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the Biblical flood

This tag is associated with 5 posts

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2 and 3

rdl-montgomery

Here, I continue my look at The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery. I have not finished the book, but am rather writing these reviews as I read the chapters, so each one is fresh. Check out the end of the post for links to the other chapters as well as other related posts.

Chapter 2: A Grand Canyon

Those who are familiar with Young Earth Creationism know that a major contention is that the Grand Canyon can serve as evidence for a global flood.  For example, both Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research have several articles dedicated to the topic. (Just do a search on the sites–I have linked two examples. In the latter, the ICR author notes that the Grand Canyon is “Exhibit A for the flood model of geology.”)

Outline

David Montgomery notes this interest from young earth groups and so he dedicates a chapter to the topic. He uses his own exploration of the Canyon to lead into a discussion of the geological evidence. Some of the rock formations found there “require[d] both extreme heat and high pressure” to form (17). He turns to a brief explanation of radiometric dating: “…the age of a rock can be read like a geologic clock because radioactive isotopes decay at a fixed rate… If you know the half-life of an isotope–how long it takes for the remaining amount to decay–then the ratio of the parent-to-daughter isotope now in a rock tells you how long ago the rock crystallized” (17-18).

Next, Montgomery gives a fairly basic introduction to geology. He provides a brief overview of how one can note unconformities in the rock and how different formations cut across each other. These evidences, found in the Grand Canyon, show that it was formed by a series of events rather than one single event (20ff). Moreover, physical evidence of fossilized burrows from “wormlike animals” in the sandstone provides evidence against flood geology. “How could fragile worms have been crawling around on and burrowing into the seafloor during a flood powerful enough to remodel the planet? The biblical flood would have had to have dumped more than ten feet of sediment every day for a whole year in order to have deposited the thousands of feet of sediment exposed in the canyon walls” (22).

More evidence against flood geology is found in the way the sediments themselves were formed. First, the differing mass of types of silt, clay, sand etc. make it difficult to believe that they could have been mixed together in a flood and then been deposited with uniformity of layers. Second, layers like that of white sandstone are composed of “fine-scale features” which “would have been obliterated if they had formed underwater… These dunes were made by wind” (25).

Finally, the fossils found within the Canyon present another difficulty. “If all the creatures buried… had been put there by the biblical flood, then why aren’t modern animals entombed among them? That the vast majority of fossils are extinct species presents a fundamental problem for anyone trying to argue that fossils were deposited by a flood from which Noah saved [at least] a pair of every living thing” (27).

Analysis

Montgomery has presented a number of extremely difficult problems for young earth interpretations of the Grand Canyon. In particular, the difficulty with the species of animals found buried seems intractable. My reason for noting this in particular is because flood geologists must assert that all the animal life is either descended from or prior to the animals in existence at the flood. Of course, if the Grand Canyon was formed by the flood, we should observe some of these extinct animals now–or at least recently. Yet for many, we do not. Why is that? A young earth perspective cannot simply assert that they died in the flood, for these would have been preserved in the flood.

The other problems Montgomery noted may sometimes be dismissed by advocates of young earth theories. In particular, Montgomery does little to defend radiometric dating, which is itself a major target of young earth views. For those interested, Davis Young’s The Bible, Rocks and Time gives an extended defense of radiometric dating, and Young writes from a Christian perspective on this topic. Overall, this chapter presents a number of problems young earth advocates must deal with.

Chapter 3: Bones in the Mountains 

Montgomery surveys briefly and selectively a history of Christian interpretation of the Genesis account and argues that some found room for less literal interpretations. Moreover, he points out that those who insist upon a literal reading of the text for Genesis must present reasons for not taking other references to the sky as a dome, etc. as non-literal (44-46, 50). Yet he also notes that the perspective from which the Bible is written (on earth) alleviates these difficulties–but these difficulties can only be alleviated by “allowing for figurative or allegorical interpretations” in which we “acknowledge… the fact that we live on a planet” (50).

Another difficulty with young earth views is presented, because the discovery of the New World revealed a massive amount of new species which the Ark would have had to carry. How does one fit all of these species onto the Ark? More importantly, how did these species get to the Ark and back to their homes in North America without leaving their ancestors’ bones behind in places other than their native lands? (42-43)

I have to say this chapter really surprised me, because Montgomery showed an appreciation for and interaction with Christian theology that I was not expecting. For just one example, he refused to set up the oft-rehearsed science-vs-religion rants that often accompanied discussions of Galileo. Instead, he explored the historical context, and noted that the ideas the church held were not necessitated by the text but were rather incorporated from Ptolemic ideas (49).

Conclusion

The Rocks Don’t Lie continues to impress me. Montgomery is careful to avoid overstating his case. More importantly, he seems to genuinely respect the beliefs of those whose writings he surveys and he shows a true concern for accuracy regarding some of the controversies. Thus far, he has presented a number of significant scientific challenges to a young earth paradigm, as well as noting the change and variety of perspectives within theology. Be sure to follow the blog for the next chapter(s)!

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Check out my review of a similar work by a Christian: The Biblical Flood. I think this book is vastly important and should be in every Christian’s library.

Be sure to browse my extensive writings on the “Origins Debate” over creationism, theistic evolutionism, and intelligent design (among other views) in Christianity.

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

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.

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“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1

rdl-montgomeryI recently finished reading the Christian geologist Davis Young’s The Biblical Flood (see my review) and found it to be a vitally important work. More recently, David Montgomery, a secular geologist, released The Rocks Don’t Liea book guided by a very similar notion: applying geology to Noah’s Flood while looking into the history of thought on the topic.

It didn’t take long before I had decided that I would go through this one on an extended basis (sometimes lumping more than one chapter together) similar to how I reviewed Rob Bell’s work Love Wins. The reason is because I think the work has much to inform both Christian and atheist alike, while it also has some problems I would like to discuss as I go along.

I have not finished the book, but am rather writing these reviews as I read the chapters, so each one is fresh. Check out the end of the post for links to the other chapters as well as other related posts.

Outline

Preface

David Montgomery states that his purpose in writing the book was initially “to present a straightforward refutation of creationism, the belief that the world is a few thousand years old and that all the world’s topography… was formed by the biblical Flood.” However, he came to “a different story about the nature of faith” once he began researching the topic: “…I thought I’d find the standard conflict between reason and faith. Instead, I found a much richer story of people struggling to explain the world–and our place in it” (xii).

Essentially, he discovered that there was a complex interrelationship between science and theology which has played out in vastly different ways over time.

Chapter 1

Montgomery begins the book by telling a story of how he discovered evidence for a local flood in Tibet. He observed various geological features and came to believe that a lake had once covered the land. He suspected that such a feature in memorable history would yield an oral tradition and was rewarded with a story of a flood in the area (2-7). He asserts that “People around the world tell stories to explain distinctive landforms and geological phenomena” (7).

These stories are often dismissed as “relic[s] of another time,” but he believes that they may have an element of truth: “For most of our history as a species, oral traditions were the only way to preserve knowledge. So why wouldn’t the world’s flood stories record actual ancient disasters” (8-9). He notes that the story of Noah’s Flood may perhaps be among these stories, and hints that there could be truth to the biblical tale (9).

When science has come to interact with evidence which may hint at explanations for Noah’s Flood, certain forms of Christianity (here he uses “creationist” as he defined it in the preface) are “outraged” due to the preconceived notion that the Flood must have been global and account for all geologic history.

Yet the Flood has had a positive influence on geology by providing an early hypothesis to be tested once geology had progressed as a science (11-12). Theology and geology played off each other in a complex way which has spawned various factions of belief over the use of that evidence in theology (12-14).

Analysis

Preface

David Montgomery presents his case in a very winsome manner. I cannot help but be pleased by the way he has begun his interaction with science and faith issues. Rather than ranting over the alleged war between science and faith (something he admits he was expecting), he discovered a different story of a complex relationship which has often been mutually beneficial. Would that all atheists–and yes, it is worth saying, theists–interacted with other views in such a generous manner.

Chapter 1

Montgomery has provided a number of interesting insights already, particularly in regards to the fact that the relationship between science and faith is multifaceted and not as one-dimensional as many often portray it.

It is unfortunate, I think, that his own faith was seemingly built upon very poor theology. He writes, “In Sunday school I learned that Bible stories were parables to be read more for their moral message than their literal words. The story of Noah’s Flood taught mankind to be stewards of the environment… Growing up, I was satisfied that Jesus taught how to live a good life and that science revealed how the world worked” (9-10). Here we see how an anemic theology cannot be sustained. Christianity is picture that is much fuller than a mere “moral message” or “how to live a good life.” If only someone had taught that in Sunday school instead!

If the book continues in this fashion, I will have no qualms about recommending it. Tune in next week to continue the series!

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Check out my review of a similar work by a Christian: The Biblical Flood. I think this book is vastly important and should be in every Christian’s library.

Be sure to browse my extensive writings on the “Origins Debate” over creationism, theistic evolutionism, and intelligent design (among other views) in Christianity.

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

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.

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.

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