Sunday, March 29, 2009

Science and the Flood

In our mini-series on the flood of Noah's day, we have so far discussed the context of the flood narrative, establishing two important things that are often misunderstood by modern Christians. One is that the account is not a geological treatise--that attempting to use it to explain away scientific evidence that one doesn't like is an illegitimate approach to interpreting the passage. (Instead, the purpose of the passage is theological; it reminds us--by recounting an actual, historical example--that God can and will punish sin and rebellion in the humanity that He created.)

We also established that the geographical scope of the flood narrative should not be assumed to be the entire planet. And once we removed this global preconception, we found (by appealing to other portions of the narrative itself and to other Old Testament passages) that the much better understanding of this text is that a flood covering the Mesopotamian plain was sufficient for accomplishing God's purposes.

In other words, we began with the text itself, and by using the most basic hermeneutic principles, reasoned our way to a localized--yet universal--flood and not one covering the entire planet. In another post, I might share some of the (logically and exegetically) bizarre lengths to which modern defenders of a global flood are forced. But it is probably best at this point to make explicit a fact that was hinted at in the discussion of the history of flood geology--that a global flood a few thousand years ago is completely incompatible with all of modern geological (and paleontological) knowledge.

The difficulty here is in knowing where to start. In The Genesis Flood, which made the case for a global flood that could explain the Earth's geology and fossil record, Whitcomb and Morris were forced to ignore or deny a host of evidence. And yet today, the same arguments are being made despite exponential growth of our knowledge about earth's history. Some creation science organizations continue to believe that the issue in geology is catastrophism versus uniformitarianism. That is, they accuse geologists of dogmatically asserting that only gradual, uniform processes have shaped the earth. But in the intervening years, geologists have come to grips with overwhelming evidence for catastrophic events.

Plate tectonic theory came after Whitcomb and Morris, and though that paradigm shift did not come without angst, today's geologists unanimously acknowledge that the Earth's crust is a series of moving plates, and that it is this movement that is raising the Himalayas, building Hawaii, and causing volcanoes and earthquakes worldwide. Moreover (and more recently), geologists and paleontologists alike have come to recognize the role of meteoritic collisions in shaping the planet and in causing mass extinction events. Central to this paradigm shift was the discovery of the Chicxulub crater (beneath the Yucatan and Carib) that caused the worldwide iridium layer that marks the end of the third and final (Cretaceous) dinosaur era.

No, modern geologists are not uniformitarians. They have come to understand not only those processes that work slowly over millions of years but also some of the many sudden, cataclysmic events that have left their mark on Earth. But they continue to deny the claim (and now with more reason than ever) that a single worldwide flood a few thousand years ago can account for all that we see on Earth.

Whereas the events connected with Noah's flood are quite simple, the geological record is quite complex. The flood involved a steady increase in water levels followed, eventually, by a steady decrease in water levels. This would cause very little in the way of geological change, and simply cannot expain Earth's depositional, structural, chemical, and thermal complexity.

The Green River of Utah shows annual depositional layers that alternate between calcium carbonate (laid down in summers) and organic matter (winters). These can be counted just like tree rings, and attest to 4 million years of such deposition.

At the Prudhoe oil fields in Alaska, ice cores demonstrate that the permafrost has remained frozen for the last 100,000 years. The top 2000 feet of this permafrost column were frozen before, during, and after the Genesis flood, which had no effect on the permafrost. In Antarctica, ice cores span 420,000 years.

Contrary to the claims of global flood proponents, a single, year-long flood cannot account for Earth's wealth of biodeposits. Oil, coal, natural gas, and limestone deposits all take vast ages to form, and require different thermal and pressure scenarios. Moreover, deposits of each are found at vastly different levels (and therefore ages) in the geological record, and with a variety of complex histories.

And the evidences go on and on.

With regard to the flood of Genesis 6-8, the clear conclusions from geology are at least three. First, that flood left no mark behind. That is, the geological record of the Earth is entirely independent of the events associated with the flood of Noah's day. Second, the flood played no role in forming Earth's abundant biodeposits. These deposits, upon which modern technology depends, are the result of billions of years of plant and animal death, of God's creating and recreating life as He prepared this planet for human beings. Third, the flood therefore cannot be invoked as proof for a young-earth interpretation of the Genesis creation account. Although a young-earth view requires a global flood, the geological record provides no support for such a scenario.

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