The Biblical Premise of Uniformitarianism, Part 3

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June 19, 2010 Tags: Earth, Universe & Time

Today's entry was written by Gregory Bennett. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Biblical Premise of Uniformitarianism, Part 3

Part 1 of this series addressed geological and historical perspectives regarding uniformitarianism. Part 2 explored how uniformitarianism provides a model of understanding the earth’s history from the perspective of God’s providence, one of the core tenants of Christian doctrine. Here we argue that uniformitarianism simply looks at God’s providence back to the beginning of time. Further, we show how every biblical interpreter and student of history uses similar uniformitarian principles.

The doctrine of God’s providence underpins all of science including geology. Wayne Grudem puts it well: “God has made and continues to sustain a universe that acts in predictable ways. If a scientific experiment gives a certain result today, then we can have confidence that (if all the factors are the same) it will give the same result tomorrow and a hundred years from tomorrow." It also underpins technology. “I can be confident that gasoline will make my car run today just as it did yesterday, not simply because ‘it has always worked that way,’ but because God’s providence sustains a universe in which created things maintain the properties with which he created them.” (Grudem, p.317)

The present is the key to the past

Geologists extend this application of God’s providence not just forward into the future, but backwards to the beginnings of the earth, 4.5 billion Earth-years ago. Astronomers extend this application back to the beginning of the universe, when time began, 13.7 billion Earth-years ago. These scientists assume that God uses methods of providing for his creation today that he used in the past and will continue to do so until the universe ends.

Uniformitarianism, the principle that “the present is the key to the past,” allows geologists to look at how God interacts with the earth today and make assumptions about how God worked with it in the past. Based on those assumptions and actual measured evidence, we can be confident that the rules of physics and chemistry behind geology are the same today as they have been in the past, since the dawn of creation.

For example, we assume based on God’s providence that the four fundamental interactions of nature – gravitation, the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force – have not changed since time began; that the speed of light has continued to be 299,792,458 meters per second since time began; that the properties of the elements on the periodic table have not changed since time began; that the laws of thermodynamics have not changed since time began.

These physical properties all stand behind geology. For example, we assume that the properties of the atoms calcium, carbon, and oxygen have not changed since time began. When geologists see limestone rocks that contain molecules of CaCO3 (one calcium, one carbon and three oxygen atoms), they assume that this calcium carbonate molecule’s properties have not changed. Thus, when geologists look at limestone today and limestone deposited in that past, they assume that the chemistry and physical properties are the same.

Or consider salt. We assume that the properties of salt, NaCl, have been the same since time began and that salt has always dissolved in water. Thus, when geologists see thick deposits of salt associated with the oil and gas fields of the world, they assume that it was not deposited by a worldwide flood, but by other mechanisms, because salt would have dissolved in water in the past as it does today.

Same principles in biblical interpretation

Every one of us, including Dr. MacArthur, believes that the “present is the key to the past” at some level when interpreting past events where we were not direct observers. We see family interactions today where parents interact in loving relationships with their children. We presume similar behavior occurred in families 2,000 Earth-years ago when we read Mark 5, in which the synagogue ruler Jairus asked Jesus to heal his daughter, or Mark 9, in which a man in the crowd asked Jesus to heal his son possessed by an evil spirit. We see storms on the Sea of Galilee today, where wind and waves whip up dangerous sailing conditions, and we assume that similarly frightening conditions occurred in the past as described in Matthew 8. We see the sun rise and sun set today and assume that it did so 2,000 Earth-years ago when Jesus himself watched.

Christian geologists are no different than biblical interpreters or historians. They just picture Jesus as God ruling and watching the sun rise and set not just 2,000 Earth-years ago, but 2 billion and more Earth-years ago. After all, Colossians 1:16 says about Jesus, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

While the extent of the use of the two types of God’s providence in his creation may be debated, Dr. MacArthur mistakenly pits the two types of providence against each other when condemning uniformitarianism. Throughout time, God has worked directly by his own hand, through miracles. Mostly, he has worked indirectly, through either uniform processes or catastrophic agents. Just because an event is rare (like a catastrophic meteorite impact) doesn’t necessarily make it a miracle. It may be ordinary providence, just not what we frequently see God doing in nature.

God has worked in the past using what we might consider ordinary or uniform agents. He has worked in the past using “extreme natural forces.” He has also worked in the past using miracles. All of these are considered God’s providence. He continues to work in all these ways today. God’s hand in the present is truly the same hand that it was in the past.

Rejecting uniformitarianism means rejecting God’s providence

The arguments for uniformitarianism being a dangerous and unscriptural dogma cannot be held up unless they also include arguments against the doctrine of God’s providence and the continued fundamental physical and chemical properties of nature.

We do a great disservice to the person of God in ignoring parts of a key doctrine like Providence. The greatest danger is that we misunderstand God’s person and God’s own nature. In understanding God’s activity on the earth during the past 4.5 billion Earth-years as resulting from his providence, both ordinary and extraordinary (or miracles), we learn more about God. Understanding uniformitarianism in this light gets gives us opportunities to praise God and to see God’s person behind the events of the distant past. Now the great forces of nature studied in that light become the works of God’s hands stemming from his relationship to his creation.

References

Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, 4th Edition, Eerdmans, 1941.

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994.


Gregory Bennett has practiced geology as a middle school teacher and an oil company production geologist. He now works in the information technology industry providing consulting to universities throughout the US. Bennett writes and lectures on science and faith topics as an affiliate with Solid Rock Lectures and has drafted a book for youth with the working title, Geology and God’s Work: Discovering a Personal, Loving Artist behind Earth History. He is a member of the Affiliation of Christian Geologists, the American Scientific Affiliation, and an associate with the Evangelical Theological Society.

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Justin Poe - #18213

June 21st 2010

Argon states, “The consistency of chemical and physical properties in the past can be and has been tested. “

Now, I would like for you to scientifically prove this.  When doing so, you must be able to pinpoint with the utmost accuracy, everything that that piece of geological structure has gone through in the past 50+ million years.  IF you can do so, I’ll buy your argument.


Merv - #18214

June 21st 2010

There is a symmetry about our dispute here:

Regarding Genesis 1 - 3: 
YECs claim they have a basic reading.  Other Christians claim they have an interpretation.

Regarding nature:
YECs claim we have interpretation.  Other Christians claim we have a basic reading.

Both minimize their own dependency on interpretation while pretending the other has almost nothing but interpretation.  Like Gingoro stated, none of the sides above has 100% certainty though they may often speak as if they do. 

Not that YECs claim 100% understanding of all Scripture (at least I hope not –Gabriel?)
or that others really claim to simply “read” nature.  But regarding basic (consensus) modern scientific facts like the earth going around the sun, we do


Merv - #18215

June 21st 2010

deem such things to be factual and now above interpretive bias nearly as much as something could possibly be.  So in that case we feel we are “reading” nature.  Many of us here would put a billions year old earth at nearly the same status.

It’s only fair to note that you have your own reasons for feeling much the same kind of certainty for your application of Genesis 1 - 3.  You feel your understanding to be basic enough that your application is above interpretive bias.  Everything we get from Scripture after this point is crafted by these presuppositions.  I don’t see anyway past that for us. 

—Merv


Justin Poe - #18216

June 21st 2010

Argon, in continuation…you are completely mixing up historical science with observable science.  The speed of light is observable.  Atheists, TE, OEC, day age theorists, and YEC all agree on what the speed of light is right now in our universe.  Same with the boiling and freezing points of water.  This is observable science.  Extrapolating to the past, literally in billions of years numbers, is historical science, not observable science, thus one HAS to have a presuppositional worldview (starting point) that the evidence will be interpreted through.

I have seen in this thread probably 3 times already somebody state to the effect, “my friend, a Christian btw, was converted to OEC through evidence”.  Fine…I can list a plethora that go the other way as well.  Does that make me right??  That is a very weak argument.


Justin Poe - #18223

June 21st 2010

Merv, in your most recent post there is much that I can agree with. I think it would be arrogant for Gab or myself to claim full knowledge of Scripture and most likely downright sinful to do so.  But I come from a standpoint as to what is the BEST interpretation of Scripture (in this case, and in this arena, always Gen. 1-3 or even further if you count the flood and Babel). 

You have seen me state on here over and over and over that ALL of Scripture can be, and should be, used in dealing with any topic.  It’s clearly a minority stretch to believe that Adam and Eve are mythological figures or that the Flood was not a global flood.  A plain reading tells us otherwise.  As much as Shaeffer has been invoked here I should point out that he believed in a LITERAL creation of Adam and Eve as the very first humans, ever, and a literal global flood.  Let me ask you Merv, or anyone else, if you were question by an average person seeking salvation as to the idea of a mythological ANE and then asked you why they should believe the resurrection as actual FACT, what would you tell them?  I know that will be a lengthy answer but why is it that Biologos (and others) literally have to twist scripture??  To fit with science is the logical answer.


Justin Poe - #18224

June 21st 2010

cont…..

Back to the use of Scripture.  If there were just ONE reference ANYWHERE in Scripture for this OEC theory or more particular in Biologos’ case, a Darwinian creation, then I would have to back track.  However, there is none.  Not one verse.  Not one jot.  Not one tittle. Not one verse from Paul, Peter, Luke, Jesue, ect.  Are we really to believe that there was an unknown, unnamed race of souless humanoids who perished an awful death with zero hope of redemption???  Has God just simply chosen to leave that part of history completely out of our knowledge, left to be read into what He DID provide for us???


Gabriel Powell - #18233

June 21st 2010

Proverbs 25:2 speaks of what scientists do:  “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of scientists is to search out a matter.” (THE MESSAGE).

Yikes, when the Message is introduced into a debate you know there is no valid biblical argument for your position. First of all, “scientists” is a horrible translation. Maybe “Presidents” or “Political leaders” would be a bit closer. Second, to apply this passage to evolution goes beyond the breaking point. God hasn’t concealed creation, He had revealed it in Scripture.

Gregory, I did appreciate your repetitious use of the concept that nature reveals God. If you stretch “Natural revelation” to refer to what modern scientists discover in the minutia of creation, you are outside biblical boundaries.

Merv,

Both minimize their own dependency on interpretation…

I don’t minimize my dependency on interpretation at all. I consistently call it just that—a literal interpretation. And I also acknowledge my a priori affirmation of inerrancy and inspiration. The difference is my interpretation is guided by hermeneutics and exegesis, not man’s anti-supernatural conclusions.

My conscience is bound by Scripture.


Gabriel Powell - #18234

June 21st 2010

Did any of you see this?


JHM - #18245

June 21st 2010

Gabriel,

But ECs/BioLogos also make extensive use of hermeneutics and exegesis, just not necessarily of the flavor you might like. And a great many of them are not anti-supernatural at all, so I’m not sure your interpretation of your interpretation is quite right.

Your a priori assumption is basically that YEC is the only valid interpretation of Genesis 1-3. If that assumption is a good one, shouldn’t it match up quite well with outside observations? Yet there have been many troubling observations over the last couple hundred years, and a great many of them by people who are not anti-supernatural. If YEC can’t explain these observations then I think it’s hard to fault people for re-evaluating the a priori assumption, regardless of it truthfulness. It seems to me therefore, that BioLogos is worth taking a look at, and taking seriously, even if in the end we don’t quite agree. I’m reasonably certain that God doesn’t mind us plumbing the depths of His World and Word for the truth of who He is and what He’s done.


Argon - #18250

June 21st 2010

Juston Poe: Argon states, “The consistency of chemical and physical properties in the past can be and has been tested. “

“Now, I would like for you to scientifically prove this.  When doing so, you must be able to pinpoint with the utmost accuracy, everything that that piece of geological structure has gone through in the past 50+ million years.  IF you can do so, I’ll buy your argument.”

Sure, take radioactive decay rates. Today, radioactive isotopes decay through a known series of daughter isotopes with known energies and known rates. These decay events trigger specific, known chemical reactions in surrounding material. If rates or energies changed in the past, the patterns observed in the rocks would not match with what we project if the rates/energies were constant. But what is observed does align with predictions of constancy and this is the case for multiple isotopes and physical phenomena. Furthermore, we have a good understanding of the mechanisms behind nuclear decay. Nothing the isotopes experience would change the rates by the several orders of magnitude required to accomodate a young Earth.

PS. One needn’t track every single possible ange that happened to a sample. Just know the range of conditions.


Merv - #18257

June 21st 2010

Gabriel, (18233)  Who here is using an hermeneutic or exegesis that is guided by anti-supernatural conclusions.  Any Christians?  Maybe I’m naive and others are holding out on this.  JHM seemed to leave open the option that there are some.  If so, they can pop in here and defend that as they may want to.

I am glad that you used the word interpretation, at least.

I did check out the Phil Johnson link and was disappointed but not too surprised.  The only response he gave to the [one] Ecclesiastes Scripture reference that they acknowledged from the Biologos articles was to call it “lame” —hardly fitting words from anyone who purports to take Scriptures seriously.  Much of the rest was just ridicule and name calling, with very little Scriptural engagement.

The comments underneath though!  They were a mixture of dismaying to interesting!  Do (would) you really feel at home hanging out there Gabriel?


Merv - #18258

June 21st 2010

Or do you feel here like I would feel trying to have “exchanges” there?  I hope not—-but if so, then you deserve a medal for sticking it out here.  That blog is like a pep-rally on steroids - but with a few individuals daring to just occasionally meekly question some small aspect of party line.  Give me Scriptures any day.  And if Biologos becomes like that then I will mourn the loss…  (or if it feels like that to you now, Gabriel, then I need to ask for forgiveness for my part in such a perception.)

—Merv


Merv - #18260

June 21st 2010

Oh—- and your reaction to the use of the word “scientist” by the MESSAGE seemed over the top.  I know nothing about that paraphrase or whatever it is ....so I’m certainly not here to defend some ‘translation’ I know nothing about.  But given who many of the proverbs are attributed to, I think the concept ‘scientist’ actually fits at least as well as president or king!  If Solomon wasn’t somebody interested in the workings of the world, I don’t know who would be.  (I know—-the context of the verse can imply ‘political’ or ‘heart’ matters, but again—given the way Solomon writes, he was interested in everything.)

Job 28 has passages that are much more explicitly beautiful towards the vast reach, and limits of science—-or I should start calling it “creation awareness” knowing that using science and Scripture in the same sentence can get some all tied in knots?

—Merv


Joe Francis - #18262

June 21st 2010

Karl

You said: “That is completely wrong.  As well as being judgmental.  Just listen to the life stories of many contributors here, who started out as YECs until the evidence convinced them otherwise.  Your problem is not that you are dealing with people with axes to grind.  Rather, you are dealing with people who couldn’t perpetually keep their eyes squeezed tightly shut to God’s world.”

As you know from our previous exchanges, I am a YEC who is open to the data presented by God’s world, so there are some YECs with open eyes, who are open to the data who have not been convinced by it.  I happen also to work closely with Pastor MacArthur and appreciate his ministry.


Justin Poe - #18276

June 21st 2010

From the Phil Johnson blog:

“The problem is that BioLogos clearly does not take scripture seriously, despite the claims of their PR department.”

“Although the BioLogos PR machine relentlessly portrays the organization as equally committed to science and the Scriptures (and there’s a lot of talk about “bridge-building” and reconciliation), the drift of the organization is decidedly just one way.”

“Well, OK, biblical references are not entirely missing. I should mention Moshier’s one lame appeal to the words of the sage in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”’

“As if that disproved the Genesis account and settled the dispute on the side of the skeptics in 2 Peter 3:4.”

Bingo!  Exactly what I’ve been saying since I visited here.  I have seen little to almost zero scriptural support for this theory. 

The Templeton Foundation support is old news (to me at least).  Kind of Bono rolled up into a nice little foundation.  “You’re alright, I’m alright, Hindus are cool, Muslims too, Christ rules” type of stuff.


Justin Poe - #18277

June 21st 2010

Here’s the problem Biologos is going to have with fundamental Americans, or Christians even in other parts of the world.  Biologos is taking a position scientifically that has really only been espoused by Atheists throughout history, age of the earth aside (that seems to be more of a common ground if there is one).  Couple that with zero Scriptural support for Darwinian evolution and you have a problem…a BIG one.


Justin Poe - #18279

June 21st 2010

Argon, then why do things like diamonds still exhibit carbon when there should be none?  Don’t tell me because YEC intentionally add carbon.


Justin Poe - #18280

June 21st 2010

Argon cont….again, you claim uniformitarianism in your response to me…that’s all you can fall back on, historical evidence, not observable evidence.  You CANNOT observe the evidence as it was 1 billion years ago.  You cannot even observe the evidence as it was during the flood, nor can I or any other YEC, thus your presuppositional worldview.


Gabriel Powell - #18293

June 21st 2010

“If that assumption is a good one, shouldn’t it match up quite well with outside observations?”

It wouldn’t have matched up for Adam, and it doesn’t need to match up for us.

Merv,

I don’t spend time a lot of time on the Pyro blog, but I tend to agree with almost everything that is written there (the main posts). Sure, there are some here at BioLogos who hold to inerrancy, but if BioLogos posts articles about “post-inerrancy”, then that means the leaders of this site do not believe in inerrancy, and of course neither do many contributers and commenters.

The only glue on BioLogos is a uniform commitment to science. There is no uniform or orthodox commitment to Scripture at all. BioLogos is recapitulating what has happened every time moderate Christians seek to reconcile with liberals or unbelievers. The Bible always loses. And so it does here.

Merv, if you were disappointed with Phil’s post because of its lack of biblical engagement (when he wasn’t even trying to engage), you should be triply disappointed about BioLogos.


John VanZwieten - #18301

June 21st 2010

Joe Francis,

In your willingness to look at God’s world, what do you make of the Greenland Ice Core evidence against a recent world-wide flood? 

That for me was big.  I was willing to stick with the YEC line about radiometric dating being worthless, but once I saw how the annual layers in the ice can be counted one by one, and that they add up to well over 10K without any of the layers having been flooded, I finally had to take a very hard look at what I had been taught to believe.

The other thing that was important to me was the deliberate and repetitious spreading of falsehoods by YEC proponents.  If YEC requires making and distributing lies to support it, then it can’t be honoring to the God who is Truth.


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