November 22, 2017

Mike the Geologist: On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (1)

Grand Canyon Sunset: Hopi Point, Photo by Gary Craig

Grand Canyon Sunset. Photo by Gary Craig

Note from CM: We welcome back Michael McCann, aka Mike the Geologist, to do a series blogging through a book about the Grand Canyon, one of earth’s great natural wonders. Young earth creationists have tried to explain this magnificent geologic marvel by appealing to a great worldwide flood in the days of Noah. Let’s see how their arguments hold up.

• • •

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.

♨︎

The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic geological features on Earth.  It is also one of the most well-known and recognizable National Parks in the United States.  The immensity of its features, the sheer grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty of its landscapes spark the imagination of those who see it and cause them to wonder how it could have formed.  There have been many books written describing the geology and history of the canyon, so why is another one necessary.  To quote one of the contributing authors, Joel Duff, who also blogs at Naturalis Historia:

“I believe that there is such a need because there is an audience which needs to hear the testimony of the Grand Canyon: much of the modern Christian church.  That audience has different concerns than many that peer into the canyon.  The Grand Canyon forces Christians to confront questions of the age of the Earth and biblical authority.  A book, with the Grand Canyon as its central focus, that addresses those concerns seriously is lacking.”

I agree with Joel, and the seeming inability of too many American evangelicals to deal with the supposed conflicts between modern science and the Bible are what led me to develop and teach the Science and the Bible course that I subsequently blogged here at Internet Monk.  With the opening of Answers-in-Genesis’s Ark Encounter this summer, I believe it is more important than ever for scientists who are evangelical Christians to speak out on these issues in their local churches and help guide their fellow congregants in dealing with what I assert is a mistaken hermeneutic as well a scientifically untenable view.

Jim Kidder, a paleoanthropologist and evangelical Christian, who blogs at Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist, recently reviewed a book by Joel Edmund Anderson called The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Needs to Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy.  

Kidder quotes from Anderson’s book thusly:

The heresy of Ham that is actively “subverting, destabilizing, and destroying” the core of the Christian faith is the claim that a modern, scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as literal history is fundamental prerequisite for the trustworthiness of the Gospel of Christ. It is the claim that if the universe is not 6,000 years old, if there was no historical Adam and Eve, and if there was no worldwide flood 4,000 years ago, then that would make God a liar, that would mean there is no such thing as sin, and that would mean Christ died for nothing. Such a message is heresy, and that message has subverted, destabilized, and destroyed the Christian faith of many people, has destroyed careers, and unfortunately, has taken root within a significant portion of Evangelical Christianity.

Although Kidder warns that Anderson’s book is polemic and somewhat of a rant and “clearly written in passion and frustration”, I am beginning to share in that frustration and I have to agree with the above quote.  The whole “young earth” view, even though it arises from an understandable desire to defend sacred scripture, actually ends up undermining the very thing it seeks to defend.

Kidder goes on to say,

If we are to take the Primeval History (i.e. Genesis 1-11) as scientifically accurate, and it is the foundation of our faith, then it MUST reflect reality.  The two are inextricably linked: if we find holes in the scientific accuracy of the PH, then our faith crumbles.  It can do nothing else.  If, on the other hand, we view parts of the PH as non-literal, then science and faith can be decoupled, a position that Ken Ham is unwilling to take.  Yet, if we decouple them, then faith thrives and scientific discourse retains its integrity.

In 1994 a young earth creationist named Dr. Steve Austin published a book entitled:  Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe.  In that book Dr. Austin puts forth an interpretation of the geological history of the Grand Canyon in which the rock layers and the canyon eroded in them were formed less than 5000 years ago.

Nine years later, inspired partly by Dr. Austin, Grand Canyon tour guide Tom Vail authored the book Grand Canyon a Different View. This book of photography of the canyon and more than 20 essays by Young Earth Creationist’ (YEC) authors, including Dr. Austin, was a huge commercial and critical – among creationists – success.  The book was sold at the Grand Canyon bookstore until 2014.

It really is past time for Christian geologists and other scientists to stand up and come against this erroneous view — for the sake of the Gospel.  We, who know better, cannot allow the Gospel to be tied to error and untruth.  So, for that reason, I am going to blog through this book, Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth.

Eleven authors, all of them scientists and Christians, contributed to this book including several that have extensive personal experience with the Grand Canyon geology. As a result, this book brings you the most current understanding of the formation of the Grand Canyon from experts who have developed some of those theories.

The book takes you on a vivid geological trip through the Grand Canyon examining every aspect of its amazing geological formations and exploring how this massive canyon was formed.   It examines many sources of evidence and compares the “flood geology” and conventional geology models to see which makes most sense of the data.  The book is vividly illustrated with beautiful photographs and laymen-friendly charts and graphs.

It would make a great coffee-table book as well as a great reference should you engage an evangelical friend in a discussion.  I hope you enjoy the series.

• Mike the Geologist

• • •

Photo by Gary Craig at Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. Dan from Georgia says:

    Cubs Win!

  2. Nice win for the Cubs !! That was a nail-biter.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Ernie Banks is smiling.

      • No doubt. And I know both Nike and Budweiser had commercials in the can in case Cleveland won as well but those spots immediately after the game were both well done, particularly the Harry ad. I had the good fortune to live in Chicago for a few years during his stint in the booth for the Cubs. He was a treasure.

        • Must be a lot of flowers on Harry’s grave today. And a lot of empty Falstaff cans and Chicken Unlimited bones would be, if they were still around too!

        • Some of us older farts remember listening to him call St. Louis games. 🙂

  3. If Noahs flood never happened, then how come they found evidence of flooding on Mars?

    If we was all desended from monkies, then how come theres still monkies?

    Answer me that, Mr. Scientist.

  4. –> “It really is past time for Christian geologists and other scientists to stand up and come against this erroneous view — for the sake of the Gospel. We, who know better, cannot allow the Gospel to be tied to error and untruth. So, for that reason, I am going to blog through this book, Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth….Eleven authors, all of them scientists and Christians, contributed to this book including several that have extensive personal experience with the Grand Canyon geology. As a result, this book brings you the most current understanding of the formation of the Grand Canyon from experts who have developed some of those theories….I hope you enjoy the series.”

    Looking forward to it, Mike the Geologist!

  5. Anyone know of couples who have different views on this issue? Does it turn out to be a big deal in the relationship?
    (My wife wants to visit the Ark next week. I am dreading the visit)

    • Actually my wife for the longest time was very troubled by me not taking the Bible “literal”. I counsel patience. Don’t go with her to the Ark and belittle everything you see, you’ll just annoy her. When I taught the Science and the Bible class at our previous church, she came a couple of times and then quit. It was too much at the time for her to think “the Bible might not be true”. I just let it be, didn’t say a word. Very slowly she is coming to realize it is a matter of interpretation and it is not a good idea to try a make the Bible say something that is obviously wrong. That doesn’t defend God’s Word, it discredits it.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Anyone know of couples who have different views on this issue?

      No, I think this would be a deal breaker for most people. It reflects a really divergent view of reality.

      • Depends on when it comes up.

        For us the age of the earth just never came up until our kids ran into the Church forcing YEC when they became teens. My wife is definitely not on the science side of the universe but after a while she decided that too many of us who were there were either stupid heretics or rations people. She went with rational for me. 🙂

    • My wife and I. It hasn’t affected our relationship in the lest, but is rather a symptom. We generally don’t get along because I am a thoughtful person who can’t accept anti-rational, counter-factual nonsense, while she is an emotional person who thinks it is just fine if every has their own “ideas”. We respect each other’s individuality, but I have consigned myself to the fact that she can never be my “soul mate”. We are just in different worlds. I’m ok with that.

  6. Would you read the bible if it contained 350 pages of technical discussion on exactly how and why He created the universe? Or perhaps, God, in His wisdom, gave us a shortened version, and let those who were interested in the details investigate further and become geologists.

    • Indeed. The bias in favor of a purely literal technical reading of *everything* in the Bible is the root of so many problems we face in American Christianity today…

      • True. But…I don’t blame them, or at least I understand them. They come from the roots of Protestantism, endless schisms, the Enlightenment, anti-intellectualism, isolationism, and persecution. It’s easy to see how they ended up here.

        • For the American Christian, the bias in favor of a purely literal technical reading of everything does not include these two verses: “You cannot serve God and money,” and “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

    • Yet we have (seemingly) 350 pages talking about all sorts of laws and customs some small tribes in the ANE followed way back when, as if they were still binding on us at all today and for all time, and which we are in danger of being placed in eternal torment for now following unless we believe in a guy centuries removed from them who died in order to fulfill for all time somehow those laws…

      etc, lol

      🙂

      • Tell me, again: what exactly did Jesus die for me for?

      • Well, for some reason, most people are more interested in human history than in hard science!

        The first five books gives us a kind of history of how they came to be, what their world was like, and how God was with them and a prime focus. What follows is more stories and history with some prophetic remarks about having hope no matter what happens.

        Then Jesus comes as fully man and fully God to help us find our way to Him. He dies full of the suffering we go through, but voluntarily so we could see self-sacrificing love. And He rose from the dead to show us that through Him we can have eternal life.

      • Well the 350 pages we do have didn’t require an extra 10,000 new words to be invented plus calculus, quantum theory, and general relativity to be covered just to get the details right.

        Heck we’re less than 150 years into understanding atoms and molecules.

        Well I guess Gen 1:1 could have been written as:
        I am God. You’re here. I made it happen. In a few 1000 years I’ll explain the details. Until then don’t ask.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Perhaps men, in their unknowing, gave us a poetic version of the Creation. All truth does not have to be factual truth.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Like Rob Bell’s online essay on “Poem Truth” and “Math Truth”, and what can happen when you read one as if it were the other.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Would you read the bible if it contained 350 pages of technical discussion on exactly how and why He created the universe?

      Which is a trope of BAD fantasy writers. They put 350 pages of Simarillion backstory as a prologue before actually getting to “In a hobbit-hole there lived a hobbit.”

  7. The frivolous tone of the comments so far give me hope. I know where I would go to find some of these people that seem to cause Mike the Geologist such anguish, there’s a fundamentalist independent Baptist church maybe twenty miles from me, but why would I want to go there? I would enjoy going to see Ken Ham’s Ark just to experience it, and I know that if I did it would seem like the vast majority of people had this peculiar mindset, but in the real world at large I would guess the number was more like 5%, if that. And these people simply don’t impact my life in any way at all, other than the persistent hand wringing in these pages. It’s like I know there are people in the world who firmly believe the world is flat, but so what? They are more than welcome to their opinion and I feel no compulsion or even inclination to change it. As I said elsewhere recently, different strokes for different folks. They pose no threat to me.

    I also know that the great majority of scientists are intensely biased against relatively recent world-wide catastrophic events as partly explaining the world we live in, and that you risk your career to point out any evidence to the contrary. Well, again I know where to go to find folks of this peculiar belief system, but why would I? They don’t impact my life in any significant way and I am quite content to leave them with their world view along with the flat-earthers. Different strokes.

    What I do find somewhat interesting is that the whole world is waiting on pins and needles to see which way the wind is going to blow next Tuesday, with likely catastrophic consequences no matter the direction, and we can focus our attention on whether or not the world is flat. I dunno, I look out my window and it doesn’t look flat to me, but then people hereabouts refer to people elsewhere as Flatlanders.

    • “(T)hese people simply don’t impact my life in any way at all, other than the persistent hand wringing in these pages. It’s like I know there are people in the world who firmly believe the world is flat, but so what? They are more than welcome to their opinion and I feel no compulsion or even inclination to change it. As I said elsewhere recently, different strokes for different folks. They pose no threat to me.”

      Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you end up moving from wherever you are now, to a place (and you may not have to move all that far) where the vast majority of (non-fundamentalist independent Baptist) churches believe this. And consider it a test of faith to uphold these beliefs.

      It *does* pose a threat, or at least *did pose* a threat, to a great many commenters here. Hence, the hand-wringing.

      • >> Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you end up moving from wherever you are now, to a place (and you may not have to move all that far) where the vast majority of (non-fundamentalist independent Baptist) churches believe this.

        Where? Eeyore, I don’t mean to be argumentative, and I know there are places where I would be more likely to run into such people, in my biased view probably in the rural southeast US, but I simply can’t imagine anywhere that these people are in the majority of the population today other than one or another odd little backwater hamlet someone knows or heard of. Maybe more likely fifty years ago, but we are well into the 21st century and moving right along. Where are these people in such abundance as to control all thought and behavior, and if there is such a place, why would I move there? I know Mule likes to paint a picture of being surrounded by such folk, and maybe he is, but I have not found more than the isolated example in 77 years lived in five states, in both city and rural setting.

        If this poses an actual present threat to people here, help me understand why anyone would stay in that situation. If it is based on some past experience that no longer actually impinges, help me understand why anyone would voluntarily continue to give away their strength and power to those dark forces and thus help keep them alive. My overriding impression is that to the great majority of the population, these issues are simply irrelevant, and at best considered curiosities, such as snake handling, of a small number of backward and ignorant people uninterested in catching up. And I really don’t care if someone wants to handle rattlesnakes for religious reasons as long as no one is being forced to against their will. As for me, thanks, but no thanks.

        • I read an article recently in an old edition of National Geographic (Nov. 2004) about Charles Darwin’s ‘beautiful concept’ (as they described it). They noted that a Gallup poll in 2001 showed that ’45 percent of responding U.S. adults believed that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’. They say it has never polled less than 44 percent (1982, 1993, 1997, 1999). 37% did allow room for some form of theistic evolution (e.g. intelligent design). That’s a pretty large number of people who believe the Ken Hamm line in one form or another (and as the article noted, it’s hard to believe that much of the population are biblical literalists). The problem with those numbers is that these folks seem to have an influence on textbook selection, and the kind of science taught in some school districts.

          • ’45 percent of responding U.S. adults believed that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’. They say it has never polled less than 44 percent (1982, 1993, 1997, 1999). 37% did allow room for some form of theistic evolution (e.g. intelligent design). That’s a pretty large number of people who believe the Ken Hamm line in one form or another (and as the article noted, it’s hard to believe that much of the population are biblical literalists).

            I beg to differ here. KH is all about how science shows the earth to be less than 10,000 years old. And they are “proving” it.

            Many of the people who believe in humans showing up in the last 10,000 years don’t really care about the age of the earth. God performed a miracle and poof people and/or everything showed up. That is NOT KH’s position.

            God performing a miracle and making everything look old is way different that “here’s our science” to show how everything happened in 10,000 years. Give or take.

        • Where? Eeyore, I don’t mean to be argumentative, and I know there are places where I would be more likely to run into such people, in my biased view probably in the rural southeast US, but I simply can’t imagine anywhere that these people are in the majority of the population today other than one or another odd little backwater hamlet someone knows or heard of.

          Raleigh, NC where I live. Charlotte, NC. Likely most any city south of the Ohio River and many north of it. Unless evangelicals are a distinct minority. Oh, yeah. Dallas, Huston, and most any city in the plains. And while a minority of the total population almost any evangelical church in the US.

          Been looking for a church for a while that doesn’t mock the non YEC and they are thin on the ground unless you go for some of the main lines. Some friends have found a home at a Lutheran church about 15 miles away that while most believe in YEC, they don’t push it and are open those who don’t.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      There is a bar named Flatlanders just over the hill, no pun intended, that makes the best Old Fashions in the city; hands down. They are amazing.

  8. I agree that these issues are relevant and important. My wife use to say to me, “Who cares how old the earth is?” Normally, I would not care. But it becomes practical at times for a couple of reasons. I actually left my old church after I made a statement in adult Sunday School against the model of the 6000 year-old earth (the class was watching a Ken Hamm video series). I was completely alone in my view. The head elder then made the statement to the whole class that his Bible says the earth is 6000 years old and, in his view, if you don’t believe the Bible then you can’t be a Christian. The pastor hastily agreed. It was the final straw for me and I had no choice but to leave. However, my leaving (and my wife staying) put a lot of strain on our marriage for several years and she was quite angry at me. But I could not thrive spiritually in that environment. So, these abstract ideas can have a very personal and relevant consequences. My mantra is that if God is there, and I believe he is, then he dwells in reality. The more disconnected we become tot rue reality (living in false information about the world around us) the more obscure God becomes. That’s why the scientist who explores and learns more about the universe . . . is doing God’s work.

    • It can be a very big issue. There are some things I can’t talk about with friends and family. There may come a time in coming years where I can’t be open and honest with my own nephews, because it may go against what their parents choose to teach them. That’ll suck.

      That advice up thread about just being silent but consistent may be the best approach.

      • There are so many things I can’t say among church company these days. So, so many. Some days, it’s just difficult.
        A few years back, the church sponsored a trip to the Creation Museum. I am still eternally thankful that we were on vacation and did not have to think up an excuse as to why I couldn’t go. I think Ken Hamm is a true huckster who is filling his coffers off the backs of people who want so badly to believe something.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          There are so many things I can’t say among church company these days. So, so many. Some days, it’s just difficult.

          “Swear alliegance to the flag
          Whatever flag they offer;
          NEVER LET ON WHAT YOU REALLY FEEL…”
          — Mike and the Mechanics, “Silent Running”
          (There used to be a video on YouTube that mashed up that song with footage from the original Red Dawn; went together pretty well.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > These abstract ideas can have a very personal and relevant consequence

      These abstract ideas are derived from core assumptions that themselves are the foundation of other ideas with more consequential materializations.

  9. Well, OK, so back to the Grand Canyon…

    I’ve seen a few Ken Ham videos (my church went through a phase a while back) and Mr. Ham makes a great deal of Noah’s Flood in “proving” his theories. Whatever evolutionary theory he’s trying to disprove, his argument always goes back to the Flood, and back to the Grand Canyon. It’s a circular argument.

    However…

    I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and I noticed that not only there but the whole Four Corners area, Monument Valley, etc, show a lot of erosion, as if a tremendous volume of water poured through in a relatively short period. The layers remaining in the various buttes, mesas and pillars all correspond to one another, with layers of this one lining up perfectly with the layers of that one over there, and nothing but space for miles in between. It couldn’t have been wind that caused that erosion; the missing stuff had to go somewhere, probably down the Colorado into the Sea of Cortez. Time alone wouldn’t have done that; it had to be volume.

    So,I can understand Ken Ham on the relationship between the Grand Canyon and Noah’s Flood, but what does this have to do with evolution? He keeps coming back to the Flood for proof, and there’s the Grand Canyon to back him up. Hard to argue when he goes ’round and ’round.

    Ham also insists that dinosaurs lived alongside humans, and were aboard the Ark (baby dinosaurs, to save space). Legends of dragons support this claim, and Ham suggests that the Loch Ness Monster may be such a creature.

    But what does all this have to do with the Canyon? Mr. Ham hasn’t really satisfied that question.

    • Just to be clear—I’m not suggesting with the Creationists that the layers of the Canyon / Four Corners area were formed during the Flood in a short period of time. I think the layers were formed over millions of years. But I do suspect that much of the erosion that exposed the layers happened in a relatively short period, and with a lot of water moving downhill fast. For me, it was more apparent in the Monument Valley area. The Canyon, I think, may have also had tectonic movement, splitting land apart at the Colorado River and exposing layers. The different elevations of the north and south rims may support this quack theory of mine, too.

      Mike? Straighten me out.

      • Patience my friend, all in good time… stay tuned

      • Roadside Geology books of AZ and UT are really great resources for the layman.
        I live in the 4 Corners area. It has made me fall in love with geology and time. Damn…. God’s a lot older than I thought. Much of the geology we see in the West is more a product of recent ice ages and intermittent cataclysmic weather…. I have experience a few flash floods, pretty awesome.

        But really the most obvious evidence of “geologic time” is in the rates of continental drift and the sequence of increasing fossil complexity.
        A great recent book, “the Man who discovered Time” is a nice exposition of the history of Western Science’s reaching conclusions that were contrary to the prevailing Young Earth Theories in the late 18th Century.

        In the end it won’t change many mindsets. Just like this election in the USA, everyone is convinced of their Candidate saying the lyrical “Hooray for our side”…. For what it’s worth.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Ice dam collapse at the end of the last Ice Age?
        That caused a lot of catastrophic erosion in Washington State’s “coulee country”.

        According to Gould, catastrophism (the idea that changes could be concentrated in intermittent short periods) was rejected by Victorian British science because of memories of the French Revolution vs the uniformity of upper-middle-class Victorian British culture. Slow, steady Uniformitarianism became dogma for decades until evidence for intermittent catastrophism amid the steady uniformitarianism built up.

    • the Grand Canyon, and I noticed that not only there but the whole Four Corners area, Monument Valley,

      Everyone should visit the area no matter what they believe. It’s just amazing. My wife and I did a 3 day blitz of Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon last Labor Day weekend and it was just breath taking. My wife teared up when she first got to the rim of the Grand Canyon it was so awesome.

      • That is one of the few good uses of the word “awesome” these days.

        The Grand Canyon is mind-blowing. I used to wonder what my wife and her architect friends, and a landscape architect friend, meant when they talk about “creating space.” What does that mean? Then I saw the Canyon. The space inside it, defined and confined by the canyon walls and floor, gives it more significance. Looking out at night at the moon doesn’t do it; it’s almost two-dimensional looking into outer space because of the lack of reference. It’s more of an intellectual assent, looking at outer space however vast it be. The Canyon gives a three-dimensional quality to space. Awesome.

        For a more comprehensible canyon, I really liked Canyon de Chelly. The rock formations there are more interesting, softer stone that’s more rounded, and the layers had been upheaved and are at all different angles, making the erosion more striking. Then there’s the Anasazi “white house” ruins at the base, ancient cliff dwellings. Great.