Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Perfect Storm

A massive flood is a devastating meteorological event of great impact. Ingrained in the psyches of many religious people is the sense that floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters are manifestations of God’s judgment. Granted, it is possible that such catastrophes could be manifestations of divine wrath, particularly if they were to occur on a global scale and obviously caused by unnatural events.

The Genesis Flood, the landmark 1961 publication of John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, took the evangelical community by storm. It may have been the “perfect storm.” American evangelicals in the 19th century had “...developed a fairly sophisticated conception of how to integrate science and theology” according to historian Mark Noll. But evangelicals “…in this (20th) century have had more difficulty understanding how their predecessors could believe that the deliverances of scientists should aid in understanding the Bible,” continued Noll.

There are many examples. Specifically, beginning about 1930, resistance to the secularization of science, a drift toward George McCready Price’s ideas of a young earth and flood geology, and the appearance of fundamentalist literature promoting pseudo-scientific facts by popular figures such as Harry Rimmer, amounted to a reversal of the healthy synthesis of science and faith within the church.

As I write these posts, I actively attempt to recall my personal experience during these years. My concern was to be faithful to my cherished, traditional Christian beliefs. Fellow church members shared the same goals. In retrospect, however, the science I embraced was deficient. Geologists of the 19th century, including many Christians, had gained a clear vision of an earth of great antiquity. Early in the 20th century that vision faded. Beginning in 1961 for a large segment of evangelical Christianity, the vision almost vanished. They have espoused a recent creation only 6000 years distant.

Belief in a 6000-year-old earth pre-supposes the occurrence of a Noahic flood only 4400 years ago. That view, together with the interpretation of earth in the flood account of Genesis 7 as necessarily signifying the entire globe, entails acceptance of the proposition that virtually all of the earth’s geological features result from the catastrophic flood and from horrific upheavals of the earth’s crust during and after the flood.

Scientific findings of the past three centuries do not come close to supporting this account of historic earth events. The theological constructs of “no death before the fall,” not required by a careful reading and interpretation of scripture, result from errant interpretations of science. With respect to determining the antiquity of the earth, I must repeatedly stress the value of God’s gifts to us in modern times which enable us to clarify the meaning of scripture with science. In the early 19th century this gift was an occasion for Christians in the field of science to glorify the God of creation. In the 21st century we are in a better position than ever before to interpret the Bible text correctly with respect to our physical world.