Exploring the wonders of geology in response to young-Earth claims...

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcome to 'Questioning Answers in Genesis'

Thank you for visiting!

If you're stumbling upon this blog for the first time, you may be wondering how I came up with the title. I realize that at first glance, it may seem that my sole purpose is to criticize Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) or demean those that adhere thereto, but I want to assure you that is not the case. I am aware of a number of sites devoted to just that, or to active discussion regarding origins issues, and I will leave them to their own things. Rather, my motivation for creating this blog is rooted in my own academic journey, which involved an introduction to the Earth Sciences via resources like Answers in Genesis (AiG). My goal here is to provide a balanced critique, rather than a wholesale dismissal or personal attack, on literature produced by Answers in Genesis. With that in mind, allow me to tell my story, and please keep the following points in mind when considering subsequent posts.

My Journey

I was born in Glendale, CA and raised in rural Pueblo, CO. Life was great. But just before I entered high school, my family moved to northern Utah, where I found myself quite alienated. I regained my stature in close-knit circles of...how would you say? Nerds. Yes, we were nerds, but not the kind you'd expect to find on Big Bang Theory or the like. Rather, we were simply students that cared to pay attention in class, involve ourselves in Science Olympiad, play 4-way chess during AP study hall, and skip out of gym class to improve our electric guitar skills. Needless to say, high school was not a challenge, but that didn't prevent us from exploring academic opportunities while we had the chance.

I am sure that every high school has its cliques, but high school in Utah was special, to say the least. I was a white, Protestant (Reformed) Christian from a stable, financially sound family in the western United States, but found myself in a tiny minority. A vast majority of students were LDS (Mormon), and I was active enough in my own faith that my social opportunities were equally limited. Many of my (nerdy) friends were former "this or that", atheists and agnostics, and likewise alienated and unchallenged.

So we challenged each other.

Most days were spent arguing over philosophy, politics, and scientific controversies we had simply read about second hand. Oh yes, we were bright, but sufficiently naïve that we didn't recognize how unqualified we were to debate most of these issues. One of the major topics: the age of the Earth. None of us were geologists, but I distinctly remember exchanging points, facts, and articles we read to convince the group there was a valid controversy. My library was growing exponentially, and included the first book I had ever read on geology: Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe by Dr. Steven Austin of ICR.

Ten years later, I am thankful for the experience (foolish as we may have been) as it has since directed my academic journey. Leaving high school, I was certain that I would be a biologist and that it wouldn't take long. Before my first semester of college, I was a sophomore with a full academic scholarship. By the end of my second semester, I had accumulated enough credits to be considered a senior, meaning it was past due for me to declare a major. My original plan was suspended by the fact that my university had split the biology department into Microbiology, Zoology, and Botany — departments comprised largely of pre-med and pre-dental students that despised the competition. So I decided to work toward a chemistry minor instead, hoping to transfer to a school with a better program. At this time, I also discovered that my middle-school physics teacher was also an adjunct geology professor at the university and taught an introductory course in geology.

I had to sign up.

Very quickly, I realized that the very qualities that attracted me to the biology department were also present within geological disciplines (in fact, to a greater degree): 1) it was a fast-growing field, with ample opportunity for new research; 2) it seemed to be riddled with controversy, and I loved controversy. The following semester, I added more geology courses to my schedule, and declared a new major.

As I progressed toward the completion of my undergraduate degree, I was not disappointed with geology as my final commitment. My initial assessment was 'dead on' — well, except for a couple points. Looking back, I perceive myself as better fit to study geology, having come into the subject with the impression that there was a valid controversy over fundamental issues like the age of the Earth, origin of sedimentary layers, radiometric dating, or the rate of plate tectonic motion. Thus I learned to always question the fundamentals that guided 'conventional geology', both in the class and in the field, until I was convinced of their validity. Likewise, taking the advice of AiG researchers, I questioned the fundamentals that guided 'Flood geology'. In YEC literature, the controversy is often presented as two models 'digesting' the same facts. At the outset, this seems fair — scientists use this approach all the time. Elsewhere, this can be related to research guided by 'multiple working hypotheses', where competing hypotheses about a given phenomenon are used to make predictions. Data is then collected and analyzed to falsify or refine each model, after which the model with greatest amount of supporting evidence is typically accepted (please forgive the oversimplification).

So I went to work, carefully examining the evidence. However, I would soon discover that the analogy hardly fit the young-Earth controversy. Each new geology course, field trip, and library research project brought with it new challenges that were simply overlooked by most publications coming from AiG. My growing impression was that even the semi-technical and journal research articles were blatantly reductionistic, depicting complex geological problems as unequivocally inconsistent with conventional geology while offering simple solutions from a young-Earth perspective. But despite my conviction that the controversy was settled, had it ever existed, I continued my study of YEC literature.


I could not help but to wonder, 'How do organizations like this gain so much ground?' It was obvious to me that it was not grounded in strength of scientific observation or any consistent, unifying theory that explained the data. Furthermore, there was no predictive power in the young-Earth model that would produce new knowledge in the Earth sciences (e.g. the structure of sedimentary packages and, consequently, where to find oil/gas resources). Yet more than half of the population believed in a young Earth, and that scientific theories concerning historical geology and biological evolution were struggling to find good evidence, being grounded rather in the blinding naturalism of leading scientists. I felt I was at an advantage to answer this question, being now actively involved in studying both sides of the argument, but could not come up with a satisfactory answer. So I put it this way: if I ask the majority of scientists why they think most of the populace is skeptical about 1) the age of the Earth, and 2) biological evolution, what would their answer be? I speculate the following (with some help from experience):

   1) They are scientifically illiterate, and simply don't know any better.
   2) They are blinded by religious convictions, and thus are delusional regarding the evidence.

This perception of YEC is rampant throughout academia, and it's simple to test. How? Try entering a university geology class and ask whether the professor is ignoring the Flood geology model while interpreting the sedimentary rocks he/she brought to class (or maybe you've seen it happen?). You could also take the next step, though. Take a few technical papers from AiG's archives and turn it into a testable research project. Collect the data and interpret it in light of the global flood. Then submit the paper to a journal such as Geology, Nature Geoscience, or even GSA Bulletin. If you get a response other than (1) or (2), please let me know.

So what's the problem? Shouldn't I just take a note and ignore organizations like AiG?

Well, no, and that's the problem. Not only is it the problem, it's the answer to my question (or so I will endeavor to show). It is true, academia tends to dismiss any claims of YEC at the outset and couldn't care to take it seriously. Are they fearful of the outcome; that the evidence will overturn their worldview? I don't think so. The reason is that any successful researcher in the Earth sciences has no time to take it seriously, and often assumes that it will become obvious in the end (particularly if we increase standards and funding for education). In the meantime, they respond with "Well, if you actually knew something about geology, etc., then you would realize the absurdity of your claim. So read a book, take my class, and stop promoting pseudoscience." However, this neither results in better education nor in diminished extent of YEC.


Enter Answers in Genesis. This is an organization comprised of graduate-degree holding educators, researchers, and more, that are willing to spend a lot of time and money providing a bridge to the general public, so that the 90% of the population who chose a non-scientific career path can be actively involved in the controversy. In a nutshell, academia treats the general public as ignorant laity that can't be trusted with the evidence outside of a classroom (tuition paid up); AiG researchers treat the general public as their peers, not only sharing the evidence for free but giving it a purpose. As a theological son of the Reformation, I don't feel it necessary to explain which approach I perceive as superior.

Now, a minor caveat — I know I am being overly categorical here, in which case I would be guilty of great hypocrisy. So let me be clear that my simplistic overview is intentional. I am setting forth a basic observation and hypothesis that I hope to unfold in this blog. The reason is that I have many friends (past and present) that adhere to YEC and many friends (past and present) that despise it. Understanding that by definition there are exceptions to the rule, I would yet propose that a vast majority of YEC's are not simply illiterate when it comes to science (1) or unreasonably dogmatic (2) in assessing the evidence. On the contrary, many of them are bright individuals that excel in their own fields. Often, they are widely read in philosophical and religious topics and willing to adjust to evidence and experience in search of the truth (i.e. not blinded by religious convictions). They are high school and college graduates who are familiar with the principles of Earth science. Just familiar enough, in fact, to understand models of Earth history set forth by AiG and others and deem them plausible.

And that's it. That is all that's needed to sustain the life and growth of YEC. Imagine for a moment that you are called as a juror in case that involves two expert witnesses, discussing a field with which you are only familiar on a basic level. Both witnesses are working hard to convince you that the evidence supports their respective attorney's case. However, in the course of the trial, you realize that one of the witnesses has never studied the opposing point of view. He merely dismisses the interpretation as absurd, using technical jargon in a demeaning fashion, and accuses the other witness of being biased by a view (political, philosophical, religious) that you also hold. On the other hand, the second witness speaks calmly and reasonably, conveying a sincere, lovable personality, while using terms that make you feel like a colleague in his discipline. He does this by making the evidence sensible in light of your basic understanding of the subject. At this point, it doesn't matter so much whether he is right. The point is, his case is solid as far as you are able to judge, and the truth will not affect the way you approach your own profession once the trial is over.

As a scientist, I am fascinated by the world and the research that elucidates it for us. As a Christian, I believe that truth matters and it is meant to be shared. These are my motivations in writing this blog, and I pray I can remain committed to both. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts, and I do hope you are blessed by them, whatever your point of view may be.


  1. Hi, I'm an ex-creationist from a previous generation, and I know other ex-creationists from my generation, some of them are professional geologists like Kevin Henke. I also know Glen Kuban who taught ICR that the "man prints" in the Paluxy were no such thing. My story is here: http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/leaving_the_fold/babinski_agnosticism.html

  2. Thanks for the link—interesting stuff!

  3. As an atheist myself, I am curious as to why you are so at odds with Ken Ham and AiG. You are both Christians, so I presume the Bible, to some extent, informs your worldview. Yet you have rejected the rabidly literalistic interpretation that Ken Ham thrives on. What makes your take on the truth more acceptable than AiG's

    Please don't take this as an attack or criticism, at least not directed at you. I think that by getting to know some of his opponents better, I can better understand Ham's (a man who's organization and stated mission I find abhorrent) weaknesses better.

    1. Thanks for writing, Dave. I apologize for the long delay in responding. In any case, I think you have already noted the most relevant point of departure--that I reject the 'rabidly literalistic' (I like this term) hermeneutical approach to Scripture.

      It's not as though I reject the divinity of Scripture, or that it ought to inform our worldview. But Scripture describes itself as something on which to meditate and study for a lifetime, because it addresses so much that is ultimately incomprehensible to us. It is a means by which we gain wisdom to approach the world, whether to know its operational details, understand its Maker, or to determine our moral obligations to society. For example, even within the Biblical narrative (from Moses to the Postexilic return, let's say), laws are adapted to a new culture and circumstance. This is not an admission to relativism or a commentary on ethical liberalism versus conservatism, but an acknowledgement of life's dialogical complexity. There are no easy answers in Scripture, and its characters learn wisdom only after much prayer, trial, and hard experience. Nonetheless, the basic message is clear, that the judgments of history circle back on those who ignore the message and rebel against its author. The irony is that such rebels are most often found in close proximity to the altar.

      With regard to the natural sciences, I see little difference. Scripture provides an epistemological foundation for reality and structures a wise approach to forming knowledge from empirical noise; it does not name for us the sounds and colors. But the Ken Hams of our generation find in Scripture a list of simple answers to complicated and otherwise fascinating questions. They apply a literalistic reading that is as shallow as the answers received ("Well it says six days, so obviously plants are only days older than mankind! What else could it mean?"). It is, unfortunately, appealing to the common reader, who is high on zeal but short on attention span. These Ken Hams are then emboldened to challenge the status quo (whether within the church or without) because they feel empowered by divinely obtained information that seems incredibly obvious. If you can empathize with this mentality (which abhors critical self-inquiry), then you can understand the major strength (or weakness?) of the Young-Earth position.

      The precision of my generalization aside, I hope you can understand how our paths diverge after a simple, common confession ("Jesus loves me"). You will have to judge for yourself whether my understanding of Scripture and the application of biblical wisdom is more "acceptable". I can only appeal to what I think is largely ignored by Ken Ham and his readership: how the complexity of human language (i.e. the words of Scripture) relates to interpreting a message that must be read across time and culture.