Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four Origins Alternatives

Recently I wound down a long-running discussion with a theistic evolutionist. He claimed deciding whether God intervened along the geological timeline periodically (a creationist view) or whether God created a fully gifted creation at the beginning and endowed it with freedom to form the present multiplicity of species (an evolutionist view) did not really matter to him. God is the Creator of all things in either case, he declared.

Theistic evolution is now also termed evolutionary creation. It is the belief of roughly 32% of our US population. At one level of understanding, recognition that God is the Creator of all things is an important theological truth. Properly understanding how God accomplished his work of creation, however, may be regarded as a worthwhile concern, notwithstanding my friend’s claim that it does not matter.

Theistic evolutionists believe in all the provisions of evolutionary belief, including the descent of all living things from a common ancestor. This would include what is commonly known as “molecules to man” evolution. Man evolved, therefore. He was not created according to the ordinary definition of the meaning of create. God is the creator of all things at the beginning of time, theistic evolutionists say, but He built into creation the capability of ultimately generating today’s complex assemblage of millions of different life forms by evolutionary processes. While God sustains the existence of all things from moment to moment, theistic evolutionists do not believe instant creation of new life forms occurs along the timeline of earth history.

Young earth creationists comprise about 46% of the US population. They believe the entire cosmos and all life forms were instantly created less than 10,000 years ago. Each time the age of the earth and universe is pegged as millions of years in connection with news of a natural event, a substantial segment of the population does not assent. Recently we have discussed the “once in a century” meteor which exploded over Russia. It was reported the meteor was “the same age as the Solar System--approximately 4.5 billion years old.” A few days later convincing remnant evidence of the Iowa asteroid impact crater was publicized as striking earth 450 million years ago. Nearly half of the US population rejects these ages.

There are two other popular belief systems concerning origins among the remaining 22% of our population. Relatively few creationists call themselves old earth creationists, including “day-age” or “progressive” creationists. There are other variations of old earth creationist positions, such as the framework view and the formerly popular gap theory. While old earth believers accept the scientific evidence for a very old universe and a 4.5 billion year old Solar System, they nevertheless believe God intervened to create life at intervals along earth’s long history. When creationist beliefs are discussed, old earth creationists do not receive as much negative publicity as do young earth creationists. Evolutionists find old earth creationists more difficult to denigrate because most old earth beliefs are positioned closer to the discoveries of mainstream science.

The final members of this origins panel, but by far the smallest of the four groups, are naturalistic or secular evolutionists. In an article in Rich Deem’s website, secular evolutionists “see the whole of existence as purely material with ‘matter’ as eternally existent and all life coming into being by accident over many millions of years.” In contrast to the other three origins belief systems under discussion, secular evolutionists may have the most systematic and effective structure for dissemination of their beliefs. Professionals in the field of bio-science education are heavily atheistic or agnostic. Biology teachers and textbooks teach evolution with secular naturalism recognized as a “given.” The secular educators and media commentators have control of the “bully pulpit.”

We conclude our discussion with a brief commentary on one or two main concerns facing each of the groups with origins of life concerns. (1) Theistic evolutionists often express disappointment that their beliefs are sometimes perceived as anti-theistic among those whose belief is explicitly creationist. They wish to believe in evolution without being stigmatized in this manner. (2) Young earth creationists are forced to deny substantial mainstream science related to geological and biological history in order to support their desire to be faithful to their own view of scripture interpretation. (3) Old earth creationists are also uneasy about scientific evolutionary interpretations they view as errant. Their embrace of science in most other areas of concern, however, is much closer to the mainstream. (4) Finally, naturalistic evolutionists are alarmed that any mention of God’s intervention in the realm of nature is unscientific and should be quarantined to one’s personal religious views. Therefore, any mention of theism is not permitted at their origins discussion table.

Theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and old earth creationists would generally concur with scriptural expressions such as “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28) in spite of other subtle theological differences. Secular evolutionists are not at all concerned with the spiritual reality of this scripture. All four groups may generally agree that only one origins view is true. Of course, each group would endorse their own view.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Resolving YEC Problems

Several problems beg for resolution as believers in a young earth and young universe examine the modern findings of astronomers and geologists. Some news, such as the Decorah impact crater discovered in Iowa has recently been publicized. Decorah has the telltale remains of an asteroid impact 450 million years ago. Do we dismiss such scientific revelations as pure hokum? Are unique layers of shale filling the crater to a depth of 300 feet of recent origin? On analysis, the story needs some explanation for those who sincerely believe our earth is less than 10,000 years old.

The 3.5 mile wide crater is now filled with shale which conducts electricity differently than any surrounding rocks and also possesses gravity anomalies. The shale was formed from sedimentary deposits in an ancient sea which subsequently covered the crater atop layers of shocked quartz crystals, a sure indicator of a giant impact. Taken together, these features clearly outline the shape and depth of the ancient crater. There is little doubt of the crater’s existence or of its cause. The idea that the feature is young is unquestionably false.

What about Meteor Crater in Arizona? If the earth’s age is less than 10,000 years, the evidence of the meteor’s age of perhaps 50,000 years must be rejected. And what of the pock-marked, cratered surface of the moon? If the “late heavy bombardment” of the earth/moon system 3.9 billion years ago with numerous asteroids and comets were of recent origin, recent creation believers would find it necessary to explain the bombardments within a young-earth paradigm. If production of moon craters is a recent phenomenon on a recently created moon, earth craters on our gravity-strong earth would have been even more frequent. The collisions with earth would have been noted in the historic records of our culture. More likely, the heavy bombardment of space debris would have destroyed all newly created life.

The Answers in Genesis organization presents dinosaurs as recently created inhabitants of Noah’s ark. Humans coexisted with the dinosaurs, AiG claims. There is no credible historic account of human interactions with dinosaurs, according to scripture or other historic records. Radiometric dating of dinosaurs and the strata in which they were embedded puts them on earth many millions of years ago. Evidence for dinosaurs’ existence on earth from 66 to 210 million years ago is overwhelming.

Some of the most persuasive evidence for the old age of the universe is light travel speed. The age of objects in our universe is millions or billions of years as calculated by the speed of light flowing from those distant objects and our knowledge of known distances to them. There is no uncertainty concerning these ages. If young earth believers disregard such evidence, claim light speed has changed, or declare the findings of science illusory, they could embrace alternate interpretations to fit their preferences. Young earth creationists would then be forced to embrace a different interpretation of the timeline of earth history in opposition to mainstream science.

Preservation of young earth beliefs is an effort to preserve the integrity of God’s word. Taken at face value this effort is worthy of praise. Supporting beliefs attached to this praiseworthy goal, however, diverge widely from many findings of mainstream science. Therefore, young earth creationist believers hold many findings of mainstream science in contempt. One of the reasons for this contempt is the embrace of macro-evolution by the mainstream science community. This blog has repeatedly urged critical analysis of mainstream science on occasions. The evolutionist view of common ancestry, particularly molecules to man evolution, is a marked exception to the confidence we should accord to mainstream science. This exception triggers YEC lack of confidence in other totally reliable findings of science.

Young earth creationists hold a singular interpretation of the timelines of creation history according to the Genesis account. Alternate timelines of creation history are permissible according to other literal interpretations of Genesis timeframes of day (“yom”) but are not acceptable to young earth believers.  Their claim that the earth is young relates to their assertion that creation events took place several thousand years ago. They say God created the world in six days less than 10,000 years ago and devastated the earth except for the inhabitants on the ark by a worldwide flood covering even the highest mountains approximately 4,000 years ago. The original creation was paradisiacal. Sin committed by Adam and Eve caused spiritual alienation from God, but it also ruined the paradise. The physical operation of our earth was forever changed at the moment of Adam’s sin. All animal and human death originated with Adam’s sin for the first time in this universe according to the established young earth belief system.

Robert J. Schneider, formerly of Berea College, Kentucky, wrote a thoughtful analysis of the renewed embrace of young earth beliefs beginning in the late 1950s. “This contemporary creationist movement has had a widespread influence among American Protestant Christians because it offers an alternative worldview that provides security and certainty for believers living in the midst of a secularized American culture undergoing rapid changes in technology and troubling changes in social behavior.” Many believers in young earth creationism would do well to investigate the renewal of young earth fervor in the late 1950s and early 1960s along with its roots in the widespread influence of the Seventh Day Adventist Charles McCready Price (1870-1963). My previous posts bring focus to those early days of the birth of the modern young earth creationist movement:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Distressed by Old Age

Aging people are often distressed to acknowledge their own symptoms of advanced age. Young people prefer that their parents would remain young and vibrant. In a different sphere of experience, many Christians are troubled by the revelation that our universe is very old. They believe the earth is young. Physical evidence tells us, however, that our universe is not young but rather, exceedingly old. It was birthed in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The Earth and our Solar System developed 4.6 bya. Earth’s history reveals a wonder-filled progression of events and changing conditions since its formation billions of years in the distant past. Our home in the cosmos is a tiny speck of cosmic matter which yields its mature resources to seven billion people who now harness earth’s potential, not only for basic sustenance, but physical enjoyment and delight as well. Earth’s old age seen in this context is a miracle of divine provenance.

In the past several weeks we have experienced several startling astronomical events and discoveries to inspire deep wonder. First, the house-sized Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia on February 15, the largest meteor fall in over a century. Astronomers had not observed it during approach. The same day, a smaller asteroid swept between the moon and earth from a different direction in space. It posed no danger to earth dwellers. In 2012 it had been predicted to pass near earth. That both objects arrived on the same day proved to be a remarkable coincidence. In their conjecture, doom-sayers might conclude God was giving us a warning that we are at the mercy of frequent impacts from solar system space debris. Worried people remind us that each volcano, tsunami, earthquake, or violent storm may indicate the Creator is “warning us,” or perhaps “telling us something.” Humans should not speculate on whether such events have any divine meaning. They have occurred intermittently for the entire history of the earth--hundreds of millions of years. On balance, these events have produced significant long-term benefit. Humanity has learned to cope.

Our allusions to recent astronomical events have included scientific findings dating the events at various locations along the timeline of Earth’s enormous age. For example, the discovery of the impact crater in Iowa was calculated to have struck our planet 450 mya during the Ordovician geologic period. The revelation also has great impact on readers confident that the earth and universe were created a mere six thousand years ago. The Ankerberg ministry has been careful to disavow belief in molecules to man evolution sweeping through many evangelical churches, but we believe our support of an ancient earth and universe warrants a clarification of our beliefs for the millions of sincere believers embracing young earth creation. This ministry would not propose theological views contrary to Holy Scripture. Neither would the ministry propose errant scientific views. We believe the science community has promoted errant scientific views with respect to the theory of evolution, but their countless discoveries concerning the age of the universe are a triumph of knowledge worthy of praise. We have endeavored to explain what those errant views are and we will continue to do so. Our faith/science blog has dealt with such important issues since 2007.

The previous discussion enables us to focus on the distress of approximately 40% of the US population when numbers such as millions or billions of years are assigned to events of earth history by scientists. The young earth creationist congregation prefers to retain their vision of an earth, a solar system, a galaxy, and a universe in its youth. Their belief has been molded by a singularly strict interpretation of the brief Genesis creation accounts handed down to us from the authors of ancient scripture. Notwithstanding the brevity of the account of creation events and valid alternatives for interpreting words and phrases dealing with the creation of our cosmos and its greatest creative miracle--life--40% of our population believes a singular interpretation of the events described in the Genesis creation account: the earth was created 6000-10000 years ago. As a science enthusiast, I would prefer hundreds of pages of descriptive creation narrative. In divine wisdom, our God has chosen to limit the length and scope of creation passages. Modern science enables us to discover the sequence and timeline of creation events.

Do our blog references to tens of thousands, millions, or billions of years distress many Christians? The answer if an unequivocal, “Yes.” Refusal to acknowledge the age and sequence of events in our universe in terms of a timeline of millions and billions of years is a denial of reality in a far different category than refusal to recognize the age of beloved family members. Their refusal to acknowledge the scientific reality of an earth of enormous age and allowable linguistic rules of Hebrew is rooted in (1) fear of being unfaithful to scripture, (2) a general distrust of science which provides origins answers contrary to their interpretation of the meaning of scripture, and (3) fear that the theory of evolution is inextricably bound to an old universe interpretation. This list is far from a complete catalog of reasons for the complex cause of young earth believers’ refusal to accept the reality of an old earth.

In future posts we will give voice to some listener comments sent to the John Ankerberg ministry resulting from the airing of programs with old earth scientists and theologians as well as comments on our science/faith blog posts. We will respond in an effort to achieve more clarity on a difficult issue within the church.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Iowa Impact Crater

Had Russia’s 55 foot wide meteor not smacked into Chelyabinsk recently, it is doubtful you would hear about the Iowa event on this blog. After all, an asteroid strike in the United States as wide as a city block puts the Russian event to shame. Before becoming too alarmed, we must announce the object we reference struck land in what is now the United States up to 450 million years ago. We must also announce that the crater was filled with sediment many years ago. Its circular image is apparent to instruments sensing variations in gravity and electrical conductivity.

The children of Decorah, Iowa may be excited to discover they live in a 3½  mile wide asteroid crater more than 700 feet deep, underlain by a type of rock containing tiny “shocked” quartz crystals. Such crystals are only typical of powerfully impacted rocks. During the Ordovician geologic period lasting from 488 to 443 million years ago, there were no land animals to observe this grand event. All life was confined to the oceans. There may be several other craters in the US to provide evidence for celestial impactors during that time frame. The meteor impacts may or may not have contributed to the second largest extinction event on planet Earth. Nevertheless, extinction events on this planet have been an important contributor to the rapid appearance of new life forms to replace species going extinct.

I visited Meteor Crater in Arizona during the 1960s. This privately owned site is touted as the best preserved meteor crater on earth. My personal observations of the crater affirm this claim. The impactor struck several tens of thousands of years ago. The crater is almost one mile wide, 550 feet deep, and 2.4 miles in circumference. For thousands of years it has not been obliterated by the effects of earth’s erosion and weathering. Therefore, it remains a gigantic testament to the wondrous events still prevalent in our cosmos.  

A very well publicized extinction event occurred about 66 million years ago. The impact event is theorized to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs and other genera on earth in a brief moment of geologic time. Nobel prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez and his team hypothesized a devastating asteroid strike in Central America. The debris of iridium, a cosmic element, was found in rock layers spread around the earth. It is theorized to be debris from the impact. Evidence of the giant asteroid strike is centered in the Yucatan Peninsula town of Chicxulub, Mexico. While this event is not the most severe extinction event to engulf our earth, the changed global conditions were suddenly fatal for the bizarre dinosaurs countless numbers of our children have learned to love.

Geological periods are usually demarcated by great extinctions. Such events are most often triggered by environmental transformations. Astronomical or geological events trigger sudden, worldwide climate changes. A large asteroid impact or widespread volcanism could cause a few degrees of cooling resulting in an ice age. Worldwide extinctions could result. As we study these events, what facts impact us most? The answer lies in the events following the extinctions. Multiple examples of rapid radiations exist following earth’s extinction events. In radiations new species quickly repopulate the earth to replace the extinct species. Evolutionists credit a naturalistic process for the species changes. Creationists incorporate divine creation events in their explanatory model of new species appearances on the earth.

The Central America impact event of 66 million years ago ended the Mesozoic era, the age of dinosaurs. But the Cenozoic era, immediately following, saw a rapid radiation of mammals and birds. The first chapter of Genesis verses 20-31, chronicles the creation of living creatures, including humans. Genesis 1 is the story of creation of life. Scripture tells us that life on earth originated in supernatural events of creation during days five and six. The Bible uses the Hebrew term yom to designate creation time periods. Many geological and astronomical events have punctuated earth history both before and after life was created on earth. Natural events in God’s extraordinary providence have worked ultimately for the benefit of man and the good of all living creatures in his created world.