My way or the highway — adultery edition

The age of the Earth is and should be a secondary doctrinal issue within Christianity. It is not up there with central Biblical teachings such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nor is it up there with doctrines such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, election, and the work of the Holy Spirit, all of which Christians have differences on.

Some young-Earth creationists will say that the reason the age of the Earth is a primary issue is because if one does not interpret Genesis the way they do, one denies the authority of the Scriptures on which all other doctrines are based. This allegation is demonstrably false. Like many other old-Earth Christians, I believe the Bible from the very first verse, and my old-Earth beliefs do not compromise a single core doctrine of the faith.

One example of a young-Earth creationist who looks at the age of the Earth as a primary doctrinal issue is Henry Morris III, CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, and son of ICR founder Henry Morris. According to the ICR article Geologist Claims Creationists Abandoned Faith (an article which brings up another topic I really need to write about), Morris was asked, “Do you believe that you can be a committed biblicist and come up with an old age view as [old-Earth Christian Glen Morton] has done?” Henry Morris III’s reply was,

“It’s kind of like asking: Can you be a Christian and an adulterer.”

I’m wondering if Dr. Morris replies in a similar way to Christians who disagree with him on other doctrinal matters:

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on baptism?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on the timing of events in the end times?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on the Holy Spirit?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Salinity

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

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

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

Sedimentation Rates

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

Radiometric Dating — Assumptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geology – Uniformitarianism and the layers of the geologic record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biology

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

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

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

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

Geology — Fossils

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb

Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism

The June 2012 issue of the Institute for Creation Research’s Acts & Facts magazine came to my mailbox this week, and the short article “Volcanoes of the Past” by John D. Morris caught my attention. The article argues that Noah’s flood was a time of massive volcanic eruptions (“supervolcanoes”), and that volcanic activity on Earth is now experiencing a rapid post-Flood decline.

The cornerstone of young-Earth creationist (YEC) geology is the belief that Noah’s Flood was global in extent, occurred sometime around 2300 BC, and is responsible for most of Earth’s geological features. For a variety of reasons that I have discussed elsewhere (here, here, and here for example), I don’t think that any of this is Biblically necessary nor scientifically viable. A corollary of this “Biblical Catastrophism” or “Flood Geology” is that the catastrophic activity of Noah’s flood continued after the deluge, but with exponentially declining intensity over time. According to this theory—which is not held by all YECs—the centuries after the Flood were chaotic times, with rapidly changing climate (including a single ice age), rapid sedimentation, and biological diversification. According to some, much of Earth’s Cenozoic record was deposited during these few short centuries. The difficulties with this scenario are almost as numerous as the problems with YEC flood geology, but I won’t get into that now.

The heart of Morris’s argument is that we see evidence of massive “supervolcanoes” in the rock record, and that we don’t have any of these erupting today, which is a true statement. Furthermore, if one plots the volume of material extruded by historic volcanoes, one sees a decline over time. This statement is quite simply not true. In his own words,

Through an understanding of today’s volcanic eruptions, we can better comprehend those of the past. However, the rock record of the past suggests that yesterday’s volcanoes were evidently “supervolcanoes,” accomplishing geologic work hardly comparable to those we currently observe.

If we plot the volume of ash and lava extruded by volcanoes throughout history—comparing Vesuvius (79 A.D.) and Krakatoa (1883) to more recent volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens (1980) and Pinatubo (1991)—we come to the conclusion that the earth processes are quieting down. Then if we plot the materials blown out by volcanoes that erupted during the great Flood and soon thereafter (inferred only from the materials left behind), then we conclude an exponential decline in the power of earth’s volcanoes over time. Flood volcanoes were many times greater than those recently witnessed.

The article includes a graphic showing volumes of volcanic products from several eruptions, with an obvious decline from the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff from the Yellowstone (Island Park) eruption (2500 km3), down through Mount St. Helens (a mere 1 km3).

A person with little or no geological background reading the article and examining the figure could only come to one conclusion: There has been a steady decline in the intensity of volcanism on Earth. There are a number of problems, however, with Morris’s article.

First, Morris’s graphic is rather deceptive, especially given the content of the accompanying text. These five eruptions are portrayed from oldest to youngest, and from largest to smallest. What the diagram doesn’t show, however, is that there are many thousands of volcanic eruptions throughout the same time period which don’t fit the YEC post-Flood residual catastrophism model. The following graphic from the US Geological Survey gives a much more realistic depiction of the variability of volcanic intensity over time:

This USGS diagram is highly selective as well, as it lists only a handful of eruptions, but it is much more representative of actual trends. The Holocene (Recent) Epoch—which all YECs would consider post-Flood—has a history of a wide range of volcanic eruptions, ranging from very small to large eruptions such as that of Tambora in 1815 and Mount Mazama approximately 7700 years ago. There is no evidence that I know of that the frequency or intensity of any eruption type is decreasing with time. Instead, smaller eruptions are occurring almost continuously around the world, while the larger eruptions occur with frequencies measured in centuries or millenia.

Morris named four historic eruptions as part of his evidence that volcanism on Earth is slowing down.

If we plot the volume of ash and lava extruded by volcanoes throughout history—comparing Vesuvius (79 A.D.) and Krakatoa (1883) to more recent volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens (1980) and Pinatubo (1991)—we come to the conclusion that the earth processes are quieting down.

These four eruptions—out of thousands he could have chosen—don’t even illustrate the trend that Morris is advocating. Rather than going from larger to smaller, the trend makes a zig-zag:

One could selectively choose four or more eruptions to show any trend they wanted: increasing volume, decreasing volume, steady volume, or random. It would be far better to look at thousands of eruptions over a long period of time, and Morris has not done that.

The second problem I want to mention is that the eruptive history of the Yellowstone region is far more complex than Morris implies. The figure in the article shows the products of two Yellowstone-related eruptions: the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff and Lava Creek Tuff. There have actually been three large eruptions from the Yellowstone area:

  • Island Park Caldera, Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, 2.1 million years, 2500 km3
  • Henry’s Fork Caldera, Mesa Falls Tuff, 1.2 million years, 280 km3
  • Yellowstone Caldera, Lava Creek Tuff, 0.6 million years, 1000 km3

The trend is from largest to smallest to something in-between. Again, Morris selected the two eruptions that supported his thesis and ignored the other eruption.

But there is much more to the story of Yellowstone. In between the mega-eruptions, and in the time since the most recent, Yellowstone has had numerous smaller eruptions of rhyolitic and basaltic lava. Therefore the trend in Yellowstone is really mega-small-mega-small-mega-small. But there is more: the Yellowstone volcanic area is part of a string of volcanic centers that extend from northwestern Nevada through the Snake River Plain up to the area of most recent explosive activity in Yellowstone. There have been dozens of “supervolcano” eruptions along this trend, with hundreds or thousands of smaller eruptions in between.

A third problem with Morris’s article is that the more ancient rock record isn’t just a history of supervolcanoes. Throughout Earth history there have been large volcanoes and small volcanoes. The large volcanoes include explosive “supervolcanoes” such as Yellowstone Caldera, Long Valley Caldera, and Toba, Indonesia; and also flood basalts (the term “flood” has nothing to do with Noah’s flood) such as the Columbia River Basalts. But throughout the same time period there have been numerous smaller eruptions, whether from stratovolcanoes such as Mt. Fuji or Mt. Rainier, or from even smaller volcanoes such as cinder cones and maars.

It is clear that there is no trend in Earth history going from larger volcanic eruptions to smaller. Young-Earth creationists might counter by saying that it is still a fact that there have been massive volcanic eruptions in the past, and that none of these are occurring today. The standard geological explanation is that the larger the eruption, the greater the time gap between eruptions. Yellowstone apparently erupts every 0.6 to 0.9 million years; we may be due for an eruption, but it could still be hundreds of thousands of years away. These eruptions are spaced too far apart to say whether or not their frequency is changing over time.

The YEC has a greater problem, and that is trying to fit a large number of very large eruptions into a very short time. If the Yellowstone eruptions occurred after the Flood (the distal ash is in what most YECs would call post-Flood deposits), then three very large eruptions had to occur in the span of a few centuries perhaps just a little more than 4000 years ago. In between these eruptions there would have had to have been time for weathering, vegetation growth, and a number of smaller volcanic eruptions. All of these volcanic deposits would have had to be emplaced in time for the Ice Age, which lasted only a few hundred years. And all of this is a gross oversimplification of everything that would have had to have happened in a very short period of time.

Unfortunately, most Acts & Facts readers will be completely unaware of the numerous weaknesses in this article. Morris has not made a case that the frequency or intensity of volcanism is decreasing with time.

With love for my YEC brothers and sisters in Christ, and with prayerful concern for those who are turned away from Christianity by bad arguments in defense of the Bible.

Grace and Peace

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P.S. This post-Flood residual catastrophism concept actually has led to one of the best papers to come out of the YEC movement, Earthquakes and the End Times, by Austin and Strauss. A common claim among end-times prophecy teachers is that the frequency and intensity of earthquakes has been increasing over time, leading up to the return of Christ. Austin and Strauss refute this teaching, calling it a Christian urban legend. One impetus behind the article, aside from the fact that there is no geological evidence for an overall increase of earthquake activity on Earth, is this YEC idea that intensity of all sorts of geological activities should be declining over time. I briefly discussed the “Earthquakes and the End Times” article back in 2007 (here).

Creation Geology Society 2010 abstracts

The leading young-Earth creationist geologists (the Creation Geology Society) met in Georgia this summer, and they have released abstracts of the following thirteen talks.

  1. Submarine Liquefied Sediment Gravity Currents: Understanding the Mechanics of the Major Sediment Transportation and Deposition Agent during the Global Flood (S.A. Austin, Institute for Creation Research)
  2. Persistence of Dolomite in the Coconino Sandstone, Northern and Central Arizona (S. Cheung, R. Strom, & J.H. Whitmore; Calgary Rock and Materials Services, Inc. and Cedarville University)
  3. Permian Cross-bedded Sandstones and Their Significance for Global Flood Models (P. Garner, Biblical Creation Ministries)
  4. Deep Ocean Interaction in a Post-Flood Warm Ocean Scenario (S. Gollmer, Cedarville University)
  5. Potential Mechanisms for the Deposition of Halite and Anhydrite in a Near-critical or Supercritical Submarine Environment (A. Hutchison, Cedarville University)
  6. Dinosaur Tracks, Eggs, and Bonebeds Explained Early in the Flood (M.J. Oard, Independent Researcher)
  7. YEC Geology in the Classroom: Educational Materials, Challenges and Needs (M.R. Ross, Liberty University)
  8. Radiohalos in Multiple, Sequentially-Intruded Phases of the Bathurst Batholith, NSW, Australia: Evidence for Rapid Granite Formation During the Flood (A.A. Snelling, Answers in Genesis)
  9. Radiocarbon in Permian Coal Beds of the Sydney Basin, Australia (A.A. Snelling, Answers in Genesis)
  10. How Does an Underwater Debris Flow End? Flow Transformation Evidences Observed within the Lower Redwall Limestone of Arizona and Nevada (D.D. Stansbury, Institute for Creation Research)
  11. Clay Content: A Simple Criterion for the Identification of Fossil Desiccation Cracks? (J.H. Whitmore & R. Strom; Cedarville University & Calgary Rock and Materials Inc.)
  12. Preliminary Report and Significance of Grain Size Sorting in Modern Eolian Sands (J.H. Whitmore, Cedarville University)
  13. Preliminary Report on Sorting and Rounding in the Coconino Sandstone (J.H. Whitmore & S. Maithel, Cedarville University)

I was actually invited to attend this conference by one of the speakers, and wouldn’t mind going some time. Despite my strong belief that young-Earth creationism isn’t necessary Biblically and that “flood geology” doesn’t work, I would hope that our common bond in Christ would prove greater than our differences.

Grace and Peace

HT: Paul Garner