A catastrophic video

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace


©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Intrusive (Plutonic) Igneous Rocks

Yosemite_20_bg_090404
Half Dome, Sierra Nevada Batholith, Yosemite National Park

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

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

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

Extrusive (Volcanic) Igneous Rocks

1200px-Palouse_Falls_in_Eastern_Washington
Layers of the Columbia River Basalt Group, Palouse Falls, Washington

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

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

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

Context of Igneous Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Grace and Peace

©2020 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes:

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

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

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

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

Image sources:

Book review — Friend of Science, Friend of Faith

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

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

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

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

Davidson seeks to answer three questions in his book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

©2019, Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

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

Review – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

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

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

The book is divided into seven sections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Geology of Yellowstone by Nurre

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

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

The errors in the book are numerous:

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

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

Analysis

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

Fossil Forests

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowstone Caldera and Quaternary Glaciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com


Notes:

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

Yellowstone National Park — Another bad answer from Answers in Genesis

1280px-Grand_Prismatic_Spring_and_Midway_Geyser_Basin_from_above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

Copyright 2018, Kevin Nelstead, The GeoChristian


Notes:

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

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

Short Answer — Mt St Helens and young-Earth creationism

Here is my standard short answer to the young-Earth creationist claim that the deposits formed by the 1980s eruptions of Mt St Helens demonstrate that Noah’s flood could be responsible for the sedimentary rock record.


The deposits of Mt St Helens (MSH) demonstrate that volcanoes can do a lot of geologic work in a short amount of time. This comes as a surprise to no one. Any good volcanologist or sedimentologist will be able to recognize volcaniclastic rocks in the rock record. In fact these types of deposits are quite common in the rock record, and are thousands of meters thick in places. For instance, there are the deeply-eroded remains of a large Cretaceous stratovolcano (named the Sliderock Volcano) not too far from where I live in south-central Montana. This is recognized as a stratovolcano by having the remains of a magma chamber in the center, and then volcaniclastic rocks dipping away from that central vent area in all directions. The mountain was probably the size of the larger Cascade Range volcanoes, such as Shasta or Rainier. The YEC claim that this entire complex volcano formed and eroded in a few weeks towards the end of the flood is mind-boggling.

Most of the sedimentary rocks of the geologic record are actually quite unlike the volcaniclastic rocks of MSH.

  • Most sandstones and conglomerates are nothing like the deposits of MSH.
  • No shales are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No limestones are like the deposits of MSH.
  • No evaporites are like the deposits of MSH.

Conclusion: most of the rock record was formed in settings that were not at all like MSH.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I recognize that the flood account in Genesis says nothing about stratovolcanoes in Washington (MSH, part of the research topic for my M.S. in geology) or Montana (the Sliderock Volcano I referred to), so I do not have to try to squeeze such events into Scripture. The truthfulness of the Bible does not depend on YEC flood geology being correct.

Grace and Peace.