Deep Water or Deep Time?

Posted on June 19, 2010



1654 Bishop James Ussher publishes a book calculating the creation of the earth as having occurred in the year 4004BC. Geological ideas at the time agreed with his relatively young earth age and the global flood as taught in the book of Genesis.

1788 James Hutton introduced the geological theory involving long, gradual changes that came to be known as Uniformitarianism. This concept held that the laws of nature operating in the present operated the same way in the past, and it quickly triumphed over Catastrophism-the idea that earth’s history was shaped by catastrophic events such as a worldwide flood. This became the foundation of modern geology.

1859 Darwin introduced his biological theory in which natural selection was used to explain the progressive changes the fossil record demonstrated and the diversity of life on earth.

1925 Darwin’s theory of evolution started some controversy as it contradicted the Genesis account, and religious objections arose championed in America at the Scopes Trial by William Jennings Bryan. At this time, those who disagreed with evolution (including Bryan) still agreed with geology and the deep time and gradualism it showed.

1961 Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. reignited Young-Earth Creationism and the Neptunist/Catastophist ideas now known as “Flood Geology” in their 1961 book, “The Genesis Flood.” Though completely rejected by the scientific community, their book laid down the foundational ideas of Young-Earth Creationism, and Morris helped found some of the leading Young-Earth organizations. Another influential YEC group, Answers In Genesis, commonly uses Morris’ work and the ideas from the book. Kent Hovind expounded on these ideas and became a leading anti-evolutionist crusader and Young-Earth advocate.

1987 The Supreme Court of the United States ruled against teaching creationism in public schools. The Intelligent Design movement begins to form a non-religious, and therefore Constitutionally acceptable alternative to evolution propagated mainly by Old-Earth Creationists such as founder Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, and Stephen Meyer who do not use the work of Morris, Answers in Genesis, or the controversial “Hovind Theory.” (Unlike Hovind and Carl Bough, these guys have real college degrees.)

2005 Old-Earth Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists unsuccessfully attempted to defend a predominately Young-Earth Creationist school board’s actions in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

2008 Polls continued to show that almost half of the American population agree with Young-Earth Creationism, rejecting the scientific consensus in biology as well as geology and cosmology. The movie “Expelled” presented the case for Intelligent Design and was well received by Young-Earth pastors and educators, although every one of the people interviewed in the film and promoting and defending the Intelligent Design in the public and the courts agree with an old earth age. Their dissent of atheistic evolution appears to have often been misunderstood as an endorsement of Bible Literalism and Young-Earth Creationism.

OK, that was as brief as I could make it. This outline attempted to demonstrate that the idea of a global flood and a short natural history was abandoned in the scientific age and has reemerged in recent years among a certain form of creationism not represented by Intelligent Design advocates, the movie “Expelled,” or other public opponents of evolution. Young-Earth Creationism is dependent upon the idea that a global flood explains away all of the data scientists use to determine an old age for the earth.

My problem with Flood Geology is that it claims a flood did things floods never do, and didn’t do things that floods always do. We don’t see a deep, mixed up sediment layer that a global flood would produce. Instead we see distinct layers of strata with a long history that includes different layers of fossilized forests, caves, sand dunes, deserts, plants, nests with eggs, and fossil evidence of many other things one would not expect to find if all of those layers were rapidly formed by a flood depositing washed up debris. Scientist studying the eras and environments suggested by these layers and have accurately predicted what can be found in strata on distant continents by combining geology, paleontology, particle decay, plate tectonics, and what can be deduced about ice ages and glacial motion. Flood Geologists say that all of this is nonsense, the K-Pg boundary and other extinction events in the record are merely illusions, there was no Tertiary period or any other period except divisions before, during, and after the flood. They suggest that all of those fossils are from lifeforms that lived at the same time but were swept throughout the earth in a way that emulates migration among compatible plants and animals and always placed in specific strata by a powerful flood. I’m not trying to make it sound less credible than it is, this is simply what Flood Geology claims. It differs from source to source in the details, most significantly in how and when the continents separated (which I think is one of their biggest of many huge problems,) but what is consistent in all examples is an astounding rejection of how matter interacts and what can be deduced using the scientific method.

Geology is the study of the earth. Flood Geology is an attempt to interpret the geological data to support the claim of a recent, global flood. It is not a competing science with its own set of principles and methods, it’s just a collection of sometimes conflicting hypothesis that try to explain away the obvious conclusions of stratigraphy. When a company is looking for oil or some other underground resource, it would use geology and consult geologists – not Flood Geologists. When an earthquake hits, no one calls Kent Hovind to get predictions on potential aftershocks (or Pat Robertson, for that matter.) Flood Geologists have completely failed to demonstrate how flood water, even combined with massive volcanic activity never mentioned in the Bible yet often appealed to, could accelerate radioactive decay, form diamonds and coal, create the different strata (and sort out the lifeforms within them), or accomplish any of the other effects that modern science explains in a verifiable, observable, and consistent way. This has nothing to do with the difficulties of caring for the animals, the perils that freshwater and shallow water fish would face, and the genetic diversity that cannot be explained if different animal populations were reduced down to 2 (or 7) members of each kind in the recent past. These are biological issues, and that subject can make a compelling case on its own. Here, I’m only looking at geology versus Flood Geology, and it really is no contest.

The question now is “What do Christians do with the data?” Unless most of modern science is completely wrong, the Biblical account of a global flood and the survival of several representatives in a large boat occurring in recent history has some serious problems. There are several ways of dealing with it, but outspoken Christian leaders often advise their listeners to “trust your preacher, not your teacher” and to ignore or extensively distort the scientific data. A few hundred years ago, this may have been easier to do, but I think that too many facts have piled up that can only point in the direction of a very old earth, and the slow progression, diversification, and distribution of life on earth. The fossil record, incomplete as it may be, presents far too many consistent examples that contradict the idea of simultaneous creation and a recent mass extinction and subsequent worldwide repopulation of land animals emanating from one mountain. This forces us to reconsider our interpretation of the Genesis flood, and several new models have emerged ranging from allegorical interpretations to a historic account of a local flood that covered the known world, but not the whole planet.

These options, though rejected by Bible literalists, tend to be incorporated into the natural history of Old-Earth Creationists, the school of thought that includes many of the leading creationist advocates such as Phillip Johnson (“Darwin On Trial,”) Lee Strobel (“The Case For A Creator,”) Stephen C. Meyer (“Signature In The Cell,”) and Hugh Ross (“Creation As Science.”) Many others who dissent evolution are actually only arguing against aspects of atheistic evolution and are themselves theistic evolutionists such as Michael Denton (“Evolution: A Theory In Crisis”) and Michael Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box.”) These two men appear to be the most highly qualified scientists to publicly support the Intelligent Design movement. Outside of the dissenters, many Christian scientists such as Francis S. Collins (“The Language of God“) and theologians such as Alister McGrath (“The Twilight of Atheism”) fully support evolutionary biology and promote a position of faith and reason against critics of religion. I would also like to mention mathematical physicist/Anglican priest John Polkinghorne as an important contributor to the scientific, theological, and philosophical schools of thought that acknowledge evolution and a powerful, personal Creator. My own views tend to align more closely with these three individuals compared to the first Old-Earth Creationists I’ve listed.

Many of these notable individuals will attack aspects of atheistic thought and may act as apologists for Christian faith and ideas, but you will not find any of them defending a literal interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis because all of them stand somewhere outside of the Literalist camp. Their ideas may get used by Young-Earth Creationists in the fight against Darwin, but all of these men reject Young-Earth dating and cosmology, as well as Flood Geology.

I’ve read many articles and books and watched videos and presentations by well-meaning Christians who teach that it is essential that every Christian adhere to a Young-Earth understanding of natural history. They believe their entire faith depends on the historic veracity of a literal interpretation of Genesis, and I truly understand their conviction. I just can’t make myself believe that they are right and nearly all scientists are completely wrong about biology, geology, cosmology, and so many other things especially since we can test their observations and predictions and see amazing agreement between these diverse studies. (When I study theology, I also see things differently than they often present them.) When their scientific points of dissent are once again debunked, and appeals to ignorance are overcome by actual study, the final effort to get their audience to deny science is often to scare them with the threat of eternal torture and damnation. This is where things cross the line for me, and it becomes clear that truth is not on their side. If you, like me, have ever been led to feel that your relationship with God must come at the expense of your intellect, perhaps you can also take comfort in this quote from a devout man who suffered for his scientific ideas:

Galileo Galilei “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use”
Galileo Galilei

Psalm 19 says, “the heavens declare the Glory of God,” and many Christians continue today in the tradition of Kepler and Newton observing the heavens and the earth to listen to that declaration. The universe is huge, and the night sky adorned with stars millions of lightyears away. Deep space and deep time go hand in hand, and both add to the amazement of creation. Trying to distort and deny this and claim that the earth was given the false appearance of an old age robs God of this glory and presents Him as a cosmic prankster who meddled with the speed of light and created the illusion of elapsed time and false history within rocks. If the idea of an old earth and even biological evolution are uncomfortable and theologically challenging, at least they are not unbelievable, which I feel is the case with the Young-Earth scenario. I’m trying to follow the evidence where it leads, and I now see that “there is grandeur in this view of life” (Darwin) and marvel that God is mindful of us on earth (Psalm 8.) I truly believe that God is smarter and more creative than some people give Him credit for.

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For further reading on Christians view outside of YEC, I recommend the Old-Earth Creationist site Answers In Creation. You could also check out Hugh Ross on the local flood interpretation. This site holds to the literally interpreted “Gap Theory.” Galileo’s quote taken from his “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615,” an interesting read. You could also click on one of about a hundred links I put on this page. Maybe that was overkill.