This is the second in a four part series taken from Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth's scholarly essay "Christian Geologists on Noah’s Flood: Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology".
As prefaced in Part 1 , our primary interest in this blog series is the widely promulgated notion that the Flood can account for the earth’s complex geology. Flood Geology derives from a belief that Genesis teaches that the world is very young – less than 10,000 years. To explain the vast thicknesses and incredible complexity of the earth’s sedimentary deposits within a short history, it is argued that the Flood must have been both global and violent. Flood Geology is thus synonymous with belief in a young earth. It is our conviction that this position is unreasonable from both a biblical and scientific perspective.
From a biblical perspective, Young-Earth/Flood-Geology advocates consistently argue that “the plain reading of Scripture,” with six literal 24 days is the only interpretation of Genesis that is free of textual and theological problems. All other approaches are claimed to require hermeneutical manipulations that ultimately undermine the simple and clear message of the Bible. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, conservative Biblical scholars (the group of theologians who believe the book to be genuinely God’s Word) debate how Genesis 1 and 2 should be understood, independent of any scientific challenge. Some indeed insist that a word-literal rendering is best, while others have argued that the construction of the text, while not typical poetry, nonetheless bears evidence of literary tools designed to emphasize God’s creative activity and providence, not days and a specific sequence of events.2
Literary Devices in the Bible
One reason that theologians think to look for literary devices is that there are internal textual problems if insisting that Genesis opens with plain historical narrative. Three examples follow.
- Light and dark are separated twice. Light is first separated from darkness in Day 1, then again in Day 4 with the creation of the sun, moon and stars – “God made them … to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:18). A forced word-literal interpretation here suggests that God's first attempt failed, and he had to try a different approach.
- Evening and morning are declared for three days without a sun. Evening and morning have meaning only in the context of the earth rotating about its axis adjacent to the sun. Without a fixed light source, there is no evening or morning. To say God himself was the source of light is insufficient, for this would require that God was “off” prior to Day 1, and that he was fixed in one position and not omnipresent until Day 4. The standard reply is that this is an expression of a 24 hour day as it would be observed for the rest of time. Which is to say, a figurative interpretation is called upon to support a literal interpretation.
- In Genesis 1, all animals were created before Adam, but in Genesis 2, many of the animals were created after God saw that Adam needed a helper (Gen 2:18-20). Many English Bibles fix this problem by translating the Hebrew word for “created” as “had created,” but justification for the “had” is based wholly on an assumed intention of the writer.
None of these observations mean that the creation story is not true; they simply indicate that a word-literal interpretation is not likely to be the most appropriate. More importantly, any impression given by the Church that belief in a young earth is synonymous with being a Christian is entirely unjustified, and in fact, does little more than create a stumbling block to faith in Christ.
It is readily acknowledged here that there are many other Scriptural issues that are important to consider when contemplating the best understanding of Creation and Noah’s Flood. Because these cannot be adequately addressed in a short (or even long) blog series, readers are encouraged to refer to When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth by G.R. Davidson.
Willingness to consider the evidence
So what about the scientific perspective? What does God’s natural creation reveal about its history? Before launching into a discussion of evidence, it is important to clarify the debate. The contention between geologists and Flood Geology advocates is not about natural vs. supernatural mechanisms. The underlying assumption throughout all Flood Geology arguments is that natural mechanisms occurring during and after the Flood can account for the majority of the sedimentary rocks that we find on the earth. It is this assumption that is the basis for claiming that scientific studies can be undertaken to find support for a global, catastrophic flood. The question before us, therefore, is what is actually revealed by studies of the earth's layers? Do they speak to a global deluge and recent age, or to a more complex and ancient history?
Flood Geology proponents would have us believe that there is extensive evidence for a violent, earth-wide flood that is apparent if one is willing to consider the possibility. As Christian geologists, we have no philosophical objection to a cataclysmic event of divine origin, and have long been willing to consider evidence of such an event. What we have observed, however, is that evidence for Flood Geology is largely, if not entirely, non-existent. Given the placement and character of sedimentary deposits currently on earth, deposition by a single flood is not only implausible, but utterly impossible unless God temporarily suspended His natural laws in order to establish layers and fossil beds that would subsequently communicate a story vastly different than what actually happened.
To relate the evidence effectively, we will consider three examples in Part 3, and a fourth, more extended example in the final post.
1. Henri Blocker, In the Beginning, InterVaristy Press, 1984; Meredith Kline, Space and time in the Genesis cosmogony, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 1996, 48:2-15; C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, P&R Publishing Company, 2006.