianity look foolish, and solidify the antipathy that some in the department had against the faith.

Duane Gish surprised me. In his presentation before the Geology department, he took a “mere creation” approach rather than making an effort to defend his belief in a young Earth or flood geology. When asked questions about things like the age of the Earth, he answered that some Christians go one way, and other Christians the other. This was akin to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, where Lewis discussed and promoted Christianity in general, rather than making an attempt to make everyone Anglicans. Gish talked about things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and gaps between phyla in the fossil record. Though there was still hostility against Gish among some in the audience, there was also receptivity. I remember one PhD candidate remarking after the presentation that if this was the sort of material the creationists were promoting, he would not be opposed to it.

Tonight (2/4/2014) Ken Ham (president of Answers in Genesis) will debate Bill Nye (the science guy) on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins.” I can see this debate going one of two ways, depending on whether or not Ham takes a “mere creation” approach, as opposed to defending the more radical young-Earth creationist positions he normally propounds.

If the debate circles around typical young-Earth topics such as the age of the Earth, the geological effects of Noah’s flood, or whether or not dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark, Nye should be able to show the numerous faults and contradictions of the young-Earth position. That is, if Nye has done his homework (Nye’s university degree was in Engineering, and his strengths on “Bill Nye the Science Guy” were always in physics and chemistry, not geology or biology).

If, on the other hand, Ham steers the debate towards broader “mere creation” topics such as the origin of the universe or the origin of life, then I think Ham could show the world that Christianity has a better answer for the questions of origins than atheistic naturalism does.

In summary, if the debate is about “mere creation” Ham (and Christianity) should “win” the debate. If the debate becomes about young-Earth vs. old-Earth or the extent to which evolution can occur, I think we all will lose, no matter who “wins” the debate.

The debate is streaming live at http://debatelive.org/

and at http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/cvplive/cvpstream1.html.

Grace and Peace

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 1 Comment

Around the web 10/16/2013 — the latest Jesus conspiracy theory and YEC attacks on old-Earth Christians

AN INVENTED JESUS? — The media has started giving publicity to the latest Jesus conspiracy theory: Story of Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated to pacify the poor’, claims controversial Biblical scholar: Christianity was a sophisticated government propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of a the Roman Empire, claims scholar.

So, the Romans invented a story in which Roman soldiers crucified the peaceful leader of a new religion to make themselves more palpable to their subjects? I don’t think so.

Parchment and Pen has an introductory analysis: Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’ (Hint: no “ancient confession” has been found).

Also see Never Read a Press Release Headline at Stand to Reason Blog.

FROM THE “OLD-EARTHERS ARE IN LEAGUE WITH THE DEVIL” CLUB — Here’s an excerpt from a loving note from the head of the Creation Science Hall of Fame:

Dear Creationists & Friends,

Hugh Ross must be stopped! He has caused many good Christians to stumble. I have witnessed good Christian Churches argue over the interpretations of Genesis more than any other topic. I have now witnessed good Christian Churches that have broken up directly as a result of Hugh Ross teaching a mixture of evolution and Christianity.

The Bible teaches us to judge other Christians by their fruits. Hugh Ross has no fruits, but he has caused many Christians to stumble in their faith. He is causing so much harm among Christians all over the world and he must be stopped. Evil is using him in a great way.

Etc…

It seems that to the folks at the Creation Science Hall of Fame, the age of the Earth is more important than the gospel, Christian unity, truth, or love.

HT: Old Earth Ministries: Creation Science Hall of Shame

WHO’S FAULT IS IT? — Another YEC who blasts old-Earthers, of course, is Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Here’s what Mr. Ham recently wrote about Daniel Hamlin, a member of a Nazarene church, who had written a testimony about how evidence for biological evolution had caused him to have a crisis of faith:

Well, Hamlin shares that when he began reading about evolutionary ideas, he came to the conclusion that “Christianity is a lie and I’ve been duped.” He believed he had been “deceived” by Christian leaders, and he writes that he “chose science and for a time questioned the existence of God.” Wow! Those kinds of statements really demonstrate the way evolutionary ideas can undermine the authority of the Word of God and the gospel. Hamlin’s automatic conclusion was that Christianity had to be false if evolution and millions of years were true—these things are mutually exclusive!

So here’s what happened:

  1. Christian hears “If the Earth is old, then Christianity is false” (or if evolution is true, then Christianity is false).
  2. Christian learns that there is plenty of evidence for an old Earth, or for biological evolution.
  3. Christian concludes that Christianity might be false.

So who’s fault is it? I would say these crises of faith are due primarily to the bad science and false dichotomies presented by the YECs.

Read Hamlin’s story: Evolution and Faith: My Journey Thus Far.

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Around the Web, Evolution, Young-Earth creationism | 5 Comments

More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz

Last week I wrote about A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on. A Christian school in South Carolina had used an Answers in Genesis quiz entitled “Dinosaurs, Genesis and the Gospel,” and the atheist and skeptic blogs were abuzz about how goofy this quiz was in their eyes.

I posted my answers to the quiz in last week’s post, and tried to grade it as a young-Earth creationist would have graded it. My grade was an “F.”

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, wrote about this quiz today, and posted the entire quiz (the copy that was circulating around the internet was missing a few questions).

Ken Ham’s blog — The Science Quiz the Atheists Hate — Let’s Take it Ourselves!

AiG website — Families: Let’s Use the Recent Atheist Attack to Teach More Kids the Truth!

The full quiz — 4th Grade Science Quiz

Here are my answers for #8-10 (I gave my answers to the rest of the questions on the previous post). Again, I have place a red X next to the answers a YEC teacher would mark wrong.

Quiz08

X  Yes — The Bible simply does not say whether or not non-human animals died before Adam sinned. If one looks at the most frequently cited passages which are given in support of “no death before Adam’s sin” position, none of them say anything whatsoever about animal death (See Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15). External evidence tells us that animals have been dying for a long time, so their death is not part of the curse given in Genesis 3.

Quiz09

False — Humans are animals, but we are more than “just an animal.” According to Genesis, we are made of dust, that is, the same stuff as the rest of creation, and were created at roughly the same time as the rest of land animals in the Genesis outline of events. But we are special animals, in that we are created in the image of God, bearing his resemblance, rationality, and ability to have relationships. As animals we are embedded in the creation, but God has also placed us in a position of dominion over the creation (and dominion is a very different concept than domination).

Quiz10

1/2 X — No. Scientists sometimes get things wrong. For example, some Christian scientists twist science in order to come up with a “Biblical” interpretation about dinosaurs or ice ages, even though neither are mentioned in the Bible.

——————————————————–

Adding these three answers to my previous total makes my new grade (from a YEC perspective) 6/18 = 33%. That is a bit of an improvement, but still quite solidly an F.

A few additional thoughts:

  • My answers for the questions were largely based on the Bible, not on science. I am not reading science into the Bible.
  • It is amazing how Answers in Genesis pushes their speculations as absolute truth, when so much of what they say is not found in the Bible.
  • It should not be surprising that the atheists and skeptics (many of them are anything but “freethinkers”) are mocking the quiz. It is also not surprising that AiG is painting this as another atheist attack against Christianity. But the YECs have, as a result of a decades-long history of bad science and Scripture stretching, given the skeptics a very easy target. As I have said numerous times, let it be the “foolishness” of the the crucified and risen Jesus that confronts the world, not our own human foolishness.
  • Bad apologetics is harmful to our youth, adults, and witness to the world.
  • The small Christian school in this controversy was struggling financially and has received numerous donations in the past few weeks. Despite teaching YEC sciences, many of these small Christian schools are doing a fantastic job of providing a Christian education for our youth, and so I am thankful they have received these gifts.

Grace and Peace

——————————————————–

Notes:

I have previously written briefly about Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective.

I have also written about supposed references to dinosaurs in the book of Job.

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A 4th grade quiz on dinosaurs that the teacher would have given me an “F” on

Here is a quiz on “Dinosaurs: Genesis and the Gospel” given to fourth graders at a South Carolina Christian school:

quiz_1

quiz_2

The quiz was based on material from Answers in Genesis.

Atheists and skeptics, of course, have made much of this quiz since it was first posted on the internet a few weeks ago. Christians are obviously a bunch of morons, liars, brainwashers, idiots, and so forth. For a couple of examples, read Intolerant Atheists Viciously Attack Christian School by PZ Meyers or South Carolina creationist science quiz is real on Daily Kos.

And predictably, Answers in Genesis has replied with a “Christianity under attack” response (here and here).

The atheists are wrong; Christians are not idiots. But Answers in Genesis is wrong as well, in that young-Earth creationism gives the skeptics a tragically easy reason to reject Christian truth.

Here’s how I would answer the 4th grade quiz, with red X‘s on the answers the teacher would have marked as incorrect:

quiz01

X — True. The opening statement of the Bible — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” — is not necessarily included in the six days of creation, so the earth could have been created in 4000 B.C., 4,000,000 B.C., or 4,000,000,000 B.C.

quiz02

X — True. Dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

quiz03

1/2 X — The 6th day. But is God’s day the same as our day? Moses himself indicates flexibility on this question in Psalm 90.

quiz04

X — False. The Bible does not say that dinosaurs lived with people, and there is plenty of geological evidence that they did not.

quiz05

X — The Bible says that animals and humans in the Garden of Eden ate plants, but states that the world outside of the garden was a wild place in need of subduing. Carnivores outside of the garden ate meat.

quiz06

X — None of the above. Maybe a hippopotamus. A brachiosaurus wouldn’t have fed on grass like an ox, and could not have hidden in the lotus plants and reeds in the marshes along the Jordan River.

quiz07

False.

I don’t know what happened to #8-10. I probably would have gotten them wrong.

quiz11

God.

quiz12

X — There are multiple history books of the universe. The Bible tells us about the origin of the universe, but it doesn’t give us much in the way of details. What it tells us is true, but what it tells us and what the young-Earth creationists tell us that it tells us are two different things. For example, Genesis 1 tells us that God made the stars, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the processes he used to accomplish this act. For that, I would turn to books about astronomy and nuclear chemistry. Genesis 1 also tells us that God said “Let the land produce living creatures,” which implies some sort of process without stating what that process was. I would turn to books about biology and geology to learn about the history of those living creatures and the processes by which they came about. (I apologize, Teacher, that this answer did not fit on the little line).

quiz13

An ark.

quiz14

False. I think just about everyone would agree that Noah’s ark didn’t look like that.

quiz15

X — I took Vertebrate Paleontology a long time ago at Montana State, but I would really have had to guess on this one. I would have had guessed b. rhino.

quiz16

X — None of the above. The Bible does not say that Noah’s Flood deposited the sedimentary rock record along with its fossils. None of the other answers are things that in themselves would produce fossils.

quiz17

X — Fossils are the remains or traces of organisms from the past that are preserved in Earth’s crust. There are patterns in how they are preserved that indicate that they were not produced by one, brief, cataclysmic process.

quiz18

X — I agree that Earth is billions of years old. To say that it is only 6000 years old is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible.

————————————————————————————–

My grade from a YEC’s perspective: 4.5/15 = 30%. F

Conclusion: With a Biblical and scientific foundation like this, no doubt some of these kids are “Already Gone.”

Grace and peace

For an update, including my answers to the missing quiz questions, see More on the Answers in Genesis 4th grade dinosaur quiz

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 6 Comments

A Christian geologist tells his story

Many Christian geologists I know began their undergraduate geological training as young-Earth creationists (YECs). They entered their studies having been equipped by reading YEC classics such as The Genesis Flood and Scientific Creationism, had a whole stack of Institute for Creation Research Acts & Facts “Impact” articles, and were certain that they would set the geological world straight.

None of the Christian geologists I know personally were still YECs when they graduated. For some (such as for myself), there was no serious crisis of faith along the way. For others, there were times of severe trial, as everything they believed about the Bible and the Earth was challenged. I get emails from time to time from geology undergraduates who thank me for helping them during that time of testing of their faith, and for this I am very grateful.

Sadly, many Christians who enter geological studies with a YEC background end up as spiritual shipwrecks and leave the faith altogether. They have been taught that if YEC is not true, then the Bible is not true either, and all of Christianity is false as well. When they start learning about how the Earth really works, they are devastated  This is the bitter fruit of years of YEC indoctrination through a barrage of books, DVDs, educational curricula, Sunday school, and youth groups.  It doesn’t have to be so.

Steve Smith is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. I had the privilege of meeting Steve a few years ago. We had moved back to the United States after six years of service as missionaries with the Evangelical Free Church, and we were living in Denver while I looked for employment. Steve gave my wife and I a wonderful geological tour of Red Rocks Park. I ended up finding employment in Missouri, so we were not able to get together again.

Steve has done a fantastic job of writing about his experiences as a Christian geologist, from his YEC undergraduate beginnings to his current interactions with young people struggling with science and faith issues. The article is Breaking Away from a False Dilemma, and is posted at Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.

Here are a few clips, but you really should read the whole article:

With a high-school level understanding of science and theology, I was convinced by this “either-or” argument and, to my knowledge, became the first Young Earth Creationist in my local Nazarene church. I knew the enemy and the enemy had a name. It was Evolution.

————————-

Although I was fascinated by geology and had found a scientific field that I loved, my faith was in shambles. Based on what I had believed and read in the Young Earth Creationist literature, if the geologic ages were real, if the earth was old, if evolution had happened then the Bible was false, Christianity wasn’t true, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless. So what was left? I felt betrayed and seriously considered leaving the church. In retrospect, two factors kept me from leaving: (1) the support of a strong Christian family (and a young lady soon to be my wife) that gave me the freedom to question without condemnation; and (2) the strong witness of my Olivet geology professor, who had not only faced all of the same scientific evidence but was one of the most Christ-like men I had ever met. But before I could move on, I had to recognize that I had been snared by a false dilemma and that the Bible didn’t need to be read as a scientific treatise on how to create a world. That was a time of turmoil and what I needed most was theological support that would allowed me to reconcile what I read in the Bible with what I saw in the rocks.

————————-

I have seen students break down into tears as they stood on an outcrop of rock and saw evidence that contradicted what their church had taught them. I have comforted my own daughter when she was told by a Sunday School teacher that she couldn’t be a Christian if she accepted evidence for evolution. I have talked with scientists who were once raised in a church and are now bitter agnostics because the church “lied to them” about science.

Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story.

Grace and Peace

 

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , | 30 Comments

The Old-Earth Christian homeschooling vacuum

At times it seems like the young-Earth creationists have a virtual monopoly on science curriculum materials for the Christian homeschool market. There are popular homeschool magazines that ban advertisements from curricula—secular or Christian—that teach an old Earth or biological evolution. The same goes for homeschool conventions and curriculum fairs.

At the extreme in the homeschool movement are those who want to build walls around their children to protect them from all evils, such as evolution. We were part of a homeschool parents’ group in St. Louis whose leader had a rather dominating personality. I think one of our last appearances at the monthly meetings was when she stood up and virtually forbade members of the group from taking their kids to the St. Louis Zoo because of its new talking statue of Charles Darwin. That didn’t stop us, of course, from taking our kids to the zoo, even with the animatronic Darwin. My anecdotal experience is that the outcome for families who took the build-a-wall-around-our-children approach to homeschooling was not positive, either academically or spiritually.

We homeschooled our children in their early elementary years and they all have done very well in middle and high school, and in college. One of the primary sources for our material was Sonlight Curriculum, which has been banned from some homeschool conferences and magazines because they carry old-Earth material along with young-earth. John Holzmann of Sonlight has written an excellent article: Young- and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We Even Talk Together? A quick search for “Sonlight curriculum evolution” in your web browser will turn up a multitude of “We don’t use Sonlight because it includes evolution” blog posts and articles.

The Atlantic has recently posted an article entitled Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Take Erinn Cameron Warton, an evangelical Christian who homeschools her children. Warton, a scientist, says she was horrified when she opened a homeschool science textbook and found a picture of Adam and Eve putting a saddle on a dinosaur. “I nearly choked,” says the mother of three. “When researching homeschooling curricula, I found that the majority of Christian homeschool textbooks are written from this ridiculous perspective. Once I saw this, I vowed never to use them.”

———————————

The assertion that anyone who believes in evolution “disregards” the Bible offends many evangelicals who want their children to be well-versed in modern science. Jen Baird Seurkamp, an evangelical who homeschools her children, avoids textbooks that discredit evolution. “Our science curriculum is one currently used in public schools,” she says. “We want our children to be educated, not sheltered from things we are afraid of them learning.”

———————————

Meanwhile, professors at evangelical colleges that attract homeschoolers often have to deal with objections from Young Earth proponents. “We do have to address some one-sided perspectives in biological science that some of our freshman biology majors come pre-loaded with,” says Jeffrey Duerr, a biology professor at George Fox University, a Christian university in Oregon. “But we do this by first addressing why science and Christian faith are compatible and then by teaching biology to them.”

I think that at present  finding an appropriate homeschool curriculum for middle school or high school Earth Science would be a real challenge. The choice seems to be between selecting a secular textbook that is not very homeschool-friendly, and one of several YEC textbooks that are homeschool-friendly but contain numerous scientific inaccuracies and questionable biblical interpretations.

My experience from teaching in Christian schools is that it is far easier to undo any shortcomings in secular textbooks (the shortcomings were not all that many) than it was to undo the bad science and questionable biblical interpretations I saw in Christian textbooks. But I was able to do this based on a solid education in geology and secondary education and years of thinking about Bible-science issues. Most homeschool parents don’t have that background.

What is the solution? What are some good curriculum options for Christians who want to give their middle school or high school students a semester or year of Earth Science?

Grace and Peace

HT: Martin Lack

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Evolution, Geology, Science Education, Young-Earth creationism | , | 20 Comments

Six bad answers from Answers in Genesis are still six bad answers

Back in 2009, I posted a six-part review of a series of young-Earth creationist (YEC) articles on “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.” The YEC articles appeared in “Answers” magazine, which is published by Answers in Genesis. As part of my “blog recycling program,” I am providing links to my posts:

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 1) — Fossils at the top of Mount Everest are not evidence for a global flood. Most fossil-containing layers, such as crinoid-rich Mississippian limestones, are extremely difficult to explain using young-Earth creationist flood geology. How did all of those fossils stay together in an ecological package in a global flood?

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 2) — A global flood is not necessary to explain “fossil graveyards.” In fact, a global flood would scatter fossils vertically and horizontally, and would abrade delicate structures that are preserved in the finest fossil specimens.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 3) — There are sedimentary rock layers that cover well over a million square kilometers. Rather than suggesting global-scale catastrophism, the continent-wide extent of these formations makes the deposition of subsequent layers extremely difficult to explain by flood geology.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 4) – The YEC claim is that it is impossible for normal geological processes to explain the transport of sediments from one side of a continent to another. But in reality, rivers such as the Mississippi, Nile, and Amazon do that very thing.

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 5) — Erosional gaps between sedimentary formations are consistent with old-Earth geological explanations. Young-Earth creationists, on the other hand, have a difficult time explaining paleosols (preserved ancient soil layers) and paleokarsts (preserved limestone dissolution features) in the rock record. Because paleosols and paleokarts imply the passage of time, YECs usually resort to an “it only looks like _______” argument, like “it only looks like an ancient soil, despite the root casts, filled critter burrows, and preserved soil horizons.”

Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis (Part 6) — The YEC claim is that layers of sediment must be soft in order to be tightly folded. Both laboratory and field studies prove that this is simply not true, and it is usually straightforward to determine whether rocks were consolidated or unconsolidated when deformed.

As you read these, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible nowhere says that the geological record was formed by Noah’s flood. The Bible does not require a young Earth nor does it require a global flood. In light of this, no one should reject Christ or Christianity because of the findings of the geological sciences.

Grace and Peace

January 22, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | Leave a comment

What the Bible says directly about biological evolution

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

January 13, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Biology, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 1 Comment

Best of the GeoChristian — updated

I have updated the “Best of the GeoChristian” link up at the top of the page.

There is a good variety: posts on Christianity, geology, creationism, the environment, atheism, apologetics, and more.

I would be interested to hear if there is a post that has been especially meaningful or helpful to you, or one that you think is the best of the best of The GeoChristian.

Thanks for reading,

Grace and Peace

January 2, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Evolution, Geology, Maps, Nature, Old-Earth creationism, Origin of Life, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | Leave a comment

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 5

This is the fifth post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1— The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2 — Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — This page. Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies

Dr. Jeanson concluded his two-day seminar on young-Earth creationism with a segment on dinosaurs. It was the standard YEC presentation on the topic:

  • Dinosaurs lived with humans as recently as 4300 years ago.
  • Tyrannosaurus ate plants and mosquitoes sucked plant juice.
  • Dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible, and proof that they existed until quite recently can be found in places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
  • Part of the reason they went extinct could be the ice age, which occurred between 2300 and 2000 B.C. (“The flood is the best, or only, explanation for the ice age.”)
  • Or maybe they are not extinct; they might still be alive today in the dark jungles of Africa.

I’ll make just a few comments, and will make no attempt to address everything said:

  • Dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Bible. I’ve addressed this in my post The ESV Study Bible on creation — Dinosaurs in Job? Do the YECs really want us to believe that a sauropod could hide under the lotus plants along the Jordan River?
  • The carving at the Ta Prohm complex at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, is not a Stegosaurus. I wrote Stegosaurus in Cambodian temple? in response to this common YEC claim. The “plates” on the back of the critter in the carving are part of a leaf motif that occurs throughout the site, and the tail has no spikes.
  • The Bible does not say that there was no animal death before the fall of Adam, as I demonstrated in my post Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective. YECs are reading something into the text, and then taking that as proof that dinosaurs couldn’t have died before Adam sinned.
  • The dinosaurs did not go extinct during the ice age only 4000 years ago. Pleistocene terrestrial fossils (in what YECs would call post-flood deposits) include mastodons and sabertooth cats, but not dinosaurs. The whole “ice age occurred only 4000 years ago and lasted only a couple hundred years” scenario is almost harder to accept than “flood geology.”
  • The Mokele-Mbembe argument (there really are large dinosaurs in the jungles of Africa) should be on Answers in Genesis’s Arguments we don’t use page. Until someone actually provides evidence that there are sauropods roaming the jungles, this is just Sasquatch science.

Many of these problems stem from the YEC “bunnies and daisies” interpretive framework for Genesis 1. In the Bible, Adam and Eve are placed in a garden, a safe place that is distinct from the rest of the Earth. Adam is given the command to go out and rule over the Earth; to subdue it and have dominion over it. This implies that Earth was somewhat wild and in need of being subdued. In the YEC framework, on the other hand, the entire Earth is a gentle place, filled with kind animals and soft flowers out of a cartoon created for four-year-olds.

My question in the Q&A time

I made a brief statement and asked a question in the Saturday question and answer time. It went something like this:

I have a Master’s degree in geology and was once a member of the Creation Research Society, but abandoned young-Earth creationism when I figured out it wasn’t Biblically necessary. By God’s grace, my faith stayed intact throughout my transition from young-Earth creationism to acceptance of an old Earth, but this hasn’t been the case for many geology students when they figure out that much of YEC science simply does not work. For example, I have heard that some former students in the Institute for Creation Research’s Master’s degree program in geology went on to have their own crises of faith. This is anecdotal evidence; I have no statistics, but few if any have gone on to be involved in creation research or ministries. Why do you think it is that almost no geologists have been convinced by evidence presented by young-Earth creationists?

First of all, Dr. Jeanson was able to name an ICR geology M.S. student who is still active in YEC teaching and research, and that is Dr. John Whitmore of Cedarville University. I knew that, but it had slipped my mind when I asked the question. I would be very interested, however, to see statistics of what has happened to ICR geology students over the years.

Dr. Jeanson’s reason for why so few geologists have been convinced had to do with worldviews. Geologists have been indoctrinated by an anti-God, “uniformitarian” way of thinking, and simply cannot see the evidence that is before their eyes. But this does not explain why so few Christian geologists have been convinced by YEC arguments. As a Christian with geological training, my problem with YEC science is not that I have a wrong worldview (my worldview is probably very close to that of Dr. Jeanson), but that most of what YECs teach simply does not work in the real world of rocks, seas, streams, glaciers, volcanoes, and fossils.

The tragedy for geologists, and many other scientists, is that all this bad evidence—promoted as true to the Bible—closes the door for the gospel. They cannot believe because they have been convinced by both skeptics and YECs that to do so would require them to accept YEC science, which is neither necessary Biblically nor workable scientifically.

Grace and Peace

November 25, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 4

This is the fourth post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1— The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2— Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — This page. Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

Dr. Jeanson moved on to the topic of the age of the Earth, lecturing on ocean salinity, sedimentation rates, and radiometric dating.

Ocean Salinity

Seawater contains a number of dissolved ions: sodium, chlorine, magnesium, and so forth. A common YEC argument for a young Earth is that if the oceans have been in existence for billions of years, they should—in their minds, at least—contain much higher concentrations of dissolved ions (salts) than what is observed. According to the YEC argument, if one can determine how fast an element is entering the ocean, such as from rivers, and how fast it is being removed, such as through chemical reactions on the sea floor, one should be able to determine a maximum age for the oceans. Dr. Jeanson stated that the oceans could not possibly be older than 62 million years old, a number commonly given in YEC literature.

I have addressed this issue a couple times in the past (see The YEC “salty seawater” argument—not worth a grain of salt and Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans). I’ll summarize by saying:

  1. This YEC argument is, once again, based on a faulty application of “uniformitarianism.” Geologists do not teach that rates of geologic processes are constant, such as the rate of sodium input or removal from the oceans. Sodium input, for example, is dependent on the amount of erosion that occurs on continents. In times when oceans covered more of the continents, sodium input to the sea would have been considerably lower than at present. At times when large evaporite deposits were being formed in restricted basins, sodium removal rates would have been considerably higher.
  2. YECs have not demonstrated that the concentrations of various salts in the ocean are actually increasing. In fact, seawater salinity has actually decreased since the most recent glaciation. This makes sense, as the melting of tens of millions of cubic kilometers of ice would have diluted the oceans. It is difficult to determine the exact salinity of the oceans throughout geologic time, but it appears that there has been a general downward salinity trend since the Cambrian, as can be seen in the figure from Hay et al (2006) shown here.
  3. If one applies the YEC argument to minor elements in seawater, one comes up with wacky maximum ages for the oceans, such as 100 years for aluminum. This should raise a giant red flag or turn on flashing warning lights, as we know the oceans are indeed older than my grandparents.

Sedimentation Rates

Jeanson asserted that if one measures the rate at which mud is entering the ocean compared to the amount of mud that is on the ocean floor, one comes up with a maximum age for the ocean of 12 million years. Again, this argument depends on the distorted YEC definition of uniformitarianism, and ignores many factors.

Radiometric Dating — Assumptions

Dr. Jeanson began his discussion of radiometric dating by describing the 238U to 206Pb decay chain. No controversy there. Then he stated three assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to be valid:

  1. There must be no daughter isotope (e.g 206Pb) at the start.
  2. There can be no contamination of parent or daughter.
  3. There must be constant rate of decay.

The first assumption given by Jeanson is not always necessary. Some radiometric dating methods can work just fine even if there was an initial quantity of a daughter isotope. A common example is rubidium-strontium dating of igneous rocks. What matters in this case is not that the rock or mineral being dated has no initial strontium, but that the magma was homogeneous in terms of its 87Sr/86Sr ratio. Being that 87Sr is formed from  87Rb, minerals in a rock with higher concentrations of 87Rb will have a greater increase in the 87Sr/86Sr ratio over time than minerals with a low 87Rb concentration. By plotting multiple analyses for the same rock on a graph, geochronologists can determine the age of the rock, even though it initially had 87Sr. This is an example of isochron dating. The mathematics behind this technique are straightforward, and rubidium-strontium dating has been used successfully many thousands of times, even though it violates the first of Dr. Jeanson’s assumptions.

In other radiometric dating techniques, we can be certain that there was no daughter when the mineral formed, without making assumptions that may or may not be true. An example is fission-track dating. A  fission-track is formed when a nucleus of 238U spontaneously undergoes fission, rather than undergoing the more common emission of an alpha particle. The two newly-formed nuclei, both being positively-charged, are repelled from each other with tremendous energy, and create a trail of damage in the crystal. The number of fission-tracks formed a mineral is dependent on the uranium concentration and age; the initial concentration of fission-tracks will certainly be zero.

The second of Jeanson’s assumptions can often be tested. First of all, geochronologists recognize the importance of dating fresh, unaltered samples. Rocks or minerals that have gone through chemical alteration or weathering are more likely to have problems with gain or loss of elements. With the isochron method, if there has been a gain or loss of parent or daughter isotopes, it will be obvious on the graph of isotope ratios (see the fourth diagram on the isochron dating page). When contamination has occurred (i.e., when the mineral or rock is not a closed system), the date determined by radiometric dating is more likely to be “wrong.”

The third assumption is one that has been called into question by YECs, and there is some evidence that there can be minor fluctuations in some decay rates. There are a number of problems, however, with YEC arguments regarding decay rates. They claim, for example, that radioactive decay occurred at a dramatically increased rate during Noah’s flood. The problem is that radioactive decay generates a tremendous amount of energy, and accelerating the process to this extent would produce enough heat to boil the oceans and melt a significant portion of Earth’s crust. A second problem is that the amount of radiation released by accelerated nuclear decay would have fried the inhabitants of Noah’s ark. Not only would radiation be coming from Earth’s crust, but radiation would be coming from the million-fold increase of decay of 40K and 14C in Noah and his family; the animals, and the wood of the ark. A third problem with accelerated decay is that whatever causes this decay (neutrinos?) would have had to affect a number of very different decay mechanisms—alpha, beta, positron, spontaneous fission, and others—in exactly the same way. This is because, despite what YECs say, most dates determined by radiometric methods are both consistent and concordant. They are consistent in that they usually give results that make sense in terms of geological history as understood by geologists, and they are concordant in that different methods used on the same rocks usually give similar ages.

Radiometric dating — YEC reasons for why it doesn’t work

Radiometric dating usually works as intended by geoscientists, and gives results that are consistent with Earth history as it has been painstakingly unraveled by thousands of workers. YECs emphasize the instances when radiometric dating does not work correctly, and use those instances in an attempt to invalidate the entire method. Dr. Jeanson gave three reasons to reject radiometric dating:

  1. Inaccurate — Radiometric dating sometimes gives results that are clearly wrong, but YECs want you to believe this is the rule rather than the exception. Dr. Jeanson discussed volcanic rocks that are of known age, such as the dacite from the 1980s eruptions of Mount St. Helens. These rocks (or mineral and glass separates from the rocks) give K-Ar dates that range from 340,000 to 2,800,000 years, even though we know they were formed in the 1980s. It must be understood, however, that the K-Ar method cannot be used for samples less than a few hundred thousand years old. Samples younger than that are expected to have significant errors due to traces of argon in the laboratory. Jeanson went on to state that every rock of known age ends up with a goofy age when dated by radiometric dating. This is quite simply not true; one example is a date determined for the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius (here). I could go on about xenoliths and 40Ar/39Ar dating, but will save that for another time, or you can read about xenoliths here.
  2. Inconsistent — Radiometric dating methods sometimes give results that are inconsistent with one another, therefore all radiometric dating is suspect. Dr. Jeanson discussed rocks that were dated at 1.5 billion years by U-Pb dating, but when dated using a YEC helium diffusion model, the age turned out to be 6,000 years. It has been demonstrated that, in the YEC RATE study which Jeanson was referring to, the YEC researchers once again applied a faulty definition of uniformitarianism, and used a simplistic model for helium diffusion in the mineral zircon. When corrections are made to the helium diffusion model, the data is much more consistent with an old Earth than with a young Earth. You can read more about it here and here.
  3. Impossible results — Dr. Jeanson discussed another much-publicized finding of the RATE study, and that is the existence of carbon-14 in samples that are alleged to be millions of years old and should therefore be radiocarbon-dead. In hindsight, it should not be surprising that traces of radiocarbon would be found in these substances. Not all 14C in Earth’s crust has a biological source; some will be created anyplace where a carbon-containing substance (e.g. coal, diamond) has uranium associated with it, which is not uncommon. Neutrons from spontaneous fission of 238U, for example can cause nuclear reactions in the crust that form 14C. This is insufficient to form all 14C found in coal, but there are other explanations for the bulk of that, such as contamination by organic carbon carried in groundwater. An additional problem for the YECs is contamination in the laboratory, which is especially significant given that the amount of 14C in these samples is near the lower detection threshold for the mass spectrometry instruments used.

The YEC attacks on radiometric dating probably sounded convincing to most of the audience, but are full of flaws and should not be used as Christian apologetics.

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 3

This is the third post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1— The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2 — Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — This Page. Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

This is part 3 of my review of Institute for Creation Research scientist Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson’s young-Earth presentation sponsored by the Big Sky Worldview Forum in Billings, Montana, November 9-10, 2012.

Geology – Uniformitarianism and the layers of the geologic record

Dr. Jeanson introduced this section on the layers of the rock record by providing a distorted definition of “uniformitarianism” for the audience. According to Jeanson, uniformitarianism is the idea that present rates of Earth processes–erosion, uplift, deposition, etc.—have been the same throughout geologic history. In other words, he used an 1830s concept without modification, and implied that this is what modern geologists teach. I am sure very few in the audience—perhaps no one but me—noticed this. Modern geologists do not teach that rates of processes have been the same, only that natural laws have stayed the same. This does not exclude variation of rates of erosion, deposition, sodium input into oceans, plate tectonic movement, heat flow, or any of a long list of other processes. It also does not exclude larger-scale catastrophes, such as large meteorite impacts, tsunamis, or “supervolcano” caldera eruptions.

The assumption that natural laws stay the same have their roots in Christian theology, and many philosophers and historians of science have made this connection. YECs themselves use the concept of uniformitarianism in their attempts to explain Earth history using Noah’s flood. They try to avoid God’s intervention in most aspects of the flood, choosing to invoke the laws and concepts of fluid dynamics, sedimentology, geophysics, nuclear chemistry, genetics, and other fields of science, to explain the nature of the rock and fossil record. They may invoke God to get the flood going, but for the most part they try to explain the flood through natural processes.

God made the universe to be comprehensible. We will never understand everything through science, but learning about the creation is implied in the creation mandate given in Genesis 1:28. Humans cannot rule over the creation if they are not able to understand it. It is true that, as Christians, we believe God sometimes acts in such a way that supersedes the laws of nature. Examples include Noah’s flood (I believe in Noah’s flood, but don’t believe the Bible requires it to be global), the crossing of the Red Sea, and the resurrection of Christ. In general, these exceptions are spelled out for us in the Bible, and have to do with the unfolding of salvation history. These miracles stand outside of the normal flow of Earth and human history, and may or may not be things we can investigate scientifically centuries after they occurred. For example, we don’t have an Institute for Resurrection Research around in order to prove Christ’s resurrection.

Next, Jeanson reminded us that whatever we say about the layers of sedimentary rocks on Earth must conform to what we (i.e. YECs) know from the Bible about Earth history: a young Earth, a certain order of creation as outline in the days of Genesis 1, the genealogies of Genesis, and the existence of a global, catastrophic flood. According to Jeanson, geology must fit into these “facts.” I’ve discussed these elsewhere; for now I’ll just state that the Bible requires neither a young Earth nor a global flood. So, we don’t have to force the Earth to fit into the narrow YEC interpretation of Scripture.

Jeanson moved on to the “scientific fact of the flood.” For him to call this “scientific” is a contradiction of what he said earlier: that we cannot know about Earth history through science. But I guess it is science when YECs give an account of Earth history, but not science when someone else does it.

Jeanson said that there is plenty of water on Earth in the ocean basins to flood the entire planet. I won’t argue with that.

Next, he gave a standard YEC presentation about Mount St. Helens, claiming that its 1980 eruption provides a  number of features that support YEC flood geology. For example, there are thick layers of sediment that were formed quite rapidly, a canyon (1/40 of the size of the Grand Canyon, he claimed) that also formed quickly, and floating logs in Spirit Lake that provide a model for fossilized forests in the fossil record; I’m assuming he is referring to localities such as the petrified forests of Yellowstone and the “polystrate” forests in Carboniferous sedimentary rocks at Joggins, Nova Scotia.

The main thing that the Mount St. Helens features demonstrate is that volcanoes can produce thick deposits of volcaniclastic rocks in a short amount of time. There is nothing revolutionary in this statement. These volcaniclastic rocks—formed of volcanic debris worked by sedimentary or sedimentary-like processes—are readily distinguishable by their composition from the sandstones, shales, and limestones that make up most of the sedimentary rock record. The sedimentary structures preserved in these volcaniclastic rocks are characteristic of very high energy deposition, which distinguishes them from sedimentary rocks formed in other environments, such as streams, lakes, beaches, tidal flats, and carbonate platforms, to name a few. Mount St. Helens can teach us a lot about volcaniclastic deposition, but it cannot tell us much about deposition of lime mud; one might go to the Bahamas for that.

Likewise for “polystrate” trees. The Joggins site is not analogous to Spirit Lake. The sediments at Joggins were not deposited in a lake or volcanic setting, but apparently in a stream environment. The trees have roots that are embedded in the underlying sediments, which implies that they grew in place, and not transported by a catastrophe. The Yellowstone forests, on the other hand, may be somewhat analogous to Mount St. Helens, in that both involve a volcanic environment. So all we can say from this is that volcaniclastic sediments can bury forests, which can be preserved in an upright position. This really does not do the YECs much good.

As far as erosion goes, it is clear that water can do a tremendous amount of erosion. The YECs want us to multiply what happened at Mount St. Helens to a much larger scale, to form things like the Grand Canyon. The problem for the YECs, however, is that the erosive power of water is too great for what they want to prove. If at near the end of the flood the continents were covered by water, and then erosion occurred as the flood receded, a lot more erosion would have occurred than what works for the YECs. You see, when the Grand Canyon eroded, sediments were transported a few hundred miles further down the Colorado River and then deposited in places like the Colorado River delta. This is because the sediments were dumped as soon as the energy of flowing water was no longer sufficient to transport them. This is because sediment transport was being accomplished by a stream. If the sediment had been transported by draining waters from Noah’s flood, then the sediment would have traveled much further. The fact that virtually all sediments are deposited on continents, which are the high points on Earth, points to relatively low-energy sediment transport, which means streams. If Noah’s flood had been draining off the continents, one would expect that most material eroded off of the continents would end up in ocean basins rather than on the continents. As it is, there are very thick deposits of sediments in the interior of the continents.

Despite all of this, Jeanson confidently concluded this section with a typical YEC statement that all of this is impossible to explain by “evolutionists,” but easily explained by Noah’s flood. This is a typical YEC strategy in their writings and presentations, and always incorrect.

Coming up next: the age of the Earth, and dinosaurs.

Grace and Peace

November 12, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 12 Comments

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 2

This is the second post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1 — The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2 — This Page. Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

This morning (9/10/2012) I attended another of Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson’s young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentations, sponsored by the Big Sky Worldview Forum. He gave three presentations, one each on biology, geology, and dinosaurs.

Biology

It is interesting that YECs are so opposed to evolution, but then turn around and advocate hyper-rapid evolutionary change (all called microevolution) in the time after Noah’s flood.

I won’t report much about Dr. Jeanson’s biology presentation, except to say that the rate of post-flood diversification of species advocated by YECs would make the most ardent evolutionist’s head spin. According to the YECs, one did not have to have horses, zebras, donkeys, and all the other equids on Noah’s ark, but only a single pair of ancestral equids. All of the modern equids—horses, zebras, etc.—came from this pair through rapid divergence after the flood.

He discussed Darwin’s finches (on the Galapagos Islands) and talked about how this shows that related species can indeed form over time from a common ancestor. He then pointed to a YEC study that states that not only Darwin’s finches, but perhaps 1000 bird species, all came from a single pair on Noah’s ark. The PowerPoint slide looked like this included cardinals, orioles, and a wide variety of other birds.

Elsewhere in his biology presentation he stated that all of this diversification occurred in the past 4300 to 4500 years, the time since YECs say Noah’s flood occurred. But he really does not have that much time for ancestral finches to diversify into 1000 species, or for the ancestral equids to diversify into the wide variety of horses, zebras, and donkeys that we see in the world today. This is because most of this diversification would have had to happen—and I’m thinking of the YEC chronology here—within the first few hundred years after the flood. Otherwise, you could not have the distinction between horses and donkeys in the Old Testament, the diversity of life that is described in other ancient writings, nor the geographic distribution of organisms around the world that we see today.

Geology — Fossils

Dr. Jeanson began this presentation by reminding us that the Bible requires that:

  • There was no animal death before Adam’s fall into sin (no it doesn’t — see my post Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective).
  • There were no thorns before the curse (that is really hyper-literal over-reading of the text).
  • Noah’s flood had to be global (only if you only read YEC commentaries — see my post The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic).
  • The fossil record must have been deposited by the flood (just like the Bible says in Genesis chapter 6½ verse 22.7b, and in 3 Thessalonians 14:55).

Next, Dr. Jeanson gave us Five Facts That Point to the Flood:

  1. Fossils are 95% marine. He showed a diagram of the geologic time scale, with trilobites in the earlier Paleozoic, fish in the middle Paleozoic, amphibians and insects later in the Paleozoic, dinosaurs in the Mesozoic, and mammals in the Cenozoic. He said that we should not look at this order, however, but at the fact that most fossils throughout the geological record are marine, such as fossils of fish, trilobites, belemnites, ammonites, and brachiopods. So he dismissed the order of land vertebrates with a hand wave—a vertical distribution that YECs have yet to adequately explain—and then ignored the fact that the marine fossil record also shows significant change as one goes up the geologic column.
  2. Fossil distribution — they are found on the continents. This implies that the oceans covered the continents. I would say that marine fossils on continents are a problem for neither YECs or within the standard old-Earth geological interpretation. It was interesting, however, that the picture Dr. Jeanson showed for this point was of a fish from the Green River Formation in Utah. These fish are all freshwater fish, who lived together with a wide variety of plants and animals who made up a freshwater ecological community, and are beautifully preserved in non-marine lake sediments. It is extremely difficult to envision how this freshwater community was caught up in Noah’s flood, held together as a cohesive unit, and deposited late in the flood with exquisite preservation. If, as some YECs envision, the Green River Formation is a post-flood deposit, it is difficult to imagine how all of these organisms got to the Green River Basin of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado quickly after the flood, matured into a complete ecosystem, and did this while thousands of feet of sediments were being deposited to make the Green River Formation.
  3. Geologic layers can extend over large areas, sometimes covering an entire hemisphere. This implies a large, watery catastrophe. He gave the example of chalk layers in Texas that extend all the way to Britain. The standard interpretation of these extensive layers—here in Montana the Madison Limestone is the same layer as the Redwall in the Grand Canyon—is that similar ecological conditions existed over very large areas. I see no problem with this. On the other hand, I do see problems with Jeanson’s chalk layer. Chalk—such as exposed at the White Cliffs of Dover in England—is composed of innumerable microscopic shells of coccolithophores, which are algae. These algae need sunlight in order to do photosynthesis. The YEC explanation for thick chalk deposits is that there was an algal bloom during the flood, and that the organisms all died and sank to the bottom. The problems with this hypothesis include the fact that the flood waters must have been murky, which would reduce photosynthesis, and that too many other things would have been going on at the same time to allow the coccoliths to all settle to the sea floor to make a rather pure layer.
  4. Snapshot fossils imply quick burial. He showed another Green River fossil fish photo, with a bigger fish choking on a smaller fish (here are some examples). This has all of the problems I listed above on #2. How did these freshwater fish survive most of the flood, only to be entombed at the end? Why were they not abraded by all of the silt they are preserved in? He also showed an ichthyosaur caught in the fossil record giving birth. In the YEC scenario, this marine reptile survived two-thirds of the flood and was suddenly overwhelmed by the flood that had already been going on for weeks or months.
  5. Soft tissue fossils imply a young age and recent burial. Jeanson talked about soft tissues that have been discovered in bones of Tyrannosaurus rex. I agree that the discovery of soft tissues in these Cretaceous fossils is quite surprising, and that paleontologists don’t have a good explanation for how they could be preserved for more than 65 million years. I don’t know the answer. It is possible that a mechanism for preserving certain organic compounds for very long periods of time will be discovered, but that has not happened yet. This is one of the few YEC arguments that I don’t have an answer for. One anomaly is not enough to demonstrate that YEC is true.

Jeanson concluded his Fossils section by saying that this all screams Noah’s flood. No, it screams that YEC arguments are full of holes, and should not be used by Christians as proof of the truthfulness of God’s Holy Scriptures.

There is much more, but that is enough for one sitting at the computer. There is more to come.

Grace and Peace

=====================================

Update 2/19/2015 — I stated that I had no answer for “soft tissues in dinosaurs.” I think this is still a partially unsolved issue, but the blog Naturalis Historia does a great job of turning the argument back on the YECs. If soft tissue (and DNA) can be preserved for over four thousand years–and we know that it can be preserved that long–then why isn’t the geologic record full of organisms with preserved soft tissues? Read more at:

Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb

Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA

November 10, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | Leave a comment

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 1

This is the first post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1 — This page. The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2 — Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

This weekend, the Big Sky Worldview Forum is sponsoring several talks by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research, one of the most prominent young-Earth creationist (YEC) organizations. Dr. Jeanson has a PhD in developmental biology from Harvard Medical School, and has been with ICR since 2009. I attended the Friday night session (11/9/2012) and was blessed by parts of the presentation, and, of course, strongly disagreed with other parts.

The first portion of his presentation was about The Relevance of Genesis, asking what difference it would make if we were to throw out or distort Genesis 1-11. His five reasons why the opening chapters are important were:

  1. Genesis is about the beginning, and introduces cosmic themes that run throughout the Scriptures. He traced several Biblical themes that are introduced in Genesis and run throughout the Bible, finding their fulfillment in Christ and being brought to culmination in Revelation. An example is the concept of godly dominion. Adam was given authority to wisely rule the creation in Genesis 1, screwed it up in Genesis 3, and that dominion is restored to its proper place in Revelation 5:10, which says “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth” (NIV84). That reigning on earth is a restoration of what was mandated back in Genesis 1:26.
  2. Genesis is God’s Word. That in itself makes it worth listening to.
  3. Genesis was written for us. Rom 15:4 says that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (NIV84).  We miss out on something if we ignore Genesis.
  4. Genesis, as all Scripture, is our means to know God. The opening chapters of Genesis lay out some of God’s attributes clearly, and if we change Genesis we change the nature of God.
  5. Genesis lays the foundation for the Gospel. It reveals to us our problem—rebellion against God—and sets the groundwork for our deliverance in Christ.

I am in complete agreement with these statements. Genesis is a critical book for understanding where we came from and who we are. We are created in the image of God, bearing similarities to God that no other creature has. We are also embedded in and responsible for the rest of creation. But on the negative side, we are also sinful and in rebellion against God. A secular or atheistic worldview would deny all of this: humans are merely evolved apes, different in degree but not in nature from other animals. The Christian view of humanity not only paints a picture that is true to who we are, but is the only one that offers real hope. If we are not fallen, then there is not something better that we could be. In Christ, that which is broken is being restored to that which God intended from the beginning.

Many YECs would say that I as an old-Earth Christian couldn’t really agree with Dr. Jeanson’s five statements; that somehow I have compromised and have distorted the Word, God’s character, or the Gospel. The burden of proof is on them. I’ll refer to my Creation Creed to defend my orthodoxy.

Later in the evening, Dr. Jeanson presented a three-point YEC method for investigating origins:

  1. Bible First. The Scriptures take priority over scientific investigation.
  2. Big Effects. Expect the events of the Bible, such as Noah’s flood, to have left behind signs that they occurred.
  3. Bounds of Science. Just say “no” to knowing about the past through science. There is always an alternative explanation.

In regards to #1 — Yes and no. I was once a YEC and was even a member of the Creation Research Society. I didn’t become an old-Earth Christian until I was convinced from the Scriptures that the planet could indeed be old. I saw the geological evidence for an old Earth, but I had to have both the Bible and science pointing to an old universe before changing my position. But I also say “no” because we need to be careful to not distort science in order to defend what may be a faulty interpretation of the Bible. The history of Bible-science interaction abounds with examples of this, including the Copernican revolution, and YEC Bible interpretations such as the vapor canopy which were presented as both Biblical and scientific but had to be abandoned (by most YECs anyways) under the crushing weight of both Biblical and scientific difficulties.

YEC method #2 — Maybe sometimes. I would expect Noah’s flood to have left signs if it were indeed global, but that is more ambiguous in the Scriptures than YECs would have you believe. I’ve written more about Noah’s flood here.

And regarding the bounds of science, method #3 — I’d say that YECs try to win a debate by defining terms in their favor. Dr. Jeanson used a very narrow definition of “science” as part of his argument. To him, and to many YECs, true science is only what can be done in a controlled situation, such as in a laboratory. If it isn’t the hypothesis–experiment–analysis–conclusion “scientific method” one learned in 8th-grade science, then it isn’t real science. One cannot put the Earth in a test tube and repeat its history, so anything geologists say about Earth history may be forensic speculation, but not science. It would be far better, however, to describe the historical studies done by geologists, archeologists, astronomers, and others, as just a different way of doing science. We are still studying the creation, trying to determine what its true history is. Our conclusions might not be as certain as something like the laws of thermodynamics, but there are still statements about Earth history that we can say with a high degree of confidence.

Dr. Jeanson said a little bit about astronomy, but I think the scheduling of the evening got away from him (not his fault), and I don’t think he was able to present a good amount of the material he had prepared, which was unfortunate. There was a question and answer time, and he fielded a couple of geological questions. One was something like “There is a lot of oil exploration going on around here, and I’m wondering if young-Earth geologists are working on models to explain the layers.” The basic answer was “no,” mainly because there aren’t that many YEC geologists working for ICR and AiG. I was itching to jump in, but that would not have been proper. The truth is that YEC has provided nothing in the past 50 years that would help oil companies find oil. Nothing. If the YECs came up with a better explanation for where oil and gas could be found, the exploration companies—which are run by people interested in profit, not geology or evolution—would jump on it.

There is an hour of geology on the agenda for Saturday morning, including:

  • Millions of Years – Still Not Enough Time?
  • The Geologic refutation of evolution and of millions of years.
  • The Flood… the Fossil Record… and Dating methods?

Grace and Peace

November 10, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 5 Comments

Jesus is for geologists (and other scientists)

I’ve always known that Jesus is for geologists, as well as for biologists, chemists, physicists, archeologists, astronomers, and all other sorts of scientists.

There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.

Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.

The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:

Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.

As the review says, this would be a great book for

  • Professional scientists
  • Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • High school teachers and students
  • Members of the general public.

Buy this book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Grace and Peace

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Archeology, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Atheism, Biology, Chemistry, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Physics, Science Education, Theistic evolution | , , , | 2 Comments