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.
What a great article!
I also remember my "z-factor" moment, and although I had no exposure to CMI at the time, there was certainly an indirect connection.
After being really challenged by a simple Gospel message during a Sunday service, I cried out in my head to God "what about the dinosaurs?". Less than five minutes later, my friend came up from Sunday School and mentioned what he'd been teaching the children about: the behemoth and the leviathan. Praise God for His mercy, for the book of Job, for my friend, and for the creation magazines and journals that he read.
May the Lord continue to bless your work!
The geological explanations of a young earth make sense and I have no issue with them, however, please provide a reasonable explanation for starlight and time. I've never seen a plausible one yet that doesn't require mental gymnastics to accept. I haven't been able to give a satisfactory explanation of the great distances of the stars from the earth and the time required for light to travel for us to see it.
You could begin by using the search engine on creation.com and simpy search "starlight and time". I will make it easy: go to Astronomy and astrophysics Q&A (scroll down to the distant starlight section).
However, you require that the answer does not require "mental gymnastics". In other words, you must understand it easily. This suggests that if God does things that you can't understand, then you will not accept them. Think about that! Do you understand how God created life? How He created Adam 'from the dust', and Eve? No? But surely you accept that He did that?
Creation was a miraculous series of events. We have a miracle worker who can do things that we cannot understand. Do you know that non-believers believe in miracles, but they don't have any miracle worker to bring them about? See 5 atheist miracles. Have a look at the first one in particular.
It's so nice reading the comments in this article. I too remember when you came to my church, David (must be about six or seven years ago now). And remember you telling the story about the Z coal.
That story and the many other bits of evidence you gave were eye opening and persuaded me to believe something about the Earth and its history that I never thought I'd ever believe. My faith since then has been on a much firmer foundation, trusting on 100% of God's Word, and as a result much more happily trusting in His Son. Praise God for how he's used you!
I recently discovered the creation.com website and have thoroughly enjoyed it. When I read "The Language of God" by Francis Collins a decade ago, it became clear that modern secular science is moving inevitably away from evolution and back toward scriptural truth. One topic I wish could be addressed further is the theory of the expanding earth which is now called expansion tectonics by the scientists dedicated to this critical re-thinking of plate tectonics. Since all the geologic, paleomagnetic, stratigraphic and geodetic can only correlate on a planet of a much smaller diameter, it would also appear that when the flood occurred "Pangaia" covered 100% of the earth's surface with no massive, salty oceans and then ripped apart, expanded and torqued--causing an imbalance of land masses that caused the axis tilt and likely a change in polarity, etc. When one considers the massive geophysical forces at work in that brief period of time, together with all the evidence of the rapid layering and fossilization that is undeniable (except by those who are willfully blind) then I don't believe this concept is at odds with Biblical ("young earth") creationism.
Thanks for your encouragement regarding our website.
Unfortunately I don't share your enthusiasm for Francis Collins' book and work. It is more an indication of how some Christians are moving away from the authority of God's Word and trying to meld it with evolution. He even formed an organisation to promote theistic evolution, which undermines the Gospel majorly. See Review of Language of God.
Yes, Plate Tectonics, or rather Catastrophic Plate Tectonics could well be a mechanism that explains much of the geology of the Earth, including things that happened during Noah's Flood. See for example: Plate tectonics and Interview with Dr John Baumgardner. The idea of an expanding earth could well fit in somewhere into these ideas. Being matters of history, these matters are not easy to nail down and there are various competing models.
After reading the 'Z Factor' article by David Catchpoole, I lifted by eyes, arms and heart to the heavens in gratitude for my Lord answering my prayer for help. I am scheduled to begin a Men's Ministry study (Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation) starting tonight for 12 weeks and was struggling with how to introduce it to the men in a way that would be totally relevant to our particular group of men in our large congregation. There are so many things in this article that are parallels to our church (and most churches if we are honest) that are addressed. I am so grateful for your timely ministry that God is using in such crucial time in the world that we live in. Thank you again.
How well I remember my "Z" factor. After being saved from atheism I agreed with most of the theistic evolutionary thinking. After some graduate work in physical chemistry I was perusing Bolton Davidheiser's "Evolution and Christian Faith" publication. At page 220 there began a section on the second law of thermodynamics. Anyone studying P Chem knows the extent of thermodynamics in such a discipline. The light went on. Thermodynamic principles, rightly understood, will not only not let classic evolution proceed, these principles will not allow it to even begin in the first place. Without all the details, from that time on I was a committed Biblical Creationist of the literal variety.
Thanks for such a reminder in your article.
Jack Sofield, retired medical physicist.
This my fist newsletter from CMI. I truly appreciated it's content. It squarely touched on the need for Christians to at least get a basic understanding of the authority and accuracy of God's word answer the lies of this world, with meekness and respect. ~Blessings!
This story brought a lot of joy to my heart. Thanks for sharing!
Praise God! His Word is never void. I print off the Infobyte articles and have begun taking them to work (I work in a local poultry farm where we sell chickens and chooks and also feed, mixed on the farm) and we insert the articles in the bags of chook food- among other witnessing material.
Only God knows how many souls are won and will be in heaven but it is worth doing.
Thank God the geologist came to faith, no wonder he was excited. What a great witness.As the Bible says (I forget the verse now) the first case seems strong until someone comes along with a better idea, or the truth.
David, what an amazing testimony! God is so good! This kind of amazing outcome from Creation Ministry is why I have loved, promoted, served and spread the "creation message" since first meeting Peter Sparrow in the Creation Bus in Mackay, 1994, as a new believer. It is an "ah-ha!" "eureka" type of ministry. It makes the Bible real, relevant, and TRUSTWORTHY from the very first verse, and inspires believers to stand on that rock solid foundation and reach out to others with the Gospel like no other information ministry I've ever encountered. The LORD grace and richly bless you all. :-)
The Gap in 'the Swamp Theory'
"DRAINS THE SWAMP" in 'the Gap Theory'
Great Testimony, David Catchpoole
Thank you David.
I remember many years ago when you were first starting out as a speaker for what is today CMI.
It was at an Anglican (Episcopal) Church in Sydney (I attend another Anglican Church) and I assisted as a volunteer to help with your ministry engagement.
The Pastor of that church had commenced something of a 'Seeker' Service and rigidly required the message to the congregation be only 30 minutes duration so as not to deter 'Seekers'.
Someone had suggested a Creationist speaker be engaged for one Sunday evening event.
Well, since you were new and still refining your talk you spoke for about an hour and the Pastor was irate. However, it is fair to say that the matter of correcting error in churches and informing people with the material to trust the Word of God requires more time than 30 minutes.
What that Pastor has not had the opportunity to see, but I certainly have seen, is that our LORD has much used you for the building of His Church for decades thereafter.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Relating to my own experience, I don't think there was a particular Z-factor like interbedded coal seams, or dinosaur soft tissue, etc. I remember that when I first stumbled upon creation.com, I was beginning to be slowly convinced of the fallacy of evolution, but I still had a stumbling block: how can we see a distant star in a young universe? I resolved to discard evolution when I got to read an article that answered this. But before I could get to such an article, I stumbled upon "12 evidences for a young world": it clinched it, "we are living in the world of the Bible!", I said to myself, and it was a wonderful moment, like being born again once again. It was only later that I got to read "How can distant starlight reach us in just 6,000 years?"
The "Z-factor" is not so much a particular stumbling block as it is an understandable unwillingness of people to let go of their worldview unless the replacing worldview is based on solid ground. A normally constituted adult person doesn't just want to live in a magical universe where everything happens "just like this", she wants a coherent universe where you can explain events from a particular underlying framework.