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In-Depth: Marrying Theology to So-Called Science (Part 2) — Change Over Time

Calvin Smith

In part 1, we briefly explored the history that led to the reason many Christians both past and present adopted a syncritic worldview blending science and the Bible. This is a method of interpretation that allows for the “established science” of the day to drive their understanding of Scripture.

Essentially, the notion is often casually stated as “I believe the Bible, but we’ve got to face the facts of science when interpreting Scripture.”

Recap

This came primarily through the establishment of the idea of deep time derived from interpretations of geology that stated the rock layers containing fossils found worldwide were laid down slowly and steadily over millions of years and that geologic processes we see today must have always operated similarly in the past.

This idea of uniformitarianism (the present is the key to the past) was laid out clearly in Charles Lyell’s book Principles of Geology, and its conclusions overturned belief in Noah’s flood as worldwide and belief in the six days of creation being literal 24-hour periods. In fact, for many, it entirely shattered belief in the Genesis creation account as plainly written.

Uniformitarian geology was now seen as established fact and science, while Genesis creation was seen as a religious fairy tale by many. However, things have indeed changed over time.

The Winds of Change

For decades, uniformitarians argued that the idea of catastrophism and biblical history were inevitably linked and therefore unscientific. Which led to generations of geologists trapped in an echo chamber that declared scientific certainty for the unobserved past and automatically dismissed evidence of catastrophism.

However, gaining victory in this battle between acceptance of six-day creation and acceptance of geological evolution eventually resulted in naturalistic, evolutionary ideas being established in virtually every area of science (cosmological, chemical, biological, and anthropological evolution).

Eventually the stigma of catastrophism equating to a religious view began to be less important to naturalists as the war for naturalism had already been won in academia. The result was a new generation of geologists who were unburdened ideologically against catastrophism and didn’t possess the knee-jerk prejudice of automatically having to disprove the Genesis flood. And although overwhelmingly anti-creation and pro-evolution in their thinking, they began recognizing that many facts found in the geologic record seemed to support rapid catastrophic processes having occurred in the past.

This evidence was actually so obvious, that Lyell, once so incredibly revered in the geologic and scientific community, was now being referred to as a snake oil salesman by modern scientists!

A New View

No less than Warren D. Allmon (Director of the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York, and Hunter R. Rawlings III Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University) made this rather unflattering comment about Lyell and his uniformitarian methodology.

Lyell also sold geology some snake oil. He convinced geologists that . . . all past processes acted at essentially their current rates (that is, those observed in historical time). This extreme gradualism has led to numerous unfortunate consequences, including the rejection of sudden or catastrophic events in the face of positive evidence for them, for no reason other than that they were not gradual.

And he’s not the only one. Derek Ager (certainly no friend to biblical creationists) was one of the first vocal dissenters to uniformitarianism, calling it a form of brainwashing.

We have allowed ourselves to be brain-washed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed ‘catastrophic’ processes.

Such superlative language from these evolutionary minded experts against the once revered poster boy for long ages may come as a surprise to some. But it makes sense when you look at the evidence they are referring to and realize how obviously biased and unscientific Lyell’s principles of geology actually were.

Ager, referencing the obvious absurdity of believing that a mature, erect tree could somehow be fossilized gradually over thousands of years, stated,

If one estimates the total thickness of the British Coal Measures as about 1000 m, laid down in about 10 million years, then, assuming a constant rate of sedimentation, it would have taken 100,000 years to bury a tree 10 m high, which is ridiculous.

Of course, biblical creationists have been pointing this out for years. And the notion that fossilization itself lends credibility to Lyellian, uniformitarian, slow and gradual processes has also been dashed by modern evolutionary researchers. An example comes from dinosaur expert Dr. Phil Currie, whose coauthored book 101 Questions About Dinosaurs admits,

Fossilization is a process that can take anything from a few hours to millions of years. . . . The amount of time that it takes for a bone to become completely permineralized is highly variable. If the groundwater is heavily laden with minerals in solution, the process can happen rapidly.

Even though he still references unobserved “millions of years,” he admits fossilization can occur within (observed) hours. So why would we believe it must take millions of years “sometimes”? These revelations, many of them based on real-time observations, are likely contributing factors to why someone like Ager has admitted,

It must be significant that nearly all the evolutionary stories I learned as a student . . . have now been ‘debunked.’

Neo-catastrophism

All of this led to a new generation of secular geologists that fully accepted the concept of neo- (or “new”) catastrophism as completely legitimate science. Neo-catastrophists are quite willing to believe in multiple, extremely large, devastating floods (however not the worldwide Genesis flood) having occurred in the past. They appeal to these catastrophic events causing rapid sedimentation as an explanation for the obvious examples of quick deposition and rapid formation of fossils within the rock layers.

But a question must be asked. If rapid deposition of major sections of the sedimentary layers were now to be accepted, how would the required millions of years of time they still believed in be explained? If the physical layers were no longer to be considered evidence for deep time, where was age to be assigned? Well, as Ager states,

We cannot escape the conclusion that sedimentation was at times very rapid indeed and that at other times there were long breaks in sedimentation, though it looks both uniform and continuous.

His statement refers to the new and vastly different way of explaining millions of years within the rock from the old uniformitarian view, which essentially amounts to this:

Contrary to the former uniformitarian explanation dependent upon the multiple layers of strata themselves, neo-catastrophists argue that deep time occurred between these catastrophic events, which means it is in the lack of any layers whatsoever—where “nothing happened”— where millions of years of time is supposed to have occurred. That’s right—in this new model, the absence of evidence supposedly becomes the evidence of millions of years.

And remember, this is all based on an interpretation of the exact same facts that Charles Lyell and the cohort of uniformitarian geologists that came after him pointed to as proof positive of their slow and steady deposition model that resulted in overturning belief in the Genesis flood and establishing the idea of millions of years instead.

Science Informing Scripture?

This should cause those who placed their faith in Charles Lyell’s views to pause and consider why anyone should have given so much credence to this man’s interpretations in science that they would be willing to reinterpret the plain reading of God’s Word.

At this point, these Christians come to a crossroads. What should they do? Realize that they should have trusted God’s Word as plainly written in the first place, divorce that old uniformitarian science from their theology, and recommit to Scripture alone? Or should they just swap out their old scientific interpretive partner for this new shiny model in order to maintain their intellectual status among the secular culture of the day? Or should they do what some modern geologists are doing and hold to both models simultaneously so they can hedge their bets and see which one works best?

Epilogue

We’ve seen here how the idea of uniformitarianism in geology (once considered “settled science”) has been shown to be inadequate in explaining the physical evidence and has been abandoned by many modern geologists in favor of neo-catastrophism (although they still retain belief in millions of years of earth history).

In part 3, we will explore a major challenge to the idea of neo-catastrophism and show that it too, just like the old uniformitarian model, lacks credibility as a viable explanation for the geologic record. And we’ll ask, “What should Christians (who married their theology to the former science of the day) do with these new revelations?”

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