Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flood Geology

In the last post, I discussed the flood of Noah's day (described in Genesis 6-8) and showed that good, consistent exegesis leads to understanding the flood as covering only the portion of the earth that was occupied by humans, the Mesopotamian plain. This is, of course, in contrast to the understanding of many modern American Christians, who have been taught to see the flood as global. We began by acknowledging that correctly identifying the context of a Scripture passage is of first importance.

But in that discussion, we focused on only one part of context--the geographical scope. There is a more fundamental issue regarding the context of the flood, and it, too, plays into the modern Christian misunderstanding. The main context of the flood account--as all Christians ought to agree if they stop to think about it--is God's judgment on sinful humanity. Where global flood proponents err is in seeking to make the flood account a geological treatise. I know it sounds kinda silly when I write it out like that, but I'm serious. The reason many modern Christians defend a global (rather than localized, universal) flood is their belief that such a flood can somehow explain away a whole lot of geological and paleontological evidence that doesn't fit well either in their interpretion of Genesis or their view of God.

From a historical perspective, this view--flood geology--only goes back a short while. By the early 1800's, geological understanding of sedimentary stratification and the uncovering of fossils of extinct creatures led to the general recognition that the Earth was much older than Lightfoot and Ussher's interpretation of Scripture would make it. Nonetheless, this did not prove a problem for geologists and paleontologists who were Christians. But when Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) offered a naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life, many Christians came to see science as fundamentally opposed to Scripture.

The first publication attempting to defend the view that a global flood accounted for the fossil record and Earth's geology was Outlines of Modern Christianity and Modern Science (1902) by George McCready Price. Price, who had less than a full year of science training, was a disciple of Ellen G. White, the prophetess of Seventh-Day Adventism. She claimed to have been shown by God in a vision that all creation occurred in a normal Earth week and that the flood covered the entire planet and was responsible for all that modern geologists and paleontologists study.

This unusual view did not, however, become a significant part of the conservative Christian understanding until it was refurbished in The Genesis Flood, authored by hydrology engineer Henry Morris and theologian John Whitcomb in 1961. Despite the fact that Whitcomb could find not one geologist (Christian or otherwise) to help him defend this view, the book had--for the Christian layman--enough of the appearance of a scientific tome to lend to young-earth creationism and flood geology the scientific credibility that those views so desperately needed.

By that time, there were overwhelming scientific problems for the global flood view, as well as logical (common sense) objections. Moreover, though the strength of Whitcomb and Morris' view was that it resulted from a straightforward reading of (the English translation of) Scripture, the arguments they were forced to offer in defense of their theory involved anything but a straightforward reading of the Bible.

Today, modern defenders of the global flood view use the same stale arguments (or worse) even though geology has grown exponentially in the ensuing 50 years. Claiming that the Bible clearly teaches this view, "creation science" organizations are more numerous and stronger than ever, despite their view having absolutely no credibility within the scientific community, and despite the flawed exegetical process upon which it is based. For science-minded folks in our day, consideration of the claims of Christ upon their life is prevented by the incorrect view--so successfully promoted by these well-meaning but misguided groups--that the Bible teaches that the Earth is thousands of years old and that the fossil record and geological formations were laid down in a global flood. I can only echo the words of creationist Dudley Joseph Whitney, upon reading Whitcomb's views and by way of declining Whitcomb's request for collaboration...
Why, why, why should the saints be so prone to take positions which discredit the Bible?

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