Long-age geology or Genesis?
A response to Campbell et al.’s compromising article in Modern Reformation Magazine
The battle over the integrity of Genesis continues. In a recent article,1 eight geologists, including long-time anti-creationist Davis Young, attempt to persuade the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that secular natural history must guide, even determine, interpretation of the biblical text, even in the face of a clear contrary meaning. Although their article is causing a stir in Presbyterian circles, a careful reading reveals many of the same tired arguments that creationists have been refuting since The Genesis Flood was published nearly 50 years ago.
For that reason, and given sufficient time, anyone could track down answers to their arguments in the archives of CMI, but for efficiency sake, we can address the big picture here, while a detailed point-by-point refutation can be found at A Response to the Old-Earth Advocacy of Modern Reformation Magazine. Though directed at the PCA, the geologists’ arguments are relevant for Christians of any denomination, and thus their points and the answers from creationists deserve the attention of any concerned believer.
Sorting through the article, one finds a variety of arguments, but the bottom line is that biblical understanding must rely on secular natural history as delivered from on high by the high priests of geology. It’s OK if you don’t have a doctorate in geology; the authors know that it’s a hard subject and they provide an easy shortcut … just take their word for it. After all, the experts all know they are right and history has proven them infallible … except for, well, all that squabbling among them and the constant “evolution” of their theories and presuppositions over time.
The eight geologists double down on their logical error of an inappropriate appeal to authority (Scripture interprets Scripture), noting that many prominent theologians agree with them too. Creationists are used to finding themselves at odds with the world over God’s truth, so we simply need turn to 1 Corinthians 1:18–29, Romans 3:4, or similar other passages to remember that God is the smartest “expert” of them all. His infallibility ranks well ahead of any of those prominent theologians, too.
As with most arguments for compromise, this one is suspiciously shallow on exegesis or theology. Surprisingly, although the article is addressed to a confessional church, none of the confessional documents are mentioned. And for good reason. The Westminster Confession (IV-I, emphasis added) states:
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.
And seemingly in direct response to the argument that Christians should defer to modern “science” to interpret their history, the Confession says in I-IV:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
If the Bible doesn’t teach it and the confessional documents of the PCA do not support it, what then is the compelling case for the denomination to accept an old Earth? Is there some new discovery from the fossil record, from the rock record, or from our explorations of the planet’s oceans? No. These geologists offer two technical cases since their “more difficult challenge, however, was selecting a mere two out of the literally thousands of good candidates from every corner of the globe.” Their optimism is admirable, but assuming they picked the best candidates, their foundation is unstable.
Their two best cases
The first example is the “varved” (finely layered) sediments of Lake Suigetsu in Japan. Apparently, the varves present a “record” of 100,000 years, reinforced by C14 dating and dendrochronology. And of course, once the lake sediments have blown away the creationist position, the authors can then point to the rock record beneath the lake as “proving” millions of years.
Like any other interpretation, this one is a combination of data and assumptions. There is no attempt to consider a serious Flood alternative; it is simply a matter of PhD condescension towards the ignorant peasants who give the elite accommodationists a bad name in the eyes of the world. If the sediments are annual varves … if C14 dating is accurate … if dendrochronology is accurate … etc. If, if, if. Unfortunately, none of these can be demonstrated, as shown by the links above. Another good resource is Rock Solid Answers, where Mike Oard has a good chapter on varves.
Like the Lake Suigetsu argument, the next case also makes the attempt to demonstrate how multiple lines of evidence all lead to the same conclusion.2 But while the data might be independent, the worldview in the mind of the researchers is not, and worldviews always shape perceptions of reality. This time, the authors take us to the other side of the world, to the Atlantic Ocean’s mid-ocean ridge. We are told that after geology proved a steady spreading rate over 180,000,000 years, that satellite measurements have triumphantly confirmed that rate.
Once again, there are too many weak links. How do we know that the seafloor has been spreading at the same rate for 180 million years? A few scattered dates of oceanic rocks? One would think at a minimum that a dense grid of dates would be required to prove such a claim. But even the sparse dates might be more convincing if they were actually dates of the oceanic basement.3 Or if we could trust radiometric dating, despite its assumptions and anomalies. Finally, a few years of satellite measurements alone cannot possibly prove 180 million years of constant spreading. We need to know too that a rigid uniformitarianism has held over time. Ironically, it was Young who wrote:
We also challenge young-Earth creationists to desist from labeling modern geology as uniformitarian when they know full well that modern geologists repudiate any a priori commitment to slow, gradual process rates in the geologic past to the exclusion of all catastrophic events.4
Wild distortion of reality
After presenting these two “irrefutable” cases for an old Earth, Young and his fellow geologists present the deadly dangers of creationism. First is the “serious theological problem” of God’s dishonesty. After all, if He created a world that looks billions of years old … . What these geologists don’t seem to understand is that God took the trouble to tell us exactly what happened. If men choose to believe something else, it is not God’s fault!
The next deadly danger of creationism follows hard on the heels of the first. This time, it’s not God that’s dishonest, it’s us! That’s right. Creationists are leading children astray.
Covenant children who are raised with the impression that a young earth is integral to Christianity have their faith needlessly undermined when they are later confronted with the overwhelming evidence of the earth’s antiquity, and many leave the faith. It is our prayer that no Christian would be such an obstacle!
Given the clear effects of evolution and secular natural history on generations of Western youth (see Inside the mind of a killer), it is literally astounding that Christians could believe such a wild distortion of reality. (See Darwin’s impact) Especially when atheopaths like Richard Dawkins, Jacques Monod and T.H. Huxley had utter contempt for Christians pretending that evolution was compatible with biblical Christianity, as documented in the hyperlinked articles. The truth of the matter is quite the opposite; when we teach our children that the plain words of the Bible can be twisted to mean the complete opposite, there is no reason to value truth, God, or the resulting system in which people can live fulfilled lives that please their Creator.
- Campbell, D., Campbell, L.D., Cates, C., Davidson, G., Long, K., Mercer, R.F., Ratajeski, K. and Young, D.A., Ad Extra: PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth, Modern Reformation 19(3), May/June 2010; http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=1137&var3=issuedisplay&var4=IssRead&var5=112 Return to text.
- Reed, J.K., Toppling the Timescale, Part III: Madness in the methods, CRSQ 45(1):6–17, 2008, pointed out that the flip side of multiple overlapping lines of evidence is that there is no single accurate chronometer of earth history. The “shotgun” approach attempts to hide that weakness. Return to text.
- Pratt, D., Plate tectonics: a paradigm under threat, Journal of Scientific Exploration 14(3):307–352, 2000, demonstrates otherwise Return to text.
- Young, D. and Stearley, R., The Bible, Rocks, and Time, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, p. 470, 2008. Return to text.