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

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

One year of blogging—now what?

Just over one year ago, I decided to cast my own thoughts into the clamor of the controversy that stems from Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). Since that time, this site has received some 15,000 page views. Granted, many of those views are by accident—people searching Google image databases—or from repeat visitors. But even in a best-case scenario, I've spoken only as loudly in one year as Answers in Genesis can in one day. I am neither surprised nor disappointed, but rather quite grateful for the dialogues and friendships this blog has produced. Furthermore, this blog began as a personal, academic endeavor, best captured by Joan Didion's famous sentiment that "I don't know what I think until I write it down." If nothing else, then, I've been able to articulate my own thoughts so as to critique them self reflectively (to your benefit, I pray).

Before I began writing, I was plenty familiar with the material published by Answers in Genesis, ICR, and others. Every so often, I would skim through their pages out of sheer curiosity, looking to discover what kind of fantastic arguments they had since produced. Over time, I became more and more bothered by two things: 1) the blatant disregard for scientific accuracy and honesty, and 2) that such a task was performed in the name of the gospel.

With regard to the first objection, I already knew that dozens of sites and authors had offered to 'debunk' young-Earth claims. Some were done by capable and compassionate researchers—others by scornful satirists. In either case, I came to recognize that no amount of scientific rebuttal would persuade adherents of YEC so long as they perceived the dispute as a debate. In a debate, each side commits to defend their own position at all costs. And since the YEC begins with "I read the Bible correctly, and you don't take it seriously," the arguments are remarkably devoid of dialectical and dialogical development.

Therein ties the second objection. It is no secret that many young-Earth ministries stand on a theologically shallow understanding of the gospel. Their preference for a 'plain, literal' heremeneutic disallows the reader from scratching anything but the surface of the biblical text. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn from Ken Ham's book that among Christian colleges, a much larger percentage of YEC's belong to the science department—not biblical studies.

So why write about it?

I have chosen to voice my opinions on YEC publicly for personal and professional reasons. As an aspiring educator, I feel that recurring statistics on the prevalence of YEC in the U.S. (~40%) should not be swept away as "religious dogma" and "scientific ignorance". For one, tenants of all faiths and academic disciplines are equally susceptible to both, whether or not they admit it (of course, the terms 'dogma' and 'ignorance' imply that one is unaware of the nature of their position). Secondly, identifying someone as 'ignorant' and 'dogmatic', even when it may be true, does nothing to remedy the situation. It only bolsters that person's opinion of their accuser as an 'academic elitist'. Whenever we are willing to belittle a person for their beliefs, ridiculous as they may seem to us, it should come as no surprise when that person rejects our position and confides in someone else that would treat them as a peer. Irrational or not, this reaction is psychologically intelligible.

Effective education (especially in the scientific disciplines) requires a great deal of compassion and humility on the part of teachers. Without both, we only inhibit critical thinking.

In case you do not share my opinion on the philosophy of teaching, you may at least consider that 40% constitutes an impressive political base. Ultimately, adherents of YEC cast a heavy vote on how our society funds scientific research and public education—not to mention how each should be conducted. Doesn't this warrant a more involved response than name calling?

As an aspiring geologist, I am fascinated by our ability to investigate natural phenomena. What's not to love? As my friends and family will testify, I cannot help but to share that enthusiasm. It follows logically, therefore, that I should express my opposition to YEC for its misguided constraint on scientific exploration. Although I empathize with the YEC's outward allegiance to the biblical text, YEC's uncompromising stance on the connection between the Bible and science is ultimately rooted in the reader's predetermination of what the Bible is meant to reveal. In other words, it has no exegetical foundation.

In my experience, few YEC's believe that one can take the biblical text seriously while accepting the modern conventions of natural science. Inasmuch as we can argue this point ad infinitum, I would prefer to take a practical note from Jonathan Edwards: the gospel, like honey, is sweet; the only way to prove to someone that honey is sweet is to let them taste it. Perhaps the best I can do is show others how science, faithfully applied, reveals the beauty of God's portrait, even when it challenges our most basic expectations.

A year in review

Just over one year ago, I embarked on my mission by responding to an article by Dr. Andrew Snelling regarding dinosaur footprints in the Soreq Formation. In "Dinosaurs in the Holy Land: Examining preserved footprints in Cretaceous dolomite from the Judea Group, Israel", I attempted to show that Dr. Snelling's argumentation disregarded valuable evidence, which undermined his position that dinosaur footprints should not be found in dolomite. Following this, I revised a response I had written on the young-Earth interpretation of radiocarbon dating. Now that I have had more experience with radiocarbon results and methodology, I feel this article could be expanded to several volumes. Radiocarbon data, especially in conjunction with results from U-Th disequilibrium and cosmogenic methods, offer one of the more compelling and tangible cases against YEC.

In a handful of broad overviews, I addressed the fossil recordgeologic column, and the scientific method. At the risk of confusing general readers, I explored more specific topics like gemstones, oil and gas, isochrons, and beach dunes. Of course, no blog is complete without commentary on more 'political' topics like GSA field trips led by YEC's, Ken Ham's conflict with the homeschool convention, ecumenism, and the historical Adam debate.

At some point along my steep learning curve, I realized the importance of dealing directly with the biblical text that supposedly underlies YEC. Although I am neither a biblical scholar nor a theologian, I drew from my personal study of both fields to challenge myself and others to enter the narrative world of Genesis. My goal was to critically evaluate how that world corresponds to our own by recognizing the powerful critique that Genesis offers on culture and paradigm. Genesis explains the identity and vocation of Israel by placing their story in the backdrop of mankind as a whole. Consequently, Genesis explains our identity and vocation when the narrative is redirected toward humanity in Christ.

At the suggestion of one reader—and considering the obvious relationship to geology—I tackled the story of Noah's flood in two parts. After some reflection, I look forward to critiquing my own work. Writing down my thoughts allowed me to refine the position I articulated to a great degree. More recently, I attempted to wade through the narrative structure and inner workings of Genesis 1–3, which are deep waters indeed. Asking me whether I managed to stay afloat may be comparable to asking a fish how it feels to be wet. But I'll leave that judgement to you.

What now?

Initially, I underestimated considerably the time it would take to maintain a weekly blog (at least one that required research, cross-reference, etc.), but nearly held to my goal. At this point, however, I cannot afford to renew that commitment for another year. I expect never to lose my fervor for science/faith discussions, and I do enjoy writing, but my academic task (the kind that grants a Ph.D.) has finally caught up to me. In two weeks, moreover, I will be travelling back to Russia and residing there for a month. For now, I hope this blog serves as a helpful reference to those who stumble upon it. If the occasion should arise, I will chime in here and there.

With some hard work and a bit of luck, I'll be on track with a reasonable dose of spare time next year. Should I return to blog here weekly? I am considering my long-term goals toward academia and how to better apply my time for the benefit of all who struggle with science/faith conflicts. Perhaps it would be more prudent to appeal to a wider audience by publishing my thoughts elsewhere—even in a book? I've written enough to fill a menacing paperback, but hopefully spared us all some trouble by not acting too quickly. I know how ineffective a disorganized and verbose book can be. When it came to blogging, I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

I guess we'll see what next year brings.


  1. Has it been a year already?
    All I can say is thankyou and I hope you can find to continue the good work - however infrequently.

  2. I've benefited greatly from this blog and will be sorry to see you pull back for the next year. All the best to you as you work hard on your studies; we'll look forward to your future entries.

  3. I too have benefited immensely from your blog. It's a difficult task to convince your average YEC who has no motive to risk examining difficult to understand scientific issues that, as they have been taught their whole lives, might cost them their faith or at the least make them a pariah at Church.

    But blogs like this are invaluable to Christians that are suffering the discomfort of having encountered the truth of scientific findings and are starting the slow journey of finding that the truth of the Bible and of science are not mutually exclusive.

    Thanks and all the best in your studies.

  4. You've done spectacular work. Could I encourage you to toss up an old article every now and then on Facebook? ("Here's what I wrote about...") Your Facebook link is what usually drives me to your blog, and would be a great way to remind me to stay sharp. Thanks again.