I get called all sorts of names by some of my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ: Liar, Compromiser, Rabid Theistic Evolutionist, So-Called Christian. I am accused of listening to the hissing of the serpent, of following Baal rather than Yahweh, and of denying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sorry that my old-Earth beliefs bring up such anger. I am seeking to do my best to understand God’s Word and God’s world, and to communicate in love. I am certain that I fall short in all three of these efforts.
Here’s an applicable article from The Gospel Coalition: “10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents.” I will highlight a few items:
1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). — May I not be more zealous for my agenda than for God’s glory and the building up of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Because we are sinners too. — I am certainly a sinner, and at times love the argument more than I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me.
6. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is. — I don’t have to win. I don’t have to defend myself. I do have to submit to God and love my neighbor.
7. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you. — I could bulldoze the typical young-Earth creationist who comments on the Facebook pages of young-Earth organizations. What will be accomplished if I do so?
8. Your enemies may be right… about something. — There are young-Earth arguments that I do not fully know how to answer. There are old-Earth arguments that I might get wrong. My young-Earth brothers and sisters have valid insights into the Scriptures. I might be getting some things wrong about what the Bible says about God’s creation.
9. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see. — I try to make it clear that I consider myself to be on the same side as my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ. I find myself defending people like Ken Ham from charges of heresy (Ken Ham is not a heretic). The unity we have in Christ far outweighs those things that divide us.
I am sure there are things from numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10 in the Gospel Coalition article that would also apply to me as I interact with those who disagree with me.
Grace and Peace
My ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.
As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.
Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:
- Adam and Eve
- Age of the Universe and Earth
- Climate Change
- Days of Creation
- Fossil Record
- Genesis Flood (four articles)
- Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
- Hominid Fossils
- Human Evolution
Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.
I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.
I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!” – Psalm 133:1 (ESV)
There is only one church on Earth, and it is composed of those who, by God’s grace, have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We put different labels on ourselves, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Nondenominational, Roman Catholic, and so forth, but deep down there is a fundamental unity in the body of Christ. I have experienced this in interdenominational Bible studies and in one-on-one fellowship, and I hope you have as well.
Tragically, this unity is often obscured by the important doctrines and practices that divide us. One of these divisive points in the church today is the doctrine of creation. The Biblical teachings on creation are multifaceted, and include much more than the age of the universe and the origin of the diversity of life. It is fine that people have strong convictions regarding these things—just as I do—but many forget to be “speaking the truth in love.” As hard as I try, I at times also fail to speak the truth in love as I wrestle with these issues and interact with others.
Abusive speech comes from both sides in age-of-the-Earth debates. Many on the young-Earth side consider old-Earth Christians to be “compromisers” at best and not Christians at all at the worse. I have been accused many times of calling Jesus a liar because of my old-Earth views, and of being a tool of the devil.
Nastiness comes from the old-Earth Christian side as well, with some accusing young-Earth creationists of being imbeciles. Young-Earth creationists are not imbeciles; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. In one of the old-Earth online discussion groups I participate in, I find myself periodically defending Ken Ham against charges of heresy. I disagree with Ken Ham, both in terms of his young-Earth views and his tone (most of the time), but he is no heretic. He holds to all of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, just as I do, and insists that one does not have to be a young-Earth creationist in order to be a real Christian.
Being that I get a fair amount of abuse for being an old-Earth Christian, I would like to draw attention to two young-Earth creationists I have recently interacted with, both of whom have demonstrated the love and unity that we have in Christ. These men shine like stars in the darkness.
The first of these is Jay Wile. Jay, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry, is well-known in the Christian science education world (especially in the home school movement) as the original author of the grades 7-12 Apologia textbooks, such as Exploring Creation with Chemistry. More recently, Jay has written a series of elementary-level textbooks, organized historically rather than topically. Jay blogs about science and science education at Proslogion.
I have listed Jay’s blog here at The GeoChristian under “The Best of Young-Earth Creationism.” Jay is intelligent and articulate, and is able to write thoughtfully about a range of scientific and educational topics. Jay is also candid, willing to disagree with fellow young-Earth creationists at times (and drawing criticism for doing so).
Jay is also a nice guy. Jay and I have had dialogues on his blog over the past several years on topics ranging from the La Brea tar pits to radioisotope dating. Sometimes I win (at least I think so), and sometimes I don’t. We have also had some correspondence outside of social media. In February, Jay and I had the chance to visit face-to-face at the Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, where we were both speaking and promoting our textbooks. We had several opportunities to visit on the convention floor, and also to share a meal together. We talked a little bit about origins, but spent more time together in getting to know each other and talking about other topics. This is exactly how it should be between brothers in Christ who are on different sides of the age-of-the-Earth fence.
Mark Amenrud is a Bible instructor at Montana Bible College, a school that is committed to young-Earth creationism. Mark is also a speaker for Montana Origins Research Effort, the state’s leading YEC organization. I first met Mark in the early 1980s, when he was the music director at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman while I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University. I remember him but he has no reason to remember me from that time.
I visited with Mark again at a creation conference in Bozeman in 2016. Mark recently invited me to speak in his “Science and Origins” class at Montana Bible College. I spoke last week for an hour and a half on the topic of “Why I am an old-Earth Christian.” The students were well-prepared and respectful. Even more, Mark was a gracious host, and I thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with both Mark and the students. Once again, this is exactly how it should be in the body of Christ.
I am thankful to God for brothers in Christ (and sisters in Christ, such as women in Mark’s class) who hold firmly to the Word of God, and who demonstrate the love and unity that are required of us in the body of Christ.
Grace and Peace
I believe in the Reformation view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. A person is not saved, however, by believing this doctrine, but by faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16 does not say, “whoever believes in the Reformation doctrine of justification” but “whoever believes in him.” One flip side of this doctrine is that not everyone who is a member of a church is automatically a Christian.
Another important, and divisive, facet of the doctrine of creation is environmental stewardship.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 ESV
I view any name-calling in origins debates to be the equivalent of calling someone “Raca.” See Matthew 5:22.
Ken Ham and I agree on the gospel.
Reasons to Believe (old-Earth Christian apologetics organization of Hugh Ross et al.) has a nice review of my new textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
“Overall, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is an outstanding textbook to add to an old-earth science curriculum. Compared to a few years ago, we now have a rich well of resources to draw from for teaching science to young students, whether it is in formal classrooms at a Christian school or in homeschooling environments. As a matter of fact, this particular book, while excellent at teaching concepts for its intended middle school audience, could even be used at the community college level. Anyone looking for an earth science textbook for junior high or high schoolers should definitely consider this book. The straightforward writing keeps the focus on the science. Yet, as students might discover, science (as a study of God’s creation) should engender the soul and the mind to worship the Creator.”
Thank you to Dan Bakken for taking the time to review the book, and to Reasons to Believe for publishing the review.
Grace and Peace
The folks at Biologos.org have interviewed me regarding Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, my new middle school textbook published by Novare Science and Math.
I recently spent about seven hours at the Creation Museum run by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) organization Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (I visited the museum, not the new Ark Encounter). As I anticipated, the exhibits at the museum are all of the highest quality. Whether the displays were animatronic dinosaurs, dioramas of the garden of Eden; fossils, mounted insects, or reconstructions of hominids, they were at the same level of quality one would expect to find in the Smithsonian Institution.
One thing that surprised me was how crowded the museum was. I was there on a Saturday, which is probably the museum’s busiest day of the week. Because of the crowds, I moved through the first parts of the “Walk Through History”—the main exhibits portion of the museum—at a snail’s pace. That so many people would spend $30 per adult to visit the Creation Museum speaks of the enormous influence young-Earth creationism has on the general Evangelical culture in America.
Much of the museum’s “Walk Through History” is arranged around the “7 C’s” of salvation. My young-Earth siblings in Christ and I have the gospel in common , with some secondary areas of disagreement:
- Creation — As an old-Earth Christian, I believe in creation from nothing by the triune God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible requires a young Earth.
- Corruption — I believe in a real Adam who committed a real sin that has ramifications for each one of us today. The extent of that corruption is not clearly outlined in the Bible. For example, the Bible nowhere ties animal death to Adam’s sin.
- Catastrophe — Noah’s flood was certainly catastrophic for Noah’s contemporaries, and was universal from Noah’s point of view. But the Bible does not say that Noah’s flood created the bulk of the features of Earth’s crust, and the catastrophism of young-Earth creationism simply does not work as an explanation for Earth’s history.
- Confusion — As with the initial creation and Noah’s flood, young-Earth creationists read much more into the account of the Tower of Babel than what the Bible itself teaches. The nations in the “table of nations” in Genesis 10 are probably all located in the Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Near East, which implies that the story of Babel in Genesis 11 isn’t about the origin of Australian Aborigines or African Zulus.
- Christ — I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1 NIV).
- Cross — Again, I am in complete agreement with the Creation Museum’s presentation. Jesus Christ is God’s solution for the corruption of sin introduced in Genesis 3. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
- Consummation — Christ will come again as king over all creation. The effects of Adam’s sin will be completely undone.
If the YECs get the gospel right, why do I write against them? There are certainly thousands of people who claim they came to faith—or have had their faith strengthened—through young-Earth creationism, and I rejoice when people come to faith in Christ (Phil 1:18). But countless others have been turned away from Christianity because of the really bad science presented at places like the Creation Museum. Many of these are young people who grew up in the church on a steady diet of YEC teachings in Sunday school, youth groups, and Christian schools. Once they grew up and figured out that YEC does not work in the real world, they discarded their Christianity along with their AiG or Dr. Dino videos. After all, they had had “If the Earth is millions of years old, the Bible isn’t true” drilled into their heads by well-meaning YEC advocates.
In addition to driving youth out of the church, YEC teachings close the door for fruitful evangelism to many outside the church, adding fuel to the fire of those who find Christianity unreasonable. In a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we should not be surprised that many find Christianity to be foolish. But let it be the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) that drives people away from Christ, not the foolishness of bad YEC science.
Grace and Peace
I have the unexpected opportunity to visit the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky in a few days.
- High quality — Skeptics and AiG fans alike acknowledge that the museum experience is at a high level. The displays and presentations are all professionally done. This isn’t a mom and pop roadside museum. The museum staff will be courteous and helpful.
- Beautiful grounds — I am looking forward to a stroll through the gardens.
- Commitment to the authority of the Scriptures — A committment that I share.
- Clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus — We are all sinners deserving God’s wrath, but the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to take God’s wrath and rose from the dead.
Expectations of disagreement
- Questionable Biblical interpretation — I don’t think “literal six days of creation only 6000 years ago” is the only way, and probably not the best way, to understand the text of Genesis 1-2.
- Bad science — Lots of bad science, especially when it comes to historical geology. Bad science is bad apologetics that drives people away from the gospel.
A Geology Presentation
I hope to be able to sit in on this talk by Dr. Andrew Snelling, the Answers in Genesis staff geologist. It is one thing for a large, deep magma chamber to crystallize rapidly (by rapidly, I mean over a period of decades or centuries), it is another thing to fit the emplacement of a complex batholith into Earth’s crust (complete with multiple injections of magma) in just a few day’s time and then have it exhumed by uplift and erosion a very short time later so it can be eroded and incorporated into sediments of the same or next geologic period. The problems abound.
What will the museum staff think about my t-shirt?
Here’s my custom t-shirt for my day at the museum:
Some have warned me, “They won’t let you wear that.”
The museum “Attraction Rules” say, “We reserve the right to deny admission to or remove any person wearing attire that we consider inappropriate, or attire that could be considered offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate to others.”
I have a hard time seeing them justifying banning my shirt for a direct quote from Charles Spurgeon, but it is their museum, and Spurgeon was, after all, a dangerous compromiser.
I’ll bring another shirt with me just in case.
Grace and Peace
Many highly-regarded, Bible-believing scholars, pastors, and other Christian leaders see no incompatibility between the teachings of the Bible and acceptance of an ancient Earth. In the past, I have highlighted J. Gresham Machen, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and others. The scholars I just mentioned all adhere (or adhered, many of them are deceased) to a high view of Scripture, including inerrancy. It would be very difficult to make a case that they accept the Biblical possibility of an old Earth because of conformity to the world rather conformity to the teachings of Scripture.
Yet another old-Earth Christian scholar is Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and host of the White Horse Inn radio program. In the second chapter of Horton’s book Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Bible, Horton writes about the Biblical doctrine of creation and humans being created in the image of God. The chapter begins with the proper starting point for the Good News about redemption in Christ:
“Whenever we take up the subject of redemption, [Genesis 1:31] is where we need to begin, at the beginning, with creation. Very often, however, a gospel presentation starts with the fall—the origin of human sin and the need for redemption. But creation is the proper starting point for any consideration of human identity and its recovery through the gospel.”
A couple paragraphs later, Horton continues,
“It is only when we more fully appreciate the majesty of humanity as God’s creation that we can adequately weigh the horror of the fall.”
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin are foundational for understanding the good news (gospel) about Jesus. Humans are made in the image of God, so were created to be good in every way, but humans are also universally marred by sin which is an integral part of who each one of us is. In Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Michael Horton is able to distinguish between what is essential in regards to the doctrine of creation (image of God, fall into sin) and what is not essential (age of the Earth). He writes,
Modern science has promised more than it can deliver. That accounts for much of the cynicism postmoderns seem to have toward the answers to their ultimate questions. To be sure, science is better equipped to answer some questions than any other field. For instance, it is science and not theology that will tell us the age of the earth. The Bible does not provide that kind of information, nor does it care to. There are a lot of important and reasonable questions the Bible does not try to answer. If it did, there would be a lot of unemployed geologists.
While science will lead the way toward the discovery of when we got here and will help us find the reasons for how we got here (beyond the revelation we already have in the inspired text of Genesis 1–3), there is a question to which of those other questions ultimately lead, a question, nevertheless, which science will never be able to answer any more than theology will be able to determine the age of the earth. That question is, “Why are we here?”
Many YEC leaders speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding the gospel and the age of the Earth. On their better days, YEC leaders acknowledge that one does not have to believe in a young Earth in order to be a Christian. But then they write a steady stream of articles accusing old-Earth Christians of compromise and even spiritual adultery. I am thankful for writers like Michael Horton who, unlike many of my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, are able to stick to what is essential in the gospel message.
Grace and Peace
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (2016), edited and written by a number of highly-qualified, predominately Christian authors, is a devastating critique of the geological arguments of young-Earth creationism (YEC). The subtitle of this new book asks the question, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” which is an appropriate question, being that YECs often showcase the Grand Canyon as a place that defies standard, old-Earth geological explanations and can only be explained by a global catastrophic flood event. The authors present an overwhelming case that neither the rock units exposed in the canyon nor the carving of the canyon itself are in any way related to Noah’s flood.
YEC geological arguments for a 6000-year old Earth and the formation of most of Earth’s geological record by a global flood have already been thoroughly examined and rejected by Christian geologists and many others (I recommend The Bible, Rocks and Time by Young and Stearley), but this new book is unique and fills an important niche. I highly recommend this book for several reasons:
- This book is authoritative – written by experts in the topics at hand and in the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon.
- This book is well written and skillfully edited. Each of the twenty chapters clearly explains the topic (such as the formation of sedimentary rocks, folding and faulting of rocks, and fossils) and how these features may be used to interpret the origin and history of a given rock layer. The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth was written by eleven talented authors, and the editors have weaved their chapters together seamlessly.
- This book is written at an appropriate level for a general, scientifically-interested audience, taking complex geological ideas and explaining them in a way most readers will understand, without any compromise in accuracy.
- This book is fair to our YEC brothers and sisters in Christ. I have been reading YEC materials for close to four decades, and am familiar enough with YEC arguments to be able to say with confidence that the YEC side has been explained accurately.
- This book is a work of art, with wonderful pictures and graphics and a professional layout. It will look good on any coffee table.
- This book is affordable: only $21.05 on Amazon. That means you will have no problem buying copies for your church library, pastor, and youth workers.
- This book is God-honoring, proclaiming the marvelous works of our wonderful Creator.
The name of the book is a play on the 1995 YEC book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, written by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research.
Summary of the book: What YECs get wrong about the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is fairly comprehensive, covering all of the key concepts involved in the interpretation of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. Rather than giving a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, I’ll focus on some items where YECs get it all wrong:
- YECs get the Bible wrong. In Chapter 2 (What is Flood Geology?), the authors briefly outline instances where YECs wrongfully apply an overly-literalistic reading to the Old Testament rather than reading the text in a natural way. One example of this is taking the universal language (“all the world”) of the account of Noah’s flood to mean literally the entire globe (something ancient Hebrews may not have comprehended) when almost all other instances of universal language in the Old Testament (e.g. all nations coming to buy grain from Joseph in Genesis 41) are not to be taken literally.
- YECs get rapid deposition wrong. YECs will claim that modern coral reefs, some of which are thousands of feet thick, could have formed since the flood through normal coral growth, which can occur at several inches per year. But they leave out the fact that while narrow extensions of corals can grow rapidly, entire reef surfaces grow upwards at substantially slower rates.
- YECs get sedimentary structures wrong. Sedimentary structures include things like ripple marks, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and cross bedding. These features are abundant in sedimentary rocks, and are very useful for determining the environment in which the rocks formed. Mud cracks form when clay-rich sediments are exposed to the atmosphere and dry out. Mud cracks are very abundant in some rock layers, and extremely difficult to fit into the flood geology model.
- YECs get unconformities wrong. Unconformities are breaks in the sequence of rocks, such as the one billion year gap between the Precambrian crystalline basement rocks and the Cambrian Tapeats Sandstone. YECs describe these unconformities as if there was no evidence of weathering and erosion at the gap, while in reality the evidence for erosion at the unconformities is sometimes rather blatant, such as in the case of the channels filled in by the Temple Butte and Surprise Canyon Formations. The Surprise Canyon Formation fills what appear to be stream channels that cut up to 400 feet into the underlying Redwall Limestone.
- YECs get radiometric dating wrong. If decay rates were much faster during Noah’s flood than they are at present, enough heat would have been released to vaporize Earth’s oceans, which clearly didn’t happen. YEC attempts to discredit radiometric dating of Grand Canyon rocks are flawed.
- YECs get rock deformation wrong. YECs insist that the rock layers of the Grand Canyon were soft when the canyon was carved, and point to tight folding of certain layers as evidence. Upon close examination by geologists, however, these folded layers show an abundance of fractures that are consistent with folding of solid rocks and inconsistent with folding of soft sediments. Soft-sediment deformation is well-understood by modern geologists, and there is no evidence for large-scale soft-sediment deformation in the Grand Canyon.
- YECs get erosion wrong. In the Grand Canyon, sandstone layers form cliffs, and shale layers form slopes. Have you ever tried to build a sand castle with water-saturated sand? It doesn’t work, as the sand flows as a liquefied mass. But YECs want you to believe that recently-deposited (and therefore water-saturated) sand layers would have formed cliffs when eroded. If the sediment layers in the Grand Canyon were soft when eroded, the most resistant layers would be clay (which forms shale). Differential erosion of layers in the Grand Canyon is the opposite of what it should be if YEC flood geology were correct.
- YECs get fossils wrong. The order of fossils in the Grand Canyon is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology. Any explanation for the fossil record must explain the preservation of intact communities of organisms, not just individual fossil organisms. The absence of whole groups of fossils in Grand Canyon sediments (mammals, birds, dinosaurs, flowering plants) is impossible to explain by YEC flood geology.
- YECs get pollen wrong. If YEC were true, there should be pollen from flowering plants in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. There isn’t any.
- YECs get trace fossils wrong. Examples of trace fossils include footprints and burrows. Terrestrial footprints of organisms such as amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are virtually impossible to explain in the YEC flood geology scenario, but they are abundant in the Coconino Sandstone.
- YECs get the carving of the Grand Canyon wrong. The YEC breached dam hypothesis doesn’t provide nearly enough water to do the work. Other examples of catastrophic canyon-carving (Channeled Scablands, Mt. St. Helens) produced features that are quite different from what is found at the Grand Canyon.
I have only scratched the surface of the problems with YEC geology that are presented by the authors.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has received endorsements from prominent geologists and theologians. Here are two endorsements from well-known, Bible-believing Evangelical scholars:
“Can Bible-believing Christians also believe that the earth is billions of years old and that the Grand Canyon could not have been formed by Noah’s Flood? Yes, insist the eleven authors of this fascinating book. On page after page, professional geologists explain that “flood geology” omits essential facts and fails to explain massive amounts of evidence in the Grand Canyon itself. This important book must be carefully considered by everyone involved in the debate about the age of the earth.” – Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary
“The various authors of this book have done us all a tremendous service in their patient and clear exposition of geological thinking about the Grand Canyon (a magnificent place in its own right!). They are all clear that the “conflict” we’ve all heard about is not between “the Bible” and “Science,” but rather between interpretations of the Bible and the sciences. Those of us who study and respect the Bible will appreciated this calm laying out of the sciences, and of their discovery of the processes that appear to have been at work. These are God’s processes after all! I urge everyone to read this, believer or not—you will enjoy it.” – C. John (“Jack”) Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary.
An excellent book like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is unlikely to “convert” a die-hard YEC follower all by itself. I was once a YEC, and held on rather stubbornly to my YEC beliefs as a geology undergraduate student even as I increasingly saw scientific problems with YEC geology. It wasn’t until I was exposed to Biblical arguments for an old Earth (or better, arguments that a young Earth is not Biblically necessary) that I became open to an old Earth.
The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth does not contain an extensive Biblical argument for allowing an old Earth or for a local flood. I don’t criticize the editors of the book for their decision to focus mostly on geology rather than Biblical interpretation (my own textbook, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home does not contain extensive Biblical arguments either; that wasn’t the purpose of the book). My suggestion is that if one is giving The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth as a gift to a YEC or a young-Earth/old-Earth fence rider, that one also give them a book that presents a solid Biblical case. The three books I most often recommend are:
Anticipating the YEC response
So far, the YEC response to The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth has been a deafening silence. There have been no mentions of this book on the web sites of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, or Creation Ministries International. When I have mentioned the book on the Facebook pages of AiG and ICR, my comments have been quickly deleted (at least one other Christian geologist has made the same observation).
I anticipate that YECs will eventually write reviews of the book, but might put these reviews in the back corners of their web sites so as to give the book as little publicity as possible. YECs will say that the book is not based on the Bible (but of course, neither is YEC flood geology when you think about it), that the book was written by compromisers as evidenced by the inclusion of some non-Christian contributors (should we reject much of other sciences for the same reason?), and that there is always more than one way to interpret the facts (but not all interpretations have equal validity).
In the end, YECs will ignore this fantastic book and continue to present really bad science as Christian apologetics. The result will be a continued exodus of scientifically-minded youth from the church and the reinforcement of the wall YECs have put up that keeps scientists from considering Christianity as a viable alternative. People reject Christ because of bad YEC science every day, and this is a great tragedy.
But my hope and prayer is that The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth will have a tremendous impact on those who read it, and it sounds like sales are going well. I pray that God would use this book to build up the body of Christ, educate both young and old, and break down barriers to Christian faith.
Grace and Peace
The Earth. Christianity. They go together.
Welcome to The GeoChristian, a blog primarily about the relationship between the Earth sciences and Christianity. My name is Kevin Nelstead, and I have been writing at geochristian.com since 2006. The most important thing about me is that I am a Christian. The passage of Scripture that opened up my eyes to the Good News about Jesus Christ was Ephesians 2:8,9, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I often write about young-Earth creationism (YEC), which I believe to Biblically unnecessary and scientifically unworkable. Because of these things, I believe that YEC is an unfortunate obstacle to both evangelism and effective discipleship, especially of our youth. But I do not want The GeoChristian to be known primarily as a blog about origins issues, as there are many other areas in which Christian faith and the Earth sciences interact, such as environmental issues, energy policy, aesthetics, and natural resources.
I have an M.S. degree in Geology from Washington State University, and a B.S. degree in Earth Sciences from Montana State University. I have worked as a senior cartographer, geospatial analyst, natural resources specialist, high school and middle school science teacher in Christian schools; and missionary. You can read more about my background at https://geochristian.com/more-about-the-author/.
I am the author of Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, a new middle school textbook for Christian students from Novare Science and Math. This book fills a critical niche in the Christian school market, providing a curriculum that is faithful to God’s Word yet doesn’t promote the young-Earth creationism and anti-environmentalism that is prevalent in materials from Christian school publishers.
Whether you are a Christian or non-Christian, scientist or non-scientist, creationist or evolutionist (or somewhere in between), I hope you find something that blesses you and points you to Christ through The GeoChristian.
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the third in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. This article – What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
The second presentation at the April 2016 Bozeman young-Earth creation conference was “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radioisotope Dating” by Dr. Jake Hebert of the Institute for Creation Research. I could write a rather lengthy article in response, but I will try to keep things brief. I will start my review by quoting Dr. Hebert’s closing declaration:
“No Christian should be intimidated by radiometric dating.”
This is a true statement. All truth is God’s truth, including the truths revealed in the creation. If radiometric dating works—and I believe it reveals accurate dates most of the time—Christians should not be intimidated. Geologists have known for a long time that the isotope geochemistry of Earth is complex, and that radiometric dating does not always return what is considered to be a geologically-valid result, but there is no reason for old-Earth Christians to be intimidated by discrepant dates. It turns out that “wrong” radiometric dates are often helpful, and provide additional insights into geologic history.
Before going into Dr. Hebert’s arguments, it is important to emphasize that geologists do not believe that our planet is many millions of year old because of radiometric dating. Young-Earth creationists regularly attack radiometric dating techniques, thinking that if they discredit these methods they will undermine the idea of an ancient Earth, but this is not the case. Most scientists who investigated Earth history in the late 1700s and early 1800s came to the conclusion that Earth must be far older than just a few thousand years. This was long before the discovery of radioactivity in the 1890s or the development of radiometric dating techniques in the 1900s. Most of these early geologists were Christians of one sort or another, and a number of them were quite orthodox in their theology. These early geologists—along with modern geologists—observed a rock record that tells a story. That story includes chapters that speak of processes that require lengthy periods of time, such as the cooling and crystallization of magma to form igneous rocks, weathering of rocks to produce ancient soils (paleosols) and unconformities; growth of fossil reef organisms (as well as other complete fossilized ecosystems), and transformation of rocks by metamorphic processes. Volcanoes are complex features representing numerous eruptions, coral reefs do not grow in just a few days (especially in muddy floodwaters), and many metamorphic processes involve the extremely slow diffusion of ions through solid crystalline structures. Geologists assemble the details of Earth history by the application of principles that are rooted in Christian thought: the universe is real and not an illusion, the universe is understandable, and the universe is governed by laws. Without the various radiometric dating methods, geologists would still believe Earth is ancient. What radiometric dating does is give geologists discrete ages to assign to many events in Earth’s long history, something that would be impossible to do using other techniques.
A SHORT REPLY TO DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS
For those of you who do not want to wade through this entire article, here’s a summary:
- YECs like to point to instances where radiometric dating doesn’t work. Geologists know that radiometric dating sometimes gives unexpected or conflicting results, so this is nothing new. What YECs don’t tell you is that radiometric dating usually does work, and that it usually gives results that are consistent with standard geological interpretations of Earth history.
- Non-radioisotopic YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, or the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, are generally based on distortions or misapplications of the principle of uniformitarianism. Why use processes that have variable rates rather than a process (radioactivity) that has been observed to occur at a highly regular rate? In addition, most of YECs arguments for the age of the Earth still yield dates that are in millions of years, not just a few thousands of years.
- The results of the largest YEC investigation into radiometric dating—the RATE project (for Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth)—actually confirm that radiometric dating is built on a firm scientific foundation. The YECs still like to point to oddities such as carbon-14 in coal (which is explainable in an old-Earth framework), but overall they acknowledge that a vast amount of radioactive decay has occurred in Earth history, that radiometric dates are usually consistent with standard interpretations of Earth history, and that geoscientists have valid means of determining whether or not parent or daughter isotopes have been added or removed from samples. The only thing left to YECs, in many cases, is the idea that the rate of radioactive decay was greatly accelerated at one or more times in Earth’s history, such as during Noah’s flood. There are a number of problems with this hypothesis, such as the amount of heat that would have been released by this million-fold increase in decay.
A LONGER ANALYSIS OF DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS
Dr. Hebert had four main “reasons to be confident that radiometric dating does not prove millions of years.”
Radiometric dating contradicts common sense
Dr. Hebert mentioned a few commonly-used YEC examples of radiometric dates which do not conform to reasonable old-Earth interpretations. One of these was the study done in the 1990s by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research, in which ICR submitted samples from the 1986 dacite lava dome eruption of Mt. St. Helens to a laboratory for potassium-argon dating. The resultant dates for mineral and whole-rock samples ranged from 0.34 to 2.8 million years old, even though the dacite was a product of an eruption that occurred in 1986. The YEC reasoning on this is that if radiometric dating cannot yield a “common sense” date on a sample of known age, how can scientists trust it for dating any rocks?
There are several good critiques available of this YEC argument about the 1986 Mt St Helens samples (such as this article by Kevin Henke) , so I will only summarize:
- This experiment by ICR was set up to fail from the beginning. K-Ar dating is not expected to work on samples that formed only a few years ago. The half-life of potassium-40 is 1.25 billion years. The amount of radiogenic argon-40 produced from potassium-40 in only a few years is miniscule, and so in general, standard K-Ar dating is not recommended for samples believed to be less than 2 million years old, as there is a risk of contamination from residual argon from previous samples. This problem in itself is sufficient to lead one to be skeptical of this YEC claim.
- Additional problems abound, such as the presence of xenocrysts (crystals that appear to be derived from the walls of the magma chamber or other sub-volcanic conduits rather than crystallizing from the magma itself), zoned crystals (which indicate that mineral grains crystallized in stages in the magma chamber), and presence of volcanic glass in the samples (which would have trapped much of any argon-40 that was dissolved in the magma).
Radiometric dating ages disagree with ages determined by other methods
Dr. Hebert stated that most other means of determining the age of the Earth, such as the rates of accumulation of various salts in Earth’s oceans and the decay of the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, give ages much younger than billions of years.
There are several obvious problems with this argument:
- Why would one think that processes with highly variable rates, such as erosion of continents or addition of various salts to seawater, would be more reliable geochronometers than a process with known rates, such as radiometric dating (I will address the issue of constant decay rates later)?
- Dr. Hebert used a distorted definition of uniformitarianism in his presentation. I know of no modern geologists who would say that either erosion or sedimentation occurs at a constant rate. This goes for a large number of geological processes.
- Many have critiqued YEC seawater arguments. I have written about seawater as well: Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans and The YEC “salty seawater” argument — not worth a grain of salt. There is also no clear evidence that I know of that the oceans are becoming more saline over time.
- The old YEC argument about Earth’s “decaying” magnetic field has no merit. YECs will point to the decreasing strength of Earth’s magnetic field over the past few hundred years and claim that if this trend were extrapolated back tens of thousands of years, the magnetic field would be so strong that Earth would be uninhabitable. But they have no compelling reason (other than their YEC beliefs) to plot their magnetic field strength points on an exponential decay curve. Given the fact that we know that the polarity of Earth’s magnetic field is highly variable, it is also likely that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field is also variable, and that what we have seen over the past few centuries is just variations of a cycle. We cannot go back in time and directly measure the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, but proxies (substitutes) which are measurable indicate that the intensity of the field varies rather than decays over time (see Earth’s Magnetic Field Strength – Past 800,000 Years).
I cannot think of a single geological process that unambiguously points to an Earth that is only 6000 years old. I also cannot think of a single geological process that is inconsistent with an Earth that is many millions of years old.
Radiometric ages disagree with other radiometric ages
This is the “problem” of discordant ages. Dr. Hebert emphasized two examples of discordancy: helium diffusion from zircon and radiocarbon dating of materials believed to be millions of years old.
Helium leakage from zircon
ICR’s Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth (RATE) program studied zircon mineral grains from a geothermal well in New Mexico. The rocks have been dated at around 1.5 billion years, while the RATE team determined a helium diffusion (outgassing) age of only 6,000 years. A good critique of the RATE helium diffusion dates is given at Helium Diffusion in Zircon: Flaws in a Young-Earth Argument, Part 1 (of 2). To summarize, the YEC team used the present high rate of heat flow in this geothermal field and applied this to the entire thermal history of the area, rather than a thermal history model that takes into account the fact that these rocks have been much cooler for most of their history. Warm mineral grains lose helium much more rapidly than cool grains do. This is another example of YECs using a distorted version of uniformitarianism (by extending the present blindly into the past) as the foundation for their young-Earth arguments. In addition, the RATE team used an overly-simple model for helium diffusion from zircons rather than a more realistic model that takes into account defects in the crystal structure. All of this biased the results in favor of a younger Earth.
Dr. Hebert stated that radiocarbon dating assumes the same ratio of carbon-14 (radiocarbon) in the atmosphere for thousands of years. I was really surprised that he said this; perhaps my notes are wrong. Geochronologists have known for a number of years that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is somewhat variable, so radiocarbon dates are calibrated based on radiocarbon dates from archeological or biological samples (such as tree rings) of known age.
Dr. Hebert stated that there should be no carbon-14 in samples over 100,000 years old. He then stated that carbon-14 has been found in coal, dinosaur bones, diamonds, and petroleum, all of which are believed to be millions of years old. It is true that any traces of original carbon-14 in a sample should be gone after 100,000 years. But there are a number of perfectly reasonable ways for more recently-formed carbon-14 to be present in ancient deposits. One is by groundwater contamination, which brings atmospheric carbon-14 into underground systems. This would be particularly effective at bringing carbon-14 into coal. Another mechanism is naturally-induced nuclear reactions, in which neutrons (mostly from uranium and thorium) react with nitrogen-14 already in the samples to produce carbon-14. But the most likely source for carbon-14 in these samples is laboratory contamination. Most of the carbon-14 detected in YEC experiments has been at levels that push the limits of detection. It is impossible to completely clear mass spectrometers and other laboratory equipment of residues from previous analyses, and so chances are, virtually any sample analyzed will register at least some miniscule trace of carbon-14 whether or not there was any actual carbon-14 in the sample.
Radiometric Dating Assumptions
Dr. Hebert listed three conditions (he called them assumptions) that must be true in order for radiometric dating to work:
- No starting daughter isotope present.
- Neither parent nor daughter isotope can be added or taken away.
- Decay rate must be constant.
The first of these is true for some radiometric techniques, but not for all. In many cases, we know that there was some of the daughter isotope present in the sample when it formed. This is not a problem for either isochron dating (commonly used with Rb-Sr dating) or U-Th-Pb dating, which uses concordia diagrams. In both of these cases, the mathematics of the technique reveals the amount of daughter element that was present when the sample formed. If you disagree, then your problem is with math, not with geology.
The second condition must be fulfilled in order to determine an accurate radiometric date. Geochronologists will generally avoid samples that have obviously been altered since formation, as these are likely to have experienced gain or loss of either the parent or daughter nuclide. Instead, they know that it is best to analyze samples that appear fresh, unaltered, and unweathered. For isochron techniques, the graphs produced by the analyses will usually reveal whether any parent or daughter elements have been added or removed. Hyperphysics gives a good summary of isochron dating techniques.
The third condition—constant decay rates—must also be true in order for radiometric dating to work. YECs have spent much effort trying to demonstrate that radioactive decay has greatly accelerated in the past, and have thus far been unsuccessful. They also tend to dismiss the critique that their million-fold increase in radioactive decay during Noah’s flood would have irradiated all life on Earth, including everything on Noah’s Ark, and would have released enough heat to vaporize Earth’s oceans, and then some.
Other discordant dates, such as where K-Ar dates do not agree with Rb-Sr dates, are not uncommon in geological research, but they are also the exception in radiometric dating rather than the rule. When discordant dates do occur, geologists actually often get excited, as this may mean that more information can be learned about the history of a sample than just how old it is. For instance, when an igneous rock forms from magma, both the K-Ar and Rb-Sr clocks are set to zero. If the rock is re-heated (but not melted) millions of years later, such as by contact metamorphism, the Rb-Sr clock may keep on running, but argon may be driven out of the rock, resetting the K-Ar clock. This will result in two discordant, but highly useful, dates: one (Rb-Sr) for the initial rock crystallization, and one (K-
Ar) for the subsequent heating event. The scientist just has to be smarter than the rocks.
Evolutionists don’t trust radiometric dates either
The YEC criticism here is that geologists will throw out radiometric dates that do not meet their preconceived notions about how old a rock is. Dr. Hebert gave several examples of this. My response is that it is valid to weigh or prioritize various contradictory evidences, rather than throwing out what you know from a long list of reasons just because of one discrepant result. If geoscientists consistently got inconsistent results from radiometric dating, they would never use it. But radiometric dating usually gives results that are consistent with the order of events in Earth history that geologists have reconstructed over the past 200 years. Precambrian rocks usually have Precambrian radiometric dates, Paleozoic rocks usually have Paleozoic radiometric dates, and Pleistocene materials usually have Pleistocene radiometric dates. When “goofy” results come back from the radioisotope lab, geologists do not just throw up their arms and give up on the techniques. Nor do they throw out the geologic history of an area that is based on multiple investigations. Sometimes the discrepant result will lead to a better understanding of geologic history. At other times the discrepant result will remain a mystery, perhaps to be solved by the next generation of geoscientists. That is how science often works in a complex world.
Dr. Hebert entitled his presentation “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.” What his audience needed to hear, however, was a talk entitled “What YECs Haven’t Told You About Radiometric Dating.” What Dr. Hebert did not tell his audience was that the findings of the RATE study were an implicit admission that radiometric dating works most of the time. The RATE team determined that
- A tremendous amount of radioactive decay has occurred in rocks during Earth history.
- The first two assumptions of radiometric dating are usually satisfied in geologic settings, and that it is often possible to recognize when this is not the case.
- Most radiometric dates are consistent with the order of events that both YEC scientists and old-Earth geologists agree on. Radiometric dates of Precambrian rocks are usually older than radiometric dates of Paleozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Mesozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Cenozoic rocks. Despite YECs continuing to point to discordant or discrepant dates, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
RATE is an admission that radiometric dating works. The only thing left for YECs to cling to is accelerated nuclear decay. And their only remaining argument for the actual occurrence of accelerated nuclear decay in Earth history is that it is the only way for them to compress the clear evidence for past nuclear decay into their young-Earth timespan.
Radiometric dating is based on chemistry and physics, not evolution, naturalism, or even belief in an old Earth. There are no reasons for Christians to be intimidated by radiometric dating.
Grace and Peace
I interacted a little bit with Dr. Hebert between sessions. He is a bright, articulate individual, and was respectful of me as an old-Earth Christian.
My analysis is based on handwritten notes I took during the meetings. There is always the chance that I mis-heard or misunderstood the speaker, or mis-wrote my notes. If this is the case, I apologize in advance to the speakers.
For a much more thorough presentation of radiometric dating, see Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, by Roger Wiens.
Dr. Hebert usually used the term “radioisotope dating” rather than “radiometric dating.” They are synonymous terms.
YECs are very hesitant to state that “All truth is God’s truth.” This YEC denial that all truth is God’s truth, whether revealed in Scripture or in the creation, is a denial that creation is real rather than an illusion, and has much in common with both Gnosticism and postmodernism.
Dacite (e.g. from Mt. St. Helens) is a volcanic rock intermediate in composition between rhyolite and andesite.
Dr. Hebert illustrated the conditions necessary for radiometric dating to work by describing someone peeling potatoes. If you walked in on someone peeling potatoes, could you determine how long ago they started peeling potatoes based on the amount of potatoes peeled and the rate at which they were presently being peeled?
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:
- An M.S. in Biotechnology
- A PhD in Physics
- An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.
Where is the geologist?
If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.
Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.
So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.
Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.
Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments
Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”
2 and the earth was without form and void…
3 and God said, “Let there be light.”
I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.
Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.
Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.
Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.
The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.
I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.
- The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
- The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
- Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
- Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
- Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
- Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.
Grace and Peace
|AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE
This is the first in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.
1. This article – Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations
2. Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.
3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.
4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.
On April 1-3, 2016, Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, Montana will be hosting a Creation Conference featuring three prominent young-Earth advocates. I plan on attending this conference, and posting reviews and critiques here on The GeoChristian. My goal is not to be provocative or argumentative, but to listen, think, and write. I am usually pretty quiet when I attend events like this, though I will ask a question or two at the appropriate times, and interact with speakers and people sitting around me. I plan on writing summaries similar to those I wrote when Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research spoke in Billings in 2012.
Young-Earth creationists are first and foremost my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love and respect them, and appreciate their zeal for the Bible, for Christ, for evangelism, and for discipleship. In these things they and I are on the same page (for the most part). I do, however, believe that young-Earth creationism is not required by the Bible, and that it is not credible scientifically. Because of this, YEC apologetics (defense of the faith) sometimes does far more damage than good, especially among the scientifically literate.
It is important to add that I was a member of Grace Bible Church when I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University in the early 1980s. The church was (and I assume still is) an excellent, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, people-loving church, and the teaching I received there laid a strong foundation for my life as a Christian. I am deeply thankful for the influence Grace Bible Church has had on my life.
I plan to attend the following Friday evening and all-day Saturday sessions. The biographies of the speakers can be found here.
- Brian Thomas (Institute for Creation Research) – Why Genesis Matters.
From my experiences at previous YEC seminars, I expect that I will be in substantial agreement with the speaker on this one. Genesis lays the foundation for many key themes that run throughout the Scriptures: The one and only true God, humans created in the image of God, human sin, redemption, marriage, grace, forgiveness, covenants, and so forth. One thing on which I will disagree with Mr. Thomas will be his insistence that if Earth is millions of years old, then these foundations crumble. There is nothing in the Scriptures that ties any of these doctrines to the age of the universe.
- Dr. Jake Hebert (Institute for Creation Research) – What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.
My expectation is that Dr. Hebert will talk about discordant dates, accelerated nuclear decay, and carbon-14 found in coal and diamonds. What Dr. Hebert will not tell the audience is that radiometric dating usually works, which was the major unspoken finding of ICR’s RATE study. Because radiometric dating usually works, the main thing YECs have fallen back on is the idea of vastly accelerated nuclear decay rates, a hypothesis that has a number of serious problems.
- Michael Oard (the “Mr. Ice Age” of the YEC world) – The Ice Age: Only the Bible Can Explain It!
I expect that Mr. Oard will state that the ice age is “impossible with evolution, easy with creation.” I, on the other hand, find YEC post-flood ice age scenarios even less credible than their whole flood geology schemes.
- Hebert – Ice Cores and Deep Seafloor Sediments: Do They Really Prove Millions of Years?
I suppose that means what one means by “prove.” Does the signature of John Hancock on the U.S. constitution prove that John Hancock existed? I’m sure we could come up with some conspiracy theory to cast doubt on Hancock’s existence. I haven’t read much YEC material on this topic, so I am not really sure what to expect. I have been conditioned by YEC writings, however, to expect problems.
- Oard — What Does the Lake Missoula Flood Teach Us?
Mr. Oard will tell us that there was only one Lake Missoula flood. The driver for Oard’s conviction is that the YEC timeline is already squeezed to the limits, so any evidence for multiple Lake Missoula floods must be disregarded. One thing the Lake Missoula floods teach us that Mr. Oard is unlikely to mention is that if Earth’s surface was shaped by catastrophic global flooding only 4300 years ago, then the dominant erosional geomorphic features on Earth’s surface ought to be extensive channeled scablands such as found on the Columbia Plateau. And this is not at all what we see.
- Hebert – Exciting New Research at ICR.
The ICR Research page lists several projects, including:
- Column Project: analyzing rock layers globally to reconstruct the stages of the Genesis Flood and explain why certain fossils are found only in certain areas, and to determine the approximate topography of the pre-Flood world.
- Refuting Milankovitch Project: exposing circular and inconsistent reasoning in secular methodologies
The fact that YECs have to have a research project about the geologic column reminds us that the geologic column is a valid concept, and that YECs haven’t figured out how to explain it yet. And of course Milankovitch cycles are clearly anti-Biblical and must be exposed!
- Thomas – The Beginning of Life.
I will probably agree with much of what Mr. Thomas has to say. The simplest conceivable, metabolizing, reproducing cell is an incredibly complex thing, and sixty years of origin-of-life studies have only accented the gap between non-life and life. But this is a tentative position on my part, and is based on my understanding of the science of abiogenesis. I don’t think the Bible precludes the possibility of God creating a universe that is so wonderfully designed that life could spring from non-life.
- Hebert – Science or Science Fiction? Why the Laws of Physics Could Not Have Created the Universe.
I am not sure whether this will be a presentation of the cosmological argument, which I would be in agreement with, or an attack on Big Bang cosmology. I will probably be getting rather sleepy by this point on Saturday afternoon.
- Thomas – Soft Tissues in Solid Rock.
YECs believe that the discovery of soft tissues in dinosaur fossils (a discovery made by a Christian paleontologist!) was a nail in the coffin of old-Earthism. The finding of protein fragments and pliable tissues in Cretaceous fossils was certainly unexpected, but for several reasons is not a death blow to the concept of millions of years.
In addition to these grown-up sessions, there will be a number of meetings for young people, with topics such as “Why the World is Only Thousands of Years Old,” “‘Global Warming’ and the Christian,” and “Dinosaurs & Dragons.” Those teaching the children are certainly well-intentioned, but are also setting some of the kids up for a fall.
As I often say: Young-Earth creationism is neither required by the Bible nor credible scientifically. Bad science is bad apologetics that turns people away from the gospel.
Please pray for me, the speakers, the audience, and most of all, the youth who will be attending this conference.
Grace and Peace
One of the best current blogs on the topics of geology, young-Earth creationism, and Christianity is Age of Rocks, written by Jonathan Baker. Today he published his 100th post, and commemorated that milestone with a fantastic article: 100 Reasons the Earth is Old. I liked all 100 reasons, and think he could follow this up with 500 reasons the Earth is old when he hits his 500th post. Here are five of my favorite reasons from his list:
6. There is no radiocarbon in old samples, despite claims to the contrary. Geologically old samples of coal, diamonds, and graphite, for example, yield finite radiocarbon ages that are consistent with the expected level of contamination invariably introduced during sample collection and preparation.
15. Quaternary deposits and landscapes are far too complicated to have accumulated in the ~4,500 years following the Flood. Everywhere we look on Earth, we truly find evidence for ~2 million years worth of processes, whether at high latitudes (where we find evidence for repeated glaciations and deglaciations, separated by warm intervals) or in the tropics (where we find thick desert dune sequences alternating with humid intervals) or in the oceans (where 2 million+ years of Milankovitch cycles are recorded in only a few meters of silt and clay) or in the high mountains (where alpine valleys have been carved out by rivers or glaciers, then infilled by coarse sediment, then eroded again, etc.). Flood geologists unanimously assert that the Quaternary period represents the ‘post-Flood’ era, but there is good reasons that conventional geologists ascribe a much longer age: 2.6 million years.
26. Volcanic ash beds (sedimentary tuff), frequently used to date sedimentary rock layers, were mainly deposited in dry conditions. Geologists can distinguish between ash layers that settled in ocean basins (marine tephra) and those that fell over dry land (air fall deposits). When volcanic ash is deposited in flowing water, it produces yet different features identifiable in outcrops, such as grain sorting and lamination. Therefore, not a few volcanic ashes in sedimentary strata contradict the Flood geology scenario, especially because these ash falls take time to accumulate from the air and harden to the point that water-lain sediments can be deposited on top without compromising the structure of the soft ash.
27. The geologic column is no remnant of an ancient flood deposit, global or not. Fine details, in the form of thin layers of alternating clay and limestone, or irregular sand deposits that resemble modern river channels, defy catastrophic explanation, which explains why catastrophism has long been abandoned by research geologists.
29. The distribution of sedimentary rocks is weighted to heavily over the continents, which is the opposite of what we’d expect in a global flood. Floods move sediments from high elevation to low elevation, depositing them in sedimentary basins. During the Flood, the oceans would have constituted the largest and deepest basins, but most sediments remained on elevated continents. How did this happen? Did the laws of physics stop working?
Note that I picked my top five from the first 29; there were just so many good old-Earth evidences to choose from. I could have selected all 100 reasons from the list of 100 reasons!
An equally important list would be top reasons why the Bible does not require anything like young-Earth creationism. A few of Jonathan Baker’s thoughts on the Bible and science can be found on his Theology/Scripture tab.
Grace and Peace
#26 was near and dear to my heart, as my Master’s degree research involved a study of Quaternary volcanic ash deposits in eastern Washington.
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 Atheist, Baker 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 ) 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
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:
- Humans did not evolve from other species.
- God was involved in the creation of humans.
- 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
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
I’ve had another 24 hours to think about the Ham vs. Nye debate, and I have a few additional thoughts:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I have already stated my main critique of Bill Nye–he lacked the necessary background in geology to participate in a debate like this.
- 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.”
“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
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
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/
Grace and Peace