Science in Christian Perspective
Reply to Reviews in the March 1964 Issue
Henry M. Morris, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia, and John C. Whitcomb, Jr., Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana
From: JASA 16 (June 1964): 59-61
The authors of this "controversial book" are of course grateful that the A.S.A. has considered it worthy of fairly extensive discussion, even though we would have preferred more friendly reviewers! However, the large majority of the forty or fifty published reviews we have seen since 1961 have been highly favorable, so we'll not complain about these. The book is now in its fifth printing, and we have found that literally hundreds of qualified scientists and other scholars have reacted very favorably toward it.
The few critical reviews that we have seen, both here and elsewhere, seem to focus upon two main objections. One is the supposed impropriety of questioning the authority of those geologists and other scientists who have concluded that the earth and its life forms have been developing into their present state for billions of years. The second is a complaint against our use of documented quotations from various authorities, who themselves would disagree with our basic position, as evidence in support thereof. The first criticism implies that no one but a geologist has the right to evaluate a geological theory; the second would in effect preclude the use of statements from anyone except authors already in agreement with our position, as this would be "quoting out of context." Rather than attempting to answer the various specific examples of these objections selected by the reviewers, it will be more to the point to deal with these basic charges in their totality, We believe, of course, that the reviewers have misunderstood what we were saying in the specific examples cited. A more careful reading of the whole book, instead of isolated portions lifted out for criticism, we believe would show that every one of the objections raised is without foundation. However, it is more important to get at the basic issues, so we confine our attention to the two fundamental objections noted above.
The first point was discussed at considerable length in the book, and since the reviewers have chosen to ignore our references to this matter, we must emphasize again several things mentioned there. In the first place, we do not presume to question any of the data of geological science. Science (meaning "knowledge") necessarily can deal only with present processes, which can be measured and evaluated at the present time; the "scientific method" by definition involves experimental reproducibility. Thus extrapolation of present processes into the prehistoric past or into the eschatological future is not really science. It necessarily involves assumptions and presuppositions and is therefore basically a philosophy, or even a faith. The assumption of uniformity is one such assumption that can be made, but it is not the only one, and there is no way of proving that it is the correct one. The ' very same data can also be explained in terms if the assumption of Biblical creationism. and catastrophism, and it is mainly a matter of one's own judgment and preferences as to which he chooses. We frankly prefer the latter presupposition, on the basis of what we consider wholly adequate grounds centered in the revelation of God in Christ. We believe that the Bible as the verbally inspired and completely inerrant Word of God, gives us the true framework of historical and scientific interpretation as well as of so-called religious truth. This framework is one of special creation of all things, complete and perfect in the beginning, followed by the introduction of a universal principle of decay and death into the world after man's sin, culminating in a worldwide cataclysmic destruction of "the world that then was" by the Genesis Flood. We take this revealed framework of history as our basic datum, and then try to see how all the pertinent data can be understood in this context. It would be salutary for the "uniformitarians" to recognize that this is exactly the procedure they follow too, except that they start with the assumption of uniformity (and therefore, implicitly, evolution) and then proceed to interpret all the data to fit into that context. Neither procedure is scientific, since we are not dealing with present and reproducible phenomena. Both approaches are matters of faith. It is not a scientific decision at all, but a spiritual one.
In the second place, we emphatically do not question uniformity of the basic laws of physics (e.g., the two laws of thermodynamics) as charged by the reviewers. We strongly emphasized that these laws have been in operation since the end of the creation period. The first teaches that no creation is now taking place, and the second enunciates the universal law of decay. These laws are basic in geology and in all science and are clearly set forth in Scripture. This is the true principle of uniformity. We only question the assumption of uniformity of rates of geological and other processes, and even here essentially only as required by Biblical revelation. It is well known that the second law of thermodynamics implies decay but does not say anything about the rate of decay. There is nothing fundamentally inviolable about even rates of radioactive decay.
Geologists, therefore, must leave the strict domain of science when they become historical geologists. We repeat that we have no quarrel whatever with geological science, which in its many disciplines is contributing most significantly to our understanding and utilization of our terrestrial environment and resources. The so-called historical geology, on the other hand, has not changed or developed in any essential particular for over a hundred years, since the days when its basic philosophical structure was first worked out by such non-geologists as Charles Lyell (a lawyer), William Smith (a surveyor), James Hutton (an agriculturalist), John Playfair (a mathematician), Georges Cuvier (a comparative anatomist), Charles Darwin (an apostate divinity student turned naturalist), and various theologians (Buckland, Fleming, Pye Smith, and Sedgwick). Might we respectfully suggest that, if nongeologists were allowed to develop the standard historical geology, non-geologists might also be permitted to evaluate and criticize it? Historical geology, with its evolutionary implications, has had profound influence on nearly every aspect of modern life, especially in its fostering of an almost universal rejection of the historicity of Genesis and of Biblical Christianity generally. It is not reasonable, therefore, to expect Bible-believing Christians to acquiesce quietly when, in the name of "science," historical geologists attempt to usurp all authority in this profoundly important field of the origin and history of the earth and its inhabitants.
It is at this point that we feel that the reviewers, in common with the other negative reviews that have appeared previously, have been most unfair. As we stressed repeatedly in our book, the real issue is not the correctness of the interpretation of various details of the geological data, but simply what God has revealed in His Word concerning these matters. This is why the first four chapters and the two appendixes were devoted to a detailed exposition and analysis of the Biblical teachings on creation, the Flood, and related topics. The last three chapters attempted then, in an admittedly preliminary and incomplete manner, to explain the pertinent geological and other scientific data in the light of these teachings. The criticisms, however, have almost always centered upon various details of the latter and have ignored the former and more important matters. The very strong and detailed Biblical evidences for a recent Creation, the universal effects of the Curse, and the worldwide destructive effects of the Deluge, have evidently been neglected as peripheral and inconsequential as far as the reviewers are concerned. Of course, they cite opinions to the effect that various interpretations are possible, but none ever deals with the actual Biblical evidence.
The only conclusion that we can draw from this is that we seem to be operating on two entirely different sets of presuppositions and therefore cannot even communicate with each other properly. It seems to boil down to the difference between interpreting the scientific data in the light of Biblical revelation and interpreting both revelation and the scientific data in the light of the philosophic assumption of uniformity.
The second basic criticism of the reviewers is the charge that we have supported our position by quotations taken out of context and that these quotations are consequently misleading. To this we would only say that we heartily endorse Dr. Ault's suggestion that skeptical readers look up the references for themselves. We were careful to give full documentation for every reference for just this reason. We flatly reject the innuendo that we tried to give the impression that the authorities cited agreed with our basic position or even with the particular argument we were attempting to illustrate by each quotation. We were, of course, trying to show in each case that the actual scientific data could be interpreted just as well or better in terms of the creation-catastrophe framework. Since it would be unrealistic to expect most readers to accept our description of the particular phenomenon under discussion simply on our own authority, we used instead the works of recognized geologists of the orthodox school. No implication was intended, unless explicitly so stated, concerning the beliefs of the particular writer quoted. We believe the quotation in each case speaks for itself concerning the issue at hand. This, of course, is standard procedure in scientific dialogue and argumentation. The latter would be quite impossible were writers expected to limit their citations to recognized authorities who already agreed with their position. Surely the reviewers know this very well.
Space does not permit a detailed discussion of the specific examples which the reviewers give in support of their charge of misleading quotations. However, we deny not only the general charge but also the validity of the individual examples. We believe a careful reading of both the original articles and our use of portions of them in our discussions will verify their pertinence and contextual soundness as they stand. We of course readily acknowledge our fallibility. When and if legitimate weaknesses or mistakes are pointed out, we hope that we shall be willing to acknowledge and revise them. As we tried repeatedly to stress in the book, our specific discussions of individual geologic problems were tentative and subject to continuing re-evaluation with further study, but these problems do not and cannot be allowed to raise questions concerning the basic framework of Biblical revelation within which they must be understood.
We of course also feel that the reviewers themselves have rather seriously taken portions of our own book out of context, misinterpreted and distorted and caricatured our arguments. We think they have done what they think we have done!
Again, the probable rationale of this impasse is that we are viewing everything through two different sets of spectacles. Everything we see is colored in accordance with the color of the lenses. And this is not a matter of science. We acknowledge and respect the scientific credentials of Messrs. Hearn, Roberts, and Ault and have no quarrel at all with the splendid sciences of biochemistry, physics, and geology which they represent. At the same time we hope they are willing to recognize the fact that there are many qualified scientists, including biochemists, physicists, and even geologists, who agree substantially with our position. The majority, of course, do not. But neither scientific truth nor Biblical truth is ever determined by majority vote.