Science in Christian Perspective
The Plastic World and the Bible
Richard L. Atkins
1981 Blue Ridge Road
Winter Park, Florida 32789
From: JASA 34 (December 1982): 232-233.
A hundred years ago Charles Darwin exploded a bomb that rocked the established institutions of science and religion, forcing them to rebuild on new foundations. In this century a similar discovery has been made, the impact of which is only gradually being felt by these same systems. It is likely that the reason for the relatively mild shock that this new idea is causing to religion is the modern readiness to accept scientific authority on its record of proven trustworthiness.
The issue in question is geology and the Bible; the new discovery is continental drift. Otherwise known as plate tectonics, the theory postulates movements of segments of the earth's crust on a scale far beyond that of localized tremors. Whole continents are in motion, rolling along like juggernauts on massive treadmills of magma (molten layers beneath the crust). As they crunch and grind over resisting masses of ocean floor, mankind feels the effects as his buildings and bridges collapse and his towns are obliterated by lava spurting up through the cracked surface.
The momentous discovery of continental drift came about as a part of the combined efforts of American and Russian scientists to map the ocean floor during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 (prolonged into 1959). It was noted that a ridge down the middle of the Atlantic exactly matched the contours of the adjacent land masses, and the conclusion was reached that the present Atlantic shorelines had once been joined along that ridge. Other investigations since that time have confirmed the theory with respect to the remaining continental areas.
Geologists are generally agreed that the great land masses of the earth were once joined into one huge supercontinent, designated as "Pangea" -meaning "All-Earth." Pangea was made up of "Laurasia" (North America joined to Eurasia) and "Gondwana" (the unified bulk of all the southern continents). About 200 million years ago, Pangea began to break apart like a giant jigsaw puzzle. This was during the age of dinosaurs, a time noted for its intense volcanic activity. The split-up of Pangea continues to the present day. It is estimated that South America is moving away from Africa at a rate equivalent to "the length of one's body in a lifetime."
Many startling and significant conclusions may be drawn from this new discovery. The terra firma concept is now definitely obsolete. Wheren the ancients believed in a stationary earth, it is now known that our planet exhibits all kinds of motion- rotational, orbital, and facial (surface plasticity).
- The Jordan River rift and the Red Sea were formed when Arabia was partially wrenched away from its connection with Africa. This accounted for the rugged and dramatic topography of the Holy Land-with extremes typified by the heights of Mount Hermon and the depths of the Dead Sea This country continued throughout Bible history to display a violent geological temperament-as when Sodom was des troyed, the walls of Jericho shaken down, and the Jordan River blocked off. This region remains today a site of potential upheaval; hence, the prophets' ominous warnings that hills will fall and valleys be elevated and seas flee away as earthquakes continue to the end of time.
- The fabled "lost continent" of Atlantis never existed; there is no room to fit it into the jigsaw puzzle. An alternate and very satisfactory theory has been recently advanced to solve the identity of Atlantis: it was the civilization destroyed by the volcanic explosion of the island of Thera. This catastrophe obliterated the Minoan culture of Crete about 1380 B.C. and may have also accounted for some of the unusual phenomena of the Exodus.
- India was once a part of Africa, but it broke away and collided with Asia, thereby pushing up the Himalayas, the tallest mountains in the world. Africa also bumped into Eurasia and pushed up the Alps and Caucasian chains-which were barriers to the southward migrations of northern barbarians.
-The deep trenches of the ocean floor are now seen to be conjunctions of sections that are folding under ("subducting") in treadmill fashion. Korah and his fellow rebels were said to have been swallowed up alive "into Sheol" by falling into a ground fissure in the Sinai desert.
- Antarctica shared common boundaries with all the southern
continents and once supported a common flora and fauna
with the others. The presence of the fossils of one particular
lizard-like dinosaur on India, Africa, and Antarctica demonstrates that the three were once joined.
On the vast scale of time it was but yesterday that Columbu shook the flat earth concept and that Magellan sailed around new "global" earth. For most of their tenure on earth men hav held with a world of "corners" and "pillars" and "vaults." The postulated a cosmic edifice erected by the divine Architect 11stablished" (having static stability) and founded on "corner stones," a terra firma surmounted by a shell-like firmament, a fix ed structure immovable except by the hand of God (violent theophany) or the thrashings of the cosmic subterranean dragon Tehom-Leviathan. Earth was the middle stratum of a tri-level universe, and it served as the lid on the Abyss.
To the medieval world the earth was a flat disc floating on the cosmic ocean. Scholars were idealists, presenting to their students a flawless cosmology, created perfect by God. It was marred, to be sure, by the sin of Adam except in the still-pure heavens. Ecclesiastics were scandalized by the pock-marked face of the moon and the spots on the sun as seen through Galileo's telescope.
The science of cartography was little known. Maps depicted an ideal world without any qualms that these charts did not accurately reflect the true layout of the land regions. Such maps remained in use until the eleventh century period of the Crusades and the age of exploration. At that time more accurate and realistic navigational aids were required.
At first glance there seem to be some passages in the Bible that provide confirmation of continental drift. These are the scriptural declarations that the islands will one day "flee" from the wrath of God (Rev. 6:14, 16:20). But these sayings are more likely expressions of a popular view that islands float upon the seas. Their "fleeing" would be a rapid drifting in this case, as though they were ships under sail, not just the gradual displacement connected with the spreading action of the ocean floor.
Nevertheless, the islands are in flight. After 50 million years California west of the San Andreas fault will have fragmented into an island located offshore of Canada and sliding along in a northwesterly direction. The Afar Triangle of East Africa will have broken off and blocked the entrance to the Red Sea, turning it into a great salt lake. Australia will have drifted northward to the equator. The Hawaiian Islands will be migrating westward and away from their present "hot spot" location, and in that place new volcanic islands will form. The global map will continue to reflect a ceaseless mobility.
Since this American continent is moving westward, concentration of greatest seismic activity will persist on its leading edge, the mis-named "Pacific" coast ... That region will continue to be rugged, scarred with buckles and faults, undergoing upheavals and fractures. As to the trailing edge of our continent, its seismic activity will remain in the realm of the negligible. Its offshore reefs will continue to slowly fill in more land bulk. Florida and its environs will be slowly elevated by compressional uplift of the substrata over which our continent passes, and the Caribbean Sea will, therefore, dwindle in size.
Continental drift is the most amazing and exciting geological revelation of this century, and its implications are phenomenal. The principles of plate tectonics will continue to provide science, philosophy, and religion with new insights and applications, as, once more, perceptive men stand in awe at the wonders of God's creation.