Old Earth Creationism

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What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions

Trilobites_in_the_Mineral_Museum_in_SiófokThe origins debate within Christianity is often viewed through the lens of a very narrow spectrum. Most recently, this was demonstrated in the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  I also demonstrated this recently by answering questions for old earth creationists (see the first and second parts): some people tend to see the only options available for Christians as either young earth creationism (the earth was made in six 24 hour days 6-10 thousand years ago) or theistic evolutionism (God set it up, then evolution accounts for diversification). These perspectives, though showing a few of those available to Christians, do not actually reflect the whole realm of possibilities for Christians.

More thoughtful Christians tend to think of the perspectives as threefold. There are theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and then in between there is a kind of amorphous glob of people who hold to an “old earth” without expressing it in strictly evolutionary terms. Here, we’ll explore this amorphous glob (as well as the extremes) to show that there really is a range of options. I’m writing this mainly to clarify for many some of the difficulties in commenting on creation issues without such a taxonomy.

Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate

If I could recommend one book to anyone who is going to get involved in creation issues, I would have to say I’d recommend Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. I’m not recommending it because I think it is the best book on creation issues. Rather, I’m recommending it because I think anyone who is going to interact with these issues must be able to make distinctions between positions. Rau’s work is helpful because he has laid out many of the main categories for belief. There is, however, a downside to his work: it is necessarily simplified. He did an adequate job showing the major positions available, but the fact remains that even within each position he dilineated there are more divisions to be explored. Moreover, there are views which simply don’t fit into any specific group. That said, I think his work is extremely useful and so I’ll start with his organization as a way to introduce the taxonomy.

Rau’s Taxonomy

Rau divided the major positions on the origins debate into a sixfold division (see Rau, 41):

Naturalistic Evolution- On this view, there is no God and no purpose in origins. The process for the origin of species and its diversity is “spontaneous.”

Nonteleological Evolution- On this view, there is a creator, but there remains no intervention in the natural process which yield life and its diversity. Thus, the “conditions necessary for life” were “established at creation.” However, evolution is still without purpose and the creator did not specify its parameters.

Planned Evolution- On this view, there is a creator who had a purpose for life and its origin. This purpose is through a “perfect creation” which “naturally fulfills God’s purposes.” Thus, the purpose which the creator had was essentially front-loaded in at the moment of creation. There is no direction during the process.

Directed Evolution- On this view, there is a creator with a purpose for the diversity of life. Unlike the previous view, the creator doesn’t merely front-load design and purpose but rather intervenes throughout the course of history to bring about purpose: “changes in universe and life” are “subtly directed over time.”

Old-Earth Creation- On this view, the process by which the diversity of species came about is not through directed evolution but rather through creation over time: “major body plans” are “created over millions of years.” New diversity of life is through God’s direct creative act.

Young-Earth creation- on this view, “each ‘kind'” is “created in one week, within the last 10,000 years. All diversity of life is due to God’s creative act; any changes since then are only among the “kinds” represented on the ark.

162283main_image_feature_693_ys_4A Larger Picture

Rau’s division of these groups is extremely helpful because he hits on the major positions represented within the spectrum. Of course the only options which are available to Christians are those which do not exclude God from the picture. Thus all but naturalistic evolution remain open to the believer. Now,  the debate over how these might fit into the teaching of the Bible is not what I’m trying to dive into here. Instead, I’m simply pointing out there is diversity of views greater than the YEC/Theistic Evolutionism divide. One can see from the above that even within theistic evolutionism there is some diversity. Does evolution take place nonteleologically or did God plan it from the beginning? Perhaps God directed evolution along the way. There also is the option of Old Earth Creationism which shares many features with young earth creationism but radically diverges from the latter in many respects.

However, the spectrum opens up even more than Rau’s taxonomy depicts. The views he discusses focus primarily upon the science; that is, they are distinctions among views on the specifics of a scientific account of origins. Other views may be listed which may be distinguished by the reading of the Bible. Now, there is of course much overlap between these and Rau’s list, but I wanted to highlight a few views of interest.

First, there are interpreters like John Sailhamer in his book Genesis Unbound who hold that the text of Genesis is most specifically talking about the creation of the Garden of Eden. C. John Collins also holds to this view. They each hold that Genesis 1:1 is a kind of statement about the creation of the universe (though Collins does question whether it is explicitly about the ex-nihilo creation of the universe) and what follows as a continuous creation narrative of the land for the inhabitants. Thus, the text in Genesis does not explicitly affirm any sort of creation account and so people would be free to hold to essentially any position above apart from naturalistic evolution.

Second, John Walton’s view reads the creation account within the Ancient Near Eastern context and so he views Genesis not as a literal creation account but rather as an account showing how God is enthroned over the entire creation as King. Again, such a view would be amenable to the spectrum of views possible for a Christian as I noted.

It is worth noting that either of these is distinct from the spectrum Rau lists. They are distinct because they do not require commitment to any of the creation models. Thus, for Collins, Sailhamer, and Walton, one may simply remain open to the evidence rather than filtering the evidence through specific readings of the Genesis text. Of course, one could hold to this view and remain a young earth creationist; but none of these readings explicitly forces someone to hold to any position on the actual means of creation and speciation.

Third, there are positions related to the scientific origins which would further subdivide Rau’s categories as dilineated above. For example, young earth creationists often hold that the Global Flood can account for the fossil record and stratification. But some YECs have historically held that the Flood would have been tranquil and essentially had no impact on the Earth. Other YECs simply hold that the universe and the Earth have an appearance of age because God would have known at what age it would have needed to be in order to sustain life. There is much diversity about the mechanisms related to the Flood as well. Similarly, Old Earth Creationists exist upon a spectrum, though Rau’s principles about what unites them are correct. However, OECs are often confused with other views along the spectrum such as directed evolution. Strictly speaking, an Old Earth Creationist will not hold to the notion that speciation occurs on such a broad scale through evolution.

Conclusion

I have utilized Rau’s work to demonstrate there is a spectrum of beliefs related to the origins debate. The spectrum, I have argued, is even broader than Rau showed. Within each category he listed, there may be subdivisions. Moreover, there are some views which eschew attempts to dilineate the scientific truths but simply ascribe to reading the text. These latter views would fit with essentially any along the spectrum of beliefs so long as God is involved.

The purpose of this post is not to sow confusion for those interested in the topic of origins. Rather, it is to demonstrate that there really are more options on the table than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolutionism. Within either of those views there is much diversity, and there is a whole range in-between. Thus, let us hope that when we discuss origins we avoid falsely portraying the positions as being so limited that we fail to account for the range. Hopefully, this taxonomy will prove helpful.

Links

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Source

Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Answering “More Questions for Old Earth Creationists”

800px-Orman

One of my primary areas of interest revolves around the debate over origins, specifically within Christianity. Is the universe “young” (~6-10k years) or “old” (about 13.79 billion years)? How do we look at creation texts in the Bible? What do they teach us?

Last week, I wrote on an article in which a young earth creationist on a radio show I enjoy asked a number of questions of old earth creationists. I noted that many of these questions were off-base because they don’t actually address something that is an issue for old earth creationists. For those who follow this debate within Christianity, I want to make it clear that it is extremely important to accurately represent your opponents’ views. It is all well and good to engage in dialogue with and critical examination of other views, but in doing so you should represent those other views accurately.

Pastor Todd Wilken recently wrote a follow up to the article I responded to last week. The first thing of note is that Wilken does nothing to expound on his previous questions. The assumption seems to be that they are left unanswered. But, as I demonstrated before, Wilken’s questions for “old earth creationists” were wildly off-base in a number of ways. The question is, has Wilken now (as he notes, more than a decade later) come to an understanding of the distinctions between views on origins? Do his questions reflect this?

Old Earth Creationism?

One immediate hint at an answer to my questions here is found in the introduction to his paper. He writes:

The Old-Earth Creationist wants to keep the idea of a Creator. But, he also wants to accommodate the latest theory of the age of the Universe, about 15 billion years. The Old-Earth Creationist wants to keep the Genesis Creation account. But, rather than read that account as a record of seven consecutive days of God’s miraculous creation, the Old-Earth Creationist wants to read it as a record of those 15 billion years. Thus the name “Old Earth Creationist.”

There are a number of distortions which already hint that Wilken has not attempted to understand the view he opposes. First, the number of “15 billion years.” Certainly, that date was accurate… many years ago. As the old earth creationist think-tank Reasons to Believe notes (the link will immediately begin playing audio), however, direct measurements place the age at around 13.79 billion years of age. To be fair, Wilken may just be rounding up. However, he says it is the “latest theory.” His number does not reflect that.

More importantly, Wilken misrepresents what old earth creationists think of the text. This is very serious problem. He writes, “…rather than read that account as a record of seven consecutive days of God’s miraculous creation, the Old-Earth Creationist wants to read it as a record of those 15 billion years.” In the broadest sense this may be correct (other than the number), but old earth creationists (hereafter OECs/OEC) such as Hugh Ross specifically read the account as seven daysThe question, of course, is what the days are. But Wilken begins his definition of OEC with this question-begging statement. Before even attempting to interact with the view he criticizes, he misrepresents their position.

After this introduction, though, Wilken confidently states that his previous article–which, as I argued, totally misrepresents old earth creationists–was so powerful that it demonstrated that “[The OEC] is reading into that text considerations outside the text. He must go outside the text of Genesis, and of Scripture as a whole to support his 15 billion year reading of the Genesis account.” demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that at least some of Wilken’s questions don’t actually address OEC at all. He quite seriously had no idea what the positions were for OECs related to human origins, the actual dating of processes, and the like. Yet he continues to allege that he has somehow single-handedly demonstrated the project of OEC (which he doesn’t seem to understand) is unbiblical.

162283main_image_feature_693_ys_4The Questions

I skipped through the next section of Wilken’s paper, in which he basically just argues that OECs cannot be exegetically consistent. What I want to jump to is Wilken’s questions once more. They reflect what he must think OECs actually believe, so if his questions once more show that he is mistaken, I think it is fair to say that Wilken cannot fairly think that he has done anything to refute OEC. Unfortunately for him, his questions do portray exactly that: he again demonstrates that he has little understanding of what OECs actually believe. I will write his questions here in bold/italics. The wording is exactly the same as in the paper. I do not take credit for anything he wrote. My responses will be immediately after each question.

1. How do you reconcile the sequence of events recorded in the Genesis account with the prevailing theories of the formation of the Universe –In particular, the formation of the Earth first before the rest of the Universe, including the Sun, Moon and stars; and the assertion that the early Earth had both liquid water and plant life before the formation of the Sun?

My mouth literally dropped open as I read this question. Why? Well, the fact is that this question is the one that OECs have directly addressed time and again. There is no attempt by Wilken whatsoever to acknowledge that many OECs have written, nor does he attempt to engage with or refute these interpretations.

That said, Wilken’s question here shows that he is spot-on in understanding that this is a project for OEC. But the fact that he asks the question makes me wonder whether he has ever even interacted with any of those works which answer the question. Representative is Hugh Ross’ work, A Matter of Days in which he directly addresses these questions.

2. What does the numbering of the days in the Genesis account signify, if not six, discrete, sequential days or time periods?

As I continued to read the article, my impression that Wilken is unaware of even the most basic tenets of OEC increased. Here is another major blunder. Nearly every major OEC of whom I am aware holds that the days of creation are six discrete time periods. So why even bother to ask this question? The answer for most OECs would be “I don’t know, because they are six discrete time periods.” Once more, Wilken betrays a lack of study in this area.

3. How should the six days of Creation in the Genesis account be rearranged to better reflect the actual events of the Universe’s 15 billion year history?

Again, OECs don’t rearrange the days. Framework theorists do–depending on what is meant by “rearrange”–but the vast majority of OECs today do not hold to the framework view. They hold to the “day-age” view. So again, Wilken shows he is not interacting with OEC.

4. How should the sequence of events within those individual days be rearranged to better reflect the actual events of the Universe’s 15 billion year history?

See above. OECs would answer almost unanimously: “They shouldn’t.”

Dark_matter_halo25. If the six days of the Genesis account are really six parts of the Universe’s 15 billion year history, how long was the seventh day described in Genesis 2:1-4? 

OECs tend to note that the 7th day seems to be continuing. Creation is done, and God is no longer creating. Therefore, the 7th  day has continued into the present. I am willing to see someone show any OECs who hold different views on this. I suspect there are at least some who may hold the 7th day is 24 hours or has ended at some point in the past, but those OECs of whom I am aware would say the 7th day continues.

6. To what specifically does the seventh day of Genesis 2:1-4 correspond in the Universe’s 15 billion year history?

The end of God’s creative activity. God is no longer creating distinct species ex nihilo.

7. What is the real chronological relationship between the events describing [sic] in Genesis, chapter one (the six days of Creation), and Genesis chapter two (the specific creation of man)? Is the second chapter a reiteration of the sixth day, focusing on man, or it is a event separate from and subsequent to the six days described in the first chapter?

Great care must be exercised in answering this question. I am trying to answer broadly from the consensus of OECs I have read. I realize there are a number of views OECs hold on these specific questions. I will answer what I think is the majority opinion, but feel free to comment and share other opinions. Genesis chapter two is a reiteration of the sixth day, zooming in on the creation of humankind. It is not a separate event.

8. What is the real chronological relationship between the events describing [sic] in Genesis, chapter one, and Genesis chapter three? Does the Fall described in the third chapter involve the same particular individuals created in chapter two? Are they the same particular individuals created in chapter one?

I admit that the first sentence of this question confuses me. I’m not entirely sure what Wilken is asking, so I will not try to answer it. The second question can easily be answered: “Yes.” OECs, again, hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. They do not deny this. The insinuations of these questions that OECs hold some other view of human origins is startling, because it is so off-base. Regarding the third question, again the answer is “Yes.” As I noted in my previous response to Wilken’s other article, one of the distinguishing features of OEC is precisely that OECs hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. It is telling that Wilken seems to be ignorant to this point. Gerald Rau in his work Mapping the Origins Debate explicitly cites this as an area in which young earth creationists and old earth creationists agree (as I noted in my previous response). Wilken seems to be unaware of his agreement with the side he so adamantly opposes (and misrepresents) on this issue.

9.Where in the entire book of Genesis is the transition to “real time”? What in the text itself specifically marks this transition?

I would note the subtle stacking the deck in this question. What is meant by “real time”? After all, we don’t have, in the rest of the Bible, a counting of days. It’s not as though, on the young earth view, one can reference the first week and then simply start adding individual days. The Bible has no running clock in it counting off days and weeks. So Wilken’s term of “real time” seems disingenuous or confused. I am not sure what is meant by the term. Presumably, Wilken means for it to connect to the young earth view of seven 24 hour days as “real time” and the rest of the Bible also using days to mean 24 hours. But again, this is mistaken, because the Bible doesn’t continue to count off days.

As for the transition, it is hard to answer because I’m not sure what the transition is supposed to be between. From “real time” to what? What is meant by “real time”? Would not several billion years be “time” and if it is time, is it not “real”?

10. When the word “day” means something other than 24 hours in Scripture, it most often means a period of less than 24 hours. Why ignore this possibility regarding the Genesis account?

OECs do not ignore this possibility. In fact, they frequently cite Augustine, who held (at one point) that God created the universe in an instant. Why do OECs cite this ultra-young earth interpretation? Because YECs tend to present church history as though everyone throughout history agrees with their interpretation of 7 24-hour days. They don’t. So the possibility is not ignored.

Conclusion

So we return, finally, to the question: Does Wilken’s paper reflect actual knowledge of the distinctions between views on origins? Frankly, the answer is no. It honestly seems to me that Wilken is either blissfully unaware of the actual positions of old earth creationists or he is intentionally misrepresenting them. This seems to be reinforced by the fact that he never once cites any major old earth creationist when representing the position. Instead, he simply reports what he thinks OEC is. But then he goes on to misrepresent OEC and confuse categories. I find this deeply troubling.

The surprising thing is that Wilken has actually demonstrated how much his own view agrees with OEC. In asking questions to try to distinguish himself from OEC, he shows that he and OECs agree on the sequence of days, the days representing distinct time periods, human origins, and a few other minor areas. Unfortunately, Wilken has continued–apparently for over a decade–to misrepresent old earth creationists. I call on him to stop doing so. Read some items from Reasons to Believe. Read Gerald Rau’s book, Mapping the Origins Debate so that one can make the distinctions between differing groups. But stop misrepresenting the views one may oppose. That is disingenuous, and it doesn’t help readers or listeners.

Source

Todd Wilken, “More Questions for Old Earth Creationists” Issues, Etc. Journal (Fall 2013). Accessible here: http://issuesetc.org/podcast/FALL2013.pdf.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Responding to “Nine Questions for the Old Earth Creationist”

exoplanetOne of the podcasts I enjoy listening to is “Issues, Etc.,” a conservative Lutheran radio program that addresses a number of different views. As is the case with anything, however, once you talk to someone or listen to something long enough, you find things with which you disagree. Recently, I heard a podcast which was discussing Christianity and Science. During this podcast, the guest alleged that the Bible contradicts things like the Big Bang theory or any interpretation of millions or billions of years. As that is an area of great interest for me, I did a little more digging and found that Pastor Todd Wilken, one of the primary speakers on the radio program, had written a series of questions for Old Earth Creationists in an article titled “Nine Questions for Old Earth ‘Creationists.‘” [Note that he uses scare quotes around the word "Creationists."]

Here, I shall respond to the Nine Questions asked of Old Earth Creationists. Before I dive in, I want to offer one major disclaimer: these topics are far more complex than one blog post can cover. I fully realize I am leaving objections unanswered and some questions unasked. Feel free to comment to clarify. Second major disclaimer: I realize that there is diversity within old earth creationism. However, I have striven to answer the questions in as broad a manner as possible.

I will be leaving the questions from Todd Wilken in bold and italic  font and my answers in this standard font. The questions are direct quotes from his article, and I take no credit for their wording.

1. What in the text of Genesis 1 requires or suggests an old Earth?

I admit that I know of no Old Earth Creationist (hereafter OEC/OECs) who holds that Genesis 1 requires an old earth. I think the question is mistaken to even use that word, but I would be happy to be corrected should someone find an OEC who does allege that the text requires an old earth. Thus, the question must be what is it that suggests an old earth? Well, as readers of this blog may know already, I think this question itself is mistaken. The text is not referring to the age of the universe at all, anywhere. On this view, although an old earth may be permissible according to the text, it is not suggested; nor is a young earth suggested. The text just isn’t talking about the age of the universe.

Now, many OECs do hold that the text suggests an old earth. Hints of this, they argue, can be found in the fact that evening and morning occurs before there is a sun. Moreover, it is not until the fourth day that days may even be measured. Others hold that the terminology in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” suggests that the creation occurred in that verse, and that the rest of the chapter (and chapter 2) narrow the focus to earth or even the Garden of Eden.

2. What are the referents of the words “morning” and “evening” in Genesis 1?

I find it extremely telling that Wilken decided to switch the order of these words around. It absolutely must be noted that the text says “evening” and morning.” Why is this? Well, if the first day is really the first 24 hour period in the history of all that exists apart from God, how is it possible for evening to come before morning? [One insightful reader noted that the Hebrews saw evening as the beginning of the day anyway... but my point is that the fact there is an evening implies there is a sun to set... which isn't created until later.] That is a question with which the literalistic young earth creationists must contend. If they choose to read the Bible literal[istical]ly, they must be consistent. The fact that they cannot when it comes to things such as evening coming first shows that their reading is self-referentially inconsistent.

Now, to answer the actual question, that really depends on which OEC you are referring to. I would tentatively suggest that most OECs hold that the referents are simply ways to mark the beginning and ends of creation periods.

3. What in the text of Genesis 1:26-27 requires or suggests the creation of man over millions of years?

I admit that this was where I really started to wonder whether Wilken understands the distinctions between OECs and other views of creation. In asking this question of OECs, Wilken betrays an apparent ignorance of the views of major proponents of OEC.

Representative is Hugh Ross, the founder of Reasons to Believe, which is itself the largest Old Earth Creationist organization. In his work, More Than a Theory, he writes regarding human origins: “God created humans in a deliberate, miraculous act” (182, cited below). In other words, Ross (and this is the position of the entire organization, along with every other OEC I know of) holds that humankind was specially created by God in a single miraculous act. “Ah, but wait!” one might cry. “That doesn’t deny millions of years for the creation of humanity.”

Very well, a very small amount of digging shows Hugh Ross again writing, this time with Fazale Rana (also of Reasons to Believe and another Old Earth Creationist) in their work Who Was Adam? “God created the first humans… both physically and spiritually through direct intervention… All humanity came from Adam and Eve… God created Adam and Eve relatively recently, between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago” (44-45, cited below). 

Therefore, it seems this question is nonsensical. OECs hold that humankind was created specially by God and not over the course of millions of years. I admit that I think just about any OEC would be scratching their head trying to figure out why this question is even being asked because it is so far off the mark of the actual views of OECs. It is particularly remarkable because this feature is one of the very things which distinguishes Old Earth Creationism from other, non-creationist models. Gerald Rau notes this distinction: “Although differing in the timing, both [Young- and Old- Earth creationists] believe God created two humans… without progenitor. This, of course, is a radically different perspective from the evolutionary models” (147, cited below). Note his wording: “of course”; “radically different.” Frankly, anyone who has done even a cursory study of varying Christian views about the timing and means of creation would know this.

4. Where in the text of the Genesis 2 and following is the transition from epoch-long days to 24-hour days?

This question seems to be a bit strange. The word “day” is only used in Genesis 2:2, 3, 4, and 17. In verse 4 even Young Earth Creationists (YEC) have to admit that the word is being used as more than one day (the text says “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (ESV).

Verse 17 is also of great interest because it says, “…’but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'” (ESV).

Did Adam die on the 24-hour day he ate of that tree? No. In fact, he and Eve went on to have children and raise them to some point. So again, we find that “day” is not referring to a 24 hour period.

But where is the transition? I don’t know. I think the question itself is confused because the word is used four times in the chapter, two of which cannot be 24-hour days.

5. What creative actions described in Genesis 1 require more than six 24-hour days to accomplish for a God Who creates ex nihilo?

The use of the word “require” is again extremely problematic. Of course any OEC would agree that God could create in any time period God wanted. God certainly could have created anything God wanted in any amount of time in which God wanted to. So no OEC that I know of would say that God required more time.

However, some OECs do argue that Adam may have needed more time to accomplish everything it is said he accomplished in the allotted times. Naming all the animals, given the untold thousands of species which exist, would have taken quite a bit of time. (Genesis 2:19 is still part of the sixth day because God is still creating and has not yet made woman.)

But, again, I do not think any OEC would say that the text “requires” God to use more than 24 hours.

dinofeeding6. Where else in Scripture is the word “day” used to designate billions of years?

Here we find yet another question that is just so incredibly off base that it is remarkable. Of course, the Bible does use the word “day” to denote that such a period, for the LORD, is like a thousand years. And the meaning of “like a thousand years” is debatable, but surely it is a long period of time [and much longer than 24 hours]. But the question of “billions of years” is just the wrong question. Again, the text is not trying to tell us how old the earth is.

If Wilken desires to dispute this, I would gladly ask him to present me with a verse in the Bible which sets the date of creation.

7. How are we to understand the connection between the six epoch-days of creation and the sanctification of a literal seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3 and Exodus 20:11?

I am often confused when YECs bring up this argument. Yes, Exodus 20:11 parallels Genesis 1-2 by having 7 days and denoting the seventh as a day of rest. Now, what about that somehow entails that they are exactly the same? I mean think about the Biblical categories of typology. Very often things correspond to each other but are not exactly the same. One might think of the use of Hosea 11:1 to Matthew 2:15. The passage in Hosea is clearly discussing the nation of Israel. In Matthew 2:15 it is applied to an individual, the Son of God. Does this automatically mean that in Hosea we must assume that “son” is being used in the same sense as “Son of God”? Obviously not. Then why ignore typological categories in other texts?

Okay, but how would an OEC answer this objection? By pointing out that the words “day” and “Sabbath” are used variably in the Pentateuch, so a direct 1 to 1 correlation is off-base. Sabbath, for example, may refer to the span of an entire year as opposed to just one day (Leviticus 25:4). Day may refer to a thousand years (Psalm 90:4).

8. Are there considerations outside the text of Genesis that require an old Earth?

I’m not sure if Wilken means to express the question of other texts, or whether he wishes to address the issue of extra-Biblical evidence.

Regarding the first possible meaning, again the answer would be “No.” I will continue to maintain that I know of no OEC who holds the Bible requires an old earth. Many would follow my own reasoning and note that the Bible isn’t trying to discuss time periods. That just isn’t a concern of the text.

9. According to the Old-Earth theory, what is the relationship between death and human sin? When did death enter the world?

Frankly, at this point it should be abundantly clear that Wilken has not interacted very much with the works of Old Earth Creationists. As was noted in the answer to question 3, many OECs hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. Therefore, this question is similarly extremely easy to answer: human death entered the world because of sin.

A Major Issue

I think one of the main problems with Wilken’s comments are that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between Old Earth Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists, and the various varieties of design theorists. This leads him to a few confused questions which he directs towards OECs that make no sense when directed towards them. I admit that the series of questions here leads me to wonder whether Wilken is simply unaware of the distinctions between these groups or just over-simplifying and obfuscating. I suspect the former.*

Conclusion

I have endeavored to provide brief answers for the Nine Questions Wilken asks of Old Earth Creationists. I believe that some of the questions he asks demonstrate confusion about the actual category of Old Earth Creationism. Moreover, the questions that are on target have been answered repeatedly by various OECs. Whether these answers are taken as convincing is another story.

*It should be noted that Wilken’s article was published in 2002, which is prior to the works cited here. Therefore, Wilken could not have known about the works I have cited to show some of the difficulties with his paper. However, I cited these works specifically to show how mistaken these questions are. If one is going to attempt to educate concerned Christians about a topic like this, it is vastly important to be aware of the distinctions to be found within each group, and Wilken fails to show awareness of these distinctions. Moreover, we will explore Wilken’s very recent article next week, in which he continues to make these errors.

Sources

Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009).

Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, Who Was Adam? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005).

Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

Todd Wilken, “Nine Questions for the Old Earth ‘Creationist,'” 2002.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Rocks Cry Out: A visual journey on a lake and its implications for the age of the earth

100_2738I recently visited Mirror Lake in Wisconsin and had the opportunity to canoe along the lake. Looking up from rowing the canoe, one is able to see exposed rock formations on either side as one goes from one major part of the lake to the other. How did this lake get here? How did the rocks erode as they show?

Two Primary Paradigms

There are two primary paradigms for interpreting the formation of the Earth. These are naturalistic or supernaturalistic. A naturalistic paradigm excludes God from the outset. A supernaturalistic paradigm may have any number of gods or spiritual forces. The reason I make the split here is because it is important to not that, regarding the ultimate origins of the universe and the Earth Christians are in agreement. God is the ultimate cause of reality.

Although we occupy the same paradigm with regards to the origin of all things, Christians are divided along a spectrum of possibilities (other paradigms) about the origin and diversity of life and species. Moreover, Christians are divided on the age of the Earth itself. Is the Earth a few thousand years old or a few billion years old? It is around this question that I shall focus here. Which subdivision of the supernaturalist paradigm better accounts for the evidence? Is the Earth “young” or “old”?

The Rocks, the Flood, and the Questions

Take a look at the photo above. The stone you see there is largely sandstone, layered upon itself. One can go up to the wall and crumble some of the rock between one’s fingers. The layers are extensive, going several dozen feet above the water level before diving below the surface. Where did all this sand come from? Why is it now here, above the ground and exposed?

Global Flood and a Young Earth

There are a number of ways to answer this question, but there is a stark difference between how the answers are given. Young Earth Creationists (hereafter YEC will refer to Young Earth Creationists, Young Earth Creationism, etc.) largely hold to the position that this sand was deposited during the Noahic Flood found in the Bible. That is, these layers of sand were deposited all at once during the great deluge which covered the surface of the earth. Other YECs hold that after the flood, some additional depositions were made by other catastrophic events, including the Ice Age.

What of the notion that nearly all this sediment was placed there by the Noahic Flood? There are immediate problems with this explanation. How is it that the layers are clearly distinct types of rock? For example, I canoed up to the rock shown in the picture and observed the fact that the rock was almost uniformly sandstone. But if the explanation for this is that the sediment was mired together in the Flood, how is it that the types of stone were so neatly parsed out? Should we not instead observe all types of different sediments congealed together? Now, a YEC might counter by pointing out that perhaps the granules were deposited according to their specific gravity, but this would be to appeal to a notion which has been proven wrong via direct observation since John Arbuthnot wrote An Examination of Dr. Woodward’s Account of the Deluge in 1697 (Montgomery, 72-73, cited below).

But there are even more problems with this explanation. If the sediments were all stirred up during a violent Flood, then how did marine animals survive? How did fossilization occur when such violent activity was taking place? What of unconformities in the rock? The issues multiply the more one considers the explanation proffered.

The alternative YEC interpretation–that some of the sediment was placed only later, during the Ice Age, runs into its own share of major difficulties.

Mirror-Lake-State-Park-Map.mediumthumbGeologic Time

Other explanations come forth via inference from principles of geology. It should be noted that the foundations of geology were largely laid down by Christians like Hugh Miller and Steno who had themselves reflected upon the Flood and its implications for geology, while also looking at the natural world.

The geology of the Mirror Lake area in Wisconsin, according to this position, was shaped over the course of very long periods of time. The sandstone was cut across during a period of glaciation about 10-20 thousand years ago, and it rests on top of millions of years of geologic processes which created other rock formations, which each have their own explanations of how they came to rest under the sandstone. The lakes themselves were formed by Dell Creek, which takes a right angle. The reason for this angle is explained by “glacial outwash” which blocked the flow of the Creek and forced it to proceed at an angle. The Creek then proceeded to flow into the area it now occupies, shaping the landscape as it moved. It is amazing to consider the time which one can observe as one travels through this area, which was carved by a Creek! For a detailed summary of the formation of the geology of this area, check out the Wisconsin Geological Survey’s report on this region.

Another Challenge for the Flood Explanation

As I canoed through the two major portions of Mirror Lake with several friends, it was interesting to consider how all the winding we experienced as we traversed could have been formed. If this area were formed by the Noahic Flood, then how could it have occurred? After all, the sediment through which it cuts is supposed to have been formed during this flood. But how did the rock get hard enough to be carved through even as it was settling? Why would not the Flood waters have simply caused a mixing of materials?

Plus, one must consider the angle that the occurs in the Mirror Lake area. Why, given fresh layers of sediment deposited by the Flood, did the waters carve out an angle? There seems to be no physical explanation for this phenomenon, granting a YEC paradigm. If the Flood accounts for Earth’s geologic past, then how does it actually explain the physical world?

YECs have sometimes contended that the great amount of pressure put on the sediments by the Flood waters would have allowed for these rocks to form quickly enough to then be carved by the Flood. But if this were the case, how did any marine life survive this extreme pressure? How did delicate fossils get preserved when so much pressure and turbulent water came crashing upon them? Again, we see the difficulties continue to multiply.

100_2741Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?

Very often, YECs will make a distinction between their own view as catastrophism and other views as uniformitarianism. I have discussed this distinction elsewhere, but it is highly relevant for the observations I was able to make around Mirror Lake.

Generally speaking, catastrophism is the notion that catastrophes (such as a flood, earthquake, etc.) form Earth’s geologic past. WIthin the parlance of YEC, this is generally tightened to mean something more akin to the notion that catastrophes can account for the vast majority of the geologic record. Uniformitarianism is the notion that the processes we observe today were the processes which formed Earth’s geologic past.

It absolutely must be noted that this notion of either catastrophism or uniformitarianism is a false dichotomy. Note that standard geology describes the formation of the Mirror Lake region as both a series of lengthy events taking place over fairly uniform time periods (the formation of the rocks and layers of sediment themselves) and a series of catastrophic events (wherein the Wisconsin Glaciation both scoured the surface and left new deposits and later flooding from the glaciers melting helped carve a path through the area to help form much of the region). That is, there is no either/or question. It is a matter of both/and within standard geology. Catastrophes are part of Earth’s past, but they do not destroy completely the record of the uniformities which have shaped the planet.

A Linchpin? 

We have already noted briefly many problems for a YEC paradigm. Perhaps there is an even greater difficulty to be found. YECs wish to offer an explanation for the geologic past and they hold that their reading of the Bible is the most literal. But after looking into YEC explanations of how specific geological formations are formed, is it really the case that YECs are reading the Bible literally? Where does it, in the text, suggest extremely high pressures from the water, the destruction of Earth’s crust or at least its extensive modification, the formation of lakes and rivers due to the activity of the Flood, the deposition of sediments, the formation of fossils, or any number of other specific things that YECs tend to argue are results of the Flood?

It should become clear that these suggestions made by YECs are merely attempts to match their interpretation of the text with the geologic record. It is a guiding presupposition which determines all interpretation of the Bible and natural history. And, as I have argued extensively, it is a presupposition which is  misguided.

Conclusion

My journey along the Mirror Lake watershed was enlightening. It was as though I could observe geologic time simply by looking at the rock formations around me. Moreover, it presented me with ample opportunity for reflecting upon the varied explanations given for how all these things were formed and shaped. It seems clear to me that the YEC paradigm suffers from impossible difficulties.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth- This debate was between two Christians about the age of the Earth. I found it highly informative. Check out this post, which surveys the arguments.

Answering Common Young Earth Creationist Arguments- I survey a number of theological, Biblical, and scientific arguments put forth for YEC and find them wanting.

Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism- I argue that YEC is tied directly to a specific use of presuppositionalism, but that it provides an epistemological quandary by doing so.

Check out my other posts on the Origins Debate.

Sources: 

David Montgomery, The Rocks Don’t Lie (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).

The Wisconsin Geologic Society.

Wisconsin DNR: Mirror Lake Geology.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Biblical Flood” by Davis Young

bf-youngDavis Young seeks in his work, The Biblical Flood, to inform readers about the broad scope of church thought on the Biblical story of Noah’s Flood. The book’s subtitle is apt and sums up the content of the work: “A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence.”

Overview

Young, a Christian geologist, provides a detailed overview of the Church’s theological and scientific musings on the Flood. He develops this overview chronologically, beginning with early Jewish thought. The focus within the entirety of his book is directly centered upon how extrabiblical evidence was used to shape theology and vice versa. The relation should not be understood as binary. Throughout history, there was a spectrum of approaches to the extrabiblical evidence which included resistance (not infrequently forged by ignorance) as well as integration. Here, I will survey only the broadest outline of Young’s discussion.

Early Flood Views

Early Christians were aware of Pagan stories of floods but made little or no appeal to them as evidence for a universal flood, and in fact some argued that these other stories were clearly differentiated from the Biblical account because they were local as opposed to global. There was much speculation over the location of the Ark as well as the notion that fossils were the result of this universal deluge.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Medieval thought regarding the Flood was steeped in the “ahistorical view of creation” found at the time. That is, the science of the time thought of creation as deductible from the character and nature of God. However, the discovery of the New World brought up many challenges to a universal deluge theory, which challenges began to get recognition. These included the vast number of species which would have had to fit onto the Ark and the discovery of people across the world. During this period, the discovery of flood stories in various cultures began to be viewed as evidence for a universal deluge (37).

New World

The New World continued to present challenges to the universal deluge theory. One of the foremost among these was animal migration. Entirely new and distinct species were discovered in the New World which did not exist in Europe. How did these animals get to these distant lands? More importantly, how did they get there without leaving any traces of themselves behind if they all only came from one location: the Ark? These challenges continue to vex those who hold to a universal deluge (60ff).

Geology’s Origins

The notion of a universal flood has contributed much to the development of geology as a science. The Christian worldview finally presented a picture of the universe which humans could explore in order to learn truths about reality. The Flood itself presented a theory about how to account for the geological features of the earth (65ff). Various features of the natural world were attributed to the flood, including the discovery of marine fossils on mountains and geological features like valleys. These early geologists were committed to an following the evidence where it led.

Diluvialism and Catastrophism

Various theories were put forward to explain the features of the earth. These included varied catastrophic notions, wherein the geological features were explained by a global, catastrophic flood. Such theories are repeated into today.

Geological Evidence Mounts into the Twentieth Century

Young establishes that the evidence against catastrophic diluvialism became weighty fairly early into the investigations of geologists (109ff). New discoveries related to mammoths and the way they died (over a period of time by a variety of causes rather than all at once) were greatly important, as the issue of these mammoths was found throughout the speculation about the flood. New dating methods were developed which were more accurate. Archaeological finds showed floods in areas of the Mesopotamia, but they were dated at different times. The discovery that humanity was widely spread over the earth and that there was no major extinction event throughout this spread raises a significant challenge for Flood Geologists (233). Other major challenges to Flood Geology include (but are by no means limited to): the dating of igneous formations, the cooling of the earth, metamorphism, and continental drift.

Theological Reflections

Throughout this period of discovery, theologians were not inert. Indeed, many theologians were at the front lines, actually participating in the discoveries themselves. Near Eastern Studies have revealed parallels with the Flood account which some have suggested show derivation. Others, however, argue these other flood stories merely show the perpetuity of such events and how ingrained they became on the human consciousness (236ff).

More recently, Flood Geologists have come into being once more. Their arguments parallel almost exactly those found spread in the early days of geology. Yet these arguments have been refuted by the evidence from the earth itself. Some continue to make false statements about the mammoths’ deaths, the formation of sedimentation, dating methods, and more. Young argues that this is largely due to the specialization of studies found within various fields like theology and geology. Theologians are rarely acquainted with the geological evidence, while geologists are rarely versed in theological language.

Theologians who were versed in geology began to see how interpretations of the text, rather than the text itself, had shaped the Christian response to geological evidence. People like Hugh Miller appealed to extrabiblical data in support of their intepretations of the Flood narrative (147ff).

Miller professed puzzlement that learned, respectable theologians would accept “any amount of unrecorded miracle” rather than admit a partial deluge. Could they not see that the controversy was not between Moses and the naturalists but between the readings of different theologians? (151)

More recently, many and varied theories of the flood as local have been developed and defended. The reaction from Flood Geologists has been vigorous, but theories of a global flood include a multitude of quotes from various scientists which would support competing theories of rock formation, sedimentation, and more. That is, Catastrophic Flood views present mutually exclusive theories for how the geological (and other) evidence came to be.

Appendix: Arkeology

The book is capped off with a discussion of “arkeology”: the search for Noah’s Ark. Young notes the array of locations which have been given as well as the mutually contradictory accounts of those who claim to have seen the Ark or evidence of the Ark. He warns Christians to remain cautious of any such claims.

Challenge

I believe that a good way to summarize the content of the book would be to view it as a challenge Young is issuing to those who allege that catastrophic theories are the only possible way to interpret the text and geological evidence. He himself writes, “If conservative and orthodox theology is to remain vital and relevant to a world in need of the Christian gospel… theologians will have to abandon their flirtation with flood geology and other forms of pseudo-science, reacquaint themselves with genuine scientific knowledge, and incorporate that knowledge into their thinking, secure in the realization that genuine insight into God’s creation… is still a gift of God to be treasured” (215).

Young’s book can be viewed through this lens. He shows how scientific knowledge challenged traditional readings of the text, but also how many theologians and Christian geologists alike interacted with this in order to gain “genuine insight” into God’s word and creation.

Conclusion

The Biblical Flood is a vitally important work. Young demonstrates that throughout history, Christianity has been largely willing to have a kind of interplay between extrabiblical evidence and theology. Unfortunately, in our time, many are ignorant of this long history and development of thought and science surrounding geology and the Flood. Theories have been developed which stand in the face of evidence from multiple, independent sources and angles.

I do not claim to have touched upon even all the major points found in Young’s work. The book is full of voluminous amounts of historical details which reveal interesting scientific and theological notions. The theory of a global flood was the one of the first major proposals for how the earth’s geological history was formed. As geological discoveries mounted, this theory was falsified. Moreover, theologians who interacted with the extrabiblical evidence had a wide array of responses, from downright rejection of the evidence or reinterpretation of it to attempt to fit a global flood to concordist views in which the extrabiblical evidence informed interpretation of the text. Which direction should we go? Young has presented a major challenge to those wishing to maintain a notion of the global flood. He presents mountains of evidence to challenge catastrophism, while also showing how, historically, thought on the Noahic Flood has comfortably incorporated the extrabiblical evidence without any necessary compromise of the text or faith. I commend the book to the reader without reservation.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my posts on the “origins debate” which feature a wide range of posts on issues related to varying Christian views on evolution, creation, and more.

Davis Young, The Biblical Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Resource Review: “In the Days of Noah: A Deeper Look at the Genesis Flood”

Reasons to Believe is a science faith think-tank dedicated to showing that Christianity is true. Recently, I had the opportunity to view their resource, “In the Days of Noah.” The video features a lecture by Hugh Ross regarding the extent, location, and timing of the Noahic (Biblical) Flood.

One of the central points of Ross’ argument is that people must take an integrative approach to the question of the Genesis Flood. It is not enough to look at just one verse or one chapter or even one book of the Bible and declare the question closed. Instead, Ross argues, one must take the entirety of the Scriptural data and see what it tells readers about the Flood. Not only that, but the relevant scientific findings must be taken into account as well.

For many Christians, the extent of the Flood is taken as a test for orthodoxy. Ross argues convincingly, however, that the Biblical account does not necessitate that the Flood covered the entire surface of the planet. He goes over a wide range of texts that discuss events that are said to be “world wide” or to “cover the whole earth” or that are supposed to bring “every nation” to a certain place and shows how the usage of the term was relative to the author. Ross cites a number of texts to back up this claim and shows how in many places–the Joseph narrative, writings about Solomon, etc.–the words taken as universals generally (“whole earth,” “all nations,” etc.) are used specifically to mean the whole immediate/relevant world.

There are a number of texts describing creation that go into greater detail about specific aspects of the Genesis account. Ross outlines his argument via these texts by specifically noting a number which discuss the limits set for the waters. For example, Proverbs 8:29 states quite explicitly that God gave the sea its boundary. Ross continues through the Bible and cites numerous examples wherein it talks about God setting boundaries for the waters. From there, he makes the argument that these verses give us a principle: God has set the oceans in their boundaries from Creation. He then utilizes this as an argument for a local flood as opposed to a global flood.

I think that this may be the weakest part of Ross’ argument, because it is possible to counter this reasoning by saying that just because there are a number of texts talking about the boundaries set for the water, it does not mean that the water can never cross these boundaries. In fact, one might counter by noting that Ross’ view entails a kind of uncertainty over what exactly is meant when the Bible discusses the boundaries or limits for the oceans. After all, even on Ross’ view, some body of water covered a vast expanse of land–indeed, the whole inhabited world at the time. In fact, one may argue that due to what we know about plate tectonics, the oceans have not, in fact, had clear boundaries from the beginning but have instead been shifting as the continental plates drift.

Of course, Ross could counter by noting that those continental plates themselves act as boundaries for the oceans. Even though these plates shift, they remain ‘fixed’ in the sense of constant. Regardless, it seems that the rebuttal given above must be given at least some weight in considering Ross’ overall argument. However, even if one denies the force of his argument for the Scriptural notion of fixed boundaries as being a limit for a global flood, one must still contend with his argument to open up the possibility of a local flood by noting the difference between general and specific uses of the notion of a “worldwide” event.

That said, Ross turns to the scientific evidence and notes a number of evidences against a global flood. First, there are such things as unambiguous signs of a flood. He points out the possibility of checking ice cores and sediment cores for the continuous record of the last several hundred thousand years, so if there was a global flood there should be a signal in the ice layers evidence for a global flood. These layers are annual and we know this by looking for volcanic eruptions lined up in the layers at the correct times. These can therefore be calibrated by lining them up with volcanic eruptions that we know of historically. Moreover, the ice layers line up with the ellipticity of the earth, so there are multiple independent ways to test these ice layers. However, in these layers there are none of the telltale signs for a global flood.

So where was the flood? Ross notes a number of verses in the Bible to narrow in on the location of Eden, and then extrapolates from that where civilization would flourish. Due to some geological evidence for there having been a blockage on the end of the Persian Gulf which would have, combined with the melting of ice and the extreme amount of rain noted in the Biblical account, flooded a huge portion of the Mesopotamian Plain. The region is surrounded by mountains which would have blocked in the water for the flood. Such a flood would have wiped out the extent of known humanity at the time, argues Ross.

There are a number of arguments that young earth creationists, who often rely upon “Flood Geology” to explain a number of features of the geological past to maintain their view of the history of the earth, would raise to Ross’ presentation. For example, the image on the right was created by Answers in Genesis to parody the notion that a flood can be local when the Bible says that even the mountain-tops were covered (Genesis 7:18-20) [all credit for the image to Answers in Genesis, I make no claim to having produced it in any way]. Ross answers this argument by noting that the word can also mean hills and that with the extent of the flood he proposed, there would be no visible hills or mountains from the Ark. Thus, Ross’ argument is much along the lines of his integrative approach: that we must take into account all the relevant Biblical texts as well as noting the scientific evidence.

It would be remiss to have a review of a video without looking into the visuals. The video is a lecture divided into chapters, so a decent portion of it is spent watching Hugh Ross talk. However, there are also a number of very useful images and slides presented which will provide viewers in groups with opportunity for discussion and individual viewers with valuable resources to discuss the Biblical Flood.

“In the Days of Noah” is a great resource for those interested in the Noahic Flood. Hugh Ross is a lucid thinker and clearly lays out his perspective on the flood in terms that listeners will easily comprehend. Ross’ case is based off a holistic approach to natural and special revelation. Although Ross does not answer every counter-argument which those opposed to his view may present, the video can act as a valuable way to open discussions and perhaps come to a better understanding of God’s truth.

Source

In the Days of Noah: A Deeper Look at the Genesis Flood” (Reasons to Believe), 2010.

Image Credit for the second image goes to Answers in Genesis.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth

eps-ccI was recently at the Evangelical Philosophical Society conference (see my thoughts on every talk I attended) and one of the sessions was a debate between Gregg Davidson of Solid Rock Lectures and Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis on “Scripture, Geology & the Age of the Earth.” A number of readers requested more information on this talk, and I found it very interesting myself. Here, I’ll touch on the highlights of this dialogue as well as my own thoughts.

Davidson- A Biblical Worldview and an Ancient Earth

Gregg Davidson, a geologist who authored When Faith and Science Collide, and is a lecturer for Solid Rock Lectures, began the dialogue by noting several themes in the young earth/old earth dialogue. First, he noted a tendency to present young earth creationism (YEC) as the only Biblical worldview, while also presenting evidence for a young earth as exceptionally strong in contrast to weak evidence for an old earth. Unfortunately, Davidson pointed out that many people get to schools where they learn geology, astronomy, and more in the sciences and discover that the evidence for the young earth is actually fairly weak, while that for an old earth is quite strong. And, because YECs often link young earth creationism to being the only possible Biblical worldview, they begin to view the Biblical worldview as a whole as extremely weak. If the evidence for YEC was so weak as to falter, then because it is inherently tied to the Biblical worldview, that wolrdview must itself be extremely weak.

Another problem is that YECs fail to recognize that their position itself is an interpretation of Scripture. Their view is not Scripture itself. There is a tendency in debates about theology to view one’s own position as what the Bible teaches, but that fails to take into account the possibility of fallible human interpretation.

Davidson argued for an approach to Scripture that takes note of the fact that God often deigns to make use of “the knowledge of the day to communicate truths about the nature of God.” As an example, he referenced Jesus saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the plants on earth, despite the fact that it is not (Mark 4:30-32). The point was not the size of the seed, but rather the power of faith. Thus,we must be careful not to make Scripture teaching something it does not claim for itself. He pressed that to read into the Genesis text specific dates and time periods is to make the text teach something that it is not claiming.

Turning to the science, Davidson noted that there are any number of evidences for an ancient earth, but that he chose to focus upon just one area from a number of evidences in order to show how interdisciplinary and cross-confirmed the age of the earth is. He focused upon the Hawaiian Islands and their formation and age. There are multiple, independent ways to investigate the age of these islands. The islands were formed by a hot spot–a place where magma shoots up from underneath the crust and bubbles to the surface. This eventually would form islands when enough of the lava cooled and hardened. The islands are on a moving continental plate and so as they move away from the hot spot, the expectation is the islands get progressively older. Thus, in a series of 3 islands arranged thusly: 3-2-1-0 (0 being the hot spot), 3 would be the oldest island.

Davidson first noted the ages that were found by testing the age of the volcanic rock with radiometric dating. These ages yielded millions of years. Now of course most young earth creationists hold that radiometric dating methods are deeply flawed, but Davidson noted that this procedure can be tested for accuracy with independent methods. Before turning to that, he showed a picture of what the estimate for the movement per year of the plate over the hot spot would be based solely upon the radiometric dating. Basically, this works by just taking the distance of 3-2-1 and measuring how far each is from the hot spot, then dividing the radiometric date by that distance to see how far the islands move per year. The estimate yielded movement of 2.6-3.6 inches per year.

Recent technology has allowed us to utilize Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to actually measure the rate that the islands are moving. These measurements yield approximately 3.1 inches per year, which is exactly in the middle of the estimate given by the radiometric dating. Given the measured rate, scientists can extrapolate how many millions of years old the islands are based upon their distance from the hot spot. It’s kind of an inverse way to get the date. They simply divide the measured distance of the islands from the hot spot by the measured rate of movement per year. Of course, this way of measuring is not dependent in any way upon radiometric dating. Thus, there are two independent sources showing the date in millions of years for the Hawaiian Islands.

The coral growth around the Islands was a third confirmation of the ancient age of these formations. This argument was more complex than the first two. Basically, it seemed the argument was that because different corals form closer to the surface, we can look at the coral reefs formed around the islands as they are farther out and see how much the coral has moved up the island as it subducted (moved under the water with the continental plate). Thus, as the islands move farther away, and therefore sink into the water, the coral that can only survive at certain depths is submerged too far for it to get adequate sunlight, and it dies. One can then measure radiometrically the age of rings of corals. When one measures the coral on the islands, they can correlate that with the ages of the corals and the islands themselves. This measurement also lined up with the previous two.

Davidson concluded that the problem with the YEC paradigm is that they will often focus upon rebutting multiple, independent claims. While this may work for each claim individually, the problem is that all of these types of evidence add up to form one cohesive picture. When they are cross-referenced and they all hit on the same age or date range, they all show the same predictions of distance, and the like, it becomes extremely implausible to say that every single way to find the age of the earth is faulty. They form a full picture. Furthermore, Davidson critiqued YECs for often presenting a selective picture of the evidence–only showing the evidence which favors their position.

Snelling- A Biblical and Geological Defense of a Young Earth and the Global Flood

Andrew Snelling is a well-known proponent of YEC, the author of Earth’s Catastrophic Past, and his presentation was perhaps the best defense of his position I have ever seen.

Snelling began by offering the common argument that Jesus taught the global flood and young earth creationism. He argued that the Hebrew word used in Genesis 7:17 is only used for this event, which hints at the incredible devastation.

local-flood-aigFurthermore, the language in Genesis states that the mountains were covered. Snelling’s slideshow had the image shown here on the right, which is becoming pervasive in discussions about the extent of the Flood. The argument is that if the Flood were local, it makes a mockery of the Biblical text. (See a different perspective on this issue with Hugh Ross’ “In the Days of Noah.”)

Snelling outlined several things we should look for if there was a global flood. Among these expectations are:

1) Marine fossils in strata for terrestrial creatures- Snelling named a number of places these could be found. This is an expectation because the Flood covered the whole earth, so the creatures should all be mixed together.

2) Rapid burial of creatures and plants- Snelling noted a number of places where fossils show rapid burial. This is expected because the Flood would have suddenly come upon these creatures.

3) Fossil graveyards- The Flood would have killed huge numbers of animals, so we should expect to find huge fossil graveyards, which we do.

4) Evidence that the ocean flooded the continents- if the Flood were global, we would expect to find its sedimentation upon the continents, and we do.

He argued that these are all evidenced in Earth’s catastrophic past, and he pointed to the Grand Canyon as evidence for a number of these evidences.

Snelling also looked at various geological features he said were evidences for a global flood and a young earth. Among these were several layers of sedimentary rock which are bent. He argued that this can only occur when the rock is liquefied like cement–otherwise it cracks–so this sedimentation had to happen during the Flood.

Discussion- Q+A

Next, there was a dialogue between Snelling and Davidson in the form of them asking each other questions. The highlights were a few specific questions:

Davidson asked Snelling about the Grand Canyon: specifically, he noted that the terrestrial fossils were found in similar strata, but never in the same layers, which instead suggests an ebbing and flowing of the water; not a global flood. Furthermore, he pointed out the lack of any pollinating plants in an entire mile of sediment. He asked how Snelling’s account lines up with this data. Snelling responded by arguing that the fossils are indeed mixed together and that we even find footprints in the wrong layers. He argued that due to “devastating tsunamis” which would have swept the earth, some of this could be undone and/or specific types of creatures/plants might have been swept out of the layers.

Snelling gave a brief outline of problems with radiometric dating giving divergent ages and asked Davidson to comment on the difficulties he pointed out with radiometric dating. He argued that often, old earth proponents and “secularists” simply assume an age for the rock and interpret the tests to get that age. Davidson responded noting that he worked with radiometric labs for quite some time and that there is mixing in the chemicals which can be accounted for. He showed a picture showing how some of this can work and how labs have to account for certain elements contaminating the rocks. However, he pointed out there is a margin of error to account for some of these difficulties.

Rock_StrataDavidson then brought up a slide with images of bent rocks. One was a “bench” at a graveyard in which the middle had sagged despite being made of stone. He argued that with enough pressure/time rock can sag under its own weight or (as the picture showed) even no weight at all. Given this evidence, he asked why bent rocks should count in favor of YEC. Snelling responded by saying that hard rock can be bent by pressure but that if the pressure is sufficient the rock will crack.  He continued to emphasize that in the Grand Canyon one can observe rocks bending without fracture.

Evaluation

I have to say I was struck by how much this interaction turned on the scientific aspects of the debate. I had thought that Snelling would focus more upon an attack of Davidson’s interpretation of Scripture, and while he did some of that, the majority of his responses were related to scientific arguments. Davidson followed suit and kept hammering examples that showed how the YEC interpretations Snelling gave of various natural phenomena failed.

Davidson’s scientific presentation in his paper was extremely strong. It would be very hard to explain away the fact that three completely independent methods for dating the islands lined up so clearly to point towards an ancient earth. If I had been on the border between young earth or old earth going in, I would have come out as convinced of an old earth. I actually did go in as one who holds to an old earth, having been convinced by the evidence a few years ago, and I came away utterly convinced that YEC is false.

Snelling’s talk was a great defense of the YEC position, but it demonstrated the flaws that Davidson was quick to capitalize on. I was really impressed by the fact that Davidson had a number of slides ready to respond to both Snelling’s presentation and his questions. Davidson’s critique of the “bent rocks” was particularly devastating.

Davidson’s critique of YEC: that they focus upon independently repudiating various dating methods, came to fruition in this discussion. He really showed how the YEC paradigm is utterly dependent upon a selective presentation of data at the exclusion of pieces that do not fit.

One thing I would have liked to see was more debate over the Flood and the Bible passages in general. I was surprised by how much the talk focused on the science–though that was extremely interesting.

Let me know your thoughts on the topic. Have you any insights on any of these issues?

Links

I have written on other talks that I attended at the ETS/EPS Conference in 2012. Specifically, check out my post on Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals. I have also written briefly on every talk I attended. See my post on the ETS/EPS Conference 2012.

There are a great many posts on creation issues on my site. You can access them by checking out my page on the Origins Debate.

Naturalis Historia is a site that focuses primarily on the scientific evidence for an old earth. I highly recommend it.

For the theological aspects of the debate (and also more of the scientific discussion), check out The GeoChristian as well as Geocreationism, two fantastic sites.

Finally, for a comprehensive Biblical and scientific old earth view, see Reasons to Believe.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ken Ham on “Compromise” and Stand to Reason

Ken Ham recently released a rant about compromise in the church. Rather than evaluating any single point, I’m just going to go through a short, point-by-point response. Quotes from the article are in block quotes.

…a big part of our mission is to bring reformation to the church, so of course we expect opposition to our efforts. Sadly, the worst opposition from my perspective is from within the church, since we should expect opposition from the world.- Ham

I would like to know what the “reformation” is that Answers in Genesis (hereafter AiG) hopes to bring about. I suspect it is a reformation of young earth creationism, but that seems to be a fairly major position within the average church anyway. A “reformation” is never restricted to just one point, however, so one must wonder what theology it is that AiG hopes to bring to the forefront.

Stand to Reason states its mission as teaching people “not just what to think, but how to think.” Sadly, their supposed teaching people “how to think” is actually teaching them to think in terms of millions of years and evolutionary ideas. -Ham

Ken next turned to an attack on the ministry group, “Stand to Reason.” Note that the reason it is under attack is because the group is teaching “to think in terms of millions of years and evolutionary ideas…” I found this quote particularly strange, considering that Stand to Reason is a specific and vocal advocate of Intelligent Design. The group goes so far as to offer Intelligent Design as “a scientific alternative to evolution.” As far as “millions of years,” one may say that this is indeed part of teaching people “how to think.” Let’s investigate the evidence. Let’s come to our own conclusions. Let’s think about it.

It seems particularly strange to see an AiG person complaining about others teaching “how to think” because anyone who disagrees with the AiG position on the age of the universe is labeled, ironically, a “compromiser.” Only if you hold the position AiG desires you to hold are you someone who knows “how to think.” Seems like a very strange way to teach “how to think,” doesn’t it?

 Hugh Ross believes in an old earth and promotes the day-age and progressive theories of creation. He says God created over millions of years in the same basic order as the secularists claim life evolved (in reality, this is a form of theistic evolution). -Ham

Hugh Ross is a favorite target of groups like AiG. Why? I suspect it is because Ross doesn’t focus exclusively on scientific evidence (which young earth creationists tend to reject as  “a different interpretation of the same evidence”) but instead offers alternative theological interpretations.

That aside, this quote from Ken Ham is factually incorrect. It makes me wonder whether he has interacted with Ross’ works on a thoughtful level. Ross certainly doesn’t hold the position outlined above. Ross does believe the timeline science has uncovered matches up with the Biblical account. The important distinction is that Ross leans towards progressive creationism (in the writings of his I have read); in other words, God created species over time. When one species passed away, God brought forth a new one. Initially it may seem that this is how Ham described Ross’ position, but note the last clause in which Ham says this is a form of theistic evolution. That is absolutely incorrect. I know of no theistic evolutionist who would agree that God brings forth new species over time in special creative events. None. Rather, it seems Ham is just using the scare word “evolution” and associating it with any position he disagrees with (see Stand to Reason above).

[Skipping over a number of point-counterpoint rebuttals in Ham's post.]

They [Stand to Reason/other groups like them] can try to modify things all they want, but what they are doing is compromising man’s ideas of millions of years with the Bible and reinterpreting the clear text of Scripture, thus undermining the authority of the Word of God. They do believe in evolution—it’s just that they just don’t accept the naturalistic neo-Darwinian view but modify their beliefs to suit their purposes of having God create but over millions of years. -Ham

Another juicy quote. Let me break it down. First, Ham is tugging the standard YEC line that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation of Scripture is “compromising” by using “man’s ideas.” Essentially, if you are a Christian who doesn’t believe the universe is 6000-10,000 years old, you are compromising Scripture. Never mind a huge amount of exegetical evidence to the contrary (one thinks of C. John Collins’ study of Genesis; Hugh Ross’ own theological work; Sailhamer; Walton’s important study of Genesis in light of ANE cosmology; etc.), if you disagree, you can’t possibly take Scripture seriously. I have run into this personally a number of times. If you disagree, your position simply cannot even have any merit. Never mind if you offer a reading of Genesis which more closely matches the theological/cultural/historical aspects of the text, you’re just wrong.

Moving on, Ham, in baffling fashion, wrote that Stand to Reason does “believe in evolution.” Again, this is a simple misrepresentation of STR’s position. In fact, Young Earth Creationists “believe in evolution” in the abstract too. What? It’s true. Consider the research YECs do in journals of their own publication. Not only that, but even the “Answers in Genesis Research Journal” does a study of “kinds” in the Bible and asserts, “the Bible’s description of created kinds implies an information model which uses variables. The findings in this paper show that a model which uses variables forms a stronger basis for true scientific understanding of biology and, by implication, the Bible provides a superior foundation for scientific investigation.” Wow, looks like AiG believes in microevolution through variables too! I should therefore reject the site as “compromise.”

The problem is that, as is typical in these types of discussions, such a rejection would be an unfair reading of the opposition. Ham and others put scare words like “evolution”; “compromise”; and “man’s ideas” in the context of their opposition. The tactic is highly rhetorical and has little, if any, substance. The fact remains that Ham is cherry-picking ideas from the opposition, putting them in context with scare words, and then declaring victory.

Overall, one must wonder about a few things based simply upon this recent article. 1) What kind of theology is a group like AiG trying to “reform”? Is their perspective limited only to the age of the universe, or do they have a broader vision? 2) Did AiG inaccurately represent their opposition? 3) No matter what side we take in this debate, should we not try to be fair and honest about the other side’s view? 4) Was Ken Ham fair and honest?

Source: “Compromise Being Spread” Ken Ham, http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/05/08/compromise-being-spread/.

Shells and the Biomass of Earth: A serious problem for young earth creationists

Imagine an earth covered with 15 creatures per square foot. And no, these creatures are not merely bacteria; rather, they are animals which can produce shells. The sheer amount of biomass would be so great that none of the creatures could survive. Their food would all be gone and their habitat insustainable. Over at Naturalis Historia, the Natural Historian has written a compelling article about how just the fossilized shells in one portion of the Midwest lead to extreme problems for the Young Earth position.

The author of that post did a brief survey of fossils over a 300×500 mile section of the Midwest from West Virginia to Eastern Missouri and from southern Kentucky to the middle of Indiana and Ohio. Utilizing samples and several calculations which were based off of these samples, he decided to try to calculate how thick a layer would be of fossils if just this area (totally covered in fossils) were spread out over the surface of the entire planet. He was able to conclude that “15 shells per square foot are estimated…” over the surface of the earth just from this sampling. Readers should note that in his article  he utilized the lower end on his estimates in order to avoid tilting the scale in favor of an old earth position.

What is the point of this discussion? Who cares? Well this fact actually presents young earth creationism (YEC) with a few major difficulties:

…even 15 shells trying to live within the space of a square foot at the same time would have trouble.  One also has to consider several other things:

1)  Not all the surface of the earth was ocean before the flood, if we say that 50% of the surface was land then that would mean there were 30 shells per square foot in the ocean.

2)  In addition, most organisms that produced these shells likely could only live in shallow water along coasts not in the deep ocean so unless the whole ocean were very shallow (and I think some claim that it was, although that presents some other very perplexing problems) then that would also dramatically reduce the space in which these shells could have grown and died.

3)  The shells are not sorted at all by size, as very small (<1cm) to large (>4cm) shells are always found mixed with one another.

Each of these is presents a different difficulty with YEC. For, as the author noted, the shells he surveyed is only one small sample of untold amounts of these deposits across the surface of the earth (see below for my own samples and some analysis). Now if YEC is correct, then all of these creatures would have had to live over the course of around 10,000 years (or fewer). Think about that for a moment. I know from personal experience that the area covered with these shells is about twice as large as estimated in the numbers already referenced above, and so we are then talking about 30 creatures per square foot over the surface of the earth. But then consider that these types of formations can be found across America and across the earth. I have no way to estimate the numbers, but ultimately we’re talking about a simply astounding amount of life living on the surface of the earth in that short of a time span. It would be physically impossible for the sheer weight of living creatures to survive at the same time. If the Earth were only about 10,000 years old, then we would have been knee deep or even buried in shell-producing creatures over the course of our lives.

Not only that, but these creatures would have been competing for resources like food and air (think about how much oxygen these creatures would have sucked up all at once!). And again, it’s not like the entire surface of the earth would have been habitable–these creatures live only in shallow waters. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that if all these creatures lived over the course of 10,000 years then the oceans would have overflowed with them.

The image I have linked to the right shows a pair of stones discovered in limestone in Kansas. There were literally dozens of feet of fossils just like these as far as the eye could see in the Castle Rock formation in Kansas. One could just walk up and pick a rock up off the ground and it would be like the picture to the right. There are places one can’t walk without stepping on large numbers of fossils. The picture that is at the beginning of this post is a picture I took while in this formation. It is not just the author of the article above who has observed the seemingly unending supply of fossils throughout the Midwest. I myself have observed limestone formations with fossils like these across Kansas for hours and hours of interstate. Not only that, but I grew up in northwest Indiana and observed massive limestone formations there as well. Here in Minnesota, one can also observe limestone along cutouts of the highway and elsewhere. One can go to areas along the Mississippi here in Minnesota and pick up fossilized shells along the riverbed.

So imagine that the estimates listed above by the Natural Historian are correct on the low end. Now imagine that all of Kansas is covered with these shells–I can attest to it. Imagine further that more portions of the Midwest are covered with other types of limestone which also would have added to the biomass of earth. Again, the numbers are staggering.

How in the world did all of this biomass get here within a few (10?) thousand years? That is the question which young earth positions must deal with. Note that the argument and evidence in this post do not rely upon any dating system, any background knowledge, or other scientific dating systems YECs tend to denigrate. Note that the argument only shows what is observable and asks a question: how did it get here? YECs would have to come up with some way to plausibly explain how all these creatures could have had their lives condensed into about 10,000 years.

God is not a liar (Numbers 23:19). The natural world attests to Him (Psalm 19). These conjoined Biblical points tell us that when we go outside and observe that the life we can observe in the past could not have all lived within 10,000 years, then it did not. Those who claim otherwise seemingly must either introduce a third option (some plausible explanation for these creatures’ lives–and note that it must be more plausible than the argument that they lived and died at the same rate they do now and that the world is simply old enough to have had that much life and death over the course of time) or they fall victim to a dilemma involving the cited verses: either the natural world does not attest to the Truth or God is actively deceiving us. The bottom line is that this is just one more hole in the Young Earth position. YEC is, simply put, false.

Appendix 1: A response to one objection

There have already been a few responses to this post on places other than this site. One response argued that the samples which I and/or Natural Historian took were not representative of the fossil record. Here is my brief response:

Take a trip through the Midwest sometime and look at the cuts through the highways. Every single time you pass through one in Kansas it is absolutely filled with limestone and fossil-rich rock. The same happens  through most of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, etc. I could literally walk up to a wall of shells and pull out a huge sampling of them.

Now suppose this isn’t representative. Suppose that it just so happened, at random, that the roads were set up in such a way that they only hit the most fossil-rich deposits out there. What does that mean?

Not very much. We can observe these same deposits all over the world. The sheer amount of these deposits means that we could very easily produce the number of fossils Natural Historian estimates over just the Midwest.

Again, to clarify, I’m saying let’s assume that Natural Historian overestimated several thousand(milliion?)-fold and so the number of fossils he estimates for the midwest can only be gathered if we collect them from all over the earth, and only from those highway cuts or other points of exposure where such deposits have observed (again, making the extreme assumption that only those places which have happened to get hit by highways or erosion are those with these deposits). But in that case, we can still gather enough fossils to say the entire surface of the earth could be covered by about 15 fossils per square foot.

But wait–these fossils don’t occur in deep oceans or on land. They only occur in shallow oceans. Suddenly we’re up to about 30 per square foot if we assume they occurred in water anywhere (including riverbeds, deep oceans, and the like). But eliminate the places these types of fossils do not occur and the number of fossils increases even more.

Suddenly we find that the exact problem I raised above remains a problem–even if we only take those fossils which are exposed now (and again note that this is a huge underestimate and requires extreme blind faith that there are no other fossils under the ground anywhere, not to mention the fact that there may be even more fossils that are exposed which could drive that number up exponentially). There has been simply too much life on earth to maintain a young earth position.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Cell’s Design” by Fazale Rana

Arguments for intelligent design often hinge upon what mechanistic, naturalistic means “cannot explain.” The arguments go something like “See feature x, how can naturalistic mechanisms explain x? They cannot. Therefore, ID is true.” There is something to be said for this type of argument. If one simply cannot explain a specific thing by means of the mechanisms suggested, one must look for different means. That said, if the case for intelligent design rested only upon negative arguments, it would not be as robust as if it also had positive evidence.

Fazale Rana’s book, The Cell’s Design, seeks to present just such positive evidence. The sheer volume of fine-tuning required to make a cell work baffles the imagination and, Rana argues, serves as positive evidence for design.

Rana’s argument is an argument from analogy. He draws heavily from William Paley’s “watchmaker” example (If one came across a watch in the sand, they’d know it was designed… Paley argued that one could similarly conclude that life was designed). Rana doesn’t ignore the arguments raised against such analogical reasoning, but confronts them head on. After identifying several criteria which allow proper analogical reasoning (30ff), Rana makes his case for the Creator.

The first line of evidence comes from the machines in the cell. Again, Rana’s approach is analogical, rather than negative. The machine-like nature of the flagellum, along with other motor-like cellular functions presents an argument: “Organisms display design. Therefore, organisms are the product of a creator” (86).

The case doesn’t rest merely upon molecular machines. Rather, that is but one of the many lines of evidence. Rana draws out the implications of several “chicken-and-egg” paradoxes. These include the “mutual interdependence of DNA and proteins” (99), the origin of proteins themselves (100ff), and more (105ff). These systems present a kind of “irreducible complexity in which the system depends on the system to exist” (108).

Other elements of design are present in the cell as well. Aquaporins intricate and detailed workings illustrate the design that is present in the system (111ff). Other detailed, intricate designs (such as collagen, mRNA, and the breakdown of proteins) hint at the need for a designer. But the reasoning is not only supported by the details, it is also bolstered by the structural composition of the cell (126ff). The analogy of cells to machines is strengthened further by the quality control systems within the cell (198ff). Again, the reasoning is analogical–these things are designed, therefore they need a designer.

“Information can’t be separated from the activity of an intelligent agent” (142). The numerous examples of information in the cell lead to the inference of an agent. But it is not only the information’s presence that hints at a designer. Here Rana’s case really builds on and develops the work of other ID theorists. The information alone could be enough to infer an agent, but one must also account for the fact that cellular information follows rules like syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (144ff). It is not merely information, it is the use of that information and the rules governing that use that strengthen the case for an agent behind the information.

One of the most amazing parts of The Cell’s Design is the chapter called “A Style All His Own.” Darwinian evolution, if rewound, would come out different ways every time. Different mutations would occur, which would lead to different organisms. What is not expected, on Darwinism, is a convergence pattern in evolution. When the same templates keep showing up through independent routes of development, it provides strong evidence for a designer. Yet this “molecular convergence” is exactly what scientists have discovered again and again. On pages 207-214 Rana writes, with citations from scientific journals, of no less than 100 examples of molecular convergence. As a reader, one can’t help but be stunned as they go through these pages. Over and over, there is evidence that the same designs show up in different places, independently, throughout nature. As Rana writes, “if life emanates from a Creator, it’s reasonable to expect he would use the same designs repeatedly…” (215). And this repetition of design is found in life’s most basic components: DNA (216ff).

Rana does not ignore detractors arguments against his position. One counter-argument to Rana’s conclusions is the presence of poorly-designed mechanisms in nature. Yet Rana effectively nullifies these examples, citing how many of them have turned out to be optimally tuned for life, and how others may be expected to be equally tuned (258ff).

The Cell’s Design is an extremely difficult read, but it does not leave readers who are not scientists to flounder. Rana’s second and third chapters provide some basic biological understanding which readers must have to understand the argument throughout the rest of the book. There is also a 12-page glossary at the back of the book which will let those unfamiliar with the terminology follow along. That said, this is not an easy book. The argument is heavily scientific and involves an exploration, in extreme detail, of the mechanisms and machines at work in the cell. The book presents a fantastic case for ID, but not at the expense of the details.

Finally, it is important to underscore the reasoning behind Rana’s conclusions. His argument is abductive. He explicitly outlines it:

1) X is observed

2) If Y were true, then X would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that Y is true.

In the case of the cell:

1) Design is observed in biochemical systems.

2) If life stemmed from the direct work of a Creator, the elegant design of biochemical systems would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that life is the product of a Creator (276, these arguments are an exact quote).

After reading through The Cell’s Design, this reader cannot help but agree with this argument. Over and over again, Rana has drawn out the exquisite design in the cell. The positive evidence is there, life is designed.

The Cell’s Design presents a phenomenal case for a designer of life. Those interested in exploring intelligent design should add this book to their list. It is not an easy read, by any means, but it provides some explicit, positive evidence for the conclusion that a Creator exists. Those wishing to deny this fact will find much with which they must contend in Rana’s work. I recommend it without reservation.

Source:

Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008).

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a review copy of this book by Reasons to Believe. You can learn more about this science-faith think tank at reasons.org.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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