Science in Christian Perspective
JASA Book Review for June 1964
THE GENESIS FLOOD, by John C. Whitcomb, Jr., and Henry M. Morris. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1961. 525 pp., $6.95; available from Dr. Whitcomb, Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Ind., at special author's price of $4.25.
The authors of this volume are to be commended for their earnest desire to adhere to the trustworthiness of Scripture, and for their willingness to engage in extended research to show the harmony of their interpretation of Scripture with the data of geology. Dr. Whitcomb is Professor of Old Testament at Grace Theological Seminary; Dr. Morris is Professor of Hydraulic Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Their aim is to place Scripture first. Many today would place Scriptural and scientific evidence upon an equality, and then interpret the Bible in terms of current scientific data or adopt an agnostic attitude toward fundamental doctrines of revelation. But in their handling of the early chapters of Genesis the authors of this book are faithful with respect to the integrity of the account, the reality of the created "kinds," and Adam's creation as a new creature, body and soul, made in God's image to be the father of the human race. Their unwavering testimony to such things is wholesome and refreshing.
It is necessary to project briefly the authors' specific position with respect to the flood and then to inquire into the Scriptural ground for this position.
The "days" of creation are held to be days of twenty-four hours (p. 228). While the Ussher chronology is found to be too strict (pp. 474ff.) nevertheless "Genesis 11 cannot be stretched beyond certain limits" (p. 483), and the authors conclude that "the Flood may have occurred as much as three to five thousand years before Abraham" (p. 489). The "waters above the firmament" of Gen. 1:7 remained as a "canopy of waters" until the flood, when the opening of "the windows of heaven" poured them forth upon the earth (pp. 77, 255-258). Gen. 2:5-6 indicates that there was "no rainfall before the Flood" and consequently "very little geological work" between the creation and the flood (pp. 241 f.). Then at the same time that the "windows of heaven" were opened at the flood, "all the fountains of the great deep" were "broken up" (Gen. 7:11); by this statement "great volcanic explosions and eruptions are clearly implied," "~probably both on the lands and under the seas," whereby "great quantities of liquids, perhaps liquid rocks or magmas, as well as water . . . burst forth through great fountains"; in association with these convulsions, "there must also have been great earthquakes and ... tidal waves ... throughout the world" (p. 122). The "ocean basins were fractured and uplifted sufficiently to pour waters over the continents" (p. 9). "Tremendous quantities of earth and rock must have been excavated"; there was "extensive erosion ... on a global scale" and as a result "unprecedented sedimentary activity," providing "ideal conditions for formation of fossils" (p. 123), which must have been "entrapped and buried in the swirling sediments" (p. 128). The richness of the fossil deposits, in number and variety, "fits well with the Genesis record of the character and magnitude of the great Flood" (p. 130). "The great Deluge of Noah's day is seen to account for a large portion of the sedimentary rocks of the earth's crust" (p. 439); "if the Bible record is true, most of the strata . . . were laid down in the course of a single year under catastrophic conditions" (P.451). Then in order to drain off the waters from the land, the ocean basins were enlarged and deepened, while the earth's great mountain systems were raised up at the same time (Psalms 104:8: "the mountains rose, the valleys sank down"), causing a second great period of erosion and sedimentation (pp. 77, 128, 267, 269, 287). Loss of the vapor canopy caused new extremes of temperature; the Siberian mammoths were suddenly frozen (pp. 288 ff.). "Snow began to fall, quite possibly for the first time in earth's history," giving rise to the glacial period, a third stage of erosional activity (pp. 292 ff.) - After the flood, "tectonic and volcanic disturbances" evidently continued in "what might be called residual catastrophism for many centuries" after Noah disembarked from the ark (pp. 312 f.).
Is this the picture drawn for us in the Bible? It seems clear that the Bible does not require such a course of events. A few observations are necessary. First, possible inferences from Scripture may not be plausible inferences, while necessary inferences arise only from firm exegetical grounds. If Scripture allows certain possible inferences, it may also allow quite different inferences as well. A canopy of waters above the firmament, existing from the second day of creation until the flood and then removed, is not a necessary inference. The absence of rain described in Genesis 2:5 probably refers especially to the area of Eden, before it was prepared for man, rather than to an absence of rain over the whole world from the creation until the flood. And what is meant by the breaking up of "all the fountains of the great deep"? Like the opening of "the windows of heaven," this expression describes a physical event, which caused waters to flood the land. But we simply cannot describe the character or degree or extent of this physical event; the Bible does not tell us. The Bible says the waters rose, and the waters later receded; but it is silent respecting immense tidal waves. Except for Noah and his family, the flood destroyed the human race; but we do not know whether it covered the entire globe. The Bible likewise says nothing about the rise of the great mountain ranges of the world after the flood, unless it be in Psalm 104:8, "the mountains rose, the valleys sank down"; but even if this verse does refer to mountains increasing their height after the flood, it does not require that the major part of the vertical elevation of the world's higher mountain ranges was achieved at that time.
A basic element in the authors' thinking is chronology. ,,Divine revelation . . . records a Creation and subsequent universal Flood, both occuring only a few thousand years ago!" (p. 391); "the Biblical revelation of actual human and earthly history indicates a relatively ephemeral existence, beginning only some eight to ten thousand years ago" (p. 346, footnote). With this may be contrasted the position of B. B. Warfield, as expressed in his article "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race" (republished in Warfield: Biblical and Theological Studies, Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1952):
for aught we know Instead of twenty generations and some two thousand years measuring the interval between the creation and the birth of Abraham, two hundred generations, and something like twenty thousand years, or even two thousand generations and something like two hundred thousand years may have intervened. In a word, the Scriptural data leave us wholly without guidance in estimating the time which elapsed between the creation of the world and the deluge and betweeii the deluge and the call of Abraham. So far as the Scripture assertions are concerned, we may suppose any length of time to have intervened between these events which may otherwise appear reasonable (p. 247).
The approach of Warfield respects the silences of Scripture. It relies upon the full, verbal, infallibility of Scripture on all subjects on which Scripture speaks, but it holds that the Bible is not concerned to provide a detailed genealogy and chronology of the human race, so that we may properly turn to the data of natural revelation in our inquiries respecting that chronology. In the same manner the reviewer would say that while everything that the Bible says respecting history, nature, and geology is authentic and infallible, yet the Bible is not concerned to give us a systematic outline of historical geology. In geological studies, then, honoring fully the overruling divine authority of Scripture and the great Scriptural landmark of creation in all exegetical detail, and all in the Bible that may bear upon geology, including all that we know certainly from Scripture about the flood, we must concern ourselves also with the natural data of geology. It is only after these considerations are cleared, and the Christian philosophy of science recognized as uniquely distinct from all false philosophies of science, that the Christian approach to geology comes into its proper exercise.
The authors have given us a book concerned with geology, and they deal with geological problems in great detail, seeking to examine every known objection to their position. It is therefore important to mention briefly some of the major geological issues with which they grapple.
Uniformitarianism" is set over against "catastrophism" throughout. The former is viewed as "the belief that existing physical processes, acting essentially as at present, are sufficient to account for all past changes and for the present state of the astronomic, geologic and biologic universe" (p. xx, footnote). "Catastrophism," on the other hand, the authors interpret as one cluster of global catastrophes which occurred by divine interposition at the flood, accounting for most rock strata and practically all fossils. Much of their argument against uniformitarianism is based upon numerous quotations showing that naturalistic geologists themselves either allow for catastrophes or find great inconsistencies which they cannot explain. In the opinion of the reviewer the evidence seems to indicate a great deal of "uniformitarianism" and a great deal of "catastrophism": a "uniformitarianism" of divine providence whereby very much of the rock formations and fossils was laid down by.processes similar to existing processes, and a "catastrophism" of divine providence whereby many changes, such as overflows of volcanic rock upon vast areas, and certain types of mountain building, of continental subsidence and uplift, and of fossilization, as well as glaciation, took place much more rapidly.
Stratigraphy is a major difficulty for flood geology. Sedimentary strata all over the world exhibit regularity of deposition and lines of demarcation, indicating that each rock layer was originally lithified under pressure from above, applied in such a way as not to destroy the intrinsic identity of the formation. Sequences of clearly distinguished strata often rise one upon the other, horizontally uniform and in thicknesses grading down to thin laminations. Such orderly structures seem to have been laid down slowly under non-violent conditions and not in the great flood because, as J. Laurence Kulp observes in the article "Deluge Geology," in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 11, 1 "If the sedimentary rocks were once unconsolidated debris at the same time and the entire muddy mass was subjected to compressional stress the result would be a chaotic mixture of material" (p. 9).
Fossilization also compounds the problem, for countless fossils in rich variety are found in these sedimentary strata, and in formations very deep in the earth. Coal seams occur 4,000 feet below the surface, intercalated with layers of limestone, shale, or sandstone. Many fossil materials thus appear to have been deposited over much longer periods of time than the authors allow. They consider the oft-cited case of the successive fossil forests at Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone Park (pp. 418 ff.), and suggest that these fossil stumps were transported from other localities in waves, before each volcanic burial. Yet the forests appear to have grown all in their present location, one after the other, each being covered with volcanic ash which had then to be reduced to soil in which the roots of a new forest could eventually grow. There were more than thirty such successive forests; and after complete lithification the adjacent river had yet to erode its way down 2,000 feet to bring the whole structure to view.
Radiochemical methods of dating the age of the earth, such as that based upon the rate of disintegration of uranium, are believed by most writers to show an age so great as not to be "remotely comparable to the few thousand years implied by the Bible" (p. 343). The authors question the precision of these tests, but say that "there is no question that the vast majority of these geochronometers have given estimates of geologic age immensely greater than any possible estimate based on Biblical chronology. The radioactive estimates . . . usually yield age values measured in hundreds of millions of years and some up to three billions of years" (P. 333). The minerals, therefore, were created with an "appearance of age" (p. 345). "All these primeval clocks, since they were 'wound up' at the same time, were also set to 'read' the same time. Whatever this ,setting' was, we may call it the 'apparent age' of the earth, but the 'true age' of the earth can only be known by means of divine revelation" (p. 346). The reviewer would ask, what if the Bible does not tell us the age of the earth? Then we must allow for the possibility that the revelation of nature, in yielding the "apparent" age of the earth, may be entirely in harmony with the Scriptural account of creation.
Many other geological, biological, and anthropological problems are discussed in the book, and interesting hypotheses are brought forward. There are excellent indexes. This volume will be valuable for reference on those issues which arise when we consider, as we must, the early history of the earth, of life, and of man.
Reviewed by Arthur W. Kuschke, Jr., Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. (Reprinted by permission from Westminster Theological Journal, 24:218-223, May 1962.)