Caving in to creation
Carl Wieland interviews Romanian geologist and world cave authority Dr Emil Silvestru
Emil Silvestru ascends in to a cave.
Transylvania—to Hollywood-soaked Western ears, the name of this Romanian province is likely to conjure up haunting images of swirling mists, vampire bats, and black-caped aristocrats with thick Bela Lugosi accents.
Actually, the Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s original novel probably derived from a real figure of Romanian history, the mid-fifteenth century Prince Vlad. His father was Vlad Dracul,1 so he was named Vlad Draculea (son of Dracul). Vlad junior earned his nickname, “Vlad the Impaler”, by his habit of thrusting people alive onto sharpened stakes. He is said to have approached the problem of poverty by inviting all of his country’s beggars and paupers to a free feast—then he burnt down the building with all of them in it.2
Sadly, Romania has yet to recover from a more recent bout of despotic evil, perpetrated by the notorious communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918–1989) prior to his overthrow in December 1989.
In a small Transylvanian town in 1954, Emil Silvestru was born into this shadowy post-war world of repression, fear and communist secret police. From the age of 12, he began to be fascinated by the numerous caves and other karst3 features in his region, which naturally led to the study of geology.
In 1979, after five years’ study, he was awarded a Master’s degree4 from the state university in Transylvania’s capital, Cluj. During his student years, he had already begun to publish research papers on ‘karstology’5, an interdisciplinary study of the limestone region and its features which had captured his youthful attention.6
Following graduation, there was no point applying for a Ph.D. in geology. As Emil explains, until the 1989 revolution, “such things were decided by Ceauşescu’s semi-illiterate wife Elena, who had decided against geology PhDs”. So he spent the next seven years in geological exploration in northern Romania. He gained experience in the geology of certain types of ore bodies, and discovered several deposits amounting to about a million tonnes of lead/zinc ore.
In this time, he says, “I continued my speleological [cave] investigations, discovering karst processes during the pneumatolytic7 phase—a world first—and investigating many hydrothermal [hot water] caves as well.”
In 1986, he began work at the Emil Racovitza Speleological Institute (the world’s first, founded in 1920). He says, “my hobby had now become my jobby (job + hobby)”.
His wife Flory, a former athlete in Romania’s national team, was a Baptist believer for many years before he was. He says, “This brought nothing but problems from the communist regime. I had already begun to doubt the atheist dogma I had been taught. It was through my scientific work that I came to realise that the order, beauty, and sense of fine humour with which the world is built cannot possibly come from chaos and randomness—I was sure there was a Designer.
“And for a long time, that was enough for my inflated ego. I recall asking Flory, who was reading her Bible regularly, when she was going to finish ‘that book’. I believe it was then that God began to work on me.”
Large crystals on the tip of one of the flooded stalagmites (known as ‘The Mace’).
Emil told me that even though watching Christian videos was illegal, it was very popular in a country groaning under communist repression. When Zefirelli’s film Jesus of Nazareth arrived in Romania on video, “secretly seeing it became a noble act of resistance to the regime,” says Emil.
“So I suddenly found myself going to remote places, sometimes isolated mountainous areas, often in poor peasants’ homes, invited to help show the film. Sometimes, up to three films in one night, The Ten Commandments and Quo Vadis in addition. We had no dubbing facilities, so I had to do the translation live, 47 times in all. After a while I was very familiar with the visuals, and I preferred facing the audience while translating. I couldn’t help but notice the profound impact all this was having on people.”
One night they had to travel to a secret location 46 km (29 miles) away. To minimize the chances of detection, Emil was taken there in one car, a Mercedes, and driven back in a different vehicle. He says it was “a mockery of a car—an old Romanian imitation of the Soviet Gaz. It took us five hours to get back. The outside temperature was minus 25oC, so we were nearly frozen solid when we got back to my place.”
One night, still not a Christian, he was booked to do the translating after he had spent 4–5 hours surveying in a mine which, he says, “was so full of gases that the open flame of a carbide lamp would not burn. It was a funny situation that night—my brain was so gassed I could hardly do the translation!”
With so many meetings, there was a high risk of being caught by the secret police. “But God was in control,” says Emil. Just a month after he transferred from the area for a new job, one such clandestine showing was raided, and the video recorder and tapes he had been using were confiscated.
NOTE: Interview continues below.
Caves, climate and ‘vast ages’
Impurities like iron oxide, magnesium, etc. in this stalagmite ‘forest’ give its colours.
Cave geology expert Dr Emil Silvestru affirms that caves, which he says are post-Flood in origin, “have proved to be among the best recorders of past climates, with an exquisite record which sometimes allows high-resolution reconstructions”.
His work also involves the 234U/230Th dating of speleothems (those features such as stalagmites which grow in caves). This method, which is said to be accurate to within a resolution of only one thousand years (one Ka), combined with the evidence of growth and lack of growth of speleothems during glacial and interglacial stages respectively is, he says, “one of the most revered assets of evolutionists today”.
“The precise (dare I say, sometimes too precise!) correspondence of these with Quaternary stages simply mesmerises geological professionals, who add to it such things as measurements of ancient magnetism, plus estimates of temperatures based on oxygen isotope ratios in speleothems and so on. But there is one big problem for someone like me, who has been going into caves for over 30 years; some of the speleothems, not thicker than 5–10 cm (2–4 inches) yielded ‘ages’ over 200,000 years. Given what is known about karst processes, this is virtually inconceivable.
“The dates are way too old. This would mean that the whole duration of the Quaternary needs to be greatly compressed. Presently, I regard my ‘datings’ as merely confirming that speleothem growth fluctuated with the colder and warmer stages of the last stage of the Ice Age, not as accurate datings in any absolute sense.”
Dr Silvestru explained to us that, even using such ‘way too old’ dating methods, no karstologists today would talk of ‘millions of years’ to form cave structures—even by conventional dating methods, the oldest accepted ‘date’ is about 600 thousand years. He has personal experimental knowledge of very rapid rates of growth — even lab vessels used to collect drip water have become covered in a thick layer of calcite rock within less than 10 years.
Growth rates for stalagmites of several cm per year have been measured. When one does the calculations using only one mm/year (a very slow rate), even assuming that growth totally stops during the very cold glacial periods, then, says Dr Silvestru, “even the tens of thousands of years assumed by evolutionists would mean we should see many more massive stalagmites than we actually find”.
God’s providential care was also evident in what Emil calls “several opportunities to leave this world”. In one, he was climbing a rock wall and fell, seemingly to his death. Yet even after a freefall of 20 m (65 feet), his fall was somehow stopped by his partner. In another, a huge rock falling 100 m (330 feet) was heading straight for him down a wall when it split into many pieces, none of which hit him or his colleagues.
Perhaps the most memorable was when Emil was wading through a narrow gorge. Massive boulders began falling from the top of the gorge, about 400 m (1300 feet) directly above him. He says, “it is quite hypnotic to watch such an event from below. With the walls less than 4 m [13 feet] apart, and me waist deep in water, there was very little chance I would survive. Yet, it happened.”
Emil says, “All this made me understand that it was unfair to attribute my survival to my good reflexes … as a scientist I had to accept that ‘somebody upstairs’ loved me. I started attending my wife’s church regularly, and on one apparently ordinary evening in church, I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. The truth is that the long years of my wife’s silent prayers for me were answered. Without her, I would still be wandering around on quicksand.”
Christianity and science
“Once I became a Christian,” Emil says, “I knew I had to ‘tune up’ my scientific knowledge with the Scriptures.” He briefly tried to maintain belief in an old earth via a ‘gap’ theory, but this was an unsatisfactory compromise for a thinker like himself. He says, “Although philosophically and ethically I accepted a literal Genesis from my conversion, at first I was unable to match it with my ‘technical’ side.”
However, email discussions with qualified creationist geologists, creationist books, Creation magazine and especially the Journal of Creation helped him realise what he calls ‘two essential things’:
- Given exceptional conditions (e.g. the Genesis Flood) geological processes that take an extremely long time today can be unimaginably accelerated.
- The Genesis Flood was global, not regional.
He says, “I had heard this before, but was unable to fully grasp its significance at first. It involved an incredible ‘brainquake’ in changing my scientific paradigm.
“These factors were immensely important in my conversion and my Christian life. I am now convinced of six-day, literal, recent, Genesis creation. That doesn’t mean that there are not still some unanswered problems, but researching such issues is what being a scientist is all about.”
One of the fascinating aspects of his research work involves glaciers that accumulate underground. Romania has eight caves with important perennial ice deposits, including the world’s second largest (75,000 cubic metres of ice in over 1,000 layers).
After Emil managed to attract the famous Laboratory of Glaciology in Grenoble, France, the first drilling in a subterranean glacier took place, producing 21.3 m (70 feet) of core. Emil’s interests include the formation and development of ice in caves, and the study of ancient climates preserved in the ice and other karst sediments.
He says, “Our Romanian-French team identified the radioactive isotope cesium-137 from the Chernobyl accident in bat guano in a subterranean glacier. In another cave, we found such residues from the 1963 Nevada H-Bomb experiments, in sediments at the bottom of a 12 metre-deep lake—the first such discovery in karst aquifers.”
The H‑Bomb findings were particularly surprising, since water can only get to the underground lake in question by seeping down through 250 m (more than 800 feet) of limestone. This suggests that the rates involved are much faster than previously assumed, although Emil is commendably cautious, saying that more data is needed from other caves.
Dr Silvestru says that in the Romanian karst, there is no real proof of caves older than the ‘Quaternary’, which “greatly simplifies a creationist interpretation, since it is consistent with the Bible.”
He believes that the currently prominent creationist modelling of the post-Flood Ice Age is an important tool in understanding the karst in a young-earth framework.8
Images from Ghetarul de la Scáriúoara, the world’s second largest subterranean ‘glacier’. The several hundred ice stalagmites are perennial, but change shape every year. Click for larger image
I asked whether he experienced any ridicule or persecution because of his strong stand on Genesis creation. He replied, “Not really, for two main reasons. First, after so many years of almost compulsory atheism/evolutionism, most people welcome biblical creationism as a breath of fresh air. Second, God has granted me a professional status that practically bars any attempt to ridicule my creationist convictions. During public meetings on creation, even when academics are present, there are questions, yes, even strong arguments, but never ridicule. But I do believe that if I were very outspoken within our rather closed scientific community, many would reject or avoid me.”
Along with a few academics and others, Emil is involved in the embryonic national creationist movement, as well as in translation of creation books.9
One of the two existing groups, founded two years ago, is named after N.C. Paulescu, a Romanian creationist scientist who discovered insulin. Emil says, “Unfortunately his discovery was made in Romania where there was little exposure to media. So a year later, two Canadians were credited with the discovery.”10
Emil told me he would love to be able to devote himself to full-time creationist research, looking at such things as how a world with higher CO2 (which may well have been the case before the Flood, and just after, before the earth was revegetated) might affect limestone deposition and rates of karst formation—in addition to refining his scientific critique of radiometric karst dating methods.
UPDATE:After this interview was published, Emil was able to do just that. See CMI-Canada hires world-class geologist Dr Emil Silvestru.
References and notes
- Because he was a knight of the order of the dragon (= draco in Latin, drac in ancient Romanian). Return to text.
- Dr Silvestru told us that, “According to our history, he constantly impaled thieves and pick-pockets. Therefore, foreign visitors were amazed to find out that a purse full of gold left in the middle of the road would stay there for days, as nobody dared risk a ‘high rise’.” Return to text.
- Karst is a term which initially referred to barren regions of mostly limestone and dolomite, noted for spectacular and distinctive landforms, and with substantial underground drainage features—caves, underground rivers, etc. It has come to refer more to the entire geosystem, above and below ground—see also note 5. Return to text.
- This is the closest equivalent in western terms—it included a 60-page dissertation. Return to text.
- This discipline approaches karst as a geosystem. Dr Silvestru says, “Karstology therefore deals with all features (above and below ground, physical and biological) related to limestones, including, for example, the sources of most of the rivers reaching the limestones.” Return to text.
- There is some confusion between the Anglo-Saxon and Latin understanding of ‘karst’, which Romanian and French pioneers in this work, principally Dr Silvestru, are attempting to clarify with more rigorous geological terminology. Return to text.
- Pneumatolysis: the alteration of rock or crystallization of minerals by gaseous emanations from the late stages of a solidifying magma. Return to text.
- By Michael Oard and Dr Larry Vardiman. Return to text.
- Some of these are being published with financial help from CMI. Return to text.
- F.G. Banting and C.H. Best, in 1921. Return to text.