Posted tagged ‘Catastrophism’

More Thoughts on Furthering the Dialogue on Creation

February 14, 2015
Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you call me a liar?

Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you brush that off as a pleasant fiction?

It’s been my pleasure to read some recent posts by Doug Wilson and Gavin Ortlund regarding Creation and Earth history. Doug started with this post, to which Gavin responded here with 4 points. Wilson then responded here, to all but Gavin’s 4th point. Wilson wisely left point 4 unanswered, suggesting that someone should respond who has more of a science background. And, while I’m more at home swimming with whales in the open ocean than writing blog posts, I felt compelled to respond. So, here goes this scientist’s attempt to further the dialogue on Creation.

Before I start, I want to say that I really appreciate Gavin’s effort to make a “friendly appeal” towards dialogue on Creation. Well done, and I hope to follow his lead with some friendly iron sharpening of my own.

Discern Between Scientific and Historic Research

Gavin’s point 4, the one Wilson left unanswered, was a call for young earth creationists to get “specific with the scientific evidence.” But this has been done, and is being done, in a thousand different ways (see below).

More importantly, the “scientific evidence” is not the problem at all. The problem is the interpretation of the evidence, which leads to another big issue. If anyone, young-earth, old-earth, or other, is truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, they will put a greater effort into discerning between scientific research and natural history research. Scientific research is testable, repeatable, and verifiable. Natural history research involves drawing unverifiable conclusions from data. Natural history research is about interpreting unobserved past events.

In my opinion, a more scholarly approach to the Creation dialogue involves making a clear distinction between a scientific thing and a historic thing.  It’s been over a decade now since the call was made to move beyond scientific creationism, so young-earthers and old-earthers alike should be putting more effort into properly discerning between the two.

You don’t have to be a scientist to discern between the two types of research. You just need to know how to read a recipe. If you cannot, or just refuse to, acknowledge the difference between scientific research and natural history research, then you are not furthering the dialogue on Creation.

Energy or time?

Gavin wrote that “one step that will greatly help the dialogue about creation in the church is for young-earth creationists to pay more attention to the specifics and particulars of the evidence for an older earth and universe.”

If any Christian writes, speaks, or preaches like they have no clue of the vast amount of material published by young earth creationists regarding “specifics and particulars of the evidence,” then they are not furthering the dialogue on Creation. I am trying to say this in as friendly a way as possible, but a statement like that shows a lack of effort to research a matter before writing about it. It is the glory of kings to search a matter out (Proverbs 25:2), so act like a king.

Remember also, we are talking mainly about history here, and conclusions about the unobserved past depend on interpretation. For Christians, the biggest differences between old and young earth views stem from our presuppositions. Were high-energy, short term events the dominant shapers of earth’s surface? Or was it low-energy, slow, and gradual? The interpretive differences result mainly from how much emphasis the researcher places on catastrophism (high energy, short duration) versus gradualism (low energy, long duration).

Do you want to learn about what creation researchers are saying about the Grand Canyon? Starlight and time? Ice layering, etc? Then click here, or here, or here, or here, or many other places. If you would like, you can also read about some of my natural history research. I conducted an age-calibration experiment of the Ar-Ar radiometric dating method, and found that method overestimated the age of my sample by a factor of 55,000.

Read, and you will find that there are many reasons, good reasons, to be skeptical of the methods and models used to speculate about billions of years of earth age.

Here’s some advice for old-earthers who are serious about furthering the dialogue on Creation. It’s the same advice my advisor gave me when I turned in the first draft of my PhD research proposal. Across the top of the proposal in big red letters was the word READ. Read young earth creation research. Search the matter out.

And to that I would add, PRAY. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment to further this dialogue in the best possible way, which is the one that will bring Him the most glory.

Unsettle the (Secular) History, Burn the “Fictitious History” Strawman

As Doug mentioned, “the science is always settled until somebody unsettles it,” and this is true. But, keeping on track with discerning the scientific from the historic, it might be better to say, regarding earth age, that “the history is always settled until somebody revises it.”

In Gavin’s post, he quotes Robert Newman, who said “In harmonizing the revelation God has provided us in his Word, the Bible, and in his world, the universe, it seems to me that it is much preferable to spend our efforts on models that do not require us to believe that God has given us fictitious history.”

Newman’s argument is a logical fallacy. He sets up a straw man by portraying young earth creationists as a group that sees a lack of harmony between His word and His works, and seeks to harmonize the two with fictitious models. If Christians are truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, then they need to rain burning sulfur down on the “fictitious history” strawman.

Personally, I think most young and old earth Christians are honestly searching for truth. In that search, we all need to be curious and open minded, not “settled,” having a healthy skepticism of any manmade models that speculate about earth’s past. Are you putting too much faith in the models of men? If so, consider that you may be closing the door on adventure and exploration, and stifling the curiosity of the next generation. I don’t want to be the one responsible for closing that door, do you?

I am not exactly sure what it is in our human nature, maybe pride, but it seems like there is a desire among some that, before they die, they are required to come up with their own personal “theory of the universe”. For the vast majority of old earth creationists, I think one reason they are unaware of young earth arguments is because they believe the history about the unobserved past is settled history. The big bang is their cosmology, and they have probably never thought to search out alternative models. They are probably unaware of the assumptions behind the big bang model, like the universe is homogenous, and no one place is more special than another.

But what if that’s not true? Are we really so arrogant to believe that here, in the 21st Century, we have all of history figured out? A 6,000+ year old universe sounds like a really, really old universe to me, but if you think it’s billions, not thousands, then it seems you should be more, not less skeptical that your model is valid. You have a lot more history to explain than I do!

Are you familiar with the big bang model? Could you list 4 other models of cosmology? Have you heard of Einstein’s metrics? If your answer to the last two questions was “no”, then it would be a wise move on your part to do a lot of research before you write any more about why we need to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods, like Justin Taylor did recently.

Don’t hamstring the dialogue on Creation like a wolf on an elk calf, leaving it hobbled and helpless. Find ways to nurture it instead. Understand at least something about the young earth position. One presupposition of a young earth creationist is that, regarding history, God’s word is authoritative. It is an axiom to build our understanding of all history on, including natural history.

Like Justin Taylor’s article, it seems the most common theme among old earthers is they place too much emphasis on doubting biblical history. Not enough emphasis is placed on doubting manmade models like the big bang, plate tectonics, gradualism, etc. I find that old earth Christians are often enthusiastic about doubting evolutionism, which is wonderful. But the same people who rightfully acknowledge problems with evolutionism, like the lack of transitional fossils, at the same time fail to acknowledge the fact that the majority of those fossils are buried in water-deposited sedimentary rock found almost everywhere on earth’s surface, and averaging one mile thick. But where is the doubt about the old earth assumptions of all that rock being formed slowly and gradually over millions of years? Why not show a little skepticism about that, too? After all, rapidly-buried creatures preserved in thick, water-deposited rock layers all over the earth sounds very much like something we would expect from a worldwide cataclysm like the Genesis Flood.

In the 1900’s, J. Harlan Bretz was skeptical that the Channeled Scablands were formed slowly and gradually. He was able to show how they formed rapidly from floodwaters released as late-Ice Age dams burst. Or take the photo above, which shows where the River Lethe carves through layered deposits from the 1912 Novarupta volcano. By the time Robert Griggs explored the area in 1917, the canyon was already carved through all that material!

Sometimes, what may sound like just a pleasant fiction, turns out to be reality after all. Acknowledging that our eyes and our minds often deceive us will do much to further the dialogue on Creation.

Avoiding Endless Genealogies

In I Timothy 1:4, Paul warned Timothy to avoid “endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Think about the book of Genesis. Think about the genealogies in other places in the Old Testament, or in Matthew and Luke. Think also about the unfolding story of God’s relationship with man in Scripture. And think about your own family’s genealogy. When pondering your own family tree, you would think it strange to insert a million+ year gap in the middle of it. The main message from any genealogy is a message of continuity.

Continuity is also at the heart of the idea of covenant. A covenant is about an agreement, a relationship. A wise pastor I know described covenant in Scripture like this:

The gospel set forth in the context of God’s eternal plan of communication with His people as it unfolds in the historical outworking of the redemptive plan of God. Covenant theology is central to the message of the Scriptures, which testify to God’s redemption of His people in and through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Christian, what do you believe? Is God’s plan of redemption, as revealed in Scripture, continuous and covenantal, or broken and discontinuous?  If it is broken and filled with gaps, what will you put in those gaps? How long were they? Do your beliefs about history promote speculation of God’s word more than they do speculation of man’s word?

In my opinion, furthering the dialogue on Creation means that some pastors and theologians need to take more care to avoid endless genealogies and the speculations they promote. I’m praying more teachers of the Word will focus on encouraging Christians to be scientists and engineers and doctors, developing new technologies and other things by using what God made to serve Him and serve others. Furthering the dialogue on Creation will mean spending a little more time focusing on what God called us to do in Genesis 1:26-28, and a little less time on what God meant by “day”, filling in the supposed gaps with an endless supply of speculative claims.

The Revolution of Creationism

November 9, 2012

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A recent article in GSA Today, titled “The Evolution of Creationism“, is just one more of a multitude of biased and deceptive articles mocking and misinterpreting what God’s word and His works say about Earth history. Claiming to be the lead “Science Article” for the November 2012 issue, this should be your first clue that author David R. Montgomery and GSA’s editors are unwisely mingling scientific things with historic things. You see, researching Earth history, including Noah’s Flood, is not a scientific endeavor, but a historic one. The study of the unobservable past is called “history”, not “science”.

Natural history research is not the same thing as scientific research

Anyone, creationist or otherwise, who attempts to interpret unobserved past events is doing history research. Montgomery’s article is no “Science Article”, as the GSA Today publication proclaims, it is a history article, and a dogmatic one at that. It is pointless to write a “science article” against creationism, which is an interpretation of the past, and then bash creationism as “unscientific”. Creationists, but even moreso university professors like Dr. Montgomery, need to better discern between natural history endeavors and scientific ones.

The abstract to Dr. Montgomery’s article claims 21st Century creationists have “abandoned faith in reason and cast off a long-standing theological tradition that rocks don’t lie.” Words cannot describe the amazing untruth of this statement. The truth however, is that the author includes a paltry list of references, and the most recent one by a creationist author is from 1961! So Dr. Montgomery is either deliberately ignoring, or is honestly ignorant of, the revolution of creationism since Whitcomb and Morris’ 1961 book, The Genesis Flood.

God’s word calls Christians to “reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), so our goal is to consider both faith and reason. What many Christians have not “abandoned faith in” is Scripture as both a true and reasonable historical account, and this is evident in Christian churches, private schools, and home schools across America and around the world. Neither have we abandoned faith in man’s ability to unlock mysteries of past events. And we haven’t abandoned faith in even the most dogmatic suppressors of Truth, that they might repent and be baptized, for the promise of salvation is for as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38-39).

Everybody has an interpretive framework about the past

Earth history is always interpreted within a framework. In Dr. Montgomery’s article, he claims that it is only creationists who “evaluate facts by how well they fit their theories”. This statement does nothing to improve discernment between scientific and historic endeavors, and adds confusion regarding the word “theory”. Plate tectonics, for example, is a theory that can be tested. Is there evidence that crustal plates exist and that they are moving at observable rates? Yes. Is it reasonable to assume the present rates are about the same as rates in the past? Yes. But is it also reasonable to assume that present rates are not anywhere near the same as they were in the past? Yes! Could we also reasonably assume that something entirely different, like vertical tectonics, occurred in the past, and that the current plate movements are just a “settling in” of past movements? Yes, we can do that, too! So now we have one scientific theory, plate tectonics, but multiple interpretations regarding how it may or may not have worked in the past.

Dr. Montgomery’s article mentioned plate tectonics, but he only described one use of it (present is key to past) for interpreting the past. Why didn’t he discuss the other two, the creationist models of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics and Vertical Tectonics? Well, because these don’t fit his interpretive framework, so he ignores them and in so doing suppresses the truth about them.

The truth is, all natural historians evaluate facts by how well they fit their interpretive framework. A young-earth creationist sees a new paper on radiometric age dates proclaiming millions of years, and assumes some sort of error has been made. Likewise, someone who believes the earth is older will reject a radiometric age if it doesn’t fit well in their framework.

Creationist research journals are more open-minded

In the 21st Century, there are many creationist organizations, as well as peer-reviewed research publications, including the Creation Research Society Quarterly, Answers Research Journal, Acts and Facts, and Journal of Creation. A quick look at the references of just about any research paper in these journals will reveal a diverse mix of both creationist and non-creationist writings.

If Dr. Montgomery had bothered to practice the diversity that the GSA claims to preach, he would have known immediately the modern revolution of creationism also believes “the rocks don’t lie”. The truth is that nobody, creationist or otherwise, believes the rocks are lying. That’s absurd. Every rock has a story, but knowing with 100% certainty what the true story is is impossible. So we end up with different interpretations, because there are different frameworks with which we interpret the past.

Another false claim made by Dr. Montgomery’s article is his belief that creationists see “geology as a threat to their faith.” Of course, geology should not be a threat to anyone’s faith. The only threat is dogmatic scientists and educators like Dr. Montgomery, who ignore the evidence presented by creationists, and then act like creationists have “abandoned reason”. This is bad medicine for impressionable young Christians who go off to universities where men and women like Dr. Montgomery teach, trusting their professors’ words over God’s word and abandoning faith in Christ as savior. And that should be a warning to Christian parents to pick your children’s college carefully, and train them to be prepared to always give an answer for the hope that is in them (I Peter 3:15).

The gospel offends and threatens

Dr. Montgomery and other like-minded individuals see creationism, and more importantly, Christianity, as a threat to their own beliefs, so they suppress and ignore the truth (Romans 1:18). For them, it is not about having an open mind regarding interpreting past events. It is more about power, and having the power to control information and then deliver it to a large amount of people who trust their authority. Unfortunately, in Dr. Montgomery’s article at least, it seems GSA is abusing their power by controlling information, while stifling diversity of thought and religion.

Interestingly, dogmatic control of information reared its ugly head in the 1900’s when J. Harlan Bretz, a man who never claimed to be a creationist, published research on the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington. He believed the scablands formed by catastrophic, post-glacial floods, yet it took 40 years for his ideas to gain wide acceptance. Why did it take so long? Well, mainly because geologists at the time feared that a catastrophic interpretation just might provide evidence for another catastrophic event, Noah’s Flood.

Today, most geologists are slightly more accepting of catastrophism than their 20th century counterparts, so the differences between creationists and others regarding Earth’s features really boils down to this: Are today’s crustal features a result of mostly high-energy, short-term events, or mostly low-energy, long-term events? There is evidence for both, but the former interpretation fits better within a biblical framework of earth history.

Creationism is not going away

There is evidence the earth is old, and evidence the earth is young. Always has been, always will be. The differences arise not because “science has proven” one over the other, but because of the nature of the problem at hand, which is that we simply cannot replicate unobservable past events. The young earth/old earth, creation/evolution controversy is not going away because ultimately, this is not a scientific debate, but a debate about how to interpret both Scripture and nature’s historic accounts. Because man is imperfect, our historic interpretations are imperfect. But this Christian, scientist, and natural historian believes that both Creation and Providence proclaim the earth is thousands, not billions of years old, and that it was created, from nothing, in 6 days.

Let’s pray that those who treat history like history will increase, and those who promote dogmatic and bigoted responses to these different interpretations will decrease, being transformed by the renewing of their minds in Christ (Romans 12:2).

Novarupta documentary coming soon!

May 24, 2012

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Scripture tells us that about 4,500 years ago, the ground split open and the “fountains of the deep” erupted (Genesis 7:11), flooding the entire globe with water. Today, about 70% of the earth’s surface is still covered by water, averaging over 2 miles deep, and giving us a watery reminder of the year-long, global cataclysm.

One of the best ways to understand more about the global cataclysm described in Genesis is to study volcanic eruptions. And the bigger the eruption, the better! This is why Novarupta is so important. Latin for “New Eruption”, Novarupta burst forth for over 60 hours on June 6-8, 1912. The 3rd-largest eruption in recorded history, Novarupta caused tops and sides of mountains to collapse, deposited up to 700 feet of finely-layered ash in places, plus much, much more.

Since 2008, I’ve been studying Novarupta and the surrounding Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. I’ve been blessed with two opportunities to explore the area with family and friends, once in 2009 and again in 2011. I’ve also published a research paper on Novarupta in the Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ 46(1), leave a comment if you would like a pdf copy).

During my explorations, I was able to collect a lot of photogeologic data, taking photos and videos of places only a handful of humans have ever visited. Wanting to share this footage with as many as possible, Providence led me to CreationWorks! The CreationWorks Media Team is made up of a group of 12 – 18 year olds whose goal is to share, “the truth of the Bible through the media, with an emphasis on Creation.”

So here’s what’s happening. I donated my footage to CreationWorks, and they are going to use it to make a film about Novarupta! This is their first film project (they have done some radio projects in the past), which they plan to enter in the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. But they need your help! They are hoping to raise $5,500 to cover expenses of producing and distributing.

Watch the Novarupta trailer

I think the story of Novarupta is worth telling! If you do, too, then please consider making a donation to the project. Click here to watch CreationWorks’ Novarupta trailer. I think you will see that they are off to a good start! To donate to the project, click here (or go to http://www.kickstarter.com/ and enter Novarupta in the search box).  And please pray that God world be glorified through this project. Thank you!

Reforming the story of Palo Duro Canyon

January 7, 2011

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How do giant canyons form? With water. Lots of it, coming from both above AND below the surface. How do I know this? Well, I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never witnessed the formation of a giant canyon like Palo Duro Canyon or Grand Canyon. However, there sure is a lot of evidence that makes it look like a high energy, short duration megaflood formed Palo Duro Canyon, contrary to ALL the other low energy, million-plus year ideas I have read about. For example the Texas Parks and Wildlife page on Palo Duro Canyon State Park says the canyon was “formed primarily by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which began to carve the canyon less than one million years ago”.

Other places describe the canyon as even older, but none describe the possibility of it forming rapidly, but why? Is it because there is no evidence for rapid formation, or is it because many of today’s geologists are reluctant to interpret the evidence around them in a way that does not promote long ages? Well, take a look at this picture of Palo Duro Canyon:

Picture of a small section of Palo Duro Canyon. Copyright 2010, David E. Shormann.

You may not have known this, but Palo Duro Canyon is about 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide, and averages 800 feet deep. That is HUGE! In the United States, it is second in size only to the most incredible canyon of them all, the Grand Canyon:

About 10 Palo Duro Canyons could fit inside the Grand Canyon! Copyright 2010, David E. Shormann, PhD

Walt Brown, Steve Austin, Tom Vail and Mike Oard are just a few of several researchers who have written extensively on the possibility of the Grand Canyon forming rapidly either immediately after the global flood described in Genesis, or hundreds of years later when the dams on ancient lakes burst. However, there is no current literature suggesting that Palo Duro Canyon formed rapidly. In order to form a canyon rapidly, a large amount of water is usually necessary. The Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River flows through the length of Palo Duro Canyon, and some believe it carved the canyon. Take a look at this video clip of the river:

That’s right, I just jumped across the river that supposedly formed a 120-mile long by 20-mile wide by 800-foot deep canyon! I have a very hard time believing that river carved Palo Duro Canyon, and I hope you do, too. Uniformitarian ideas almost always assume low-energy, long-time processes created the geologic formations we see around us. Fortunately, the idea is becoming less popular, even among secular fundamentalists. Major exceptions to uniformitarian dogma are the Missoula Floods from ancient Lake Missoula and Lake Columbia, whose catastrophic flows formed canyons, scablands and other features over a considerable portion of the Northwest United States:

Yellow is ancient Lake Missoula and Lake Columbia, orange is extent of flood damage.

Now, it is interesting that geologic maps of Texas clearly show outlines of two large, ancient lakes, sitting at the headwaters of Palo Duro Canyon:

Google Earth image with a Texas Geologic Map overlay, clearly showing the outline of two ancient lakes. An elevation profile between the lakes reveals some uplift, suggesting that the two lakes may have been one large lake.

The two lakes could have also been one large lake, with a surface area of about 200,000 acres. It is also interesting that Palo Duro Canyon is carved into one of the world’s largest sources of subsurface water, the Ogallala Aquifer. Consider a scenario such as heavy rains, or maybe tectonic activity, or both, causing the dam(s) on the ancient lake(s) to burst, initiating the carving of Palo Duro Canyon. As the floodwaters cut deeper, water from the Ogallala Aquifer began spilling out as well, adding even more momentum to the already high-energy flow coming from the breached dam. Is such a scenario possible? It is impossible to know for sure what caused this amazing event in Earth’s history, but I hope to find more evidence supporting a rapid formation hypothesis, and reform the story of Palo Duro Canyon.

How do you think Palo Duro Canyon formed?  If you have a question or comment, post it and let’s discuss.

Novarupta and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

August 14, 2009

In July I visited Katmai National Park and hiked through The Valley of 10,000 Smokes. If you want to go somewhere that is vastly different than pretty much anywhere else on earth, then this is the place to be! Here is a YouTube video I made about the trip, that includes a discussion of a young Earth, and me getting zapped by a bear fence.

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