uniformitarianism

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

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

Two Primary Paradigms

There are two primary paradigms for interpreting the formation of the Earth. These are naturalistic or supernaturalistic. A naturalistic paradigm excludes God from the outset. A supernaturalistic paradigm may have any number of gods or spiritual forces. The reason I make the split here is because it is important to note that, regarding the ultimate origins of the universe and the Earth Christians are in agreement. God is the ultimate cause of reality.

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

The Rocks, the Flood, and the Questions

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

Global Flood and a Young Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Challenge for the Flood Explanation

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

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

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

100_2741Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?

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

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

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

A Linchpin? 

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

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

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

Check out my other posts on the Origins Debate.

Sources: 

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

The Wisconsin Geologic Society.

Wisconsin DNR: Mirror Lake Geology.

SDG.

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

Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism: An Analysis

Young Earth Creationism stands or falls based upon the specific use of presuppositionalism as an epistemological groundwork. Here, I will challenge the very core of the young earth paradigm: I will charge that it is an invalid presuppositionalist approach to viewing science and theology.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC will be used hereafter for “young earth creationism,” “young earth creationist”  and other forms of those words as needed), is, of course, the position that the Genesis account of the creation of the universe took place over the course of  seven literal 24-hour days about 6-12,000 years ago. I have extensively explored various aspects of young earth creationism and other positions, and my posts can be found under the “Origins Debate” page.

Presuppositionalism is a type of apologetics (defense of the faith) which relies upon presupposing the truth of the Christian worldview in order to defend it. I have analyzed presuppositional apologetics a number of times. For an introduction into this position, check out “The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til.”

Epistemology is the study of how we come to know things. Essentially, it asks questions like “How do we know that we know?”

Before proceeding, it is worth noting that many debates between YECs and people who believe in an ‘old earth’ perspective turn on the YEC use of presuppositionalism. A common theme for mocking YECs is to say they just refuse to hear evidence or shout over evidence, yet it seems that this is an unfair portrayal. As we evaluate the young earth position, it will become clear that the YEC perspective operates from within a presuppositional framework that explains much of the way YECs reason. It will also become clear, however, that the YEC use of this framework is invalid.

Thus, it is my contention that YEC is directly dependent upon a presuppositional approach to how we know things. For support of this contention, I note the fact that many YECs see this connection themselves. For example, Answers in Genesis has a number of posts on the topic, including a post outlining the meaning of and need for presuppositional apologetics. Or again, Nathaniel Jeanson of ICR presented a presuppositional case for YEC (analyzed by the Geochristian). However, this is not the only evidence. YECs tend to argue exclusively within a presuppositional framework.

Consider this argument:

The Bible clearly states that the earth was made in seven days. There is no room to interpret the text in any way other than as a literal week of creation.

Such an argument is extremely typical within the YEC community. However, it is also clearly a presuppositionalist approach to the question of the age of the earth. YECs will argue that science must be interpreted in such away as to line up with the creation account. A common theme is that “The data is the same, it is the interpretations of that data that differ,” another notion is that people are rejecting the “plain and obvious meaning of the text” when they offer an old earth interpretation. Such a position is often united with the notion that only by using “man’s fallible ideas” can one come up with a date of millions or billions of years.

The thought process goes in this order: we presuppose the truth of the Bible => the Bible teaches that the earth is 6-12,000 years old => all scientific evidence for the age of the earth must line up with the truth of the Bible. The Bible is the infallible word of God, and so it cannot be in error. Because, according to the YEC paradigm, the only possible interpretation for the Biblical account of creation is the young earth perspective, it therefore becomes clear that all science and truth must line up with YEC.

We are thus left with two possible ways to challenge YEC. Evidence simply is not the problem. Any evidence, if the YEC use of presuppositionalism is valid, simply must line up with YEC. Thus, to challenge YEC, one must confront directly its presuppositions. First, one can challenge the position by attacking the premise that the YEC paradigm is the only possible interpretation of the Genesis creation account. Second, one can challenge the position by directly attacking the presuppositional epistemological groundwork that the arguments are built upon. Rather than focus upon the first challenge, we will here explore whether or not the YECs have validly made use of the presuppositional approach.

Assuming a Young Earth

It is important to note that the way the YEC argument works is to begin by simply assuming the truth of young earth creationism. I know this may sound radical, but it plays out time and again when discussing the various positions on the age of the earth. The young earth paradigm brokers no alternatives; only the young earth perspective is even possibly correct. How is it that YECs are so confident in their approach?

Simply put, the confidence is gained from the very way that they defend the young earth. YEC is not defended based upon evidence. It is not as though scientists are examining the earth and coming to the conclusion that the earth was formed only some thousands of years ago. Indeed, several prominent YECs assert that the very notion of finding the age of the earth from investigation of the geologic past is impossible or hampered by sin and fallible ideas. For just one example, Whitcomb and Morris, in their highly influential work, The Genesis Flood, write:

[I]f He [God] did this [created a universe full-grown], there would be no way by which any of His creatures could deduce the age or manner of Creation by study of the laws of maintenance of His Creation. (238, emphasis theirs, cited below)

Such a notion persists throughout much YEC literature. In principle, the only way to conclude a young earth is to abandon supposed “uniformintarianism” (hold that the processes in place today continue at the same rate they did in the past–see an evaluation of one YEC’s use of this notion here) and view all of the history of the earth through the lens of God’s word. Now, whether or not it is valid to assume that the Genesis text is a scientific account, the argument here should be fairly clear. Namely, the young earth position is assumed. It is not something demonstrated by science, but rather a given before any scientific investigation takes place. Similarly, the position is assumed to be true before any exegesis has occurred. All scientific evidence and any exegetical hints at a different position are subsumed into the YEC position because it is assumed from the outset as correct. Because YEC is correct, all evidence must line up with it.

Some may object by arguing that frequently YECs offer evidence for their position. They may cite various catastrophic theories or flood geology as alternative explanations of Earth’s geologic past. However, even the authors of books like these (such as Whitcomb and Morris, or Walter Brown in his In the Beginning) admit that the key is to presuppose Scripture, which is of course, on their view, to presuppose a young earth.

The Validity of the Young Earth Assumption

It is clear that YEC turns upon presupposing its truth. YEC is assumed to be true, and all alternative views are simply wrong by default. Unfortunately, this is an abuse of presuppositional apologetics.

It is important to contrast the specifically YEC use of presuppositionalism with the wider use of presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics in general is the method of engaging entire worldviews by granting their core assumptions and lining them up against reality in a competition of best explanation. The YEC use of presuppostionalism is to defend a single contention–a young earth–against all comers. There are very significant disanalogies here. What the YEC has done is use presuppositionalism not to enter into the square of debate over whole worldviews, but rather to insulate their interpretation against any possible counter-evidence.

There is a distinct difference between the use of presuppositional apologetics, and the use of YEC in presuppositionalism. The latter tends to simply reject outright any challenge as either against the “clear word of God” or as “assuming uniformitarianism.”  By placing their own view beyond the realm of rational inquiry, they have undermined their own potential to know that it is true.

The Faulty Grounds of the YEC Presuppositionalist

The foregoing evaluation leads us to the greatest difficulty facing the YEC approach: a faulty epistemology. Unfortunately, the way that the defense of YEC has been shown to work introduces a paradigm of knowledge which is impossible to sustain. Essentially, the YEC must assume what they think they know. Such an assumption seems to be viciously circular. The YEC must reason thus: “The Bible teaches a young earth=> The Bible is True=> the earth is young.” When presented with counter evidence, rather than engaging with the evidence, the YEC generally falls back to this same argument and reinterprets the evidence. That is where the whole system breaks down: the YEC has not made the right use of presuppositionalism, which allows for entire worldviews to be falsified. Instead, the YEC has misused presuppostionalism to put a young earth interpretation beyond falsification.

The objection will be made that everyone has core beliefs that must be assumed without evidence. Although such an assertion is itself hotly debated, I think it is possible to sidestep such a difficult discussion. Instead, one can note that even if one grants that core beliefs are necessarily assumed, the burden of proof is squarely placed upon the YEC to show how holding to a young earth is necessary for knowledge. Why is this the case? The simplest explanation is that if one assumes the epistemology needed for presuppositionalism is correct, then one has essentially a framework that involves the assumption of core beliefs that are necessary to allow for any knowledge. Thus, for example, the existence of God might be argued as necessary for knowledge (a la Alvin Plantinga, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and the like) because without God to make us rational, there is no basis for thinking that our beliefs have any actual relationship to reality. Whether or not this is the case, it seems that a young earth is not one of these core beliefs.

Thus, we have finally come to the ultimate failing of the presuppositional defense of YEC: it abuses its epistemological framework to the point of breaking. The YEC has utilized an epistemological approach that allows for core beliefs to be assumed, but has done so in such a way that essentially any belief could be assumed with equal validity. An old earth creationist or theistic evoloutionist could equally argue that their position is based upon a core belief that must be assumed, in which case YEC is undermined. In turn, they could assume their reading of Scripture and make all others wrong by default.

Presuppositionalism must walk a fine line to determine which presuppositions are genuinely those which must be assumed for knowledge. When challenged, the presuppositionalist must make arguments to show that the presuppositions are indeed necessary for knowledge. Unless and until a YEC makes a case that by abandoning the notion of a young earth, one necessarily undermines all knowledge–a case which I must admit seems impossible–the YEC use of presuppositionalism is undermined. Rather than making a valid use of that apologetic approach, YECs have undermined its very principles, and have thus eliminated their own possibility of knowledge. They have relativized all truth by introducing as “first principles” things which are not necessary for knowledge.

A Final Defense

The YEC may object, saying that they have indeed established that YEC is necessary for knowledge. After all, if one denies YEC, which is the clear teaching of Scripture, one has denied God’s word, which is the basis for the entire presuppositional approach.

Setting aside a critique of presuppositionalism as the notion that one must assume the entirety of Scripture to have any knowledge, I would respond by simply noting that this argument does nothing to rebut my charge. I have argued that believing the notion that the earth is merely thousands of years old is not necessary for knowledge. The burden of proof rests squarely on the YEC to show how it is. By merely asserting that denying YEC undermines all of Scripture, one has begged the question. They have engaged in a presuppositional defense of something for which it has been charged that such an approach is epistemologically impossible. In order to defend it, one cannot simply assume that the other side is wrong, one must show how they are wrong.

Objective Knowledge

We have seen that YEC misuses presuppositionalism. A final point worth noting is that the YEC approach to apologetics actually undermines the possibility of objective knowledge. For, as we have noted, the YEC simply assumes their interpretation of the text without argument and then evaluates all science and theology through that lens. However, the YEC offers no reason for rejecting the notion that others could do exactly the same thing with their interpreatations of the text. The YEC has essentially made all truth relative. Anyone can simply assume their position is correct without argument, and then reinterpret all counter-evidence based on that approach. It therefore becomes clear that the YEC use of presuppositionalism must be rejected.

Unfortunately for YECs, the young earth position itself stands upon the bedrock of its faulty use of presuppositionalism. It remains to be seen whether it can adapt itself for a solid evidential base.

A Way Forward in the Age of the Earth Dialogue

It has become clear that YEC is based upon a faulty use of presuppositionalism and that its use of the presuppositional approach undermines the very possibility of objective knowledge.

How, then, can one proceed? It seems that the best way to proceed is to simply throw off the bindings of the misuse of presuppositionalism (taking note that presuppositionalism in general is not necessarily invalid if used properly–see discussion here) and engage in an honest debate over the evidence for either position. Rather than throwing out rote accusations at the other side (“You’re denying Scripture”; “That’s just because you’re assuming ‘uniformitarianism'”; etc, etc), let us engage in dialogue on the evidence at hand. Let’s look at the text in its cultural and linguistic context. Let’s examine the geological evidence of the earth and see where the evidence leads us. Let us not cut off the discussion before it has even begun by simply assuming we’re right and the others are wrong. We are called to always have a reason (1 Peter 3:15). By abandoning the necessity of reasoning when it comes to an issue such as young earth creationism, YECs have undermined the very possibility of a consistent apologetic.

Links

I examine a number of common young earth creationist arguments. Also check out my extensive writings on the origins debate.

Naturalis Historia is a phenomenal site which largely focuses upon investigating claims about a young earth. Some great starting places would be the series on the amount of salt in the oceans (Part 1 here) or some of the thoughts on baraminology.

Geocreationism is another site that examines evidence for the age of the earth with a theological approach. I highly recommend it.

Finally, the GeoChristian offers a number of critiques of the young earth theological and scientific perspectives.

Sources

John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood 50th Anniversary Edition (P&R Publishing, 2011).

The last image is from NASA. The other images were personal photographs and protected by the copyright on this site.

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.

Really Recommended Posts 12/30/12

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneAnother round of Really Recommended Posts here. Featured are undesigned coincidences, literary and culutral apologetics, egalitarianism/complementarianism, young earth creationism, and the “Gospel of Jesus’ wife.” I hope you’ll check them out and let me know what you thought!

Tim McGrew replies to Ed Babinski’s Critique of his Discussion of Undesigned Coincidences– I recently wrote on one of the [mostly] forgotten arguments for the truth of Christianity- Undesigned Coincidences. Tim McGrew is the best current proponent of this argument, and here he offers a response to some of the standard objections to the argument, along with a general criticism of trying to rebut the argument based on Markan priority. Check out my post, and check out this post to see the excellent defense of the argument.

“Full Dark, No Stars”: Stephen King’s Worlds of Night– An excellent blog that often looks into cultural apologetics, “Empires and Mangers,” Anthony Weber’s Blog takes a look at one of Stephen King’s work from a Christian perspective. It’s a very intriguing read. Anthony Weber is the author of “Learning to Jump Again,” which I reviewed.

It’s About the Bible, not Fake ideas of Progress– NT Wright is one of the most lucid Christian thinkers with whom I have ever interacted. Here, he takes a look at some strategies of those who are both for and against women in the ministry and evaluates the arguments. He offers a way forward in the discussion.

How prestigious evangelical scholars helped debunk the Jesus wife myth– Did Jesus have a wife? Some recent controversy occurred over the alleged finding of a fragment purporting to tell the truth on this exact detail. However, it has come to light that the fragment is almost certainly a fraud. Wintery Knight’s post looks at how evangelical scholars helped to expose this fraud. I have linked to a number of posts about this “Gospel” myself. For those wondering: even if it were not a fraud (which it is), it is a late fragment that doesn’t tell us much other than what some heretics believed at the time.

The Call to Adventure– Why is it that we are so intrigued by stories of adventure? Garret Johnson at Hieropraxis–one of my favorite websites–offers a look into this theme.

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana– I found this post extremely interesting. It is often alleged by young earth creationists that old earth proponents and “secularists” follow a strict uniformitarianism. Unfortunately, this definition of uniformitarianism is outdated by a couple hundred years.The GeoChristian offers a response to this YEC argument. Yes, this is part 3 of a 5 part series, no you don’t have to read them all to make sense of it. But do check out the whole series, because it is interesting!

Nonrandom Mutations Scramble the Case for Common Descent: Reasons to Believe, my favored resource for science-faith discussions, is chock-full of excellent articles like this one, which argues that mutations are not necessarily always random, but rather take place in such a way that reflects design.

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