Science in Christian Perspective
JASA BOOK REVIEWS For March 1964
Most geologists would be amazed to learn that a book had been published so recently which attempts to explain the stratigraphy and morphology of the crust of the earth in terms of the Biblical flood. Their amazement would not stem so much from a philosophy of unbelief in the Bible as from the idea of trying to fit the facts of geology into a flood of a year's duration. A hundred years ago Lyell wrote, "When geology was first cultivated, it was the general belief that . . . marine shells and other fossils were the effects and proofs of the deluge of Noah; but all who have carefully investigated the phenomena have long rejected this doctrine." (Elements of Geology, 1865, p. 4) Revival of these ideas goes back to George McCready Price, who began publishing around 1920. Since then a succession of books-none written by a geologisthas contended that the flood of Noah was responsible for the stratified layers of the earth's crust. The con
*Copies are available at the special authors' price of $4.25 postpaid from Dr. John Whitcomb, Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana.
Either the Biblical record of the Flood is false and must be rejected or else the system of historical geology which has seemed to discredit it Is wrong and must be changed. The latter alternative would seem to be the only one which a Biblically and scientifically instructed Christian could honestly take. (p.118)
The person who is just as committed to the inerrancy of Scripture, but who disagrees with the Morris-Whitcomb system, thus brands himself as both Biblically and scientifically uninstructed!
The authors suggest that Christians should "restudy and rethink the great mass of geologic and paleontologic data" in order to develop "a new scheme of historical geology," admitting that this will not be easy and will have to be done largely by men "outside the camp of professional geologists." (pp. 119-120) The authors feel it unlikely that a student majoring in geology could "survive several years of intensive indoctrination in the uniformitarian interpretation of geology without becoming immune to any other interpretation.
Could a person possibly believe in a uniformitarian view of nature without indoctrination? I, personally, came to my present uniformitarian views of geology years before ever having had any course whatever in geology, having studied the Scripture in the original languages and having read several books of various opinions. It may be that this "rethinking" will have to be done by men "outside the camp" primarily because professional geologists have so much good evidence in support of their uniformitarian view. The approach suggested seems to place a premium on ignorance of the subject under consideration.
In several specific areas the arguments of the book fall short. First of all, a false definition of uniformitarianism is set up as a "straw-man." In the discussion of the doctrine of uniformity it is stated: "Thus it is now believed that the present-day geomorphic processes, acting essentially in the same manner and at the same rates as at the present, can suffice to account for all the earth's physiographic features." (p. 137) Much of the book is occupied in demonstrating that this could not be so, thus destroying the doctrine of uniformity. The fact of the matter is that geologists hold that the laws of physics and chemistry remain unchanged with time, but that the rates of geomorphic processes have varied and do vary widely. This is particularly well recognized today in tectonics and paleontology. Interestingly the authors contradict themselves later by saying:
Further study has convinced even uniformitarian geologists [what other kind is there?] that this extreme form of the doctrine could not be valid. Too much evidence exists that the earth's formations cannot possibly be explained entirely in terms of present rates of these processes. (p.200)
The authors often seem to take unfair advantage of the process of scientific inquiry, jumping in on technical discussions in the literature to pit one author against another in an attempt to invalidate the entire science. The method is like that of the liberal who shows that the entire Bible is false by noting the dialog between premillenialists and amillenialists.
Geologists are accused of circular reasoning. (pp. 131-135) It is assumed that the ages of fossils are determined from evolutionary considerations: the more advanced and specialized, the more recent the fossil. Then as the fossils are found in the rocks, they are used to assign ages to the rocks. Thus evolution dates the fossils; the fossils date the rocks; and the rocks are used as proof of evolution. This is circular reasoning and so the whole procedure is false. But evolution does not determine the ages of fossils: the stratigraphic sequence determines the relative age. One must keep in mind that Lyell and others worked out the whole story of historical geology thirty years before Darwin, assuming successive divine creations!
Some information in the book is actually incorrect. In one place it is stated that mountain-making processes, with their associated phenomena of faults, folds, rifts, thrusts, etc., "are not active now, at least not measurably so!" (p. 142) Many studies with measurements are being conducted at the present time, such as those at the well-known San Andreas fault in California where the displacement has been considerable within the recorded history of the past 150 years. We are also told (p. 171) that "formations are often found actually in reverse order, with the presumed older rocks lying on top of younger rocks." This statement gives an utterly false impression of stratigraphy. The few cases in which it is true are in areas where folding and faulting of the rocks are in evidence, where it may be seen that processes subsequent to deposition of the fossils have changed the relative positions of the rocks. There are no undisturbed areas in which it is true.
Aside from innumerable forced interpretations both of the Bible and of scientific evidence, it seems to me that there are at least two major problems which "flood geology" completely fails to solve. The first of these is the extremely widespread existence of parallel stratigraphy. Water-deposited sediments usually maintain layers whose thicknesses vary significantly only as one moves many miles in various directions. A flood of the kind called for in the book must have been violent and catastrophic to explain some phenomena, yet extremely quiet to deposit the shales and limestones so widely observed.
The second problem is that of the source of the sediments. Sedimentary rock, which is very widespread, is usually deep-up to many miles deep. Where did these sediments come from? "Flood geology" will not permit the erosion of a slowly rising mountain range. The swirling waters of the flood would have to erode many thousands of cubic miles of rock, hold the material in suspension, and gradually deposit it as alternate layers of sandstones, shales, and limestones in various sequences. The theory simply does not give an adequate explanation of what we actually see.
In conclusion it should be pointed out that it is possible to believe in a universal flood which destroyed all of mankind without holding the Morris-Whitcomb theory. It is also possible to hold a uniformitarian geology without believing in the theory of organic evolution. On the other hand it should be recognized that one can hold the local flood view without denying the inspiration of the Scriptures and that one can believe in some evolution of animals without believing in an animal ancestry of man.
-Reviewed by Frank H. Roberts, Head, Science Dept., Delaware County Christian School, Newton Square, Penna.
The authors of The Genesis Flood make the erroneous assumption that belief in uniformitarianism is an incompatible alternative to belief in the Biblical record. In reality, it is incompatible only with the Price-Morris-Whitcomb catastrophic geology.
Christian men in professional geological research of every kind are convinced of the validity of the principles and results of stratigraphy, paleontology, and geochronology. As a Christian, this reviewer believes in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, their accuracy and complete trustworthiness, and in miracles as acts of the Supernatural. But to me as a professional geoscientist the Bible does not teach catastrophism. Biblical miracles were Supernatural events and have never been made non-miraculous by explanations of modern science. The greatest miracle of all time, the Incarnation, was not a catastrophy. God could have worked with catastrophy; He could have done anything in keeping with His attributes. The question is not what could He do; but rather, what did He do, and are there any evidences?
It is very significant that Christian geologists have not praised The Genesis Flood as have other Christians. Even in the Foreword we read: "From the writer's viewpoint, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept . . . I would hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found.."
In their efforts to invalidate modern geology and to establish their particular views, the authors appear to have combed the scientific literature on geochronology for statements which could be interpreted as being critical of the whole state of the science or as casting doubt on the accuracy of particular data. These statements invariably were lifted out of context and misapplied. Typical examples follow.
On p. 334 Dr. Tom Aldrich is made to appear to confirm that most of the lead ages obtained before 1950 were "quite misleading." In fact, the continuing development of techniques has led chiefly to refinement of the earlier data with the result that, as Dr. Aldrich writes, the "order of magnitude of the time scale remained unchanged . . ." (L. T. Aldrich and G. W. Wetherill, Geochronology by Radioactive Decay, in Ann. Rev. of Nuclear Science, 8: 257, 1958). Most improvements or refinements in radioisotope dating techniques, which get us closer to the true age, have resulted in somewhat older dates.
On p. 211 the authors misuse a quotation of Prof. Edmund M. Spieker and see him as "exposing the weakness of basic geological theory" in order to deny "that any revolutions or other geologic events of worldwide significance ever occurred and, therefore, that the boundaries between the various systems are meanmigless. That is, he insists that there is no actually identifiable boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary, for example, or between any ... two supposedly adjacent systems." A lack of understanding of the simplest principles of stratigraphy is apparent here. For example, millions of tons of sediment are being carried into the Gulf of Mexico where they have deposited thousands of feet of sediments adjacent to the changing shoreline. At the same time the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains are being eroded away. Thus, for a given geologic period, a stratigraphic column will be present in one area and missing in another. One would go to the Gulf of Alaska or the Black Sea or the Sea of Japan to find sediments contemporary with those in the Gulf of Mexico today.
The paper by Dr. Spieker, far from being an admitted exposure of weakness in basic geologic theory, is a discussion of principles of determination and interpretation of orogenic dates and of the basic nature of the time scale. He points out that the Cretaceous type-section of the geologic column was described from stratigraphy in the Paris Basin. If strata from this period in geologic time had been first described elsewhere, another name might have been applied; in fact, a continuous type-section might have been described with the Jurassic and Cretaceous or parts of both lumped under one name. Dr. Spieker goes on to say "if the question is raised as to what the terms Cretaceous and Tertiary actually mean. . . . it is evident that they have come to stand essentially for times in the geologic past when more or less characteristic organisms lived."
Dr. J. A. Jeletzky, geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, is represented as saying that the absence of fossils in pre-Cambrian strata has prevented any time sequence from being worked out for them and as emphasizing that even the various radioactivity methods of geologic dating have not provided, and cannot provide, a geologic time criterion of equal validity or usefulness with the fossils (p. 205). If one looks up the paper in question, he will see that Dr. Jeletzky divides physical phenomena into two groups. The first group is "fossils and radioactive processes, which represent irreversible, rectilinearly progressing processes providing us with useful sets of time marks." The phenomena of the second group (lithological similarity of rocks, their petrofabrics, stratification planes, relationship to adjacent strata, electric properties of rocks, thermoluminescence, etc.) "do not show any general and easily recognizable relationship with the geologic time planes." This terminology explains his statements that physical-stratigraphy (the second group) "criteria are only locally stratigraphically valuable and devoid of any geologic time sequence," and that "the geochronological use of fossils and radioactive processes form the subject of geochronology . . . and should not be confused with stratigraphy proper."
From this and the whole of the article it is evident that Dr. Jeletzky uses rather than rejects the established methods of geochronology. And, for anyone familiar with the applications of radioactive dating, it is obvious why for sedimentary rocks he said, "consequently, paleontology is, for the time being, the only basis for practical everyday geochronology." Since his article was written, however, redioactive dating techniques have been successfully applied to ocean bottom sediments from the present back hundreds of thousands of years. (J. N. Rosholt, et. al., Pa231/Th230 Dating and 018/016 Temperature Analysis of Core A254-BR-C, Jour. Geophys. Res., 67; 2907, 1962.) Also, glauconite from sandstone and shales is gaining widespread acceptance as giving consistent results on the sedimentary rock strata.
Morris and Whitcomb feel that establishment of the linear geologic time scale involves circular reasoning. Other writers (notably C. E. Barber, Fossils and Their Occurrence, in Evolution and Christian Thought Today, Eerdmans, 1959) have lucidly shown that this is simply not the situation. Suffice it to say that over a century ago the sequence of fossils was established on the simple basis of their consistent sequential occurrence in successive strata. Their actual age was not known until the radioactive methods of dating were discovered a few decades ago and refined within the last fifteen years. The geologic time scale, or more properly the time sequence of the stratigraphic column, has undeniably been confirmed--and hence the sequence of fossils validate. Clearly, these are independent phenomena. Furthermore, those with fossil phobia should have little trouble with the Precambrian which is about eightninths of the whole time scale. For three-fourths of this great period of earth's history we can now begin to draw maps indicating areas of similar age dating successively from recent to very ancient basement rock over three billion years old.
It seems to bother the authors that the age of ancient rock formations cannot be determined as accurately as recent written history. If radioactive measurements indicate that the Vishnu schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon Gorge is 1.4 billion years old, this is very significant information. Even if the uncertainty of the measurement should be iO.1 (about 8%), the age of the rock would still be considered well known. But laboratory techniques for established radioactive dating methods today can give data to i2% on suitable rock samples. There are at least six independent geochronometric methods that can be applied to the oldest rocks, and the potassium-argon method has been extended with fair success down to and overlapping with a portion of the radio-carbon range.
The geologic literature is full of consistent data with many concordant ages, i.e., excellent agreement of results obtained by two or more independent methods. On the other hand, discordance in the results on a given rock or mineral, instead of invalidating the methods, has often provided the clue for discovering orogenie events to which the rock has been subjected since its formation. For example, argon loss from a mineral such as biotite, as confirmed by laboratory experiments, will provide evidence that the mineral has been subjected to metamorphism since its formation. Determination of the extent and magnitude of this effect throughout a region can indicate the geographic extent and degree of metamorphism. Thus complex problems when solved have often yielded greater information than if the situation had been simple.
one significant point that should be mentioned is that in most situations the radioactive dating methods indicate a minimum age for the rock. The actual age, the time of crystallization or formation, is usually somewhat older.
It simply is not true, as the authors write on p. 341, that "most age measurements have been found hopelessly discrepant and have been rejecte(r.11 It is most pathetic that the non-geologist would obtain from Chapter VII a completely erroneous impression of the state of the art of geochronometry. Those who are interested in this field can find good technical information in two recent volumes: (1) Geochronology of Rock Systems, J. L. Kulp, Ed., Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci., v. 91, Art, 2, pp. 159-594, 1961; (2) Radioactive Dating, Internatl. Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 1963.
As far as the scientific secular world is concerned, The Genesis Flood will likely pass quite unnoticed. At most it may be taken as a poignant example of someone from another discipline attempting to plunge into the multiple disciplines of geological science and come up with a new scheme that agrees with certain select preconceptions. On the evangelical Christian world the book, regrettably, may have more of an impact; it could lead to the unfortunate result of retarding the development of true Christian scholarship in the younger generation. The book has an appeal to Christians because the authors begin by claiming a new interpretation of historical geology which is Scripturally tenable. They claim further that any scientific objections can easily be refuted. But it will be most unfortunate if this book is accepted uncritically by Bible scholars and teachers.
One can hope that students, teachers, pastors, and laymen using the book will look up the references cited to see what the quoted works really say instead of relying on what the authors make them appear to say; that they will look for unlabeled assumptions which the authors make and present as fact; that they will earnestly seek to find logic in the arguments advanced and valid deductive reasons for discarding reasonably established phenomena. If anyone accepts what appeals to him rather than what logically appears to be truth, then there is a great fault.
Reviewed by Wayne U. Ault, Geochemist, Isotopes, Incorporated, Westwood, N. J.