science

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Book Review: “Weathering Climate Change” by Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross is the founder of Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think-tank that approaches the topics from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. Ross’s latest book, Weathering Climate Change, presents a view of climate change from that same perspective. Ross, however, does not succumb to the pitfalls of denying climate change or trying to sugarcoat humanity’s impact on it. Instead, the book provides an in-depth look at the factors causing climate change, its potential impact, on ways that humanity might mitigate some of the impact, all set alongside a perspective that sees humanity as called by God to care for creation.

The majority of the book is occupied by presenting readers with the data. This is surely intentional, given the vast array of misinformation available a click away online. Ross presents chart after chart with data from reputable sources, showing the clear fact that what we’re experiencing now is irregular and not simply part of a broader pattern of Earth’s climate change. However, he also notes the historical data and how the Earth has undergone severe climate changes, and notes that our current period of relative stability is an exception.

That said, Ross doesn’t use that climate change to dismiss our current situation–time and again, he notes the severe nature of human impact on the climate and demonstrates that it is much more than another part of Earth’s natural cycle. This care for approaching the data, both modern and ancient, means that Ross is able to present readers with a fuller picture, hopefully leading them to grasp more accurately the state of the climate today.

Ross also analyzes several paths forward to combat climate change. What’s interesting is that he offers these while recognizing human’s sinful propensity to avoid long term problems and continue harmful behaviors that make them comfortable. Many of these solutions are outside of the box. For example, ending all consumption of red meat would make a huge impact, but it would also drive black markets for red meat and many likely would rebel against restrictions on such consumption. So an alternative solution, offers Ross, is to switch the kind of red meat consumed. In a surprising turn, he argues that ostriches could provide a middle way, allowing people to consume red meat (apparently similar to beef), while also mitigating much of the methane (and other) problem(s) related to wide consumption of beef.

Other, more enormous solutions, are also proposed. Re-planting parts of the Sahara, creating massive solar panels that can both block some sunlight while using it for energy, and more are analyzed both for the potential impact they could have and also for their practicality. It’s a quite refreshing turn, and certainly not what skeptics of creationism (honestly, including myself), might expect from someone who’s avowedly a creationist (of the Old Earth variety). The presentation of the data, analysis of solutions, and look at long-term trends are all, so far as this reviewer can tell (as someone who reads science texts but is by no means an expert), quite accurate and informative.

Ross also offers all of this alongside comments that the trends are part of God’s plan for humanity, allowing for humans to be–on his view–created at just the right moment for use of fossil fuels, for climate stability, and more. While some readers may balk at this, it is imperative to underscore the importance of a work like this, that introduces audiences who might otherwise not interact with the climate change data to hard science that backs up broader scientific consensus.

Weathering Climate Change is an unexpected delight. Ross offers a thorough look at the evidence for climate change, the recent history of Earth’s climate (in geologic terms), and potential solutions from the perspective of a creationist, without ever balking at the scientific challenges to his own perspective. He also offers it alongside his characteristic grace with competing views and his heart for speaking about God to those who will hear. I recommend it, even if you (like me), do not necessarily agree with all of his position. It will inform you and maybe even surprise you, as it did me.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

Book Review: “Friend of Science, Friend of Faith” by Gregg Davidson

There are times when you read a book and realize it will be foundational going forward for your understanding of a certain topic. Gregg Davidson’s Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word is a book that will surely be formative for this reader on science and faith issues. It is a rigorous, insightful examination of the intersection of Christianity and science that will surprise, delight, and challenge almost any reader.

Science and Christianity is one of those topics that seems so overdone that it may feel as though nothing new can be written on it. But Davidson has written a book that will be refreshing for those who’ve already (as I have) read hundreds of books on the topic. Davidson starts off simply, noting the way that many have created a scenario for a crisis of faith by painting mainstream science as in direct opposition to aspects of Christianity and the Bible. Davidson notes that there are three essential questions when assessing apparent science-Bible tensions (wording and questions on p. 23): 1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question? 2. Does science conflict with the intended message of Scripture? 3. Is the science credible?

These questions form the basis for much of the rest of the book, but Davidson approaches them in ways that are informative and even surprising for those who have trod much of this ground before. One of the many examples of this is right near the beginning, as Davidson goes over the conflict over Heliocentrism vs. Scripture. First, Davidson notes that it was not just Roman Catholics who had problems with Galileo, citing Martin Luther and John Calvin’s own objections to the man’s theory. Second, Davidson notes the real shift in interpretation on Scripture here–something that is integral to the story but often skated over. Christians really were reading passages literally and seeing this as conflict with Scripture. Davidson then filters the Heliocentrism debate through his three questions presented above, noting the way that believers were forced to re-evaluate commonly held notions about Scripture. The conclusion is that science can force us to go back to the text and test our interpretation to see whether it is accurate.

Davidson also argues extensively for accommodation in Scripture. Through his arguments, it becomes clear that Christians must either accept for accommodation of worldviews that had mistaken views of science present in Scripture or deny reality. This is a strong dichotomy, but one example is the question of seeds. Jesus clearly states that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds (Mark 4:30-32), and it decidedly is not (forget-me-nots, celery, poppies, orchids, and sundews all have smaller seeds). Moreover, Jesus says that grains of wheat die in order to produce more wheat (John 12:24), but seeds do not die in order to grow. Readers who insist on a lack of accommodation in Scripture must therefore live in the uncomfortable realm where Jesus was mistaken on the size of seeds or how plants grow. This is just one of the examples Davidson raises, in addition to answering common objections (like the attempt to argue these are simply phenomenological language) (43ff).

Davidson goes on to note several parts of Scripture that cannot be read literally, problems with insisting on modern science as the real rationale behind several passages dealing with things like the firmament (see 64ff), and how to read Genesis well.

Next, Davidson moves on to the question of whether modern science conflicts with Scripture. This fascinating part of the book sees Davidson showing biblical accounts of things like creation, the origin of life, and more, showing the scientific explanations for these, and then offering a synthesis. This synthesis, it ought to be noted, is not a Concordist view of Scripture that attempts to say modern science is found in Scripture. Instead, Davidson’s syntheses are offered to show that modern science does not conflict with Scripture, a substantive difference that makes a significant change for how Scripture is treated alongside science.

The next part of the book addresses whether modern science is credible. First, Davidson notes the difference between science and philosophy, and how many on almost any side of the science/faith debates conflate the two, insisting that materalism just is science or the like (121ff). Then follows several chapters outlining in clear, distinct ways the science behind things like the age of the universe and Earth, evidence for evolution from many, many different lines of evidence, and problems with various creationist accounts of the same. At no point does Davidson denigrate his opponents, but he instead offers incisive criticisms that demonstrate flaws in their systems.

Several more chapters address problems with creation science, the strange and somewhat surprising shift of so many young earth creationists to effectively endorsing hyper-evolution, and problems with Intelligent Design. Davidson addresses many common creationist arguments and demonstrates their flaws. For example, the argument that millions of years was invented to challenge Christian faith is fatally mistaken due to the fact that many geologists who discovered deep time professed their Christian faith alongside their discoveries. Soft tissue found in dinosaur bones is another argument addressed, showing that the molecular structure of preserved proteins in dinosaur tissue actually show more similarity to birds than reptiles, and that the discovery of rare soft tissue does not, in fact, demonstrate a young earth (219-220). Many more arguments are addressed. Prominent young earth groups like Answers in Genesis have been offering scenarios where rapid speciation occurred post-Flood in order to explain away many difficulties with a certain reading of the Ark narrative. Davidson notes many problems with this scenario, including the lack of time for generational adaptation, the existence of isolated populations, and the misuse of loss of information in genetic coding to explain speciation.

Davidson’s analysis of Intelligent Design points out several flaws with the movement and its arguments. For one, he shows the major difference between William Paley’s original advocacy of design, which was seen as something across all of nature and served as a very broad argument, and modern ID theory which focuses on a few specific instances that are said to point to design. Davidson argues that “if evidence of God is found primarily in places of nature that are beyond our current comprehension, then evidence for God is–almost by definition–continuously shrinking” (261). Moreover, even in the time of people like Leibniz, arguments were already being offered against design of specific features, because they could just as easily be seen as evidence of inefficient design or the need to correct a very good creation. Another problem with ID is that its hypothesis is, ultimately, untestable. Though it is argued that ID can be seen as science, science must be testable, and any number of ways to consider an experiment to try to demonstrate ID fail (264ff). Finally, Davidson closes with a summary of the work and how he’s offered a way forward that won’t lead to the crises of faith noted at the beginning of the book.

It should be noted that the book is richly illustrated in black-and-white with many charts, graphs, and pictures that always add to the text and which often are used to highlight specific ideas or topics.

Friend of Science, Friend of Faith is simply fantastic. It’s the kind of single-volume look at science and faith that could be handed to almost anyone to challenge assumptions and lead to new learning on the topic. I cannot recommend it highly enough; it’s that excellent.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

——

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.

Book Review: “Escaping the Beginning? Confronting Challenges to the Universe’s Origin” by Jeff Zweerink

Whether the universe had a beginning or not is a hotly debated topic in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who works with Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that comes from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. With Escaping the Beginning, he has written an important, insightful resource for people wishing to explore the science of various theories that preclude a beginning of the universe.

Zweerink’s book is robust on the scientific theories around the universe, multiverse, and quantum theory. Chapters in the book include “The Case for a Beginning,” “Did Our Universe Reincarnate?”; “Did Our Universe come from Nothing?”; “If Hawking and Krauss are Right, Does That Remove God?” and many more. These chapter titles hint at the content of each chapter, and each is absolutely filled with clear explanations of some pretty advanced theories on physics and astronomy. Zweerink covers the major theories of the multiverse and goes deeply into the labors of Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking to come up with theories that do not require a beginning to the universe. He does this by sticking to the science, showing where these theories have holes or import philosophical assumptions (which are usually unacknowledged by those putting them forward), and giving analysis of each theory on the table. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the contents of that chapter as well as some discussion questions.

Zweerink makes a strong case that many of these theories still do not get away from the need for an absolute beginning or a Creator. For example, even the theories which posit the universe came from quantum effects in a vacuum still must posit a reason for the vacuum itself existing to begin with.

The book ends with a discussion of whether Christianity could still be true even if there were no beginning of the universe. Zweerink argues from Scripture that there must be a creation out of nothing to align with the biblical evidence. Zweerink does not, however, engage with the parts of Christian tradition that does maintain the universe is eternal. Though in the minority, there are clear instances of Christian believers throughout history who held the universe was eternal and that this was unproblematic. Most obvious as examples are those Christians who hold to Platonic thought and see the universe as eternal due to philosophical precommitments on that regard. Thus, though it seems the Christian tradition and Scriptures align more readily with a beginning of the universe, it does not seem to be the case that such a belief is absolutely necessary for Christianity to survive. Further discussion of that topic would be well afield of the book, but it would have been good to have included at least an acknowledgement of this tradition in the section that alleges Christianity cannot comport with an eternal universe.

What makes the book especially laudable is that Zweerink consistently admits when their are difficulties with his own position–that the universe had a beginning–or where the challenges to his view can even come to be strengthened in the future. For example, though it is clear throughout that Zweerink favors a Big Bang model as an actual beginning of the universe, he notes that oscillating models provide a challenge to this position and that scientific challenges may confirm the latter and usurp the Big Bang model for the origins of the universe (84). This kind of frank discussion of the science is commendable, particularly in a book about science written from a Christian perspective with a clear position at stake. Yet Zweerink consistently notes that when he makes predictions or comes out on one side or the other in various debates where his own position might be falsified or confirmed. It makes the book that much more valuable to have one that not only lays out all of these scientific theories and approaches them from a particular Christian perspective but also notes where that perspective might be challenged.

Escaping the Beginning is a fantastic resource for those who want to learn about the latest scientific research related to the beginning (or lack thereof) for our universe. It is commendably even in its presentation of the evidence, and Zweerink is clear when he provides predictions and how they might be challenged. The book is an achievement, and very much worth anyone picking up to read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

The Age of the Earth: How Interlinking Evidence from Tree Rings, Carbon-14, and Varves demonstrates an old earth

Image from Wikipedia. Credit: By Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28702247

What kind of evidence do we have to support the notion that the Earth is truly ancient? It’s a question I often get asked, as someone who came from a young earth background. Young Earth Creationists often posit that the evidence for an “old earth,” if viewed from a different angle, could just as easily (or perhaps better) point to a young earth. However, there are some aspects of evidence for an old earth that seem to defy this argument, particularly because they interlink in such a way that independently points towards an old earth. Here, I take a look at an article by Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth in which they make this very argument. Below is the title and abstract.

Testing and Verifying Old Age Evidence: Lake Suigetsu Varves, Tree Rings, and Carbon-14
Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth

Abstract
Carbon-14 measurements from layered sediments collected in 2006 from Lake Suigetsu, Japan, together with tree-ring data, offer an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how competing old- and young-earth hypotheses can be quantifiably tested. Conventional observation of radioactive decay rates, atmospheric carbon-14 production, tree-ring growth, cross-dating, and varve formation yields a narrow range of expected values for the carbon-14 content of samples over the last 50,000 years. Young-earth challenges to each observation should result in specific and predictable departures from conventional expectations. This article documents a sequence of tests to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that carbon-14 decay rates have remained unchanged, estimates of past atmospheric production rates are accurate, cross-dating of tree rings is reliable, the sampled trees have grown one ring per year going back more than 14,000 years, and finely layered sediments from Lake Suigetsu were deposited annually going back more than 50,000 years.

Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, in this paper, analyze three independent lines of evidence that interlink to confirm each other. Specifically, by looking at tree rings, varve formation, and carbon-14 dating, they yield a range of possible dates that matches across these independent variables. This gives a strong confirmation of the age of the earth, along with demonstrating that the decay rate of carbon-14 does not seem to have changed and remain accurate for more than 50,000 years.

The importance of this paper, and arguments like it, is that these are independent lines of evidence that all interlink to show the same conclusion. This needs to be emphasized, because young earth creationists will often call into question these pieces of evidence individually, shooting them down with objections that they then conclude shows they are individually faulty. Rarely, if ever, do young earth creationists acknowledge or deal with the fact that these evidences, while being independent, yield results that all add up to the same ages. Again, the importance of this cannot be understated, because it would mean that, for whatever reason, the young earth creationist must then assert that their independent objections to each individual dating method also can somehow explain why those dating methods to which they are objecting yield the same results.

Tree Rings

Trees record the years they’ve been growing through rings that show how quickly their cells grew during different seasons. A record of years can be traced by comparing tree rings to show wet/dry seasons that form something similar to a bar code type pattern allowing for identifications across years. The oldest living trees have 5000 years recorded, and fossilized trees can be compared to living trees to extend that record back further, with the oldest reliable comparison yielding 14,000 years. Young earth objections to tree rings typically center around the notion that multiple rings form in single years.

Carbon-14 Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson write that, in regards to Carbon-14 dating:

The primary requirements for determining age are (1) a constant radioactive decay rate, (2) knowledge of the original carbon-14 content, and (3) quantification of any old carbon that may have been incorporated into the specimen.

Standard young earth objections are leveled at each of these three requirements. However, it is rarely (if ever–though I’m sure someone does, somewhere) disputed that certain dates are yielded when Carbon-14 testing is done. Thus, it is the young earth objections to the three requirements where they rest their case. These objections are often that we cannot know whether the radioactive decay rate changed in the past; (less typically) that the original carbon-14 content is in question; and that the samples are somehow contaminated. Now, Wolgemuth and Davidson do clearly state that scientists must account for some known factors that can vary how quickly Carbon-14 is formed. But these can be accounted for and allow scientists to get fairly accurate data on dating samples.

Image source: http://www.suigetsu.org/varves.html Used under fair use. Accessed January 2019

Varves

Probably the least familiar of these dating methods to anyone with a passing interest in the age of the earth is varves. These are sets of alternating layers formed by sediment on the floor of bodies of water due to a number of factors. With Lake Suigetsu in mind, the method of dating involved is a measurement of algae blooms via examination of the varves. At this lake, cores have yielded dependable rates that allow dates traced back to around 150,000 years.

Independent Methods, Same Results

Where this gets interesting, and where young earth creationists ought to take note, is that while it is somewhat easy to discount individual pieces of evidence based on independent objections, it is much more difficult to do so when these allegedly faulty dating systems yield the same dates.

Carbon-14 dating methods allow scientists to make predictions for how much Carbon-14 ought to be present in a sample before testing the sample. Thus, scientists can use these predictions to chart what the expected Carbon-14 content of tree rings or varves will be. The article has just such a chart, yielding a very narrow range of expectations regarding Carbon-14 content with the age of the sample. They can then take tree rings, going with the conventional assumption that the rings indicate years, and sample them for Carbon-14 to see if they match the expectations of carbon dating. What is remarkable (visually, especially, again, see the article) is that these expected ranges correspond exactly to the samples taken of tree rings. This means that a tree ring yielding an age of 14,000 years due to the number of rings also yields an age of 14,000 years when sampled for Carbon-14. But these dating methods are completely independent. The Carbon-14 date doesn’t rely at all on the number of rings in a tree, nor is reverse true.

Wolgemuth and Davidson then show the expectations from a young earth model with explanations of tree rings. For example, the expectation of multiple rings per year is tested and falls well outside the predictions of the Carbon-14 dating. This is important, because it means that the conventional assumptions about testing dates align together independent dating systems while young earth predictions yield wildly dissimilar results. These results are presented in the paper.

Scientists go further, though, and can line these evidences up with varves of Lake Suigetsu. Here, there is some technical data about how scientists can determine when significant events happened in the lake, such as extreme algae blooms or additional brackish water, but the core of the point is that when these factors are accounted for, a predictive range for Carbon-14 can again be made and set alongside the age estimate based upon the varve samples. Once again, when aligned, there is remarkable correspondence between Carbon-14 expectations and the actual measurements set alongside the varve-counting method of dating. Additionally, note Wolgemuth and Davidson, there is a steady decline backwards in the amount of Carbon-14 present, showing not a wildly erratic decay rate but rather a steady and predictable rate as one goes deeper into the sediment of Lake Suigetsu. These predictions falsify a young earth account, in part, because the young earth model “expects… massive sediment deposits during the flood year…” in addition to other expectations of many flood models for a young earth.

Next, Wolgemuth and Davidson turn to combining all of these lines of evidence together, demonstrating that the period of overlap where we can measure tree rings, varves, and Carbon-14 yields a graph just as predicted by conventional expectations, and that varves and Carbon-14 can be plotted much farther (due to their availability and the lack of reliable tree ring data older than 14,000 years), showing a constant alignment of these independent forms of evidence.

The authors state the decisiveness of this data and its implications for models of the age of the earth quite well:

we have two options. Option 1 is that God gave us amazing tools to test and verify that carbon-14 decay rates have not changed and sediments in Lake Suigetsu have been accumulating for more than 50,000 years. Option 2 is that God precisely manipulated multiple independent phenomena—tree ring growth, atmospheric carbon-14 production, and sediment couplet formation—to mimic conventional expectations.

More Methods of Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson don’t leave the evidence there, however, because more methods of dating can converge on Lake Suigetsu, allowing for additional independent dating. Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash in the Lake yields a radiometric test that corresponds to Carbon-14 dating and tree ring data.

They note that most young earth creationists don’t object when Carbon-14 dating is used on things that corroborate biblical materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet when one puts the data point for the Dead Sea Scrolls alongside the tree ring carbon data, we find that there is, again, alignment between the Carbon-14 dating for the tree rings, the actual counting of the tree rings, and the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would mean that some form of manipulation of dating systems would have to yield the correct date for the Dead Sea Scrolls but incorrect dates by counting tree rings and Carbon-14 despite the fact that these align perfectly with the data for the Dead Sea Scrolls. And with this latter data, again, Argon-Argon dating with radiometric dating can be incorporated to show yet another independent method of dating.

Conclusion

Young earth creationists have not dealt with the fact that it is not just independent methods of dating that yield similar dates but rather that these independent methods correspond with each other and back each other up. On a young earth reading of the evidence, there is no explanation for why the allegedly mistaken methods of counting tree rings, varves, measuring Carbon-14 dating, and Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash should all correspond with the same dates. After all, each of these is taken to be independently mistaken for different reasons and at different rates. But if that’s true, then the observed data should be completely different from what it actually is. Additionally, the alleged accuracy for dating things in biblical archaeology is generally conceded by young earth creationists, and this dating for biblical artifacts also corresponds to other dating methods. Thus, the accurate date of the Dead Sea Scrolls corresponds with the allegedly inaccurate methods of tree ring counting, varve counting, and radiometric dating. What possible reason could there be for this to be the case? Going back to the words of Wolgemuth and Davidson, the most reasonable explanation is that God has given us the tools to study creation, and that these tools give us an accurate record of earth’s history.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

SDG.

——

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.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 11-13

After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.

Chapters 11-13

The stark impact of catastrophic events on our planet’s past is clear in the geologic record. Montgomery uses his own experience as a geologist and the history of geology to show how catastrophism is part of modern geology, despite young earth creationists often claiming modern geology only appeals to uniformitarianism. Geologists began integrating catastrophe and uniformity almost from the beginning, as challenges to Lyell’s strictest uniformitarianism emerged from geologic evidence. Thus, far from what is too often portrayed as an either/or situation, geology truly is both/and when it comes to the two streams of evidence.

It is even possible that one such catastrophic event led to the stories of the flood as found in the Ancient Near East, including in the Bible. Glacial events led to massive buildups of water, and as the ice would melt in front of that water, it would release huge torrents that could carve canyons and flood enter massive regions quickly. Clear evidence of this having happened through ice dam failures is seen in both North America and Eurasia (210ff). One such massive event helped fill Hudson bay and the Great Lakes. It is possible that a similar event occurred with the Black Sea that could have led to so many stories in the region about massive floods. Yet creationists are unwilling to accept this evidence. Montgomery writes:

There was a time when both geologists and conservative Christians would have interpreted the evidence of a catastrophic Black Sea flood as proof of Noah’s Flood and confirmation of the historical veracity of Genesis. But times have changed. Now geologists present evidence in support of Noah’s Flood, and creationists hold out for belief in a global flood for which no evidence can be found (223).

In Chapter 12, Montgomery explores reasons why some Christians reject so much compelling evidence for a truly ancient earth and the lack of a global flood. One of the primary reasons, he thinks, is due to a belief that such evidence undercuts the truth of the Bible. He notes the impact of Whitcomb and Morris and their book The Genesis Flood upon this movement. It continues to have immense impact despite being rejected by geologists–including Christians–as clearly mistaken. The attacks upon conventional geology fall short of the truth and often show basic misunderstandings of geology. Christian geologists have continued to push back against this “flood geology,” yet it persists in some corners.

In the final chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” Montgomery reflects upon his own journey. He came in with a clear goal of refuting creationist claims wholesale, but as he explored evidence for major local floods as well as reading Christians on the topic, his view of the nature of faith changed. He notes that he sees science and faith not as enemies but “as an awkward egalitarian waltz” (247). Montgomery, though not (to my knowledge) a Christian, suggests that Christianity has much to offer and has done some work for science as well as against it. He argues that one thing needed is “a historically informed understanding of how people read and interpreted sacred texts in the past” (249) so that we can form a better picture of the past. Similarly, “Genesis 1 remains powerful and relevant today if read as a symbolic polemic intended for early monotheists rather than as a Bronze Age scientific treatise” (251). Too often, “We will only look for evidence that confirms our beliefs” rather than challenging ourselves and keeping our minds open (253). Though religion cannot answer every scientific question, neither can science make religion an illusion (255).

I found Montgomery’s final chapter, in particular, extremely helpful. It’s the kind of outsider perspective that is truly constructive and helpful. It makes me wonder how his own outlook may have changed in the 6 years since the publication of this book. He is articulate and fair. Indeed, his suggestions for people of faith ought to be well-taken, alongside his critiques of skeptical perspectives. The idea that faith is a sickness or illusion is too prominent today, but people of faith also need to acknowledge that some of that stems from a denial of clear evidence. If we set our faith on things that are clearly wrong (for example, young earth creationism), it discredits our faith.

 

Links 

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7– A brief early history of the study of geology and paleontology is provided, and early theories about the flood begin to form alongside them.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

Book Review: “Faith Across the Multiverse” by Andy Walsh

Faith Across the Multiverse is a difficult book for me to categorize. Based on the title and cover blurb, it seemed a bit like another entry in the crowded field of basic science-faith works. It’s an interesting field, but one that has many, many entry points. Yet as I continued to read the book, I discovered an appreciation for the unique style and depth of discussion that definitely separates it from the pack.

Walsh separates the book into four parts: The Language of Mathematics, The Language of Physics, The Language of Biology, and The Language of Computer Science. These titles might lead one to assume that this is (again) yet another book arguing for design or intelligent design. It is not. So it isn’t a broad introduction to faith-science issues, and it isn’t an entry level book on ID theory. What is it? It’s a kind of stream of consciousness look at several deep science-faith topics with some nerdy anecdotes and Biblical interpretation sprinkled in. That’s a mouthful, and that’s because this book is heady, much headier than one may expect. It grew on me more and more as I read it.

Each chapter has some kind of theme woven through it, typically drawn from some part of nerd culture. For example, in chapter 7 Orphan Black, a Canadian science fiction drama that I’m currently watching myself, is used to talk about nature vs. nurture, DNA coding, the church body, and denominations. It should be easy for readers to see why the book deserves a careful reading. Yes, many, many topics are raised all at once, but Walsh does an admirable job tying them all together and relating them back to Christianity in realistic ways. It’s fascinating to read about Walsh’s thoughts on mathematics and see how he applies them to the Bible and Christian doctrine. This isn’t a kind of 1-to-1 correlation as if Walsh is arguing for some kind of biblical numerology–far from it. Instead, he uses physics, math, biology, and computer science to highlight reasons to believe as we do–and sometimes to challenge those beliefs.

I noted already that the titles of the parts in the book make it sound like it’s arguing for Intelligent Design. It isn’t. Indeed, Walsh actually argues against the theory (though it doesn’t appear in the index) by noting how mathematical models can create seemingly infinite complexity without needing informational input. One example he uses is the Koch Curve, which is a phenomenally complex early look at a fractal that seems to create massive complexity through a very simple form (225ff). The Bible itself speaks to God using seemingly random things to generate information or to work for God’s ends (eg. the casting of lots) (p. 251-252). Evolution, he argues, doesn’t threaten God’s sovereignty any more than a seemingly unknowable outcome on our end (the rolling of dice) means God can’t design or control the process.

The book is truly a monument of imagination, while being grounded in real outcomes, science, and math. It’s fascinating to see Walsh tie Ms. Marvel, the X-Men, or Mark Watney, the star of The Martian into real life scenarios and biblical examples. By my count, Walsh managed to reference 65 books of the Bible in the text, while also drawing in nerd references, Francis Collins, discussions of the soul, and more. I can’t really overstate how remarkable I find the fact that there is unity in a text like this, but Walsh somehow pulls it off and delivers a rather fascinating science-faith work.

Andy Walsh’s Faith Across the Multiverse manages to distinguish itself by both the depth of its science and the fun of its references. It’s a surprising, thought-provoking work worthy of a careful read. I recommend it. Incidentally, I also found the book’s website as I wrote this review, if you’d like to explore further.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 5: Theistic Evolution and the New Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the New Testament.

The New Testament and Theistic Evolution

Guy Prentiss Waters wrote the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the New Testament.” As with John D. Currid’s chapter on the Old Testament, the implication is that the author will demonstrate not just that the New Testament works better with rival theories, but that theistic evolution (hereafter “TE”) and the New Testament cannot both be true. Whereas Currid focused on attempting to rebut the ways TEs read the Old Testament–launching a hermeneutic attack on TE, Waters instead tries to show specific passages from the New Testament  contradict teachings of TE. We’ll focus on a selection of these passages.

Waters’ first move is to argue that the use of Adam in the New Testament demonstrates that TEs are mistaken in their beliefs about Adam and Eve.[1] The first line of evidence Waters uses is the genealogy in Luke 3. After blithely “setting aside the exegetical questions attending this passage, and the challenges of harmonizing this genealogy with that of Matthew…”–things that would clearly be highly relevant in one’s interpretation of this passage–Waters states that “Adam appears among dozens of figures whom the biblical writers regard as fully historical…” (882). Adam is “at the head of a linear genealogical sequence” and “Adam… is the first man” which we can tell because it simply says he is the “‘son of God,’ a reference to his special creation in Genesis 1-2.” (882-883). Waters insists that these mean that if TEs say Adam is not the first human, Jesus as “Redeemer of all human beings is void” (884).

Waters’ choosing to set aside the exegetical questions about this passage is quite strange, given that he then challenges TEs to account for it exegetically. Biblical genealogies, as argued, for example, by Robert McLachlan Wilson in his book “Genealogy and History in the Biblical World,” are grounded in ANE thought, which saw genealogies less as linear historical accounts tracing one ancestor to the next (as we think of them in the 21st century) than as legitimizing familial relationships, a view of genealogies which persists in some cultures to this day. If this is even remotely accurate given the biblical genealogies, then Waters using Adam as “head of a linear genealogical sequence” is hardly of consequence; after all, he has already read in his own modern sense of “genealogy” into the meaning of the text. Moreover, Waters’ interaction with John Walton on this point amounts to begging the question, as he simply asserts that because Adam is historical (in the sense Waters prefers, of course–as once again we have an author fail to give any definition of or reflection upon the meaning of “history” in the biblical or modern context), Walton is mistaken for making Adam a theological point (884).

Turning to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Waters claims that Paul must be using Adam and Eve as historical persons rather than mere illustrations. But in the very same section, Waters goes on to make the complementarian argument that the “creation of Adam prior to Eve” is somehow the basis for the complementarian reading of the passage. Setting aside how poorly complementarians read this and many other passages of Scripture, it is surprising to then see Waters turn around and criticize Walton and other TEs for claiming Paul is using this passage illustratively. After all, that is exactly what Waters does: he uses the passage as an illustration for why the complementarian perspective is correct. Sure, he could object by saying he takes the original, Old Testament passage “historically” (again, without defining what that term means), but that doesn’t show that his reading isn’t doing exactly what he objects to others doing.

Remarkably, Waters then turns to the book of Jude–the same book which clearly uses a contemporary story about Satan trying to take Moses’ body–to say that Adam must be historical. Because Jude 14 states that Enoch was the seventh from Adam, Waters takes this to affirm that Jude explicitly views Adam historically. Then, because the book has passages that quote the pseudepigraphical book 1 Enoch, Waters must also make the argument that Jude does not take 1 Enoch historically. That is, according to Waters, Jude explicitly means to affirm the historicity of Adam but not the historicity of 1  Enoch despite the fact that the same author uses both in the same context! So readers are expected to agree that Jude moves from historical narrative to using a non-historical book that has perhaps some historically accurate parts. It gets even more confusing, because Waters goes on to hypothesize that perhaps the statement about Adam being seventh from Enoch was historically accurate and spoken by Enoch, but that the rest of the book (or parts of it) were invented. What is the criterion for seperating fact from historical fiction here? Quite simply, it seems to be that whatever Waters wants to affirm as historical is that which is historical, and what he feels uncomfortable about affirming as historical is not historical.

Waters asserts that Jesus would see the entire book of Genesis as historical because he mentions a range of prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His only support for saying Jesus was 100% intending all of this historically is to say “We have no reason to doubt, then, that Jesus regarded the entirety of the events of Genesis to be fully historical” (895). This, despite the fact that this is exactly what is at question. Time and again (see 896 for an example related to Noah), Waters seems to think that having select references to events in the Old Testament entails that every aspect of it–or at least Genesis–is “fully historical” in whatever sense he desires it to be.

The faith list in Hebrews is taken to mean that every single figure on it is historical. Why? “Nonhistorical figures could not persuasively model persevering faith for historical people” (898-899). While I tend to agree that the faith list in Hebrews is full of people who did exist, Waters’ point is mistaken. What about the example, say, of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings? Today, he is seen by many as a great example of persevering faith and friendship. This, despite the fact that the people who see him as such (myself included) clearly know that he is nonhistorical and explicitly fictional. Examples like this could easily be multiplied ad infinitum. As such, Waters’ point that people must be historical to be seen as models for persevering faith for “historical people” is wrong, and deeply so. Because this is his central point regarding the Hebrews faith list, we see once again that TEs has no difficulty here, regardless of the position they hold.

Waters then briefly surveys a few TE readings of Paul. This survey is grounded upon his analysis that preceded it, so the comments already written apply.

Waters’ method was quite different from Currid’s. Nevertheless, his analysis, like Currid’s, fails to demonstrate the thesis of his chapter. Do TEs have a lot of exegetical work to do regarding the New Testament? Absolutely, and they have done much. But Waters’ analysis fails on a number of points: he selectively assigns historical reality where he sees fit–even in the same chapter and verse of Scripture; he sets aside exegesis or historical context when necessary to carry his view; and he makes other specific arguments that fall apart on examination.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

[1] It’s worth pointing out that not only do many TEs affirm an historical Adam and Eve, but that the book’s own definition of TE does not entail that TEs cannot affirm an historical Adam and Eve. See the post on definitions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

Naturalism and the Sublime in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

To be sublime is to be “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe” according to Oxford Dictionaries. As Alan Gregory has argued in Science Fiction Theology, scientific (or sometimes nearly magical) sublime frequently replaces transcendent reality in science fiction. I believe this can just as easily be noted within science writing as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a prime example of this subversion of the transcendent by explicitly naturalistic sublime.

Tyson fills his book with language of the sublime. Simply looking at the table of contents shows how he has worked to replace religious themes with his own naturalistic paradigm. Chapter titles include “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” a reference to the popular biography of Christ of the same title; “On Earth as in the Heavens,” a play on the line from the Lord’s Prayer; and “Let There Be Light,” the opening line of the creation account in the Bible. These titles intentionally play on the transcendent themes from which they are are derived.

The naturalistic sublime continues in the opening chapter, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which echoes Genesis with its opening:

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago… (17)

These words spur a narrative of the universe from a purely naturalistic perspective. Of course, Tyson is not content to merely echo religious language; he must also make explicit that his naturalistic sublime is intentionally replacing God.

The naturalistic sublime effectively turns the universe–the cosmos–into its god. It glories in the beauty of the universe as the telos in itself. Tyson’s language of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and echoing of the Genesis account with the replacement of God’s activity with purely naturalistic explanation is one example of this. Ignoring that many, many, many Christians agree that his “Greatest Story” is the way that the universe was created, Tyson creates his own narrative of the naturalistic sublime. It becomes most explicit in the closing chapter, which we quote at some length:

The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge… its attributes are clear:
The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is… for everyone.,,
The cosmic perspective is humble.
The cosmic perspective is spiritual–even redemptive–but not religious…
The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae, but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
The cosmic perspective [gives an]… indication that perhaps flag-waving and space exploration do not mix.
The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth, but also valeus our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself. (205-207)

Thus, Tyson makes quite explicit his idea of the naturalistic sublime. It is scientific–by which he means naturalistic–and for all. Eschewing such petty things as definitions or clarity of terms, Tyson allows for spirituality and, generously, an amorphous and undefined notion of rdemption, but not religion in his cosmic sublime. The kinship of all with all is offered as a kind of final, ultimate sublime for all to finally be one (apparently Tyson forgot this idea had already existed in many of those “religions” he rejects, including his clear primary target, Christianity: 1 Corinthians 15:28, for example).

But Tyson is not content to merely offer this vision of cosmic, naturalistic sublime to his readers. He closes with a commandment: to ponder these cosmic truths “At least once a week, if not once a day…” so that we may wonder at the way new discoveries may “transform life on Earth” (207).

When Tyson confronts the Big Questions like how the universe’s beginning may itself have begun, he simply punts the question in typical naturalistic fashion:

…some religious people assert, with a tinge of righteousness, that something must have started it all: a force greater than all others…. that something is, of course, God.
But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify…? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing? Or what if everything we know and love were just a computer simulation rendered for entertainment by a superintelligent species?
These philosophically fun ideas usually satisfy nobody. Nonetheless, they remind us that ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist… What we do know, and what we can assert without further hesitation, is that the universe had a beginning. (32-33)

Tyson’s tone is itself an intriguing study in deep irony. Even as he references those silly religious people who assert that God must have created the universe, he throws a dig out there about their self-righteousness. But just as he’s doing that, he turns around to, himself with no small amount of righteous-pride, assert his ignorance of the universe. He throws out a number of answers that he calls “philosophically fun” and then shrugs his shoulders. His own pride–his sublime–is found in the not-knowing. Though we know, according to Tyson, that the universe had a beginning, we should satisfy ourselves with ignorance and just ask “what if?” questions to pass the time.

Tyson’s universe is itself the means, end, and glory. It is the non-transcendent, naturalistic sublime. As we’ve shown above, the universe itself is what replaces the transcendent for Tyson. Devotional rites are proposed. Religious language is wholly appropriate, in Tyson’s world, to use for the universe. It is the Greatest Story; It is the Beginning; It is the Light; Its Will must be done, despite our ignorance of it. It is the naturalistic sublime’s only hope. God help us.

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SDG.

——

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.

Book Review: “The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth- Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” Edited by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney

gcmaeThe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is one of the best analyses of young earth creationism on the market. In this beautifully illustrated text, the Grand Canyon is used as a test site to analyze Flood Geology, the notion that Noah’s Flood radically shaped the face of the Earth and can account for much of the sedimentary layers we observe. The Grand Canyon is an especially appropriate test case because there are young earth creationist (hereafter YEC) books published on the Canyon, and many YEC works reference the Grand Canyon in explanations of their theories.

Part 1 outlines two views of the Grand Canyon: that of flood geology, in which the vast majority of the Canyon’s sediment was laid down during Noah’s Flood; and that of conventional geology, in which long time periods and observable, repeated processes can account for the Canyon. This part includes chapters contrasting the time frames of flood geology and conventional geology, showing the massive difference between the two views conclusions about how the Canyon formed. Part 2 is entitled “How Geology Works” and covers things like sedimentary rocks, plate tectonics, and time measurements. Part 3 looks at fossils and what they tell us about the age of the Grand Canyon. Part 4 surveys how the Grand Canyon was carved. Part 4 gives a verdict on flood geology from the evidence provided.

The authors provide an introduction to geology generally speaking, and then focus what is covered onto the Grand Canyon. Throughout the whole book, the Grand Canyon serves as the testing ground for what modern geology teaches about the Earth. Then, it is contrasted with what YECs claim about the age of the earth and the processes that formed it. Time and again, this shows that YEC claims are found wanting. The chapters on fossils are particularly telling in this regard.

For example, Joel Duff demonstrates, in “Tiny Plants – Big Impact: Pollen, Spores, and Plant Fossils” that there are entire, massive chunks of sediment without any pollen or plant spores contained therein. And these layers aren’t just randomly distributed; they’re in the oldest layers of the rock, such that it demonstrates what conventional scientists have claimed, that there simply were no pollinating plants long ago. But if flood geology is to be believed, these sediments were laid down during Noah’s Flood, which would have entailed all kinds of mixing of dead plants and animals as the surface of the Earth was radically changed. How then, are there thousands of feet of sediment without any pollen? How did microscopic plant matter manage to get sifted out in such a clear distinction from other layers? This is the kind of in-depth look at the specifics of flood geology that abound everywhere in the book. YEC arguments are subjected time and again to direct refutation like this, making the book invaluable.

The book is also valuable simply as an introduction to geology as well as some biology and other sciences. I learned an extraordinary amount from the book, and I feel fairly confident that I had a working knowledge of geology. In other words, the book is not simply a refutation of flood geology in the Grand Canyon, it can also serve as a valuable introduction to several related topics.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the beauty of the book. There are breathtaking full-color photographs of the Grand Canyon throughout the book, accompanied by numerous graphs and charts. But these illustrations do more than just look pretty, they are almost always explicitly tied into the text in meaningful ways. I found myself thoroughly poring over each and every one, whether I was looking for the division between layers of rock in a photograph or flipping back to a chart repeatedly as I came to understand it better. These illustrations are perhaps made more impressive by the modest price of the book ($26.99 regular price on Amazon). Simply put, you can’t get books with this much information and as beautifully put together as this for that price, yet here it is.

There are only two minor points I’d like to mention as negatives, but they are closer to nitpicking than anything else. First, although the introductory chapters (and a few other places) note that the young earth creationist arguments about the Grand Canyon are scientific and expressly stated as being testable, I suspect many YECs will respond to the book by appealing to some presuppositional theological perspective. Though this would be a mistaken response, it would have helped the book to perhaps include one chapter showing how the YEC claims about the Canyon are inherently scientific and can be tested without a specific theological narrative. Again, this point is made, I just think it could have been elaborated a bit more. Second, there was the briefest mention of one of the most popular arguments for Intelligent Design, that of the Cambrian explosion. The mention was so short that it is difficult to see what the authors were intending.

I have read dozens, perhaps hundreds of books on the debate over science and religion. That said, The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is a remarkable achievement. It provides some of the most thorough, in-depth analysis of young earth creationist reasoning that is available to date. It is beautifully illustrated with photos and charts that are directly related to the text, and it is reasonably priced. If you’re looking for analysis of flood geology from a scientific perspective, this book gives you the perfect test scenario. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Good

+Huge amount of information from geology to biology
+On-point analysis of flood geology
+Helpful charts and graphs
+Stunning photographs throughout linked to the text
+Features women’s voices
+Direct engagement with prominent YEC writings
+Reasonable price

The Bad

-Perhaps too light on the theological side
-Only the briefest engagement with ID

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (Kregel, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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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