How a university geology lecturer’s last obstacle to believing a literal Genesis—‘What about coal?’—was overturned in an instant
This is an account of the interaction between the senior pastor of a large metropolitan church (whom I’ll refer to as ‘Pastor X’), a university geology lecturer (‘Geologist Y’), and myself.
I had just addressed the first of three services on a Sunday morning concerning the creation/evolution issue, at Pastor X’s church. But now, sitting in the pastorate office facing Pastor X across a coffee table, I was anxiously wondering if he might abruptly cancel my scheduled addresses to the subsequent two services. Not because he was unhappy about what I’d presented to the first congregation—he had in fact glowingly endorsed my presentation publicly as he closed the first service. However, I was now daring, in the privacy of his office, to challenge one aspect of his closing remarks.
Perhaps I’d not made it clear in my presentation that not only was I taking a very public stance against evolution, but also against evolution’s claimed millions and billions of years. For in Pastor X’s closing comments to the first congregation he had told them that the age of the earth is not an issue they need worry about, as millions or billions of years can be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. I was mortified, for these remarks revealed his support for a ‘gap theory’, in which a supposed gap in time between verses 1 and 2 included Satan’s fall, a great flood catastrophe, and then God supposedly re-creating the earth in six normal-length days. Aside from being just plain wrong,1 the gap theory dangerously lulls Christians into thinking that a long age of the earth does not contradict God’s Word, rendering them mute. That’s not a good outcome in these days of evolutionary bombardment, when more than ever the Christian voice needs to be heard strongly2 to counter such anti-God claims.
I weighed my options: Politely keep my silence (a much easier course of non-action!), or ask for a private chat? Knowing that many in the congregation after the service would be purchasing the ‘young-earth’ creation resources I’d brought along that day, and that when they read of the error of gap theories3 it would likely mean embarrassment for Pastor X later, I steeled myself to ask to meet him privately, hoping he would ultimately see my forwardness as being in line with Proverbs 27:6.4
A surprising turn…of events
And so here I was in his office, explaining how Scripture is utterly incompatible with the gap theory. E.g. how could there have been a ‘Lucifer’s Flood’ before God declared in Genesis 1:31 that everything He had made (i.e. including the being we now call Satan) at the end of the six days (Exodus 20:11) of Creation Week was (still) “very good”? And Revelation 21:1 makes it clear that this earth (the one that will pass away) is the first earth (i.e. there never was any previous one).
To my surprise, Pastor X shifted from gap theory to a ‘day-age’ view, saying, “Ah, but doesn’t Scripture say ‘a day is like a thousand years’?” I began to point out that 2 Peter 3:8 is simply teaching that what might seem like a long time to us waiting for the second coming of Christ is as nothing to the eternal God, and has nothing at all to do with the meaning of ‘day’ in Genesis 1, otherwise you might similarly invoke Psalm 90:4 to argue a night watch is a thousand years long!5 But before I had a chance to utter more than a few words, we were interrupted by an abrupt knock at the door, which immediately burst open, and a well-dressed gentleman aged about 50 said to Pastor X, “I need to ask a question.”
Then the man turned to me, saying, “Your presentation today has been incredibly useful to me, answering so many of my questions, and I’ve just bought these books you recommended which I expect will answer more. But I need an answer to this question right now: What about coal?”
“Coal is easy,” I said, taking from him one of the books he’d purchased, Stones and Bones,6 and opened it to the pages showing Z-shaped coal seams. To my amazement, before I’d had a chance to even open my mouth to explain, his face lit up in instant recognition, and he became even more excited: “That’s it! That’s it!” Turned out he was a lecturer in geology at the local university, so no wonder he (‘Geologist Y’ referred to at the start of this article) had simply glanced at the picture, and gotten the point immediately.
The evolutionary millions-of-years ‘swamp forest’ storytelling about coal’s origins cannot explain Z-shaped coal seams—because they can only have formed through the action of rushing water.7 Geologist Y, having heard me talk at some length during the church service about the global Flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6–9), about 4,500 years ago, had now seen its significance for coal formation.8 He certainly was excited: “That’s it! That’s it! Noah’s Flood explains coal, the fossil-bearing rocks. I believe everything now—the whole Bible. The universe is only 6,000 years old. What a wonderful day this is.”
For the first time during this extraordinary intrusion into his office, Pastor X now spoke up, directly addressing Geologist Y. “But there’s no need to believe in a 6,000-year-old earth, for the Bible says that a thousand years is like a day…”
Geologist Y now rounded on his pastor, with frustration in his voice: “You think that solves your problem? It doesn’t! I know, for I see our young people at uni every day. I see their unbelief—they’re not stupid, they can recognize that what they’re being taught in class about the age of the earth directly contradicts the Bible. You theologians don’t realize that your ‘harmonizing’ ideas aren’t helping our young people at all. You might argue that they’re still coming along to church and youth group, etc., but it’s got more to do with finding someone of the opposite sex than with any expression of trust in God’s Word! But today, for me, it’s now clear-cut and simple. The earth is only 6,000 years old. No room for any other ideas.” Geologist Y then turned to me, and smiling broadly, said, “Thank you very much,” shut the door, and was gone.
The ensuing quiet was embarrassing, but I resolved not to be the first to speak. At length, Pastor X broke the silence, saying: “Tomorrow, as it happens, I’m on roster to host our denomination’s monthly city-wide meeting of pastors and church leadership teams—there’ll be several hundred people coming. I was scheduled to give them a 90-minute address, but I’ll withdraw so you can use that time slot to present material similar to what you’ve shown us this morning, with ample question time, please.”
Did this mean Pastor X had now been won over to a ‘young-earth’ view? This much I know: Pastor X did not make any contradictory long-age comments when he closed the subsequent two church services, and the following day when he introduced me to the assembled pastors and leaders he exhorted them to carefully weigh what I had to say. The very best indicator, however, occurred the following Sunday, when I addressed a church far from Pastor X’s city. That congregation’s pastor stood up to close the service, and relayed this news: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, a few days ago I and many other pastors around this nation received an email from Pastor X, commending Creation Ministries International in the highest possible terms. Now that I’ve seen and heard today’s message for myself, I too now understand why! It really is true; a 6,000-year-old earth.” 9
The importance of evidence
For Geologist Y, evolutionary indoctrination about coal needing millions of years to form in forested swamps had been his final obstacle to believing the whole Bible. But note how being shown the evidence, in his own scientific field no less, overturned that indoctrination. How apt that for Geologist Y, his ‘Z factor’10 so-to-speak should prove to be Z-shaped coal seams! For other people, their ‘Z factor’ could be different, e.g. related to dinosaurs or natural selection or races or biblical authority, but an overarching lesson from this encounter in Pastor X’s office is surely that evidence, and being ready to answer (1 Peter 3:15), are of critical importance.
And note the ‘domino effect’ here, i.e. how the knowledge that real-world evidence supports the plain biblical account of Creation and the Flood can be contagious in a positive sense: A creationist publication illustrated with Z-shaped coal seams clinched it for Geologist Y, whose excitement ‘knocked-on’ to Pastor X, who in turn exposed his colleagues to the simple truth that reading Genesis is as straightforward as A-B-C.
What’s more, now that you’ve read this account, I certainly hope the ‘domino effect’ unleashed from Pastor X’s office continues through
References and notes
- Sarfati, J., The gap theory—why it fails on all counts, downloadable tract at creation.com/gap-tract. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., ‘Billions of years’ makes Christians dumb (and atheists loud)—A brilliant way to muzzle Christians: Get them to believe in long ages, creation.com/muzzle, 23 April 2013. Return to text.
- E.g. in: “What about gap theories?”, Chapter 3 of CMI’s The Creation Answers Book, chapter available as a pdf at creation.com/cab3. Return to text.
- “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, … ” (ESV). Return to text.
- For more on this see Sarfati, J., 2 Peter 3:8—‘one day is like a thousand years’, Creation 31(4):16, 2009; creation.com/thousand. Also see “Six days? Really?”, chapter 2 of CMI’s The Creation Answers Book, chapter available as a pdf at creation.com/cab2. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Stones and Bones—powerful evidence against evolution, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, USA, 2011, available via creation.com/store. Return to text.
- Snelling, A., Forked seams sabotage swamp theory, Creation 16(3):24–25, 1994; creation.com/z-coal-seams. Return to text.
- Walker, T., Coal: memorial to the Flood, Creation 23(2):23–27, 2001; creation.com/coal. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., The importance of evidence, Creation 30(3):6, 2008; creation.com/evidence. Return to text.
- In assay statistics, ‘Z factor’ has to do with evaluating the quality of a result for the purpose of higher-order application. It’s adapted here to mean the key to (re) evaluating thinking about origins, with application of the highest order. Return to text.