The age of the earth is important in framing an interpretation of the early chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the formation of earth’s life forms, in six “days”, which were demarcated by “evening and morning”.
Early Christian writers held various opinions on the length of these days. Some (e.g. Basil) believed them to be 24-hour days, some (e.g. Cyprian) held them to be 1000-year periods, others (e.g. Origen) to be allegorical only, while Augustine opined that it was difficult to be sure about what the “days” of Genesis actually were.
Today’s Young Earth (YE) creationists typically take them to be normal 24-hour days, and also take the genealogies in Genesis and elsewhere in the Bible to be literal and exhaustive representations of post-creation chronology. This leads to a Creation about 6000 years ago, with nearly all the observed sedimentary rock layers deposited in a 1-year Flood about 4500 years ago (~2500 B.C.).
Bible literalists often claim that a recent creation and Fall of a literal, sinless Adam and Eve is essential for the Christian gospel. That assertion is not remotely true. Nowhere in Jesus’ teachings or in the apostolic preaching in Acts is the Fall ever mentioned, and Paul develops his doctrine of the universality of sin in Romans 1-3 quite apart from Adam. (See here for more on Adam and the Fall and evolution).
When young Christians are taught that a young earth is an essential part of Christianity, this can and does cause some of them to lose their faith when they later encounter the evidence for an old earth in geology or biology classes. Thus, we should be cautious about asserting that one Bible interpretation is the only valid approach.
Other Christian viewpoints are compatible with the ancient earth which science reveals. Old Earth (OE) creationists are willing to accept that the earth is billions of years old. They often take a flexible approach to interpreting the verses of Genesis 1-3, trying to identify the “days” with various epochs of geological history (“Day-Age” approach). Other Old Earth interpreters suggest that the six “days” of Genesis 1 are not 24-hours days when creation actually took place. Rather, they are six successive days when God showed visions to Adam or Moses of what happened long before in creation. Another suggestion is that these “days” reveal six groups of divine creation proclamations (“let…”), while the outworking of those proclamations occurred sometime later, possibly through natural means.
The Reasons to Believe site lists about 40 well-known, impeccably conservative Christian leaders and writers that endorse or are at least open to an old-earth perspective. These include names like Gleason Archer, Michael Behe, Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, Hank Hannegraff, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, C. I. Schofield, Lee Stroble, and B. B. Warfield. Ditto for John Piper.
Evolutionary creationists, sometimes called theistic evolutionists, believe the earth is old and also accept that God used macroevolution to bring about today’s living creatures. They recognize that in the Bible God often used stories which were not necessarily true to communicate spiritual truths. Thus, the Genesis narrative may function much like the parables of Jesus, or the story that Nathan told David about the poor man’s lamb. Essentially all Roman Catholics, and nearly all evangelical Protestants who are practicing geologists or biologists, are evolutionary creationists.
Advocates on both sides of the age issue present long lists of physical evidence. Here I will mention a few that are relatively straightforward, not requiring scientific training to understand.
There are many spots on earth where you can observe rock layers with this sort of pattern:
There is a lower set of rock layers, often steeply tilted, overlain by an upper set of layers which meet at a different angle. This is called an angular unconformity. A classic example of an angular unconformity is at Siccar Point, in Scotland:
This shows the erosional interface between steeply tilted layers of “greywacke” rock, topped by nearly horizontal layers of conglomerate and the distinctive Old Red Sandstone. By 1800, European geologists had realized that this sort of formation required the following sequence of events:
(1) Thousands of feet of sediment accumulated underwater to form what we now see as the greywacke. Even more sediment was laid down on top of that, to compress and cook it to form solid rock layers. Such sediments typically derive from the weathering of pre-existing rocks on land, so it would take many years to produce all the sediments we see in the rock layers around us.
(2) This whole assembly was tilted and raised above sea level.
(3) Hundreds of feet (meters) of solid rock were eroded away to form the top surface of the greywacke that we now see as the unconformity. We know the greywacke was solid (not just recent, soft flood deposits), because broken-off chunks of the greywacke are found in the conglomerate layer just above it.
(4) The greywacke then sank below the waters, and many more feet of sediment were deposited, starting with the conglomerate and the Old Red Sandstone, then more layers on top to lithify them.
(5) Finally, this formation was again lifted above sea level, and many feet of the overlying rock were eroded away to form the present land surface in that area of Scotland.
All of these events cannot be fitted into a one-year Flood, or any reasonable reconstruction of a 6000-year-old earth.
In some cases, there is an erosional surface between two rock layers (e.g. C and D, in the figure below) which are nearly horizontal:
Because both all layers are flat, it may not be immediately obvious that there was a time gap between their depositions, so geologists have to look closer for more clues. Often, the presence of hard, loose pebbles of a lower layer (“Layer C”, here) embedded in valleys at the C-D interface demonstrates that the lower layer had hardened into solid rock and then was eroded prior to deposition of the upper layer. Thus, such a location must have gone through the same cycles of deposition/ lithification/ uplift/ erosion/ subsidence/ deposition/ lithification/ uplift/erosion as with an angular conformity.
In places, two or more unconformities are found among successive layers, making it extra clear that these layers were not laid down in a single, year-long Flood. For instance, in the Grand Canyon, at least three distinct disconformities are found among the main visible horizontal layers, along with a dramatic angular unconformity at the base of these layers. Unconformities in the Grand Canyon rock layers are treated more thoroughly here.
If you want to stop reading now, this above is all you really need to know about the evidence for the age of the earth. There just is no reasonable way to fit these observations into a young earth scenario. On the basis of evidence like this, essentially all practicing geologists, many of them evangelical Christians, had concluded by 1840 (long before Darwin published On the Origin of Species) that the earth must be at least several million years old.
However, with passing decades, more observations have confirmed the great antiquity of the earth. Some of these observations are discussed below.
Fossil Soils and Animal Burrows in the Midst of Rock Layers
In Flood geology, the main sedimentary rock layers were all laid down in a one-year Flood. Where these layers are many thousands of feet deep, the rate of deposition must have been very high. Arguably the sea level may have sloshed back and forth, occasionally exposing the surface of the sediments and leading to variable deposition rates, but something like a foot an hour would be a typical average rate for the Flood year in many areas of North America. That leaves no time for deep soils to build up from rock weathering in the middle of Flood deposits (i.e. in the middle of the Flood year), or for terrestrial animals to dig deep burrows in that soil.
Yet just such soils and burrows are found in the midst of thousands of feet of sedimentary rock layers (see here, here, and here). Such ancient, buried soils are called “paleosols.” Here is an example of a well-developed paleosol (the brownish layer across the middle of the photo) in the Morrison formation which dates to about 150 million years ago and is centered in Colorado and Wyoming. In this layer are whitish fossilized burrows made by vertebrates. All this simply could not happen under the raging sea while many feet per day of sediment are raining down, and thus the existence of these paleosols and burrows invalidate the notion that the sedimentary rock layers were deposited during a recent worldwide Flood.
As with the unconformities described above, only a long sequence of events can account for this formation. Again, thousands of feet of sediments were deposited, covered by more sediments, to turn them into rock. Then this formation was lifted above sea level by plate tectonic motion (which we now know to be huge, over time), and the rocks eroded down. Erosion formed a layer of soil, and some animals lived there and dug burrows. Later this area got covered with water again, and more thousands of feet of sediment were deposited, and eventually turned to rock. Once again, this area was raised out of the sea and the solid rock eroded down to the present level.
Massive Salt Deposits in the Midst of Rock Layers
In many locations (see map below) there are huge salt deposits, hundreds or thousands of feet thick, laying under thousands of feet of sediment. These salt deposits were formed over many thousands of years, from the evaporation of shallow coastal lagoons or of vast inland seas. These evaporations occurred after the deposition of lower rock layers, and before the deposition of further rock layers above. This could not happen in the middle of a year-long Flood.
Thick Limestone Layers, Caves, and Fossil Reefs Among the Rock Layers
Limestones are deposited by the slow raining down of shelly organisms as they live and die, in a mainly clear body of water where sand and mud sediments are not being brought in to commingle with the animal shells. For instance, limestone formations are depositing in some areas of the Caribbean, where there are no major continental rivers dumping sand or silt into the ocean nearby. In many areas of the earth, in the midst of other rock layers, there are over a thousand feet of limestone deposits. These limestones would require many years to form, in relatively clear, calm waters. They could not have been deposited in the midst of a raging, worldwide Flood.
After the shelly remains have has been consolidated into limestone rock, and that rock has been raised by tectonic forces above sea level, slightly acidic (freshwater) rain from the atmosphere can seep into it and erode channels and large caves. Sometimes these caves reach up to the land surface, which then collapses into the cave to form a sinkhole. Such cave formations are found by geologists with hundreds of feet of sedimentary rock layers above and below them. This all takes many thousands of years to happen, and could not occur in middle of a year-long global Flood. For instance, Davis Young writes of the Redwall Limestone, which is near the middle of the Grand Canyon rock layers:
Still another indication that the Redwall was exposed to the atmosphere for a lengthy period of time – far more than a year – is the existence of caverns beneath, and of sinkholes in, its upper surface. The caverns and sinkholes are commonly filled with red shales from the overlying Supai Group or with angular blocks of fragmented Redwall. [Davis A. Young, Portraits of Creation, ed. H.J. Van Till, et al., Wm. B. Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids (1990), pp.68-69.]
The sustained growth rate of a coral reef is about 8 mm or 0.3 inch per year. The Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific is over 1380 meters or 4600 feet ( =55, 000 inches) deep, so it is at least 180,000 years old, and probably much older. Its features show that this atoll is indeed grown-in-place coral, not (as argued by YE creationists) the result of some Flood deposition.
Geologists have discovered many fossilized reefs deep down among the sedimentary rock layers. The porous nature of these fossil reefs makes them important reservoir rock in oil fields. Daniel Wonderly, after discussing the modern Eniwetok Atoll, describes a set of fossil reefs over 800 ft thick, which lie among thousands of feet of other sediments in a Canadian oil field. In the YE creation model, these reefs lie among sedimentary layers laid down by Noah’s Flood, but it is not possible for thick coral reefs to grow in the middle of year-long Flood.
Tens of Thousands of Annual Layers (“Varves”) in Lake Bed Sediments
In some lakes in northern latitudes, there are patterns of light and dark layers of sediment. Analyses of their composition (e.g. pollen from nearby terrestrial plants in bloom, and carbonate from tiny shelly organisms) establish that each pair of layers corresponds to the passage of the seasons of one year. In one lake near Interlaken in Switzerland, these layers can be traced back undisturbed at least 7000 years. A set of season layers that represents one year of deposition is called a varve.
Below are plots of the sediment depth versus varve count for cores of sediment extracted from the bottoms of two lakes in Sweden. The upper left for each solid curve represents the top of the sediment core. The annual layers can be counted down through the core, starting from the present and going down for more than 9000 years B.P. (“Before Present”), with a fairly constant thickness per year of sediment deposition. There is no significant disturbance showing at the 4400 year B.P date of Noah’s Flood or at the 6000 B.P. date of the creation of the world, where these dates are derived from a literal interpretation of the Genesis narrative. These varve counts are independently confirmed by carbon-14 dating of plant samples taken from the sediments at various levels, where the carbon-14 dating was calibrated by tree ring data.
Lake Suigetsu in Japan is an ideal locale for annual varves, being sheltered from storms and from gross river deposits. The varves in Lake Suigetsu have been counted to more than 50,000 years ago, and have been described in detail by Davidson and Wolgemuth . As described by Natural Historian these varves have been cross-correlated with carbon-14 dating, and by dating of ash-falls from known, ancient volcanic eruptions, which confirm their yearly nature. Thus,
“Multiple ash layers in multiple cores have been dated by several radiometric dating methods and those dates are consistent with the varve counts. For example, an ash layer found at varve count 9000 yields a radiometric date of around 9000 years.”
The varves described above were laid down in relatively undisturbed lakes, and thus invalidate the notion of a raging worldwide flood which occurred in 2400 B.C. (4400 years B.P). YE advocates have no valid response to this. They attempt to point to examples of some other lakes where storms or other factors caused more than one pair of light/dark layers being deposited in a year, but this is irrelevant. Geologists are well able to distinguish annual layering from storm layers using a variety of tests, and the analyses of the layers in the varved lakes show them to be annual sets of layers , resulting from regular seasonal patterns of spring ice melting, summer algae blooms, etc.
The figure below shows the difference between random storm varves (on left) from Lake Walensee in Switzerland, and the regular laminations seen in yearly varves from Lake Zurich.
Further discussion of the validity of varves for dating is here and here .
Hundreds of Thousands of Annual Layers in Arctic and Antarctic Ice Cores
Cores of ice, hundreds of feet long, have been drilled out of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. Summer/winter layering can be discerned in them. The GISP2 core from Greenland has been counted back at least 110,000 years, using the corroboration of two to three independent methods. Antarctic cores go back more than 400,000 years, quite undisturbed by any world-wide Flood. At least nine different methods were used to date the layers of the Antarctic cores.
Hugh Ross comments:
How do scientists confirm that these ice layers correspond to years of Earth’s past history? They can check for telltale markers, such as volcanic ash signatures. The Krakatoa eruption of 1883 and the Vesuvius eruption that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79 left their specific marks in exactly the annual layers anticipated. Climatic cycles also allow for testing. As it turns out, these cycles-caused by regular variations in the eccentricity or ellipticity of Earth’s orbit (period = 100,000 years) and the tilt of Earth’s orbit (period = 41,000 years)-correspond perfectly with what’s seen in those core layers. Finally, researchers have performed radiometric dating of minerals embedded in the ice to make sure their age corresponds with their annual layer, and in each case it does.
For example, at the right of this photograph of a 22-inch section of a Greenland ice core is a dark brown volcanic ash layer that occurs at about 55,000 years down according to annual ice layer counting. Analysis of its contents shows it to be the same as the “Z2” ash layer which has been widely found in Atlantic ocean floor sediments and independently dated to 55,000 years.
YE creationists argue that these are not really annual layers in the ice, but are due to a succession of storms within just a few years. The Western Geologist and Old Earth Ministries show why these arguments fail.
Some World War II era airplanes which landed on a Greenland glacier are now covered in many meters of ice. YE creationists note a discrepancy between that rate of ice accumulation, and the much slower (in terms of centimeters per year) ice accumulation in the Greenland cores. However, that difference in rates is expected: the airplanes landed near the coast, where snowfall in much higher and the glaciers flow more, whereas the cores were deliberately drilled near the center of Greenland, where the glacier does not move much and where the snowfall is lower.
Certain reasonable assumptions and extrapolations are used to estimate the ages of the oldest, deepest, most compressed portions of the ice cores. However, highly accurate direct layer counts are possible for the upper parts of these ice cores, using both visual and chemical identification of the annual layers. We can easily distinguish and count down the annual layers right past the supposed date of Noah’s global Flood (around 4500 years ago) and of the Creation itself (about 6000 years ago), and on down for many thousands of years without detecting some unusual disturbance.
Large volcanic eruptions can spew enough ash and sulphates into the atmosphere to cool the climate in one or both hemispheres for months or years. The somewhat busy figure below from Sigl, et al. covering the interval 500-700 A.D. shows a number of correlations between spikes in volcanic sulphate content in the Greenland ice cores (upper; blue and black curves, indicating large eruptions), and dips down in temperature as indicated by narrowed tree growth rings in European trees for that year (middle; orange and green curves). This includes the historically-documented event in 536 where dust obscured the sky and crops failed due to the cold. The red and gray curves across the bottom of the figure show spikes in sulphate contents in the layers of Antarctic glaciers. In many cases, where an eruption (presumably near the equator) spread sulphates into both the northern and southern hemispheres, both the Greenland (Arctic) and the Antarctic glaciers show sulphate spikes in the same year. These “Bipolar” events are marked in the figure with vertical orange shaded bars. The matchups in these data indicate the precision of the ice core dating.
Further Evidence for an Old Earth
I tried to pick out some observations above which would be clear for both scientists and non-scientists alike. There are yet other evidences that the earth is millions or billions of years old, which may require more thinking through. Some of these are described in the links below, listed roughly in order from shorter to longer articles.
How are the ages of the Earth and universe calculated? [Biologos] About two pages. Treats very diverse (geology and astronomy) methods to date the earth and the universe
How Do We Know the Earth is Old? (Infographic) [Biologos] This infogram packs brief descriptions of ten different dating methods , with lots of illustrations, into about two pages. Excellent for those who are new to this whole topic or who have short attention spans.
What evidence is there for the earth being billions of years old? [by Russell Downs at BibleQ.net] Brief discussion of radioactive dating of rocks, answering objections raised by YE creationists.
Christian Geologists on Noah’s Flood: Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology – – Clear, illustrated discussion of salt deposits, ordering of rock layers and fossils, tree rings, and varves, by geologists Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures.
100 Reasons the Earth Is Old – – Short, clear discussions of 100 evidences for an old earth, with illustrations. On Christian geologist’s Age of Rocks blog.
Scientific Evidence for an Old Earth [Reasons to Believe] Articles include:
Deep Core Tests for the Age of the Earth
Multiple Lines of Evidence Support an Ancient Earth
The Age(s) of the Continents
Helium Diffusion in Zircon: Evidence Supports an Old Earth, Part 2 (of 2)
Radiometric Dating A Christian Perspective – – This is a classic, in-depth discussion of radioactive dating of rocks, on ASA website.
Evidence against a recent creation [Rationalwiki] – – covers many topics, as listed below
Proposed Evidences for a Young Earth
Organizations like Answers in Genesis present various evidences for a young earth (e.g. amount of salt in the oceans, changing magnetic field of the earth, helium in the atmosphere, etc.), but when closely examined these are all found to be invalid.
Some people hate being presented with evidence. It’s ‘intimidation’ or ‘ramming your views down somebody’s throat’. Apparently.
They cannot be reasoned with.
http://ageofrocks.org/2014/09/04/drawing-circles-that-dont-connect-jake-hebert-of-aig-critiques-orbital-tuning/ (my comments)
Ashley, I like that ageofrocks site, thanks.
Some YECs have made disgraceful attacks on Biologos for presenting scientific realities. My comments under this highlight this:
I’ve read and enjoyed several of your articles, so thank you for your efforts to bring some sanity to a noisy but misguided set of Christians.
C14 dating of dinosaur bones seems to be a major theme of the YEC propaganda machine in its quest to maintain a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and a young earth. Any rebuttal must establish the case for sample contamination, but apart from a blog by Steve660 addressing the flaws in Dr. Seiler’s 2012 Singapore presentation, the only rebuttals I can find are articles by Bradley Lepper and Thomas Stafford soon after this topic was launched by Miller’s testing of Carnegie Museum samples around 1990.
YEC must be congratulated on swamping the Google search engine with dozens of sites all trumpeting the killer blow their C14 results have delivered to conventional old earth wisdom. As author of a draft book headed The God Debate – Dawkins in Denial, I’m well aware of dozen of sites produced from an atheist/sceptic/rationalist viewpoint, but somehow YEC has managed to hog most of the limelight on this issue.
I’m currently in email debate with my YEC younger brother, who is like me a non-scientist but also pretty research-savvy. It would be good to find some authoritative mainstream scientific response to the argument that early man shared the earth with the dinosaurs. Can you help?
Terry, Hello and welcome to the fray. That is a keen observation about Google — I poked around myself a few weeks ago looking at C14, and was swept away by all the YEC links. I am actually contemplating treating this subject in an upcoming post. Anyway, here are the two best links I have found so far:
Good, long specific answer to RATE C14 measurement on old samples , incl diamonds.
and this: http://questioninganswersingenesis.blogspot.com/2010/11/radiocarbon-evidence-for-antiquity-of.html
These get pretty detailed. Turns out there are many sources of modern contamination in samples. Most fossils that are just sitting in the ground will likely exchange modern carbon via interaction with e.g. humic acid in the soil. Intrinsic N in coal and diamonds can get converted to C14. Most of the spurious C14 dates are in the 30,000-50,000 range, where just a few stray C14 atoms can throw things off.
And don’t miss this take-down of the claim that Ken Ham made in the debate in Feb, that wood with C14 date of 45000 years was found in a basalt layer radioactively dated much older. Again, details (e.g. C13 patterns) matter.
re dinos and man, as Ashey noted, yes, their fossils show up where they are expected and not elsewhere. The Paluxy riverbed footprints were shown to be a hoax (in the 1980’s the YECs were claiming human and dino prints were mingled at that site). And its not just that dino and humans appear in different layers; dinos and humans not just isolated entities, but appear within the sweep of evolutionary history in a rational order. That is, we can see dinos developing from earlier reptiles which developed from amphibians. As for mammals, we can see them taking over at the top of the land food chain after the dinos died out; we can see the primate line develop, start producing hominids that look more and more like modern homo sapiens, then finally there we are.
If you want to play offense instead of defense, you might want to read up on “index fossils” which are used, e.g. by pragmatic oil prospectors, because they occur all over the world, in never-varying orders, in the rock layers. Some are so similar that the YEC explanation of hydrodynamic sorting cannot be invoked.
No massive creature like this is mentioned in Genesis (supposedly an account of the creation of all life and in an era when I doubt there was any concept of extinctions):
Creationists so far cannot find dino and hominid fossils together (or a rabbit in pre-Cambrian layers).
Thanks, Ashley – two very good points. My Jerusalem Bible notes accompanying the Book of Job identify Behemoth with the hippopotamus and Leviathan with the crocodile, but my brother thinks they may have been dinosaurs! And isn’t it true that dinosaur fossils have invariably been found in rock strata conforming to evolutionary theory predictions and the same is true for hominid fossils?
I believe that is the case.
When you catch up with this, my original query about C14 dating of dinosaur bones showing them to be aged between 22,000 and 39,000 years old still needs an answer (if there is one).
The other point made by creationists is that legends from places like India record the sighting of creatures consistent in description with dinosaurs. So even if we argue that it is contaminants skewing the radiocarbon dating, creationists will still cling on to these legendary reports.
I have poked around, and not found any direct refutation of the 22,000-39,000 dino dates. We know that stuff buried in the ground will exchange some degree of carbon with its surroundings, so C14 dating of fossils, esp. more than about 20,000 years old, will always be somewhat shaky, and esp, in the hands of non-disinterested YEC amateurs.
If someone insists on believing in these inherently shaky results, and ignoring unambiguous evidence like I discuss above, it is hard to fix that. Maybe you could get him to agree that varves and angular uncomformities clearly show an old earth, so why over-weight a technique known to be prone to error?
The best I can do is point you to the original paper of that. As far as I know, this all came from a paper discussed at
This link: http://newgeology.us/presentation48.html
has what looks like a scan of the original abstract. This paper, by members of the “Paleo Group”, was presented at the 2012 Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting in Singapore, August 13-17, a conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Asia Oceania Geosciences Society (AOGS). After it became clear that this was a put-up job by YEC’s the paper was yanked from the proceedings.
This link, to a Paleo Group site, has more details. You can see that one or two humic acid samples were recovered by some sort of washing procedure, which date to about 1500 or 2500 years. This demonstrates the reality of contamination of these samples, i.e. more modern carbon has been exchanging with the carbon in the fossils. You never know if you have gotten all the contamination out ,and it does not take much to skew results. The 22,000+ ages are just on the fuzzy edge.
Reports of humans and dinosaurs together…. again, if someone want to believe in something, it is hard to dissuade them. There are folks who believe that there must have been fire-breathing, flying dragons into medieval times….
If you are praying man, that might be the most efficacious action. “Morton’s demon” has a way of completely blinding its victims to the evidence for an old earth. Unless your brother gets deliverance, he will lurch from one bit of bad evidence to the next. Only rarely do YECs admit that one of their “evidences” is false (e.g. most now admit the Paluxy River mingled dino and human footprints is bogus). If they do admit that for one case, they just move onto the next “evidence” (polonium halos, He in zircons, whatever). But you never know when the truth will break through. It eventually did for me.
Angular Unconformities – “There just is no reasonable way to fit these observations into a young earth scenario.” – why not? Have you ever witnessed a global flood to know what happens during one? Perhaps things would happen faster than you think.
Fossil Soils and Animal Burrows in the Midst of Rock Layers – why not rapid processes separated by one or more periods of time in between (e.g. during, soon after, or a long time after the flood)?
Massive Salt Deposits in the Midst of Rock Layers – “This could not happen in the middle of a year-long Flood.” – why not? Have you ever seen a global flood? What about the period after a global flood?
Thick Limestone Layers, Caves, and Fossil Reefs Among the Rock Layers – “They could not have been deposited in the midst of a raging, worldwide Flood.” – how do you know? Have you ever seen a global flood to know what can and cannot happen in one? What about the period after a global flood?
Tens of Thousands of Annual Layers (“Varves”) in Lake Bed Sediments – “YE advocates have no valid response to this.” – you have shown a correlation between rings/counts and measured carbon-14. You haven’t shown that the rate of formation of rings/counts has been constant over the alleged long time or that the rate of decay of carbon-14 has been constant over the alleged long time. If both altered during the flood then a graph like this would still be produced.
Hundreds of Thousands of Annual Layers in Arctic and Antarctic Ice Cores – “YE creationists note a discrepancy between that rate of ice accumulation, and the much slower (in terms of centimeters per year) ice accumulation in the Greenland cores. However, that difference in rates is expected: the airplanes landed near the coast, where snowfall in much higher and the glaciers flow more, whereas the cores were deliberately drilled near the center of Greenland, where the glacier does not move much and where the snowfall is lower.” – you are relying on the current glacier speed of Greenland to make your point. Perhaps it was higher in the past?
2 Peter 3:3-6 “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.”
The answer to most of your questions is: it does not matter how big the flood was. The sequence of events involved with forming angular unconformities could not all happen under the water, big or small.
Massive salt deposits do not form under water. Caves do not form under oceans. Soil does not develop under the ocean. And you seem to have missed the key point about these features being underlain and overlaid with thousands of feet of sediment, which in YEC can only come from Noah’s Flood. That means they cannot have come about before or after the Flood, but only sometime in the middle, where there would only be a few months at most, which is not enough time for several feet of soil to develop or huge caves to dissolve or thousands of feet of oceans to evaporate to make all that salt.
Tree rings and regular varves form on an annual basis – the light/dark bands in both are well-understood and connected to the seasonal variations in tree growth or in sedimentation. I suppose you could argue that, sometime just after the Flood, there were years with say twelve summer/winter cycles in each year AND that something happened to speed up the tree growth and sedimentation processes by exactly a factor of twelve in order to make it look exactly like each of these rings or varves took a year instead of a month to form – – that is the sort of desperation that YE creationism must resort to.
I understand the YE creationist mentality very well, having been there myself – if you are convinced that YEC MUST be true, you will wave away any amount of evidence to the contrary and invoke whatever bizarre, unrealistic processes it takes to defend your mental construct.
As long as we are doing Bible verses, allow me to suggest you read and re-read II Tim 3:15-17 and ponder what it states as the purpose and sphere of authority of the Scriptures. Let me know if you find the words “geology” or “biology” there.
Another verse to ponder is Mat. 18:6: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
The earliest deviants from the gospel message were not the Pelagians or Gnostics, but the Pharisees who challenged Jesus and the judaizers who dogged Paul. These were pious men, zealous to defend a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, but their zeal was not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2).
Today’s defenders of a literal Genesis interpretation are making the same mistake as yesterday’s Pharisees. They think they are upholding the honor of God’s word, but in fact distort it by injecting their own opinions on what “must” be the case on the scope of biblical authority. As with the Pharisees of old, the effect is to hinder other people from entering the kingdom of God. Thousands of Christian young people eventually find out that their pastors and parents were misleading them about physical reality (e.g. evolution and the age of the earth). With the absolute inerrantists telling them, “If evolution is true, the Bible is false,” these young people quite understandably walk away from their faith. To cause young followers of Jesus to stumble is a dreadful offense, but that is the fruit of YE creationism.
Sorry to end on a harsh-sounding note, but there are real consequences to all this. As a concerned Christian, that is why I invest the time on this. I wish you well…in fact,may you enter fully into the intellectual integrity for which the original Anselm of Canterbury was famous.
Hi Scott, thanks for the reply. Regarding the science bits, you continue to make absolute statements about what cannot happen before, during or after a global flood. How do you know that these statements are absolutely true when you have never witnessed a global flood yourself? That seems a little unscientific.
I am aware of 2 Tim 3:15-16 and am still yet to find the word “only” in there. I also would not expect to find the words “geology” or “biology”, not least because these words weren’t invented until centuries later. I note that it says that all Scripture is “God-breathed”. As therefore 2 Peter 3:3-6 is God-breathed, is your position that God breathed a lie there, or that God made a mistake, or something else?
That’s an interesting take on the Pharisees – where does the Bible say that their error was defending a literal interpretation of the Old Testament?
In Matthew 23, Jesus said “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach”, and he went on to say ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former.” It seems the Pharisees’ error was in their hypocrisy. When they followed the letter of the law in certain respects, Jesus said they had had acted appropriately there. The problem is that they neglected to follow the more important aspects of the law as well.
On biblical authority, I would also refer to Jesus’ attitude in John 10:35: “Scripture cannot be broken”. Jesus focusses on a tiny detail of a Psalm to make his point.
Jesus also said “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46). Do you believe Moses? What about Exodus 20:11?
Jesus also said “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4). It seems that Jesus considered Genesis 1 to be historically reliable.
Jesus also said “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). It seems Jesus thought that God’s word is accurate in all that it says, even the tiniest detail.
Scripture in various places, including the New Testament, refers to Noah and the events of the flood as something that actually happened, with the rest of the world being destroyed. Do you believe these passages? Or do you think the authors were lying or ignorant and in error?
I also treat Matthew 18:6 seriously – it is a grave concern when a Christian tells another person that it is ok to ignore parts of the Bible to make the Bible fit with the current secular worldview. The problem is that if the other person is more consistent than the Christian, he/she will realise that the Bible isn’t actually compatible with the grand theory of evolution, and given the wavering of the Christian who told them it is ok to pick and choose which parts of the Bible can be ignored or “reinterpreted”, it’s no surprise that many of them conclude that the Bible is not trustworthy, and the grand theory of evolution will be their new belief. If they saw Christians acting with more consistency and integrity regarding the authority of the Bible, they might be inclined to take the Bible more seriously themselves.
Sorry to end on a harsh-sounding note, but there are real consequences to all this.
The Bible is inspired and is fully effective for the purposes it was given for. These purposes are described in a number of places in the NT:
II Tim 3:15-17 : and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
John 5:39-40 : You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Luke 24:27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
And 24:45-47: He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…”
I Peter 1:10-12 : Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
It is all about revealing Jesus Christ, his person and work and our response to him. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but there are no grounds for claiming that the inspired purpose of the Bible was to make authoritative statements about the physical world (geology, biology, etc.). To make such claims amounts to a distraction from God’s revealed purposes for the Scriptures.
Millions of dollars that might have gone to bona fide evangelism, feeding the hungry, etc, are diverted into enterprises like creation museums. Hundreds of intelligent, good-willed Christians like yourself are putting their energies into writing internet blog posts or comments which make the Christian faith seem ridiculous to almost anyone who knows anything, instead of sharing the gospel in an effective way with a needy world.
The Bible does not necessarily make accurate statements about nature and natural history. That was not the point of the Scriptures, as stated above. Jesus made an “error” in claiming that the mustard seed was the smallest of all the seeds. But was that the point of his parable, to teach botany? What if there never really was a man who got robbed on the way to Jericho and got rescued by a Samaritan? Does that affect the point of the narrative?
The New Testament writers were men of their age. They accepted slavery as normative. Paul gives lots of commands to his readers, and he does require masters to act humanely, but he never tells them to stop owning their slaves and profiting from their toil. The NT, and especially Jesus, treated women with a respect well beyond the norm for their era, yet Paul insisted in the strongest possible terms, even invoking Adam and Eve, that women must wear head coverings in church (I Cor 11:2-16). Also that “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (I Cor 14:34).
Given all that, why did Christians of the 19th century speak out so strongly against slavery, and why do we not keep our women veiled and muzzled in church? Because we recognize that the New Testament men were men of their age. And, being men of their age, of course they all believed in a literal Genesis creation story, just like they accepted slavery and the subjugation of women.
God gave Paul revelation, but its content was circumscribed. It was that Jesus is the Son of God (Gal 1:11-16) and that Christ in you is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). There is no reason to believe that God gave Paul (or other New Testament writers) special, supernatural knowledge of science or history (including creation/evolution) that would correct the factually inaccurate views of their age.
As for Jesus, he came in the flesh, not as a spirit. He willingly laid aside the prerogatives of Godhood (Phil 2). He was tried and tempted in every way like us, though without sinning. A big part of our trials is our limited knowledge, and indeed Jesus in the days of his flesh was not omniscient. While he might receive words of knowledge from the Father as needed for ministry to others and to guide his critical decisions, he stated clearly in Mat. 24:36 that he did not know the timing of the Second Coming. Also, a plain reading of Mark 5:30-32 indicates that Jesus initially did not know who had touched him in the crowd.
If the Father did not reveal 21st century science to him, Jesus, like Paul, would be operating in the same ancient physical worldview as his hearers and would take Genesis as literally true. This intellectual limitation would not be sin, just as having his physical human limitations (getting hungry and tired; limited to one location) was not sin. Also, it would not compromise the authority of his teachings. He did not teach that Genesis was literally true, he merely assumed it, along with his hearers. There is a big difference.
To claim that the NT authors were necessarily writing accurately about the origin of humans and global floods has no basis in scripture or logic. It is merely a “tradition of men”. It amounts to “straining at gnats and swallowing camels” and “neglecting the weightier matters” of the purposes of the word of God.
For someone in the fundamentalist ghetto, defending the literal inerrancy of the Bible in all subject areas seems noble and pious. To anyone not in the fundamentalist ghetto, YE creationism is obviously a pathetic lie. If they saw Christians acting with more consistency and integrity regarding truth, they might be inclined to take Christian truth-claims more seriously.
Well, we are unlikely to convince each other. May your desire for truth and consistency find fulfillment in the proper channels.
Caves under certain oceans show the Earth is old. Caves are not formed under the oceans.
Young Earth creationist experts have been known to lie to fellow Christians about geology eg about unconformities. You may wish to peruse this review of a recent YEC DVD that sought to mislead the uninformed and the gullible.
There is not enough time for known geological processes of the past in just 6,000 years – even if the fictional global flood really occurred. Blogs like this, Age of Rocks, Naturalis Historia and others (written by honest Christians who understand the science) ably demonstrate this. Earth is unimaginably old.
Please note that YECs not only must insist that uniformitarianism is invalid as a means to understand the past but they demand that just the ‘right’ kind of ‘catastrophism’ is required (not just any catastrophism will suffice to make reality ‘fit’ with a literal reading of Genesis).
Occam’s Razor applies.
I would urge you to investigate with an open mind.
Hi Ashley, thanks for the reply. I think your main error can be seen in your statement that “There is not enough time for known geological processes…”. The point is that a global flood is not a “known geological process”, in that we can’t observe something like it today.
If we apply Occam’s Razor to how to interpret the history presented in the Bible, I think we’ll find that the “just believe what it says” option will win over the “pick and choose which verses to believe in so that it is compatible with the secular worldview” option.
The ‘recent’ global flood is utter fiction.
Hi Scott, this is in reply to your post of September 25, 2014 at 10:49 PM (I wasn’t able to reply directly):
Of course the Bible is “all about revealing Jesus Christ, his person and work and our response to him”. The point is whether it is trustworthy when it makes a statement about the physical world. You said “there are no grounds for claiming that the inspired purpose of the Bible was to make authoritative statements about the physical world”. What about the statement that Jesus physically died and physically rose in the physical world? What do you make of the claims of the physical death and resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent physical appearances in passages like 1 Corinthians 15:3-8? Do you take them as authoritative in their physical claims? If so, why? How do you know which bits of the Bible make statements about the physical world that can be trusted and which make statements that can’t be trusted?
You are posing some important questions. They go to the heart of why we believe what we believe. Do we believe things (a) Just because someone told them to us? Or (b) because it makes us feel good? Or (c) because they ring true to what we know of physical reality and history?
There is virtue to both (a) and (b). But the gospel not a matter of mere fideism. Although atheists will never be satisfied with it, God provides an appropriate amount of evidence for belief, tied to physical observations and eyewitness reports. The Bible presents the physical world as real and self-consistent and knowable. It is a core Christian doctrine that Jesus actually came “in the flesh”.
Jesus told his opponents, if they didn’t believe his word just on his authority, they should believe because of the miraculous works he had done. In fact, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe me.” (John 10:37). Jesus was calling on his actions in the physical world to vindicate his teachings. These were signs that were accessible to their five senses and which could be articulated intellectually and transmitted by word of mouth.
When his opponents demanded a sign on their terms, Jesus refused, but he did say there would be one big sign, namely his resurrection. The risen Christ was witnessed by a number of his followers, alone and in a group, on a number of occasions. They knew whether they were faking this or not, and they all chose to die rather than deny it.
Paul in I Corinthians recounts to the Corinthians how he brought the gospel to them. Their response was partly a heart response to the message content itself. But Paul also brought forth evidence anchored in the physical world, perceptible to the senses. First, as he reminded them in I Cor 2:4-5 , his message came “with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” This was not merely forceful preaching. From II Cor. 12:12 we learn that Paul demonstrated among them “the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.”
Second, In Cor 15:1-9 (written c. 55-60 A.D.) (and cf. Gal 2 ) Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had earlier told them how, years earlier (probably 35-40 A.D.) he had spoken in person to Peter and James about things like the resurrection. Paul did not say “Just believe”. Rather, he pointed them to the historical evidence, linked to eyewitnesses of the actual events. And he said if this resurrection event did not happen, then you should not believe in Christianity (I Cor 15:14-17).
The authenticity of I Corinthians is confirmed by the letter of Clement of Rome c. 95 A.D. to the Corinthians. So, in the providence of God, we have excellent documentary evidence of the experience these witnesses had of the risen Christ. Thus, the resurrection serves as an ongoing sign.
All this presupposes that the physical world is orderly and real, such that what we observe, and know others to have observed, and the consistent patterns we find in the world, are all meaningful and true.
That said, we can address your question, “How do you know which bits of the Bible make statements about the physical world that can be trusted and which make statements that can’t be trusted?” The answer is very simple (at least in principle): “Go look at the physical world!” Go look and see which statements are true or at least reasonably supported by the evidence. Just seek the truth. While God does call us to believe great and unverifiable things about the future, He does not ask us to lie about what evidence exists concerning the past. Paul “renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways” (II Cor 4:2).
Is there very sound empirical/historical evidence for the resurrection (strong documentary links back to eyewitness accounts) using the normal canons of historiography? Yes, as discussed above.
Reasonable evidence for ongoing healing miracles in the church, i.e. the sort of “works” referred to by Jesus and Paul to authenticate the gospel message? Yes – – see, for instance, these three links:
(again, scoffers will scoff, but that is a statement about their prejudices rather than about the facts).
How about the evidence for a recent creation and a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago that killed all but eight humans and all terrestrial animals apart from one pair each on a big boat? No. Epic fail. Directly contradicted by the facts. In my article above, I have discussed some of the evidence, and referred to much more. I understand that if you are in the grip of the YE creationist “Morton’s demon” [ cf. http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/feb02.html ] you are mentally incapable of grasping the truth here, so I am not going rehearse it again, but it is obvious to everyone else.
So, just let it go. The church has had to do this repeatedly in the past, to adjust for taking an overly literal interpretation of the physical descriptions in the Bible. For instance, the Genesis portrayal of the firmament dividing the “waters above” from the “waters below” (the Hebrew word for “waters” here is for liquid water, not cloud or midst) denotes a solid dome, with liquid waters above it. It was thus understood by essentially all the ancient and medieval Jewish and Christian writers, as discussed here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/was-the-expanse-overhead-in-genesis-1-a-solid-dome/ . As late as the 1500’s Martin Luther was (correctly) insisting that the Hebrew meaning was plain, and that we should not be led astray by what those impious scientists [“philosophers”] were saying about physical reality. The Luther Bible of 1534 displays a picture of the earth, with the stars embedded in the firmament, above which are the liquid waters. Luther wrote:
“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.”
The parallel with today’s YE creationists, retaining a literal interpretation of Genesis in the face of the physical evidence, is clear.
Likewise, there are a number of Bible passages that state the earth is fixed, and the sun moves, if we take them at their literal meaning. Neither Galileo nor his prosecutors disputed that. According to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1615), “…to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and the earth revolves swiftly around the sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” Galileo did not dispute that the literal teaching of the Bible was of a stationary earth; he just said that we need to take a non-literal interpretation, in order to remove the apparent conflict with science. The literal meaning of these fixed-earth passages is so plain that there is a movement today of so-called “biblical astronomy” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocentric_model#Religious_and_contemporary_adherence_to_geocentrism ] which publishes books like “Galileo Was Wrong” and calls Bible-believing Christians back to geocentrism in an effort to be faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures. Again, the parallel with YE creationism is obvious.
What about various OT events like the Exodus, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, etc? I assume they are true unless proven false; but hard proof one way or the other is hard to come by for some of these events. My faith is centered on what the NT teaches as the matters of “first importance” (e.g. I Cor 15:1-9), and will not be distracted by speculations about other events which may or not have occurred.
YE creationism falls into a medieval scholastic mindset which spins webs of reasonings from assumed principles and makes pronouncements about what *must* be so, rather than going out to see what actually *is*. That is the way I see it, anyway. I suppose my lifetime as a research scientist has colored my views.
Thanks for the detailed reply, Scott. You said:
We can address your question, “How do you know which bits of the Bible make statements about the physical world that can be trusted and which make statements that can’t be trusted?” The answer is very simple (at least in principle): “Go look at the physical world!” Go look and see which statements are true or at least reasonably supported by the evidence.
I think this demonstrates that you take your understanding of the physical world to be a higher authority than scripture, and I would certainly disagree with that position.
Your examples show that people can interpret the Bible incorrectly (e.g. read a word in an overly restrictive way, read poetry as literal, not understand that the Bible uses the earth as its frame of reference). I would say it’s very important for us to make sure we interpret the Bible correctly, but that we must acknowledge the Bible as a higher authority than our interpretation of the physical world.
The Morton’s demon stuff – there’s nothing to stop a similar accusation being made in the other direction about old earthers, so it doesn’t really take matters further.
You took my remarks to demonstrate that I take my “understanding of the physical world to be a higher authority than scripture.” Not at all. I employ observations about God’s works (the physical world) to guide my *interpretation* of scripture, as do you and all evangelical Christians.
Systematic observations of patterns in the physical world is the basis of what we call science. When those systematic observations of God’s works contravene the literal, straightforward *interpretation* of a passage, Christians sooner or later decide that the literal, straightforward interpretation is not meant to be authoritative. One way or another, they find some other approach to comprehend the passage. I have noted some of these instances above (e.g. waters above a solid firmament, earth fixed on its foundations)
It typically takes some years for the consciousness of the scientific findings to overcome the resistance to abandoning the literal, straightforward interpretation. Though there is sometimes a remnant that just cannot let it go, eventually the truth wins out.
In the meantime, depending on how familiar they are with the science, Christians may legitimately disagree on some current areas of controversy. The evidence for an old earth is so compelling, so visible (e.g. varve cores and ice cores) that many educated evangelical Christian leaders cannot deny it, yet there is still much resistance to evolution. That is understandable, since common ancestry of humans and other primates is emotionally disturbing to many, and the evidence for evolution, while pervasive, takes a more thought to appreciate. In another generation, everyone will have a full copy of their genomes and will compare with their friends, etc. When they become that familiar with genomes and see all the retrovirus inserts shared with chimps, they will easily understand the process by which we got here.
I would like to offer a few comments on the above exchanges.
In my experience, the weakness of fundamentalist efforts to overturn the findings of the several branches of mainstream science that all point to a very old Earth/universe and to geological and biological evolution lies in a theological position for which they can in fact offer no biblical authority. They characterize their stance as that of “Bible-believing” Christians and that of their Christian opponents as undermining God’s word when the reality is very different.
A good example of this can be found in an article by Rick Lanser MDiv entitled ‘The Influence of the Ancient Near East on the Book of Genesis’ (March 2011). His article is mainly a critique of John H. Walton’s approach to the presence of Mesopotamian influence on Genesis 1-11. (For those wishing to delve into such influences further, they could do worse than consult an article by Brian Godawa for the Biologos Foundation called ‘Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible’.)
Lanser’s initial aim is to persuade us that there is a scriptural definition of biblical inspiration. His starting point is 2 Tim 3:16 (cited above), an unpromising one because this verse only defines the purpose of scripture as a useful guide to uprightness of life, equipping us for good works, but offers no definition of scriptural inspiration. It simply uses a synonym for “inspired”, viz. “God-breathed”, to reinforce the common Christian belief that God is the ultimate author of scripture.
This alas is the last scriptural reference we see as Lancer develops a line of reasoning unsupported by scripture that includes statements such as: (a) “God did not merely prompt men of so-called “religious genius” to take an interest in a biblical subject and then apply their imperfect knowledge and skills to writing about it, with the potential of introducing errors. Rather, He actually had the very words of His choosing—words nevertheless consistent with each writer’s personal style—present themselves to the writers’ minds as they wrote.” and (b) “This definition of inspiration has a crucial implication when we consider the question of how ANE literature might have influence the writing of Genesis. Since the human writers were merely tools to record the divine Author’s choice of words, and it is inconceivable that He would be influenced by deluded humanistic cosmologies, we must categorically deny that the human writers of Scripture were influenced by the false world views or religious beliefs of the pagans around them while writing the inspired text.”
Lanser goes on to refer to this product of of his fallible human reasoning as “the biblical definition of inspiration”. But the Bible itself says none of this and give us no definition of inspiration at all. Had it done so, we would know whether God intended to use scripture to teach us science as well as salvation truths or whether he allowed his chosen writers to use imagery commonly used in their day to describe the cosmos as incidental clothing for his core message. One obvious reason why he would have chosen the latter route is because such imagery had the great practical virtue of being familiar both to them and their audience, and any attempt to educate them in modern astronomy would have been a vast, bewildering and irrelevant distraction.
If as most of us believe all the evidence favours the latter understanding of inspiration, then the colourful imagery that modern man sees as reflecting innocent misrepresentations of scientific realities need cause us no anxiety or confusion but can be seen as a cultural backcloth for the salvation message that (as 2 Tim 3:16 testifies) was and is God’s purpose in scripture. As you observe elsewhere, God is not teaching us scientific error in scripture because he is not teaching us science at all in scripture, but is merely allowing his writers to employ the language and literary norms of their day to impart truths essential for our salvation. He is like loving parents who don’t insist on fussily correcting their children’s naive pictures of the natural world around them because they want first and foremost to teach them how to live safe, happy and wholesome lives, knowing that in the fullness of time as they grow older the scientific detail will be taken care of.
As a Roman Catholic with a lifetime’s interest in ecumenism, I have always seen and admired Billy Graham as a model of a Bible-believing Christian. I Google-searched his views on creation science and found this quote from ‘Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man’ (1997) pp 72-74:
“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. … whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”
These are wise words, and lead me to conclude that the fundamentalists who claim to be Bible-believing Christians are in fact human dogma-believing Christians. With this dogmatic mindset, the mass of evidence that biblical authors were indeed influenced by ANE cosmography are met by YEC advocates such as Rick Lanser with denial and evasion, and it is no surprise to me that his article deals with none of the detailed evidence. It is the mirror image of YEC’s response to the mass of evidence for geological and biological evolution on Earth, and their simultaneous abuse of both scripture and science is the great turn-off in today’s world for thousands and maybe millions who would otherwise be drawn to Christ their Saviour.
Yours in Christ,
PS:I am posting this from south-east England, so please forgive the transatlantic spelling!
I enjoyed your comment — you put it very well:
“God is not teaching us scientific error in scripture because he is not teaching us science at all in scripture, but is merely allowing his writers to employ the language and literary norms of their day to impart truths essential for our salvation. He is like loving parents who don’t insist on fussily correcting their children’s naive pictures of the natural world around them because they want first and foremost to teach them how to live safe, happy and wholesome lives, knowing that in the fullness of time as they grow older the scientific detail will be taken care of.”
One of the best books I have read on what the BIBLE teaches on biblical inerrancy is Inerrant Wisdom, by Paul Seely. If you have fundamentalist friends who are seeking a biblical, Protestant-tradition treatment, this would be my recommendation. I find it admirable that the Roman Catholic church, after an unpromising start with Galileo, has managed to take an enlightened approach to science in the past century, particularly with evolution.
Thanks for that.
It’s probably unfair of me to ask, and it’s not why I started posts to your blog site, but I’ve been looking for someone with a lot of scientific nous to review my draft book, The God Debate – Dawkins in Denial. It’s written in part from an RC viewpoint because others like John Lennox and Alistair McGrath and Keith Ward, who have written excellent books to answer Dawkins’ The God Delusion or New Atheist positions, have (understandably) not dealt with his many sideswipes at Catholicism. I hope and believe that evangelical Christians will actually be quite interested in a lot of material I have assembled that they will never have encountered before.
I’ll fully understand if you’re too busy with other things to help with this, but as (I think) they say on your side of the Atlantic, if you don’t make the ask … If you say yes to reviewing all (it’s about 80k words) or only the more scientific parts of the book, I would need your email address.
Yours in Christ,
I don’t have a lot of extra time/brainpower at the moment, but could (quickly) look over the scientific parts of your manuscript and offer what comments I can. I don’t think I could offer a full, proof-reading level review. Would this be of use to you?
One way for us to connect is for you to leave a comment here, but under a new name that is not already in use as a WordPress or Google identity. The software on the blog here will then ask you to give an email address (as means to filter out most spam comments). That address is not shown to the public, but as blog owner, I can see that address, and can then send you an email.
Thanks for your kind offer. I’ll try your suggestion.
I don’t think that worked. Will try again.
A postscript re your point about Galileo, there is a famous quote attributed to Cardinal Baronius (possibly in an exchange with Galileo himself), namely that scripture is there “to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
I should add that Pius XII was the first Pope to make public his open-mindedness about the Darwinian theory of evolution, and both John Paul II and Benedict XVI acknowledged that the accumulation of evidence (I guess from genetics) showed that evolution should be seen as more than just a theory, although they may have been using the word “theory” in its popular rather than scientific sense.
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Reblogged this on Mass Delusions a.k.a. Magical & Religious Woo-Bullshit Thinking and commented:
LETTERS TO CREATIONISTS is yet another blog I just have to recommend. Not only is the blogger – his name is Scott Buchanan – a veritable scholar, he also knows how to hit the weak points in the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) woowoo-ish and delusional thought paradigm.
Some good examples of Scott Buchanan’s way to refute YEC bullshit-thoughts can be found in this article, called “SOME SIMPLE EVIDENCES FOR AN OLD EARTH”, so now I choose to reblog it here on my own blog.
Scott Buchanan discloses a variety of intellectual flaws – a.k.a. intellectual vices (a term originally coined by Linda Zagzebski, a US philosopher) – that are very common especially among Young Earth creationists, for instance gulliibility, carelessness, closed-mindedness, LETTERS TO CREATIONISTS is yet another blog I just have to recommend. Not only is the blogger – his name is Scott Buchanan – a veritable scholar, he also knows how to hit the weak points in the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) woowoo-ish and delusional thought paradigm.
Some good examples of Scott Buchanan’s way to refute YEC bullshit-thoughts can be found in this article, called “SOME SIMPLE EVIDENCES FOR AN OLD EARTH”, so now I choose to reblog it here on my own blog.
Scott Buchanan here discloses a variety of intellectual flaws – a.k.a. intellectual vices (a term originally coined by Linda Zagzebski, a US philosopher) – that are very common especially among Young Earth creationists, for instance gulliibility, carelessness, closed-mindedness, negligence, idleness, cherry-picking, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, an appalling insensitivity to scientific facts and an amazing neglect of important relevant details, especially if those details contradict the inner core of creationist religious reasoning and faith (usually due to cognitive dissonance).
Here’s a quote from Scott Buchanan’s blog article, containing some obvious and important facts that YE creationsists try their best to repress and/or deny.
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This is a gem. Thanks for your hard work in defending the faith.
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I can’t find anywhere to ask a question other than in a comment section.
A friend of mine in my church handed me a DVD of a movie that he apparently found at Walmart. It’s called the Genesis Code. I watched it, taking it all with a grain of salt, but I have often wondered if it could stand the assault of a real intellect. The premise is that the 7 days of Genesis 1 were from the perspective of an observer outside the time continuum of this universe: God. The key thought was that as space expands – initially at nearly the speed of light – time within that space slows down relative to a ‘stationary’ observer. Hence the first ‘day’, from God’s perspective, really took many billions of years (I don’t remember the number they used) inside the context of this universe. The next ‘day’ also used a long time, though it was less, and so on. They neatly packaged every ‘day’ as an epoch within the days of that chapter.
Have you ever seen the movie or heard that premise? Does it fly for you? Does it adequately account for the apparent difference between the age of the universe and the time frame of Genesis 1? It had some merit for me, but I don’t have a doctorate in theoretical physics by which to evaluate it.
I haven’t seen that movie , so I cannot comment on that specific proposal. There are a number of different approaches for interpreting Genesis 1 in light of the clear evidence for an old universe. This is sometimes called an “old earth creationist” viewpoint.
In the “Proclamation Days” approach to Genesis 1, the six Days are days (possibly before creation began) on which God proclaimed the next phase of creative activity; the actual outworkings may take place at some unspecified, possibly overlapping time after each proclamation. In the “Visionary Days” view, the Days of Genesis 1 are six days during which God showed visions of the creation to Moses. The ordering of these visions may or may not correspond to the chronology of the actual creation events. According to the “Literary Framework” approach (fleshed out here*), the Days of Genesis 1 are organized thematically, not chronologically. Days 1-3 define realms formed by separations (day/night; sky/sea; dry land), and Days 4-6 describe the rulers or occupants (sun/moon; birds/fish; land animals) of these respective realms. There was no intention in Genesis of presenting a physically accurate order of creation events. This is the viewpoint that seems most realistic to me. All of these approaches can smooth away the differences between the order of events in Genesis 1 and physical reality, but leave open the interpretation of the Adam and Eve creation/fall story.
Hope this helps…
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Nicely done….thank you for so many clear points…very helpful! I’m a layperson, a homeschooling mom, love science, and have only recently begun trying to understand YEC and its arguments. I want my children to be respectful of our brothers and sisters in Christ and their beliefs while accepting the objective truths we see in the book of Nature. Blessings!
Hello Simplygarden, blessings to you as well on your child-raising journey. There is no more important job than what you are doing!
You may or may not be aware of the Biologos organization, which helps to present genuine science with a Christian perspective. They have resources specifically for homeschooling parents. Here is a page with a bunch of short videos, etc:
And here is a link to description of the whole curriculum they have developed for high school biology (including evolution), again, with biblically-based commentary:
And a couple of more resources, specifically around the Grand Canyon, which is such a dramatic example of geology.
A great book was published a few years back, packed with illustrations, on the formations and origins of the Grand Canyon:
This is a big, beautiful “coffee-table” kind of book, but it also is kind of a complete course in sedimentary geology as well, because of all the (well-illustrated) explanations of geological processes.
And here is a (really long) article I wrote on old/young earth issues with the Grand Canyon . It may be too detailed unless you want specific answers to some specific claims by young earth creationists: