Introduction by Ted Davis
In response to the opening of AIG’s Ark Encounter last month, I am publishing excerpts from an excellent book by Davis Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth (2008). We learned last week that a common YEC claim is false: that the standard picture of fossils in a certain sequence is based on circular reasoning. Today the authors conclude that “the dogged persistence in holding on to a young Earth and a global Deluge has less to do with geology than with other concerns.” What are those concerns? Let’s find out.
Editorial policy for the excerpts is explained at the end of this post.
The Bible, Rocks, and Time, by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley (excerpts from pp. 472-474)
Because they have put on blinders, young-Earth creationists are unwilling to accept the totality of the available geologic evidence. They are unwilling to abandon their young-Earth, global-Flood hypothesis even when the evidence shows it to be untenable. They have ignored or distorted a vast body of evidence that is contrary to their preconceived notion of what Earth history must have been like. They have focused only on data that, taken in isolation from geologic contexts, might be seen as favorable to their own theory. They claim continually to argue from the evidence of nature, but they have repeatedly ignored what is inconvenient for them. Although some of the phenomena of the sedimentary rock record might be interpretable in terms of a great Flood, most of the phenomena to which they appeal are far more satisfactorily explicable in terms of much smaller scale processes than a global catastrophic Flood. Most important, young-Earth creationists have refused to accept the abundant evidence of glacial deposits, lake deposits, desert deposits, delta deposits, shore deposits, reef deposits and evaporite deposits in the rock record. Young-Earth creationists have refused to face the evidence from metamorphism, the kinetics of mineral formation and heat flow from cooling magmas. They have tried to make the evidence from radiometric dating say something opposite from what it does say. The attempt to find a way to have the decay constants of radioactive isotopes change in an unbelievably spectacular fashion is a desperate attempt to rescue their view of the world. To date, all physical evidence pertaining to decay constants indicates the virtual immutability of those constants. Although a tiny fraction of geologic evidence might suggest a global Flood if considered in complete isolation from the wealth of other evidence, the overwhelming totality of evidence argues mightily against a global Deluge.
In the end, the dogged persistence in holding on to a young Earth and a global Deluge has less to do with geology than with other concerns. Even some young-Earth creationists grant that the evidence at present does not support their view. Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, in an honest assessment, wrote in a philosophical and biblical defense of young-Earth creationism that “natural science at the moment seems to overwhelmingly point to an old cosmos,” and they conceded that “it is safe to say that most recent creationists are motivated by religions concerns” (“Young Earth Creationism,” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution, pp. 41-75, on p. 49).
But if this debate over the age of the Earth is not really about physical evidence, then what is it about? We believe that those who are most firmly committed to young-Earth creationism do so because they are convinced that a divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible demands it. We admire young-Earth creationists for their total commitment to Scripture, because we are likewise committed. We are one with them in our total commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and rejection of the secular humanism of our day. Yet, as we pointed out, a firm commitment to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture does not require a Christian to believe the theory of a recent creation to which young-Earth creationists adhere. And certainly the gospel of Jesus Christ does not demand acceptance of a young Earth. Nor is the eternal salvation of anyone anywhere ever dependent on acceptance of a young Earth. It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that saves us from the wrath to come, not belief in a young Earth. The data of the Bible certainly do not demand that we hold to these views.
Christians need to relax and stop being afraid that some scientific evidence will disprove the Bible or undermine Christianity. We should not be afraid of the evidence that God has put into his world. We do ask, however, that if the Bible convincingly teaches that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and if there was a geologically active global Flood of such cataclysmic proportions, why is it that the physical evidence in God’s world, evidence that God put there, evidence interpreted by thousands of competent individuals, many of whom are themselves Bible-believing Christians, constantly points overwhelmingly against that idea and in the direction of an extremely ancient world?
The only recourse that flood catastrophists have to save their theory is to appeal to a pure miracle and thus eliminate entirely the possibility of historical geology. We think that would be a more honest course of action for young-Earth advocates to take. Young-Earth creationists should cease their efforts to convince the lay Christian public that geology supports a young Earth when it does not do so. To continue that effort is misguided and is detrimental to the health of the church and the cause of Christ.
Looking Ahead (by Ted Davis)
I wholeheartedly agree with Young and Stearley’s assessment of the real concerns of young-earth creationists: it’s about the Bible. More precisely, it’s about their particular view of the Bible and how it ought to be interpreted. In my opinion there is no more helpful response to the YEC view than the classic article by Conrad Hyers, “Dinosaur Religion: On Interpreting and Misinterpreting the Creation Texts,” and a sequel, “The Narrative Form of Genesis 1: Cosmogonic, Yes; Scientific, No,” in which he employs an interpretive scheme highly similar to the Framework View. I recommend those to inquiring minds on every possible occasion. Once the problem of excessive literalism has been removed, many Christians are able to evaluate the science on its own terms, without seeing a theological threat under every rock.
I will return in two weeks with the next installment of my series on God and science after Darwin.