A Winter Map of Montana

It is cold and snowy here in the Big Sky Country. But most of us don’t complain, and many of us get excited when the white stuff starts to fall from the sky. I live in one of the warmer parts of Montana, so this week it shouldn’t get any colder than –16° F (that’s about –27°C for all of my non-American friends).

This map is a very accurate depiction of what my home state looks like this week. I created “A Winter Map of Montana” for the July 2017 Esri User Conference in sunny San Diego, and it was on display along with about a thousand other maps in the Map Gallery. The Esri UC is a gathering of mapping and geography nerds, dedicated to making the world a better place using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I’m sharing my Winter Map with the world now; I hope you enjoy my celebration of Montana winter.

Montana Winter Map Nelstead 2

Here are a few closeups:

MontanaLegend

MontanaNorthArrow

MontanaPhoto

Click here to download PDF:  Montana Winter Map GeoChristian.com


The map was created using an Esri ArcGIS home use license. The PDF was exported to print at 34×44 inches, but it scales nicely to a 8.5×11 format.

An old-Earth Christian film review of Genesis: Paradise Lost

genesisOn two nights this past week (Nov 13 and 16, 2017), the young-Earth creationist (YEC) documentary Genesis: Paradise Lost was shown in select movie theaters across America. I spent $15 (the most I have ever spent for a movie) and sat in the upper corner of the theater where there was a little light that enabled me to scribble some notes. This movie included speakers from Answers in Genesis as well as other institutions, and will undoubtedly be a fixture in the YEC segment of Evangelical Christianity for quite a while.

The purpose of the film is to promote the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis 1-11, as stated on the movie’s web site:

Cutting-edge cinematography meets proven science and biblical accuracy to deliver GENESIS: PARADISE LOST, bringing the first book of the Bible to life in both 2D and 3D formats on the big screen. Stunning visual effects and field research invite audiences to explore the much-studied and debated opening chapters of the Bible. This highly-anticipated movie event will show in cinemas nationwide on Monday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m. local time.

GENESIS: PARADISE LOST will entertain and educate as an event for the whole family. The digital animation is interwoven with insightful commentary from accredited scientists and educators such as Dr. Charles Jackson and Dr. Georgia Purdom, and popular speakers such as Ken Ham and Ray Comfort. Cultural apologist Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.’s deep booming voice serves as Genesis’ “unseen narrator” whose vocal presence gives the visual images deeper meaning and life.

Summary

Genesis: Paradise Lost began with brief statements from various YEC scholars, such as:

  • “Science has been hijacked.”
  • “You either trust God, or trust man.”
  • “There are only two possibilities.”
  • “The big bang, millions of years, and evolution are all fairy tales.”
  • “If you can’t believe Genesis 1-11, then what part of the Bible can you trust?”

The bulk of the documentary alternated between narration of portions of Genesis 1-3 and short statements by various YEC scientists, Bible scholars, and teachers. The narration (slow and deep) was accompanied by computer animation of the various creative acts of God, such as the creation of light, the separation of land and water, the separation of waters above from waters below, the emergence of plants and animals, and the creation of Adam and Eve.

The style of the speakers was what I would call “flash bang grenade.” One speaker would say something, then another would say something related, and then another. For the most part, these were sound bites that those who are already YECs would agree with, rather than a presentation of any sort of sustained biblical or scientific argument. The segments flowed from one part of Genesis 1-3 to another, but the arguments still seemed to be somewhat disconnected. There was nothing in these sound-bite arguments that convinced me, as an old-Earth Christian, that the Bible requires a young Earth, or that science points to a young Earth.

The movie ended with a presentation of the gospel: The bad news of sin, and the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Some Strong Points

YEC documentaries have come a long way from the days of Dr. Dino videos. The animations of the events of creation were all well done.

There were viewpoints expressed by the speakers that I agreed with. For example, I agree that naturalism is insufficient to explain the origin of the universe, and probably the origin of life as well.

I rejoice to hear the gospel presented, even when it is presented in a context that I believe is highly problematic (Philippians 1:18). The bad news is that humans are sinful and in rebellion against God. Because of Adam’s sin, and because of our own sin, we live in a world of misery and death rather than flourishing and life. God’s solution is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, that those who put their faith in him can be restored to what God intended for humanity back in the Garden of Eden. I agree with all of this, and none of it depends on Earth being only 6,000 years old.

Biblical and Scientific Problems

Though there were a few things in the movie I agreed with, I found many more areas of disagreement. Here are a few, starting with some Biblical problems with the movie, and then moving on to scientific difficulties:

It was dogmatically stated that Genesis 1 has the genre of historical narrative, and that the text must therefore be read “literally.” Many inerrancy-affirming, Evangelical Old Testament scholars would disagree that the genre of Genesis 1 is “historical narrative.” The problem is that many YEC scholars oversimplify the issue by presenting the only genre options as historical narrative or poetry, when in fact there are a number of genres in the Old Testament. Obviously, Genesis 1 is not poetry in the same sense that Psalms or Proverbs are poetry. But when reading Genesis 1, even in English, it is clear that Genesis 1 has patterns that are not present in standard Hebrew historical narrative passages, such as in most of the rest of Genesis, or the historical portions of Exodus through 2 Chronicles. Old Testament scholar C. John Collins calls the genre of Genesis 1:1-2:4 “exalted prose narrative,” indicating that there is something much higher going on in this section than in more ordinary narrative passages. The vocabulary is more exalted, there are analogies, and the structure of the opening passage of Genesis is perhaps unique in ancient Hebrew literature. If interpreters don’t get the genre of the passage correct—and YECs may indeed be getting it wrong—then it is likely that the final interpretation will also be wrong.

It was also stated that Jesus believed that Genesis is real history, with the implication that Jesus was endorsing the young-Earth interpretation. I agree that Jesus affirmed the historicity of Adam, and of Noah and the flood. As an old-Earth Christian, I therefore also believe in a real Adam and Eve in a real garden, committing a real sin, and in a real Noah who rode out a real flood in a real boat with real animals. None of this requires, however, a young Earth or a global flood.

The movie did not present the Garden of Eden as it is described in the Bible. Genesis 2 describes the garden as being at a specific location on Earth, identified as being in the Ancient Near East by the four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. Genesis never describes the entire Earth as being the Garden of Eden. Instead, the garden seems to be a protected place (with Adam and Eve having a role in its protection), with the rest of the Earth being a wild place in need of subduing. Nevertheless, the film stated that the entire planet was lush from pole to pole; a paradise in its golden age in which animals could grow to enormous sizes. But this is not what the Bible says.

The movie stated that there are immense amounts of evidence for humans and dinosaurs living together. The speaker mentioned dinosaur-like petroglyphs, and references to dragons in the historical records of many cultures. In reality, I believe there is no convincing evidence that humans and dinosaurs ever lived together. YECs commonly point to the creatures Behemoth and Leviathan in Job 40-41 as proof that dinosaurs lived back in the second millennium B.C. Much more sober Bible commentators have better, more natural explanations for the identity of these creatures. A brief explanation of the identity of Behemoth and Leviathan can be found in the notes of the ESV Study Bible.

The presentation on radiometric dating wasn’t even all that consistent with the largest YEC research project on the topic, which was the RATE study. The film listed four assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to work: 1) known initial concentrations of the parent and 2) daughter nuclides, 3) a constant decay rate, and 4) a closed system. So far so good. The RATE study concluded that, in most cases, assumptions 1, 2, and 4 can indeed be demonstrated, which was not mentioned in the movie. The RATE scientists, therefore, focused on questioning assumption #3, the decay rate. The documentary presented lutetium-176 (I think that was the nuclide) as an example of a radioactive nuclide for which the decay rate can be changed dramatically in a laboratory. What they didn’t tell you is that lutetium-176 has to be completely ionized in a plasma at a temperature of millions of degrees for this to happen. This is hardly applicable to the conditions on Earth during a flood or at any other time. The speakers in the film also didn’t mention that accelerating radioactive decay millions of times faster would release enough heat to boil Earth’s oceans and melt part of Earth’s crust as well.

It was also stated that the geologic column (Precambrian—Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—etc.) is the product of circular reasoning. This also is a common YEC argument: that rocks are dated by fossils, but that fossils are dated by rocks. This is a faulty argument, and confuses inductive reasoning with circular reasoning. The concept of the geologic column, as the better YECs acknowledge, reflects a real order that is observed in nature. Rock layers, in undisturbed areas, always occur in the order Cambrian—Ordovician—Silurian—Devonian…, not in some mixed-up order like Triassic—Ordovician—Jurassic—Silurian. Always. The geologic column is a product of inductive, not circular, reasoning.

I picked just six out of a couple dozen topics I could have chosen for critique. Note that I have spent more time on the Biblical problems with the movie than with the scientific problems. I believe that young-Earth creationism is not only faulty in terms of science, but a stretch in some ways of the text of Genesis.

Conclusion

The people involved in making Genesis: Paradise Lost, whether the producers and backers, or those who spoke in the film, are sincere Christians with a love for God’s Word, and a desire to see people come to faith in Christ. I commend them for their love and zeal.

I am convinced, however that the young-Earth interpretation is an over-reading of the text of Genesis, which actually forces many things into the Bible that are not there. There are a number of reasons to suspect that the intention of Moses was not to give us a geology lesson on the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. In any case, Genesis says nothing about the origin of the igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks of Earth crust; volcanoes, canyons, glaciers, and many other geological wonders of God’s creation.

Furthermore, the scientific arguments presented in the movie, on topics such as radiometric dating, deposition of sediments, plate tectonics, comets, planetary surfaces, fossils, or fossilized poop, are just about all unsupportable. Most of these features cannot be explained in the young-Earth framework. For example, it was stated that it would impossible for things like worms or feces to be preserved in the fossil record by the slow deposition of sediments. I actually see no reason why an occasional worm or turd could not be preserved in certain depositional environments, but cannot imagine how worms and piles of excrement could survive being suspended in a watery slew of abrasive sediments in a catastrophic flood and then be deposited in just the right part of the geologic column (dinosaur poop in the Mesozoic; elephant poop in the Cenozoic) without being obliterated. Very few Christian geologists are convinced by YEC arguments, either for the age of the Earth, or the origin of the rocks of Earth’s crust.

I believe that the movie presents bad science based on a questionable interpretation of Genesis. Bad science, no matter how well-intended, is bad apologetics, and bad apologetics drives people away from Christianity.

Genesis: Paradise Lost is just part one of a two-part series. Part one focused on Genesis 1-3, so I assume part two will focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.

Grace and Peace

———————————————————————-
Notes:

None of the quotes should be taken as direct quotes, as I was scribbling notes in a rather dim setting.

I haven’t written a review yet for the other 2017 YEC documentary, which was Is Genesis History? I would say that Is Genesis History? makes a much stronger case for young-Earth creationism, as it presents sustained arguments rather than a string of sound bites. Not that I was convinced by either the Biblical or the scientific arguments in Is Genesis History? either.

 

Review of Earth Science textbook in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

earthscienceThere have been a number of positive reviews of my Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, published by Novare Science and Math. One of the most comprehensive reviews is in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 111-113). The review was written by a middle school science teacher, who like me, had been forced to use secular textbooks in a Christian school because of the lack of credible options. Here are some highlights:

“The text is very readable, and it includes appropriate graphics to illustrate concepts and provide examples. Nelstead’s warm voice present in the text suggests a caring teacher behind the writing rather than the cold prose typical in many science textbooks.”

“Nelstead is clear throughout the text that he loves scripture and holds the perspective that the Bible reveals God as the caring, sovereign Creator. He emphasizes the perspective in this text as one that accepts “the strong evidence for an old universe” (p. xvi). However, Nelstead also encourages Christian educators to put the issues of the age-of-the-Earth debate behind them, stating, “Since Scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t be” (p. xvi). I recognize that not all Christian educators will agree with this perspective. However, many Christian educators teach with secular texts that embody a very different worldview than that of the teacher. The fact that Nelstead is upfront about his beliefs and how they influence the writing of the book is encouraging, and a model that Christian educators might follow.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, and I believe Christians teaching science will find it a valuable resource. It may prove to be an excellent textbook choice for an earth science course for students in grades 7–9, and I would recommend that science teachers in Christian schools examine it for themselves for possible adoption. Christians involved in teaching science at other grade levels or in different types of schools would also benefit from this text as a resource to keep on the shelf. I believe that anyone interested in a thoughtful elaboration of Earth science that holds a biblical perspective as integral to that study would benefit from reading this book.”

Novare’s Earth Science is the textbook some Christian educators have been waiting for for decades. Buy it directly from Novare rather than from Amazon, which is over-priced.

Animal ethics and clear consciences

“In Praise of Self-Deprecation” – Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer whale’s heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

———————————————————

Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012) Poland
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996

Quoted from p. 125 of Osborn, Ronald E., 2014, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, IVP Academic

Attempting to respond to hostility with grace

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

Book Review – Dictionary of Christianity and Science

DictionaryMy 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.

GeoScriptures – Psalm 133:1 – Deep unity in Christ despite our disagreements

“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.

Jay Wile

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

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

———————————————————————-

NOTES

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.