January 19, 2017

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (10)

Grand Canyon Sunset. Photo by Joe Jiang

Previous posts in the series:

• • •

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?
By Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearley, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth.

Final post in series.

Chapter 20: Science vs. Flood Geology- Not just a difference in worldview is the final chapter in the book.  At the beginning of the book it was noted that flood geologists claim they are looking at the same data as modern geologists; they just interpret through the lens of a biblical worldview.  The implication is that if you believe the Bible is true, then your eyes are open to the natural evidence that the earth, and the canyon, are very young.  If you are wearing “humanistic” glasses though, all you see is the evidence that the earth is very old.  Everybody is doing good science, it is just arriving at different interpretations of the data due to your worldview presuppositions.  One world- two views as AIG puts it.

Creation Ministries International says this:

We often emphasize two important points about science and the origins debate: (1) there is a fundamental difference between the science of present processes (operational science) and the science of past events (historical science), and (2) historical science in particular is governed by the biases we bring to the data so that people with different worldviews can look at the same data and come to completely different conclusions on what happened. 

• http://creation.com/same-data-different-interpretations.

But is that distinction true?  Is the “science of present processes” different in any significant way from the “science of past events”?  For each subject addressed in this book, when the data are considered in their totality and the conclusions are allowed to follow from the data, instead of the conclusion being pre-determined from the start, the data lead to an inevitable conclusion of a long developmental history of many millions of years for the formation of the Grand Canyon.

A recent age for the canyon can only be imagined by deciding on such an answer in advance, carefully selecting bits of data that can be construed to fit the preconceived model, and ignoring data that do not fit. (page 207)

That is the difference between the real science of geology and the pseudo-science of flood geology.  Real science goes where the data leads, flood geology does not.

The message of flood geology is that what is observed in nature today cannot be used to inform us of what may have happened in the past, that fundamental laws of physics and chemistry cannot be assumed to be well understood, and – critically – that nature cannot be trusted to tell its own story.  In this regard, flood geology is not only unscientific, it is unbiblical.  The first chapter of Romans states that the Creator’s divine nature is manifest in His physical creation- in nature.  If nature cannot be trusted to tell a truthful story, what does this say about flood geologist’s conception of God? (page 208)

If the basis for evaluating the history of the formation of the Grand Canyon is physical evidence then flood geology falls far short.  A truly viable account- a scientific account- must take into account all the data, not just that which conveniently fits flood geology’s preferred model.  The flood geology claim of being just “as good as” the prevailing scientific view is hollow; even if they are able to persuade gullible scientifically illiterate Christians.

Sign in the Ark Encounter

However, I get it.  I really do it get.  The desire to defend the faith from the skeptics.  The rise of modernity has coincided with the rise of modern science and has seemed to overwhelm the old paradigm.  Religion is a thing of the past for ignorant and superstitious people, so the modern “scientific” skeptic says.

12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?  13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain… 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:12-14,19)

Inerrancy Governs Our Response to the Conclusions of Science. If we believe the Bible contains errors, then we will be quick to accept scientific theories that appear to prove the Bible wrong. In other words, we will allow the conclusions of science to dictate the accuracy of the Word of God. When we doubt the Bible’s inerrancy, we have to invent new principles for interpreting Scripture that for convenience turn history into poetry and facts into myths. This means people must ask how reliable a given passage is when they turn to it. Only then will they be able to decide what to make of it. On the other hand, if we believe in inerrancy, we will test by Scripture the hasty theories that often come to us in the name of science.


This seems like a reasonable position for a Christian to hold.  If we can’t believe the Genesis account of the Flood, then how can we believe the New Testament account of the resurrection?  If we doubt the one why shouldn’t we doubt the other and be of “all men most miserable”. So we can only let Scripture judge Scripture, we cannot let the fallible, ever-changing science of unregenerate, fallen men judge the holy, God-breathed, infallible, un-changing Scriptures.  It’s the serpent that inspires the question, “Hath God said…”

The problem here is twofold.  First of all reality is reality.  If something is true in the natural, physical realm then it is true- period.  All truth must, for the Christian, be God’s truth.  The YECs say that we can’t allow “the conclusions of science to dictate the accuracy of the Word of God”.  And to an extent, for the Christian, that has a measure of plausibility to it.  Science tells us when you are dead you are dead.  Men dead for three days stay dead.  Five loaves and two fishes can’t feed 5,000 people.  Human beings can’t walk on water.  But the issue with miracles are that they are not judged by science because they are, by definition, one-off events not the result of natural causes.  The second issue with YEC is the inconsistent application of the hermeneutic.  The Genesis account also says the sky is a solid dome, there is an ocean above the dome, and an ocean under the earth (which by the way rests on pillars).  The earth is a flat circular disk and the sun, moon, and stars revolve around it.  The stars are “lesser lights” and the moon gives its own light.

So, is this picture above true… or does it contradict the Bible?  Were Galileo and Copernicus wrong and the geocentrists right: If you don’t believe the sun rises, then you don’t believe the son rises.  The answer is that we do indeed allow the conclusions of science to judge the Bible; at least our interpretation of it.  What would have happened if Galileo and his colleagues would have bowed to the pressure to conform to the accepted wisdom of their society and the accepted interpretation of the Bible?  Even if the technological advances had somehow been able to continue and we developed TV, satellites, long-range telescopes, and put men on the moon; the truth of the solar system and indeed the cosmos would have had to come out eventually.  And then what of Christian believers and the faith.  What if the faith was tied to the Earth being the center of the cosmos as indeed some church men were trying to do:

From the trial of Galileo: We pronounce this Our final sentence: We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world; also, that an opinion can be held and supported as probable, after it has been declared and finally decreed contrary to the Holy Scripture…

The result would be that the Bible would be discredited and men would not believe its witness (nor ours) to the resurrection.  Many would eventually feel compelled to leave the faith altogether in the mistaken notion that science and the Bible are hopelessly at odds.  And then Augustine’s prediction made back in 408 AD would come true:

…If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Pete Enns, in a recent post on his blog, said this:

The findings of science and biblical scholarship are not the enemies of Christian faith—they are only “enemies” of biblical literalism, which is not to be equated with the Christian faith… In fact I’ll take this a step further: The discoveries of science and of ancient history are opportunities to be truly “biblical” precisely because they are invitations to reconsider what it means to read the creation stories well.

We need only think of the ruckus caused by Copernicus and Galileo, telling us the earth whizzes around the sun, as do the other planets, when the Bible “clearly” says that the earth is fixed and stable (Ps 104:5) and the heavenly bodies do all the moving. Sometimes older views—no matter how biblically grounded we might think they are—do and must give way to newer ones if the circumstances warrant.

Saying you will make Scripture the priority based on your trust in God is one thing, but trying to have it both ways by saying “real science” would agree with my faith statement is DISHONEST. Either you are going to engage the science honestly, or you are going to set it aside because your trust in God is what is most important to you. If you say that based on Scripture the entire planet was under water but by some miracle it didn’t leave the evidence that would be expected, or you just don’t know why it didn’t leave the evidence- that is being honest and consistent.  Let me be clear, if you insist that the Flood took place just as Genesis “literally” says then you are stating it was a miracle.  A one-of-a-kind event that did not conform to natural laws; it was a supernatural occasion where God temporarily set aside the regular laws of the natural world.  If that is your position then fine, I disagree, but I respect your faith.

What you cannot say is that science properly applied with the right interpretive lens supports the conclusion the Grand Canyon was created in a single flood event.  That is wrong.  That is mistaken.  This book conclusively and unambiguously demonstrates no single flood deposited all the layers and formed the Grand Canyon.  Flood geology marches its adherents inexorably down the road to conclude the Bible teaches error and thereby undermines faith and undermines the very scriptures it purports to defend.

I will conclude with the final words of the book (page 209):

Does it matter?  It certainly does!  Truth ALWAYS matters.

• • •

Photo by Joe Jiang at Flickr. Creative Commons License

John Sailhamer Week: 3 — Focus on the Text

Tree of Life. Photo by Ghatamos

John Sailhamer Week on Internet Monk (3)
Focus on the Text

Last week, the most influential professor in my life died. John Sailhamer, my Hebrew and OT prof at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School throughout the 1980’s, succumbed to Parkinson’s and Lewy Body dementia, and went into the care of the God who loved him and called him to the work of understanding and teaching the Scriptures.

I dedicate this week on Internet Monk to him. I will share some of the biggest lessons he taught me about the Bible and studying the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis and the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

• • •

At the heart of Dr. John Sailhamer’s life and teaching was a relentless focus on the text of the Bible. This single-minded attention in method helped me learned to appreciate the literary artistry of the scriptures and the “world” into which the Bible invites us.

He helped me understand that all “history” is interpretation. With regard to the Hebrew Bible’s historical narratives, he showed me that the author’s (or final editor’s) intention in selecting material, arranging it, and creating verbal links to other texts within the OT canon has created certain perspectives which are commended to us as God’s Word, God’s story, a divinely inspired point of view on the history of Israel.

The goal of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) is to find the author’s intent in his verbal meaning. One must seek to understand the words and sentences the author uses. We do that by understanding his words within the context of the grammar of biblical Hebrew, or a good translation, and the literary shape of the whole of the Pentateuch (verbal meaning). Our clues to the author’s big idea are to be sought in those things about which the author most often writes and which seem important to him. Ultimately, we discover the meaning of a book such as the Pentateuch by reading it and asking the right questions. Behind our quest for the (human) author’s intent is the conviction that the divine intention of Scripture (mens dei) is to be found in the human author’s intent (mens auctoris).

As noted above, the exegetical warrant form my understanding is the message of the Bible, and the Pentateuch in particular, is to be found in a fourfold linkage of perspectives at four textually based levels: verbal, narrative technique, narrative world, thematic structure. An exegetically warranted interpretation of a biblical text such as the Pentateuch must be grounded in each of these levels of narrative.

The Meaning of the Pentateuch, p. 610

In this way did Dr. Sailhamer encourage me and all his students to “meditate on the Torah of the Lord day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes along these lines from Dr. John Sailhamer:

The Pentateuch may be compared to a Rembrandt painting of real persons or events. We do not understand a Rembrandt painting by taking a photograph of the “thing” that Rembrandt painted and comparing it with the painting itself. That may help us understand the “thing” that Rembrandt painted, his subject matter, but it will not help us understand the painting itself. To understand Rembrandt’s painting, we must look at it and see its colors, shapes and textures. In the same way, to understand the Pentateuch, one must look at its colors, contours and textures.

The Meaning of the Pentateuch, p. 19

He was truly an artist of biblical interpretation, who appreciated and passed on his love and delight in the artistry of Hebrew Bible to his students and friends.

I wish I could also capture and express to you the enormous grace, humility, and humor by which he did so.

He was a beloved teacher, a prime mover encouraging me to a deep love for the scriptures and, though I had little idea of it at the time, a guide leading to my post-evangelical journey, which I am still on because of the Bible, not in spite of it.

May he rest in God’s care until we all come to the good land God has prepared for us.

• • •

Photo by Ghatamos at Flickr. Creative Commons License

John Sailhamer Week: 2 – Opening the Door to Genesis

Lunar Eclipse 1 April 2015

John Sailhamer Week on Internet Monk (2)
Opening the Door to Genesis 

Last week, the most influential professor in my life died. John Sailhamer, my Hebrew and OT prof at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School throughout the 1980’s, succumbed to Parkinson’s and Lewy Body dementia, and went into the care of the God who loved him and called him to the work of understanding and teaching the Scriptures.

I dedicate this week on Internet Monk to him. I will share some of the biggest lessons he taught me about the Bible and studying the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis and the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

• • •

Dr. John Sailhamer opened the doors to the book of Genesis for me. His teaching on Genesis 1-3, in particular, startled me out of my naive fundamentalism with regard to what the Bible teaches about creation. It set me on a path of renewed love for the Scriptures, particularly the Hebrew Bible, and what it says regarding the goodness of our Creator and his redemptive purposes for this world.

As I have continued to study the early chapters of Genesis, I have come to take some different positions than he set forth. It took some other teachers as well, especially Bruce Waltke, John Walton, and Peter Enns, to help me refine my own understanding (which is still developing, by the way). I should also mention a book by Seth D. Postell, called Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh. Seth was a PhD student of Dr. Sailhamer’s and credits him as “the single most positive influence on my life as a follower of Yeshua.”

However, what John Sailhamer did was to help me see the creation accounts as an integral part of the Hebrew Bible, and as an introduction to the Torah (the Pentateuch) and the Tanakh (Law/Prophets/Writings) as a whole.

Lunar Eclipse 2 2015

In his reading of Genesis 1-3, he makes observations like these:

  • The account of God creating the entire universe is limited to one verse: Genesis 1:1, where the phrase “the sky and the land” is a merism describing all that is.
  • The rest of Genesis 1 describes how God prepared a good land for Adam and Eve. The “land” (Heb: eretz) mentioned therein is not the earth as a whole, but the Promised Land. The movement is from the “wilderness” described in Gen. 1:2 (Heb: tohu wabohu) to a “good” land (Heb: tov).
  • Even the creation of such things as the heavenly bodies (Day 4: Gen. 1:14-19) is described specifically in terms of their purposes with regard to Jewish worship.
  • In the account of human creation in Genesis 1, God’s “blessing” is given and linked with a fruitful posterity. This introduces a central theme in the whole of the Torah.
  • Genesis 2 gives specific geographical references that identify the garden in Eden with the Promised Land.
  • There are many similarities between the descriptions of the Garden and the later tabernacle.
  • In both Genesis 1-2, humans are pictured as God’s priests in the world. Gen. 2:15, for example, should be understood as God placing Adam in the Garden “to worship and obey.”
  • Just as these chapters serve as a prototype for God’s good gift of the land to Israel, so chapter 3 sets the template for Israel’s future exile from the land.
  • The command given to Adam and Eve uses the same language as the command of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15-18.
  • Adam and Eve are exiled “eastward” and “out of the garden.” This is the direction toward Babylon, where Israel was exiled.

It was points like these that rocked my world, created a deep hunger within me to meditate on these texts more deeply, and helped me to move away from simplistic, literalistic interpretations that failed to grasp either the text or its relation to the Old Testament canon as a whole.

Here is a brief summary Dr. Sailhamer wrote in his more popular book outlining his teachings on the early chapters of Genesis. He did this because he thought he had found a way through the debate in evangelical circles pitting creationism against evolutionary teaching. I personally don’t think that part stands the test of time and further study, but I think he made a good effort.

His great contribution to me was in re-Judaizing the text for me and helping me to see it as the introduction to the Torah and Tanakh. I’m forever in his debt for opening the door for me to enter this wonderful literary world of Genesis, where I may begin to grasp more fully the goodness of our Creator and his purposes.

I maintain that the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 are to be understood as both literal and historical. They recount two great acts of God. In the first act, God created the universe we see around us today, consisting of the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the plants and animals that now inhabit (or formerly inhabited) the earth. The biblical record of that act of creation is recounted in Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Since the Hebrew word translated “beginning” refers to an indefinite period of time, we cannot say for certain when God created the world or how long He took to create it. This period could have spanned as much as several billion years, or it could have been much less; the text simply does not tell us how long. It tells us only that God did it during the “beginning” of our universe’s history.

The second act of God recounted in Genesis 1 and 2 deals with a much more limited scope and period of time. Beginning with Genesis 1:2, the biblical narrative recounts God’s preparation of a land for the man and woman He was to create. That “land” was the same land later promised to Abraham and his descendants. It was that land which God gave to Israel after their exodus from Egypt. It was that land to which Joshua led the Israelites after their time of wandering in the wilderness. According to Genesis 1, God prepared that land within a period of a six-day work week. On the sixth day of that week, God created human beings. God then rested on the seventh day.

The second chapter of Genesis provides a closer look at God’s creation of the first human beings. We are told that God created them from the ground and put them in the garden of Eden to worship and obey God (not merely to work the garden and take care of it). The boundaries of that garden are the same as those of the promised land; thus the events of these chapters foreshadow the events of the remainder of the Pentateuch. God creates a people, He puts them into the land He has prepared for them, and He calls on them to worship and obey Him and receive His blessing.

• John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account

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